May 31, 2007

"Oh God, doctor, I was hoping it was cancer."

A physician speaks out on why he performs abortions.

By 1967 I was a third year medical student, still with no visible means of support, and we were pregnant with our third child. It was the spring of that year and I was ending my rotation in the Ob-Gyn Service clinic. I was assigned a 40 plus year old, poverty stricken mother of several children. I think she was unmarried but I am not sure of that now. This care worn mother-of-several had a large abdominal mass that I rapidly determined to be a well advanced pregnancy. I asked my resident to come and break the news to this woman; it was very obvious to me that she was not going to be happy about the news of another pregnancy. When told that she - already unable to adequately feed and clothe her family - was again pregnant, she looked up at me and the resident. There we stood, two white males, well clothed, well feed young men with superior educations. We were, in her eyes, stunningly blessed and obviously going places in the world. She began to weep silently. She must have assumed, for good reason, that there was no way that we would understand her problems; she knew also that there was nothing that we could or would do to relieve her lacerating misery.

"Oh God, doctor," she said quietly, "I was hoping it was cancer."

That mother's anguished whisper eventually became a shriek of despair and hopelessness that has reverberated in my heart and mind and soul for over thirty years. Before that moment, forever seared like a brand on my memory, I would have described myself as "Pro-Life" had I then known this political term.

Would that we could have the 5 supreme court justices walk a mile in the shoes of some of the women Dr. Harrison has helped. Perhaps this story would help them see how well their position values life.

The other exception was a mother of five whom I admitted to my hospital in about 1991 with a septic abortion at about twenty-six weeks pregnant. She or someone else had obviously tried to abort her. The fetus was alive, but the fetal membranes were ruptured and blood from the uterus was mixed with a stinking pus, fouling her body, her clothes, and her bedclothes. (She was the sickest obstetric patient I had seen in a number of years, and the sickest abortion patient I had seen since June 1, 1971.) She had a fever of about 104 on admission and exhibited signs of impending septic shock. We got her stabilized and loaded her with massive doses of antibiotics. She was lucky. We were able to induce labor, deliver the extremely premature and septic fetus that died almost immediately, and she went home in about three days. Arkansas Medicaid did not cover her abortion, but it did pay part of the bill for her recovery from one, which was well over ten times the cost of a safe first trimester abortion.

And what does he say about the morality of abortion?

No one, neither the patient receiving an abortion, nor the person doing the abortion, is ever, at anytime, unaware that they are ending a life. We just don't believe that a developing embryo or fetus, whose mother cannot or will not accept it, has the same moral claims on us, claims to autonomy and justice, that an adolescent or adult woman has. I have never seen an abortion decision entered into lightly by anyone involved. The decision to have an abortion is most often made in the time of the first great personal moral crisis that ever faces a girl, a woman, her family and the people who love them. It is only those who stand outside and condemn the women and families who are faced with these dilemmas who take lightly the decisions made in these straits and trivialize the circumstances in which they are made.

Go read the rest. It is an absolutely compelling piece.

Update: dKos' moiv started the discussion with this exceptional piece.

Posted by Mary at May 31, 2007 07:38 PM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | Technorati links |

I keep hoping that there really is reincarnation, and that these men spend their next thousand lives as impoverished and fertile women.

Posted by: Scorpio at June 1, 2007 09:42 AM

Scorpio, that has long been my dream too. I've been known to wish that that old crackpot, Jesse Helms, could come back as a poor African woman living in Sudan. It would be an appropriate accounting.

Posted by: Mary at June 2, 2007 01:03 PM