Abortion and the intense debate about it in an otherwise enlightened (?) country was the topic of two of my earliest posts in this blog (this post and this one). I posted again when it looked like the debate was going to start in India. Thankfully, it died a natural death.
Those of you who follow me on twitter know that abortion has been on my mind following the sickening murder of Dr. Tiller. For the record, I didn’t even know that there existed such a doctor as he till I chanced upon news of his death. I refrained from writing anything here as I figured I had stated my views already.
Then I saw this post in my friend Dr. Val’s blog.
The abortion “issue” is such a hot topic that I have never written about it on this blog until today. I hope I won’t regret that decision but I felt it was appropriate to respond to this medical student’s essay - and the ~560+ comments that follow it - as a physician who has witnessed (but never performed) about 100 abortions. Let me explain.
Read the entire post at Better Health: A Third-Year Medical Student Discusses Her Views On Abortion In The Washington Post.
Also read the medical student Rozalyn Farmer Love’s post, My Choice, in the Washington Post.
I’m a third-year medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I plan to become an obstetrician-gynecologist. I dream of delivering healthy babies, working with families and supporting midwifery. But as part of my practice, I also envision providing abortions to women who need them. …
I agree that ending an unwanted pregnancy is a tragedy. When I advocate for reproductive rights, for choice, I don’t claim that abortion is morally acceptable. I think that it’s a very private, intensely personal decision. But I was stunned when one of my professors, a pathologist and a Planned Parenthood supporter, told me that decades ago, entire wings of the university’s hospital were filled with women dying from infections caused by botched abortions. It’s clear that women who don’t want to be pregnant won’t be deterred by limited access to providers or to clinics. And I believe that it’s immoral to let them die rather than provide them with safe, competent care.
The lines that affected me the most were…
I plan to choose a residency program that provides further training — a place where I won’t worry that asking to be taught to perform an abortion could somehow limit my future options. At the start of medical school, I was very careful about how I presented my pro-choice views to the faculty for fear that I could jeopardize my grades or hurt my chances for recommendations or of being accepted into a program run by any of the professors. This experience of treading lightly is unique to medical students in more conservative parts of the country, where opposition to abortion is widespread…
I was equally moved by these lines from Val’s post…
I initiated rapid sequence intubation with the assistance of the anesthesiologist, and then moved to get the ultrasound machine to visualize the uterus and its contents. Much to my discomfort the fetus was fairly large - and was moving around normally, even sucking its thumb at one point. I asked the Ob/Gyn resident why the fetus was being aborted since it didn’t appear to have any structural abnormalities. She responded that the mother simply didn’t want to have the baby, and had wrestled with the idea of abortion for a long time before she made her final decision. The rest of the procedure is a bit of a blur - with details too graphic to describe here. But suffice it to say that the resident performing the dilatation and curettage had a fairly difficult time removing the fetus through the cervix, and had to resort to eliminating it in smaller parts, rather than a whole. It was very sad and it took a long time to make sure that the uterus was fully evacuated. I decided that I couldn’t watch another one of these procedures.
All I can say to Val is: Do not visit any ObGyn procedure room or OT if/when you visit India.
I did not set out to write this to hand out that gratuitous bit of advice to Val. I wanted to highlight something else that she had written that caught my attention and raised some doubts.
In my opinion women should have the right to choose to have an abortion, but I’d hope that they also consider their right to choose to give their baby up for adoption as well. Some believe that an abortion is “easier” than giving up a baby for adoption - but I’m not so sure that’s the case from an emotional perspective.
I want Val and all those who share similar views re. adoption as an alternative to abortion to read this moving essay by Judy Brown in which she says When Abortion Was a Crime, I Would Have Sought One. Read the entire essay and pay particular attention to the two paragraphs at the end…
There are approximately 500,000 children in the foster care at any time in the United State — many of those children are adoptable, but will not be adopted — why don’t “pro-life” advocates step forward to adopt them now? Do they want the forced return to warehouse orphanages for still more unwanted children? Do they want women sent to prison for seeking an abortion, and doctors also jailed, when we already have a shortage of doctors in this country? And nurses jailed, when we have a shortage of nurses in this country? How much damage and destruction of life will they support to force the rest of us to subscribe to their “religous” views? I’ve never heard a so-called “pro-life” advocate answer those questions honestly. Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, it will just stop safe abortions, as is the reality in the few civilized countries in which abortion isn’t legal, but their abortion wards are full to bursting with maimed women, and whose morgues overflow with dead women.
I agree with Val’s concluding paragraph that Rozalyn, the third year medical student may change her mind after witnessing or performing a few procedures.
Even in a country where abortion is a non-issue, I believe there are many medical professionals who are troubled by late trimester abortions and abortions-on-demand. I am one such. But the sad reality is that we are the minority here. I feel particularly sad because occasionally in my professional role as a diagnostic radiologist I am the cause of some of these wrenching cases of late trimester abortions. Some of them I can agree with, though they could have been avoided by earlier diagnosis and decision-making, like an anencephaly being diagnosed at 35 weeks gestation. But most are not that morally or ethically clear cut.