Investigative

Stigma, emotional turmoil, and pro-life pressure keep doctors from performing abortions

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A New York Times article entitled “Under Pressures and Stigma, More Doctors Shun Abortion” sheds light on some of the reasons why there is such a major shortage of abortionists in the United States.

Although the article is old, the factors it discusses are still relevant. The article highlights 3 different reasons why most OBGYNs choose not to perform abortions – stigma, the emotional toll of the work, and pro-life activity.

Stigma

Dr. Curtis E Harris, a pro-life obstetrician, says:

The term “abortionist” still has a very heavy stigma. Most gynecologists work to bring a child into the world in a healthy state. [Performing an abortion] is a real contradiction.

Harris believes that not only is there stigma about abortion, but that abortion is a basic contradiction to the ideal work of an obstetrician; that of delivering healthy babies.

Dr. Michael Policar, then medical director of Planned Parenthood of San Francisco and Alameda, California, explains how the fact that so few doctors perform abortions adds to the stigma:

[A shortage of abortion providers gives] the impression that abortion is a dirty business and that it is somehow not an appropriate or legitimate medical procedure.

His comments indicate that when fewer abortionists enter the field because of the stigma, the resulting drop in abortionists adds more stigma, leading to a vicious cycle that works in pro-lifers’ (and preborn babies’) favor.

Warren Hern, a late-term abortionist who practices in Boulder, describes how one day he called a friend and fellow doctor while working at his clinic.

He is one of my best friends, a medical colleague who is strongly pro-choice and who has done abortions himself. I called him late Saturday afternoon and said I wanted to come over. He asked me where I was and I told him I was at my office. ‘Still killing babies this late in the afternoon?’ It was like a knife in my gut. It really upset me. What it conveys is that no matter how supportive people may be, there is still a horror at what I do.

Dr. Joseph Randall worked as an abortionist for 8 years and did about 32,000 abortions. He stopped performing them after converting to Christianity. He says that other doctors “treated us [abortionists] as second-class M.D.’s.”

Randall says that the negative opinions other doctors had towards abortion providers were discussed at meetings of the National Abortion Federation. The NAF is roughly equivalent to a union for abortion doctors and other providers. According to Randall:

The other doctors would mention the same kind of hypocrisy – that’s what we called it – of our peers.

Randall also says that since he stopped performing abortions, other doctors have been much more accepting of him and his practice.

Dr. Warren H Pearse, then executive director of the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, gives his impression of doctors who perform abortions:

It’s not pleasant being an abortion doctor. By and large they are zealots who are strongly committed and who believe, in most instances correctly, that if they don’t provide the service, no one will.

Emotional trauma

So why is it so unpleasant being an abortion doctor? Stigma is definitely a factor, but there are other reasons. One possible reason is the emotional toll of the work. After all, abortionists have to look at the remains of aborted babies, who, as early as 7 to 8 weeks after conception, have developed arms, legs, fingers, and toes.

The New York Times article describes the emotional turmoil one former abortionist went through. This doctor once chose to do abortions because she felt they should be available, but:

[S]he had to prepare herself emotionally each time, and she often had a sleepless night before a scheduled abortion.

“It’s a very tough thing for a gynecologist to do.”  The emotions it arouses are so strong, she said, that doctors “don’t talk to each other about it.”

The doctor said she lost control only once, when she was performing an abortion on a 30-year-old doctor after she herself had just had a miscarriage. She had been trying for 7 years to become pregnant. After the abortion, she said, “I just collapsed on the floor,” overcome by her emotions.

Pro-life activism

Pro-Life activities are another reason why many doctors won’t perform abortions. Abortionist Dennis Christiansen describes how once a doctor begins performing abortions, the rest of his practice often dries up:

In spite of the fact that some patients want the abortion service available, and will go for the abortion service, they will not wish to come back for other services. Patients may be willing to walk through a picket line for an abortion but they are not willing to walk through the same picket line for a Pap smear.

Picketers clearly have an impact on the rest of the doctor’s practice. They are a deterrent against new doctors entering the abortion field.

Dr. Richard Berkowitz, an OB/GYN who does not perform abortions, says that he has “tremendous sympathy” for abortion doctors. However, he will not perform abortions himself because he fears reprisals from pro-lifers. He says:

That’s why we stick our heads in the sand.  That’s why we hide.

Dr. Constance J. Brumm also supports abortion, but she too will not perform them. She fears that her son will be harassed in school, an activity that would be frowned upon by Live Action and virtually all other mainstream pro-life groups. She also expresses fear that other patients will boycott her practice.

While violence, threats, and harassment should never be tolerated, peaceful pro-life activities such as boycotts, picketing, and leafleting do have an impact on whether doctors perform abortions. There was a shortage of abortions in the 1990s, when this article was written, and the shortage is even more pronounced today. Stigma against abortionists is as powerful as ever. Pro-lifers have increased their activities. And performing abortions and sifting through pieces of aborted babies has not become any easier.

Pro-lifers have a lot to be encouraged about.

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