Life or Death

In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an allegedly “pro-life” Christian, I thought I would post this piece, which I grabbed from Feministing. It’s a little dose of reality in the midst of a debate that is often more about screaming invective than thoughtful consideration.

Why I Provide Second Trimester Abortions

By Radha Lewis, MD

Most women who choose abortion do so very early in their pregnancy (more than 90% in the first trimester ), but for a small percentage, this is not the case. I know that even some staunch supporters of abortion rights begin to have doubts about abortion in the second trimester. But as an abortion provider, I understand why some women need later procedures, and I do everything I can to support them.

I chose to be an abortion provider to prevent undue suffering for my patients, and to assist their access to safe, affordable care in a politically hostile environment. Two patients I saw this week perfectly illustrate the need for later abortions–and have reminded me why our continued efforts to ensure abortion access for all women, including those who are more than 12 weeks pregnant, is crucial.

The other day, a colleague and I cared for Rita, a 36-year-old mother of five who was nearly five and a half months pregnant. Rita had always been healthy, but was now hospitalized for more than four weeks at two different hospitals. An infection in her heart had destroyed two of Rita’s heart valves, requiring open-heart surgical repair, then a second operation to install a pacemaker.

This young mother unsuccessfully requested an abortion from the dozens of doctors who treated her, but nobody was willing to provide this service until Rita’s heart surgeons declared that her pregnancy threatened her life. Within 72 hours, I found myself in an operating room taking care of Rita so she could recover and return home to care for her family.

The following day, I was called to meet a young woman who had been hospitalized in the psychiatric ward after visiting a local Planned Parenthood to terminate her undesired pregnancy. Alice had confided to a clinic worker that she had considered putting a knife into her stomach. The clinic immediately referred her to our hospital’s psychiatric unit for treatment, where she was admitted as suicidal and potentially unable to make her own medical decisions.

During my first visit, this scared and vulnerable 18-year-old told me that she was not suicidal but desperate–she had been locked in her house for the past four months, since confiding in her older sister that she wanted an abortion. Like Rita, Alice was also now five and a half months pregnant and nearing the time at which abortion would no longer be legally available to her.

Unlike Rita, Alice lay in a hospital bed for nearly two days while departmental politics played out around her. At the end of two days, Alice was discharged back into the care of her sister, with a note confirming that she was not suicidal, and an appointment to follow up at Planned Parenthood for her abortion the following week (the latest possible date she could legally have an abortion). Not surprisingly, Alice didn’t show up for the appointment, and we couldn’t reach her by phone.

Although Alice’s circumstances were not life-threatening in the same way as Rita’s, I argue that they are no less significant. But they were not sufficient to persuade the large hospital in the liberal state of California where I practice. Instead, nonexistent “hospital policy” was invoked by disapproving administrators and senior pro-life physicians. As a result, she was sent home to have a child she does not want, or take matters into her own hands with potentially devastating consequences.

In my experience, every woman who comes in seeking a second trimester abortion has a compelling reason to do so. I have yet to meet a woman who makes this decision with anything but the utmost gravity. In an era where politicians, zealots, and hospital administrators are chipping away at a woman’s right to abortion, we must advocate for these women’s access to abortion services, and show them our sympathy, compassion, and unwavering support.

Dr. Radha Lewis is completing a fellowship in family planning and an MS in clinical and biomedical investigations. She graduated from the Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed her residency at the University of California, San Francisco and Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa, California. She is a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health .

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26 thoughts on “Life or Death

  1. His death was beyond tragic and senseless. These people who advocate the murder of doctors need to be physically called out and shamed for their rhetoric…

  2. I have said this in a few places but there are crazies in any movement.  I think there have been 3 pro-life killings.  I would imagine that this is more of a media spun story than an actual trend with pro-lifers.  I would imagine that pro-lifers have less people percentage wise that would kill than most people groups.

  3. Thank you for posting this doctor’s comments.  There really is no “one size fits all” answer to what is a very private and personal decision.  We need empathy and compassion for the woman who finds herself in this no win dilemma. We are not very good at minding our own business are we?We need more supportive, non-judgmental listeners who can be present for women in the process of making such heart-wrenching, difficult decisions.  It seems to me that there are indeed times when these abortions may be necessary.  We can not justly RULE on someone else’s unique and personal situation.

  4. Apparently being “pro-life” does not apply to doctors that the nutzies target for contradicting their beliefs.   Called out and shamed does not even begin to address the problem.   A legal conviction and execution of Dr. Tiller’s killer is a far better solution.  

  5. I have had friends who have had abortions, and not one of them made that decision lightly.  Yes, there are women out there who do, but we cannot force legislation on a personal choice like this, because every case is unique.  Thank you for posting this article.

  6. Zeoltry is dangerous in all it’s guises.  I could never presume to make this kind of choice for anyone else.  I did give my brother money for an abortion for his girlfriend when he was 16. (the girl was 15) My parents who are very pro-life turned him down, and wouldn’t help.  At least they didn’t tell the girls parents, although they told her to tell them. I can’t imagine how hard it is for the women who have to make these decisions.

  7. @TheTheologiansCafe – According to the Seattle Times, the National Abortion Federation has documented more than 6,100 acts of violence against abortion providers in the United States and Canada since 1977.I can’t imagine why you imagine pro-lifers to be less inclined to kill than other, undefined “groups,” given their highly inflammatory rhetoric and their habit of posting the personal information (including home address and names and ages of children) of abortion providers on the internet.

  8. rapeincestmama’s life in dangerand the question.—-now let’s talk numbers.so according to the Seattle Times, 6100 acts between two countries in a 22 year period. WOW, that’s almost 300 a year (277 instances).http://www.prochoice.org/pubs_research/publications/downloads/about_abortion/violence_stats.pdfThat number is actually, 6143, of which, roughly 2,000 (1,993 instances) were “trespassing” and 1,400 instances were “vandalism.”so over half the instances (3,400 instances) were either trespassing or vandalism, NEITHER OF WHICH I CONDONE… but that doesn’t necessitate “acts of violence”. Schools get vandalized, so does private property, liquor stores, community centers.so we’re looking at 2700 instances of “acts of violence” over a 22-year period. 650 were threats of anthrax, of which 0% produced actual instance of anthrax. anyhow 2700 divide by 22 and we’re looking 123 acts of violence per year (not counting trespassing and violence)roughly 100,000 abortions in canada each year since 1977 (low number)roughly 1,000,000 abortions in United states each year (between 1977 and 1997, several hundred thousand over 1 million, between 1998 and beyond, less than 900,000 going by CDC stats… again still going with a low number)123 acts of violence per 1,100,000 instances of abortion.of whichthe average is roughly 1 murder/attempted murder per 1,000,000 instances of abortion.so when someone appears to assert that pro-lifers are less inclined to kill than other undefined “groups,” those are the numbers. counting this latest instance, it’s 26 murders or attempted murders in a 22-year period. nobody is condoning ANY of those instances but when you juxtapose that with the number of abortions that take place, that’s a low number.this may offend some but I’m a proponent of the death penalty and the man found guilty of killing that doctor should get the death penalty.

  9. @slamjoe – What point are you trying to make, Joe?  Lots of abortions compared with a handful of murders means the pro-lifers show admirable restraint?  Are they less inclined to kill than other groups, like, say, people who participate in the Relay for Life to raise money for breast cancer research?  They haven’t killed anyone.  How about stamp collectors?  Haven’t heard about any philatelist murders.  Historically, pro-lifers have been most violent during Democratic administrations.  This was not the first time Dr. Tiller was shot.  He traveled with body guards, and obviously had good reason to think his life was in danger, having received numerous death threats.    Trespassing, vandalism, and threats in this context constitute terrorism.  Murder is the expected conclusion.

  10. “Lots of abortions compared with a handful of murders means the pro-lifers show admirable restraint?”…………now you have to ask yourself, “was that really the point I was trying to make?”I stated my point, “so when someone appears to assert that pro-lifers are less inclined to kill than other undefined ‘groups,’ those are the numbers.” That was it. I’m pro-life, does that mean I’ve got my rifle or handgun ready to kill any “abortionist” I come across? God forbid. Or in other words, hell no. And being a man, I don’t feel I need to be an outspoken presence on this issue. but rather than remain passive (a cop out), I practice my pro-lifeness by not getting women pregnant, by hoping to one day adopt when I choose to start and support a family and to stand against institutions that debase women, lower their self-esteem and condone and permit irresponsible breeding.I only made the points I’ve expressly stated. two wrongs (perceived or real) don’t make a right.26 murders or attempted murders in a 22-year period is not a measure of restraint. that’s 26 murders too many.now it should still be troubling to anyone when you consider the sheer number of terminated pregnancies since the ’70s… over 50 million, that’s a staggering number to wrap your mind around regardless of which side of the issue you’re on.if you’re saying that of the 6100 instances of violence that murder was the expected conclusion, that’s a pretty sweeping assumption. it means we should have seen 6100+ murders. but we have not. again, two wrongs don’t make a right. plenty of nutjobs collect stamps. plenty of nutjobs would lend themselves to philanthropic causes. plenty of nutjobs seeking to mold the world according to their worldview and their beliefs regarding human’s place in nature have directly led to the deaths of millions of innocent children (not fetuses) in many parts of the globe.people have peaceably took to the polls for ballot initiatives and those who were defeated have often threatened with violence. I’ve had violence committed against me because I stood up for my beliefs but I don’t lump those who threatened my life with any one particular group.many things are legal in this world but they’re not always consistent with everyone’s morals.I am curious what the pro-choice groups feel are permitted forms of protest. Now I bet we can agree that murder or threat of murder is not. :PPlease don’t make assumptions on my behalf. :::olive branch:::

  11. hmm.. I wish you had private messages enabled. there was one thing I wanted to point out unrelated to this post that I hoped wouldn’t catch anyone’s read but yours only.maybe I’ll sit on it

  12. @slamjoe – I do have messages enabled.  The link is on the right side of my main page.One last remark: in your first comment you asserted that “…it’s 26 murders or attempted murders in a 22-year period. nobody is condoning ANY of those instances”but they are.  They are condoning it all over the right-wing blogosphere, and the leaders of the pro-life orgs say things like “he reaped what he sowed.” 

  13. This was a fabulous article.  As another poster commented, I also know women who have had abortions and driven a few there myself.  Not one of them took the situation lightly.  This fallacy the pro-lifers promote of women popping into Planned Parenthood monthly for abortions is simply irresponsible.

  14. I think it’s irrelevant whether most pro-lifers are violent or non-violent.  I think a person has a responsibility not just to refrain from violence, but also not avoid inciting violence.  Pro-life groups who engage in speech that eggs on the crazies should be ashamed of themselves.

  15. Ms. Lewis’s statements really hit home for me. No one could have been more pro-life than I was back when I was a Baptist Minister. In fact, I even worked for three years as a house-father at a home for unwed pregnant teenagers in order to do something substantial to provided an alternative to abortion (which is why I can claim to have lived with 76 pregnant women in my life.) However, several events conspired to change the way I thought. When I was a young youth minister, I had two 16 year old girls in my youth group that found themselves pregnant close to the same time. With no access to abortion services and living in an environment where they would have been severely ostracized by their families and their communities for getting pregnant, they both took extreme measures. One girl attempted to abort herself with a clothes hanger and almost died of internal bleeding, the second attempted suicide by drinking Drano and will have health issues for the remainder of her life due to the attempt. Then, as a house father, I noticed a trend that really bothered me. About half of our girls kept their babies and about half gave them up for adoption. It often seemed to me that the ones that decided to keep their babies were the ones that really had no business parenting. I knew when those girls left the house with their new babies that there was a high probability that the baby was headed for a childhood of neglect and abuse. It’s certainly not up to me to say that it would have been better for those children never to have been born (I’m not that smart or omniscient) but it really gave me pause for thought. I grew up believing in a very black and white world, and finally realized that life is never black and white and it certainly isn’t my place to judge anyone who makes such a important, emotional, and life altering decision.

  16. @ordinarybutloud – I love how you always cut through the bs to the essence of the matter.@ColdSkivvies – Thanks for sharing this story.  It always seems to me that the pro-lifers are so caught up in their righteous indignation on behalf of the fetus that they entirely, completely forget (or just don’t care) about the needs/rights/life of the woman or girl involved.

  17. may God protect Dr. Lewis. she is very brave to come forward after such a horrendous crime to a colleague. and to provide examples of why such abortions have to take place. it is not an easy process as some would flippantly reply.  and, btw, i don’t see much difference between the pro-lifers who kill doctors than the 911 terrorists. after all, they are both killing for their cause, aren’t they? now let the bashing begin on that comment.  

  18. Little can I add but as I have stated to others, no child should have to give birth to her father or brother or Uncle’s child at the age some of these children are impregnated. Also any woman of rape should not be forced to give birth. It is simply insane we have laws that say a child is to young to consent to sex but we can tell them they must give birth to that child.

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