An OB/GYN’s Thoughts On Abortion

Okay, Iím gonna go out on a limb here and write a post that literally scares the bejesus out of me. The other day, I was doing a podcast interview with Owning Pink blogger Stacey Curnow, and she asked me how it feels to write stuff like I did in my upcoming book Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, which is more about me and my vagina than you probably ever wanted to know. In this book, I write about the sexual dysfunction I suffered with my ex-husband, the HPV I contracted from my current husband, the porn my hubby and enjoy from time to time, the elective C-section I decided to have, and yes — I write about the painful decision I had to make as an OB/GYN about whether or not to do abortions.

But I’ve never had the guts to write about abortion.

Why? Well, itís such a hot button issue — and it can be so divisive. When you start talking about abortion, people who have been respectful, open-hearted, and friendly with each other suddenly turn into sharks. And Iím afraid of bringing that into our Owning Pink community.

But I also donít want to live in fear, and I donít want to be silenced. So thank you Stacey, for inspiring me to speak my truth and help me believe that we as a community can tackle anything, as long as we respect each otherís right to agree or disagree with kindness and to honor what another says as true, without attacking.

So here goes.

Itís hard enough when youíre not an OB/GYN to make peace with where you stand on the abortion issue. But when youíre an OB/GYN, itís even harder. I was raised in a family with three Methodist ministers, attending church at least once or twice a week for my entire young life. Countless Sunday school teachers and pastors taught me that abortion was sinful, and while Methodists tend to be relatively liberal about supporting a womanís right to choose, that choice was supposed to apply to the faithless, not the church-goers.

As a teenager, I abstained from sex, not because I didnít think my cutest-boy-in-school honey was hot, but because I feared eternal damnation and didnít want to face my mother if I got pregnant. I was raised to be Pro-Life all the way. And when I finished high school, I was. I wanted all pregnant women to keep their babies — no matter what.

But over time, I learned that this was not always in everyoneís best interest. What about the woman who conceived as the result of rape and incest? What about the welfare mother who already had twelve neglected children? What about the crack-abusing mother whose child would surely end up in foster care with a crack-baby brain? What about the twenty-five-year-old whose baby had no brain?

Accepting Nuances

Once I made room for accepting the nuances of these situations, I found great compassion in my heart for the other women who found themselves with unplanned pregnancies. What about the sixteen-year-old who wanted to be a marine biologist, or the forty-three-year-old whose fetus had Downís syndrome, or the married mother of three who was finally ready to live her own life?† What about the thirty-one year old with the cheating husband or the twenty-one year old who used condoms and birth control pills and still got pregnant? At what point does the decision stop becoming a morality quiz and start becoming a real choice?

Of course, I donít know the answer, but I have learned that itís not my place to ask the question. I came to truly believe that a woman has the right to choose what happens to her body — no matter what.

Putting your money where your mouth is

By the time I finished college, I considered myself firmly pro-choice. Which is easy enough to say for lay people, but as an OB/GYN physician in training, youíre forced to put your money where your mouth is. Most people can just stand on one side or the other of the political divide, but not OB/GYNs. We either do abortions — or we donít. And in my opinion, if youíre an OB/GYN and you donít do abortions, you are acting hypocritically. As OB/GYNs, itís our job to advocate for women and their choices. If someone doesnít want to do that, thatís cool with me, but they should choose another field.

When I was a twenty-five-year-old medical student, applying to OB/GYN residencies, I honestly hadnít thought a lot about the issue of whether, as an OB/GYN, I would perform abortions. Most of the best programs offered training in pregnancy termination but towed the party line of ďresidents may opt out of the training on ethical or religious grounds.Ē† But almost all of the residents at Northwestern did it. An unspoken pressure discriminated against those who didnít.

I was twenty-seven years old when I had to decide, and I rocked back and forth between my beliefs.† On the one hand, I believed that, as an OB/GYN in training, I should provide safe, compassionate care for women wishing to terminate their pregnancies.† On the other, I wanted to please my mother. Mom begged me not to do them, but Mom lost, and we made a silent pact never to speak about it again.When I started my job in San Diego, I discovered that nobody in the practice I joined did abortions. If a patient found herself with an unwanted pregnancy, she was told that we ďdidnít do that sort of thing,Ē and she was handed a business card for someone who did. I was horrified.

Thank God, I never had an unplanned pregnancy, but I imagined that, if I did, I wouldnít want to be shipped off to some stranger who ďdid that sort of thing,Ē as if the doctors were too high and mighty to get their hands dirty. We all make our own decisions in life, and certainly, the other doctors in my practice had the right to make their own choices. But I knew I couldnít work at a practice where our patients didnít feel supported in their times of greatest turmoil. So I surprised myself by announcing, ďFine. Iíll do them.Ē The minute it slipped out of my mouth, I felt a pang of regret. What had I done? But I swear — itís the weirdest thing — I honestly feel like God made me do it. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt a true calling to provide loving support and tender compassion, without judgment. My mother never understood, but I was being true to my own authentic self, even though it pitted me against her.

Compassion, not judgment

For eight years, I performed abortions on every patient in my practice who asked me to. I held their hands, wiped their tears, heard their stories, and loved them unconditionally. I knew that they never planned to wind up with unexpected pregnancies, and they needed compassion, not judgment. If my choice made one womanís painful journey more peaceful, then it was all worth it.

But it wasnít easy.† A few months after I started my job, I found my name on the front page of the Catholic News as the ďnew abortionist in town.Ē I prepared myself to face angry picket lines at work the next day, but praise God, they never came. I never quite felt comfortable in the skin of a doctor who aborts babies. I tried to resolve my confused conscience by extensively counseling my patients to make sure they understood all of their options, practiced smart birth control, and realized the fact that abortions are not without their consequences. The women whose pregnancies I terminated were often more grateful than those whose babies I delivered. I think many of them had already beat themselves up. The last thing they needed was another beating, so I tried to provide a compassionate ear and a shoulder to cry on.

Now, †in my office practice, I donít do surgeries at all anymore, so I no longer perform abortions. In some ways, itís easier this way. I donít have to feel conflicted about how to stay true to my integrity in the face of a duty I find hard to perform. But I have no regrets about the time I spent serving my patients in that way. I would do it all over again, but Iíd still struggle. Sometimes itís not easy to stand up for what you believe in. But itís always worth it when you know youíve been true to who you are.

What about you? Have you stood up for something that made you feel conflicted? Have you gone against the grain of how you were raised? Have you stayed true to your authentic self, even when doing so meant you risked being rejected by those you loved?

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Charles Wallace
Charles Wallace3 years ago

@Aileen C: "I'm not sure whether the author is still reviewing the comments or not, but we Pro Lifers always reaffirm that it's not just the mother's body. What about the baby?"

Aileen, by that logic, we could also reaffirm that it's not just your body. What about the cancer victim? And then we could say that you MUST donate that lifesaving bone marrow to him/her, no matter how painful it is to you or how much it will negatively impact your life. The government does not even force people to donate blood after a catastrophe, when people are dying from lack of blood. Why, then, is it OK to force women to donate their uteruses? It makes no sense! Prolifers want to give fetuses GREATER rights than "postbirth" humans have. If *I* don't have the right to use any part of another person's body without their consent, then neither does a fetus. Each person has the total autonomy over their own body, and has the right to deny others the use of it, even in the sad instances where that denial will result in the others' deaths.

Aileen C.
Aileen C.3 years ago

I'm not sure whether the author is still reviewing the comments or not, but we Pro Lifers always reaffirm that it's not just the mother's body. What about the baby? They never are so compassionate as to use general anesthesia for the one dying. (i.e. Too much trouble, it's expensive, etc.) Silent scream. You may have seen that footage before. In the end, it's still a moral issue. It's an assault on the baby, ending in murder. And the women may want to do the "procedure" but most of them end up in the worst state of their lives: depression, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism, remorse, etc., carrying that baggage for the rest of their lives. I've met them: they are left very different than before, devastated [for killing their own child.] There's a vast number of their testimonies online. Listen to them.

Roni Melton
Roni Melton4 years ago

Oi. I think most everyone has some opinion on this subject. I could be wrong. It's so controversial.

Claire Sayers
Claire Sayers4 years ago

The author actually did bring up the point that most of the time abortion wasn't exactly the thing most women wanted to do in the first place. Oftentimes there are very real fears that go along with the decision making process. There are plenty of cases of women who genuinely think that they cannot give their fetus the quality of life they think it deserves because of circumstances the mother can't control. And a lot of the time that is why women go to OBGYNs. They didn't want to do it but they feel like they had to do it.

Charles Wallace
Charles Wallace4 years ago

@Cindy S: "I agree with Deanna, the a fetus (baby at that stage) who is defensless should be protected by the law (if not our conscience). "

Then you must also think that a defenseless 6-yr-old who is dying of leukemia should ALSO be protected by law (if not our conscience), Cindy. So you have no problem with the government forcing YOU to donate bone marrow to save his/her life, no matter how much that surgical extraction will disrupt your life, or how much that surgery will affect you financially, or how painful that surgery will be for you. After all, why should an unborn fetus deserve more protection than a 6-yr-old?

Cindy S.
Cindy Schrab4 years ago

I agree with Deanna, the a fetus (baby at that stage) who is defensless should be protected by the law (if not our conscience). It is too bad that our society can just pick and choose that which is not perfect or decidedly not wanted at the moment or whim .OUR CHOICE!. What about the baby. Are we not supposed to be good stuwards of our offspring? I find it disturbing that self centeredness has won out over morality, but I guess that this is the "Live for Me World" we are in now.SAD!! I would not want to be a OB/GYN and have to live with that.

Charles Wallace
Charles Wallace5 years ago

Deanna, I find it very hard to believe that a 22-week fetus has a very good chance to survive outside the womb. Your source says:

"Week 22
Baby: Your baby measures about 7.6 inches and weighs about 12.3 ounces."

I seriously doubt that there have been very many such premature births that have survived. Any that did must have run up hospital costs in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars. I do not consider that "viable". I'll stick by my 3rd trimester (week 26, by your source) viability point. By that point, the fetus probably has an 80-90% chance of survival. And again, virtually ALL abortions done after this point are done because of problems with the fetus, NOT because the woman changed her mind on a whim. (I have a feeling that the vast majority of 22-26 week abortions are done because fetus problems, as well.)

To sum up: The overwhelming majority of abortions (99.99%), are performed BEFORE the average fetus becomes viable to live out the uterus: prior to the 3rd trimester. Virtually 100% of the 3rd trimester abortions are done because of problems in the fetus. Women do not decide to abort viable fetuses for frivolous reasons (brown eyes, not blue, etc.). Nobody's killings "babies" on a whim. So there's no reason to screw around with a woman's right to choose. TRUST WOMEN!

Deanna B.
Deanna B.5 years ago

@Charles, yes, our debate was limited to fetuses/babies after viability, since that is when you said you believe they become human. Viability is now considered to be 22-23 weeks, which is in the 2nd trimester (13-27 weeks Your Fox News link says 9% of abortions are done in the 2nd semester. Let's say it's only 1%. According to Wikipedia, there were 820,151 legal induced abortions in the US in 2005. 1% of 820,151 abortions is 8,202 babies.

If anyone else is still reading this, you may be surprised by European abortion laws, which are more restrictive than in the US:

Take care

Charles Wallace
Charles Wallace5 years ago

@Deanna: "Men actually do not have total autonomy over their bodies—they (and women) are prosecuted for using illegal drugs, for example."

As far as I know, the USE of illegal drugs is not illegal:

"In most states, 'possession' of a controlled substance is illegal but 'use' of the substance is not."

So, you can put whatever you want to in your body, as long as you're not caught possessing it prior to doing so. If you're found passed out in the street, and are taken to the hospital where you're found to have taken heroin, you cannot be prosecuted just for having used heroin. So, again, you have complete autonomy over your own body, and you're incorrect in maintaining that you don't.

Charles Wallace
Charles Wallace5 years ago

Deanna, if a fetus is removed from a uterus during the 1st or 2nd trimester, it will die of "natural causes". So, your argument doesn't hold for these. These make up 99.99% of all abortions:,2933,880,00.html

Out of 1.6 million abortions/year, only 100 are 3rd trimester. At one clinic, between 1998 and 2006, ALL of the 3rd terms were done because of severe malformations in the fetus that would lead to a high probability of perinatal death or *severe* handicap:

So, if your cleft palate abortion occurred, it was literally a 1-in-a-million incident, and it would be ludicrous to use it as justification for taking away a woman bodily rights.

I agree with you that fetuses who are viable to survive outside of the womb should not be killed. If a woman decides to abort the pregnancy after the point of viability, every attempt should be made to remove the fetus alive, that doesn't place the woman's life at overt risk. In other words, don't kill the woman to save the fetus, but save the fetus too, if possible. But remember, in 99.99% of abortions, the fetus is NOT viable yet.

BTW, your distinction between "donate" and "lend" is inconsequential, since the government doesn't force people to LEND property (i.e., organs) to others either. You have 100% autonomy over whom you want to lend your stuff to, as well.