- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

A middle-age gynecologist, who asked to remain nameless for a reason he shouldn't have to namely fear for his family treks twice a month from his home in Georgia to perform abortions at clinics in the District and Norfolk.
Why? Because that was the gut-wrenching question asked of him by a woman who grabbed him by the collar and pulled her to his face as she bled to death after a botched back-alley abortion. "If there's anything I can do to aid ladies and their problems, then I'll do it," said this physician, who has since "turned out to be a women's advocate" because "women's rights are shortchanged." After he watched a second woman die as a result of an illegal abortion, he decided to dedicate his career to providing the best medical care he can offer to women, especially those least likely to receive it.
This native Washingtonian hides his identity to honor his wife's wishes. She rightly fears the actions of extremist pro-life advocates who feel more emboldened in this chilling conservative climate. So much for those who clamor for the sanctity of life.
This doctor, who volunteered that he is a Catholic, says, "One has to do what one believes in," so he's willing to deal with the consequences. What he fears more is a return to the dark days of back-alley and "coat hanger" abortion mills that he "remembers vividly." When he began his residency at Howard University Hospital, then Freedman's Hospital, it was just before the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, although the procedure already was lawful in the District. He witnessed "the ladies all messed up," and "suffering dire consequences."
"Everybody makes mistakes, but they shouldn't have to suffer for it the rest of their lives," said this doctor, who reared three daughters and advised countless others about family planning. This doctor's predisposition to be nonjudgmental became evident during our long-distance telephone conversation on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the court's Roe v. Wade decision.
Mounting political pressures, mainly pushed by male politicians (just look toward Virginia), who are determined to reverse that 1973 Supreme Court decision, come at a time when women are finding it harder to gain access to abortions.
Providers are fewer and farther between. Research by the Alan Guttmacher Institute supports this doctor's concern. More than 85 percent of counties in the United States do not have a single abortion provider. Women seeking abortions, who are disproportionately poor and of an ethnic minority and already have at least one child, must travel to exercise their right to chose what's best for them and their families.
These are some of the reasons that this semi-retired doctor still travels. He says many of his colleagues have stopped performing abortions out of fear, and some medical schools are no longer teaching students some gynecological procedures.
"Doing an simple D&C; is becoming a lost art," he said of the procedure that's generally associated with abortion but is necessary to treat other uterine diseases.
Just ask Robert Roose, 23, a second-year medical student at George Washington University, who braved the appropriately bone chilling temperatures Wednesday to march in a pro-choice rally sponsored by Planned Parenthood near the Supreme Court steps.
"I'm here to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade at a time when the number of abortion providers continues to decline," Mr. Roose told The Washington Times. As a member of the group Medical Students for Choice, "We are out here to help ensure all future doctors are adequately trained to meet the full reproductive needs of their women patients, including abortions, because it's just good medical care."
Mr. Roose said fewer than half of medical schools provide abortion training. Howard University is one of the few teaching hospitals in this area that does; GW, because of its affiliation with other religious medical service providers, does not.
All this raises questions about basic medical care for women. Will only those wealthy enough get the full range of care they need or desire? The Georgia doctor pointed out that women do, after all, have miscarriages, and "only 40 percent of all pregnancies result in birth." Based on the recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, it's a good thing that fewer women are getting abortions. Depending on what side of the street you stand on in the abortion debate, this welcome decrease could be attributed to difficult access, abstinence training and/or better contraception and prevention practices.
Jatrice Martel Gaiter, president of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said during a recent luncheon interview that only 10 percent of its patients seek abortions. The bulk, 90 percent, "come in for comprehensive sexuality education and family planning, which is proven to prevent unwanted pregnancies," Ms. Gaiter said. "These politicians are doing everything they can to stop abortions while we work six days a week to make abortion less necessary in the first place."
What gets lost among the placards and platitudes during these perennial pro-choice and pro-life rallies is that common ground exists. We all want to prevent the need for abortion. Where we differ is whether we believe it's our business or the government's to enforce our views on other folks' private lives.
What would be most heartwarming is to witness the same amount of energy and passion demonstrated for fetuses put into children who are alive but not well because they are forced to live in unhealthy, unwholesome and even life-threatening circumstances.
Did the Georgia doctor think that his services would still be necessary or that we would still be engaged in this raging debate three decades later?
"No, it's much ado about nothing," he said. "We have more important things to deal with than a woman's reproductive rights."
But here we are, looking back with the past creeping closer into view.

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