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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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46 Responses

  1. William
    William June 28, 2008 at 9:55 am |

    I’m not so sure theres anything wrong with your mother’s decisions. I mean, it seems a little odd, but theres something to be said for knowing your own personal limits. If she doesn’t think she can handle the task emotionally, then I’m not sure it would serve anyone for her to go ahead and do it. For whatever reason her previous involvement had a serious effect on her and now being involved in an abortion would serve as a trigger for her.

    Now, if she wants to be able to help but finds that she can’t, then therapy might be a good option. There isn’t a lot of data, but it seems like she might not have worked through the difficulty she had with that late term abortion she was involved with early in her career. I’d hazard a guess that “grossed out” isn’t quite accurate for what she experienced when she helped with an abortion, given what you said about her eagerness to be involved in your surgery. Still, whatever the feeling actually is, its strong enough that your mother doesn’t feel comfortable facing it despite personal beliefs to the contrary. I think you should respect that.

  2. Toast
    Toast June 28, 2008 at 10:05 am |

    My advice? Leave her alone. I mean, look, if she were out there agitating to end the right to reproductive choice, I’d tell you to take her to the woodshed, but this? She’s viscerally freaked out by the image of fetus parts so she doesn’t want to work the abortion circuit? I just can’t really see what the point would be of forcing her to overcome that. Leave her be.

  3. shfree
    shfree June 28, 2008 at 10:15 am |

    I honestly don’t have a problem with this, but I can understand why you would find it frustrating. I do think people are allowed their own comfort levels, so long as they aren’t pushing their morality on others. Do I wish more doctors were comfortable with performing the procedure, absolutely. And I think that the fact that fewer and fewer medical schools offer training in it is deplorable.

    But people get squeamish about different things. I’ve seen a 19 week fetus. I’m glad I did, it got me to do some hard thinking about later-term abortions, and it reaffirmed my views that it is a woman’s decision to have a procedure or not. And I do wish I had seen the first trimester procedure done before I left the clinic I worked at. But generally speaking, I don’t do well with blood, and it may have been too much for me to see. Not for the morality of it, just for my squeamishness. And being squeamish is okay.

    As far as your mom and the hip surgery, it sounds to me like she was just curious about the procedure, and who is to say that she won’t go “Yuck, I don’t need to see that again.” Or, maybe she might decide that it was fascinating enough that she changes the focus of her practice. Which could be for the best, given her squeamishness regarding abortions.

    But I do understand that it is a tricky line to walk. I just think that there is a difference between “I think abortions are gross, so I won’t participate in the procedure” versus “I think abortions are gross, so I won’t participate in the procedure and the procedure shouldn’t be performed.” I keep thinking back to a bunch of us talking about different kinds of surgeries with the doctor that performs the second trimester procedures and seeing her shudder and go ew at someone else talking about an orthopedic surgery she watched.

    So my best advice to you, when the topic comes up again, allow for her squeamishness, but point out that perhaps being associated with OB/GYN surgeries probably isn’t the place for her.

  4. peter
    peter June 28, 2008 at 10:20 am |

    Jill, I got the impression that your mother is personally opposed to abortion, but I never got the impression that she wants to make them illegal for other women. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I have no problem if someone is squeamish about abortion, or doesn’t want to work around them. I don’t see that as a major problem worth trying to change their mind about.

    I have a problem with people who want to overturn Roe v Wade, and want to take women’s legal reproductive rights. Does your mother want to see Roe overturned, and does she want women’s right to reproductive choice curtailed?

  5. JenLovesPonies
    JenLovesPonies June 28, 2008 at 10:51 am |

    I am all for abortion, but I could see how the mother’s experience might freak her out. Hell, it would freak me out. My guess is that she has less than a decade left of her career- why push her to do something she isn’t comfortable with? Its also possible she herself has some sort of abortion-related issues- perhaps she had one and the experience working on someone else’s abortion brought home her own abortion. In that case, pushing her might not be mentally healthy. I would tread carefully here.

  6. Mandolin
    Mandolin June 28, 2008 at 11:16 am |

    I agree with others here — if she’s not trying to make abortion illegal, and she’s just not interested in performing them to the extent that she’s willing to take a pay cut, I don’t really see a problem. If she was insisting on changing the policies of the place where she worked so that she wouldn’t have to take a pay cut OR perform abortions, or doing something else similarly obnoxious… I’d see more of an issue. Does she live in an area where nurses who will help with abortions are uncommon?

  7. anon
    anon June 28, 2008 at 11:29 am |

    I see nothign wrong with this. My own mother is a ICU/labor delivery nurse, and fully supports the right to an abortion, but will have absolutely nothing to do with abortions herself. She specifically chose to work in a Catholic hospital (we are not Catholic, far from it) to avoid the issue in the first place.

    Myself, I’ve always supported a woman’s right to an abortion but I’m fairly certain that had I ever become pregnant (a moot point now, thank God) I would probably have been unable to go through with one myself.

    And yet, we have both signed petitions, voted for, donated money to, etc., all manners of things aimed at protecting a woman’s right to an abortion.

    Human beings are not rational. I find no problems with this.

  8. Stephanie
    Stephanie June 28, 2008 at 11:35 am |

    I have a problem with this. Medical practitioners who are involved in surgery should not be grossed out by procedures. I am getting tired of people with professional training refusing to be involved in abortions, sell prescriptions that will induce an abortion, etc. With all due respect to your mother, I think she is being irrational. I used to work in a clinic that performed abortions, and while I was not involved in the procedure, I sometimes observed the nurses in their examination of the fetus afterwards. People need to be able to detach themselves if they are involved in surgical procedures.

  9. tql
    tql June 28, 2008 at 11:49 am |

    Leave her alone. I worked at an abortion clinic for almost a year as a counselor. Over time, as much as I enjoyed being a support for women before, during , and after the procedure, I had difficulty working there because the procedure itself disturbed me. I felt horrible about that, and questioned whether or not I was “really” pro-choice. I had bought into the notion that I had to be all in – I had not only think the procedure should be legal, but I also couldn’t be disturbed by it either.

    Over-time, I started avoiding pre-counseling women coming in for 2nd tri-mester abortions or women with late 1st tri, and realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any good by being there. When I approached my boss to tell her that I needed to quit, I talked to her about how guilty I felt about quiting. She told me that just because I was committed to abortion rights didn’t mean I had to think that abortion was right — that there were degrees to support. And, if leaving working the clinic was what I had to do to protect my political stance, then she would gladly accept my resignation.

    Her incredibly gracious response helped to relieve the guilt I was feeling. Let your mom feel what she is feeling and affirm her boundaries. They are there for a reason.

  10. Natalia Antonova
    Natalia Antonova June 28, 2008 at 12:11 pm | *

    I doubt that anything can be done in a situation such as this one. She’s probably at this point where she’s set in her ways, and I doubt she’d be able to change.

    Medicine can be really tough on you, and you just never know *what* it is that might set you off (or so my grandma always tells me). We have a really good family friend, an army medic who went through Afghanistan, saw a lot of horror and blood. After that war was over, he goes to work for a normal hospital and does that for nearly ten years.

    Then, he loses a single patient to pneumonia, and suddenly he can’t practice anymore. Just like that. After everything he saw. He couldn’t explain it, and we couldn’t really tell him to go back – even though he’s a terrific man who really touched the lives of his patients and it was sad to see him wasting his talent.

    But it was his thing, you know? Anyway, he’s back in medicine now, after another ten years.

    So, you know, these things are often inexplicable.

  11. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp June 28, 2008 at 12:17 pm |

    Not sure why this is such a big deal to the letter-writer. Her mother isn’t preventing anyone from getting an abortion. Why can’t she let it be?

  12. tql
    tql June 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm |

    Actually, I think this question is also indicative of the fact there isn’t a diversity of thought among *some* in the pro-choice community. I have to say, after being silenced and berated by some for talking about how uncomfortable I am with abortion or if I dare bring up life issues, I am pleasantly surprised by the comments.

  13. Farhat
    Farhat June 28, 2008 at 1:05 pm |

    Agree with the commentors here. Putting together a nearly fully formed fetus can be very different emotionally from a hip replacement surgery. While most nurses I have known somewhat delight in the grossest aspects of their job, not everyone is like that. Also, I suspect, if someone needed an emergency abortion and no one else could substitute her, she would grit her teeth and do it.

  14. Dr. Dredd
    Dr. Dredd June 28, 2008 at 1:07 pm |

    Stephanie, aren’t medical professionals allowed to be human? Why isn’t this woman allowed to be squicked out about abortions? You’re confusing the point when you say:

    “I am getting tired of people with professional training refusing to be involved in abortions, sell prescriptions that will induce an abortion, etc.

    The mother has never done anything about prescriptions or other aspects of family planning.

  15. Cara
    Cara June 28, 2008 at 1:11 pm |

    The problem that I think the letter writer is having, and one that I can certainly understand, is that we’re dealing with a massive shortage of abortion providers. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t have the right to not perform them, and those medical personnel who don’t want to be involved in abortions should be required to do so in the most responsible manner possible, like the writer’s mother. Her mother isn’t doing anything wrong, per se, but it certainly strikes me as a feminist issue that pro-choice nurses and physicians are choosing to not perform them for this reason when we’re dealing with an aging population of abortion providers, 87% of U.S. counties without an abortion provider, and so many medical schools not even teaching abortion procedures. I don’t think the writer is saying “how do I force my mother and people like her to do something she doesn’t want to do?” I think she’s asking how we get otherwise pro-choice medical personnel to get over this kind of hurdle and therefore increase the population of abortion providers?

    Sadly, I don’t have an answer. But while I’m glad that people are so willing to accept a diversity of opinion among pro-choice people, I’m pretty puzzled and surprised that more people aren’t seeing the problem.

  16. Thene
    Thene June 28, 2008 at 1:14 pm |

    the thing is, in my experience, most people who wont do abortions don’t do them for the same reason my mother won’t – its squicks them out. maybe we can find a way to get them all past that?

    That’s interesting and problematic; isn’t it, what, only about 10% of US counties that even have abortion provision? There’s a shortage of providers in the UK too. Asking why, even in strongly pro-choice areas, medical practitioners don’t want to involve themselves in abortion is important.

  17. marijane
    marijane June 28, 2008 at 1:59 pm |

    I agree with the other posters here, I wouldn’t push this. She doesn’t sound like she’s anti-choice, she just can’t personally handle observing abortions, and that seems fair to me. If she really is pro-choice, perhaps she could show her support in other ways, like a donation to NARAL or something like that?

  18. OB/GYN doctor
    OB/GYN doctor June 28, 2008 at 3:03 pm |

    Hello, I’m an OB/Gyn physician. I am pro-choice, but I dont do any abortions unless its an emergency. A lot of ob/gyns are like myself–bothered by the procedure but unwilling to go back to the “bad ole days” when women were getting coathanger abortions.

    Asking why, even in strongly pro-choice areas, medical practitioners don’t want to involve themselves in abortion is important.

    Rightly or wrongly, many ob/gyns have a visceral negative gut reaction to the abortion procedure itself. Its just not very pleasant.

    87% of U.S. counties without an abortion provider, and so many medical schools not even teaching abortion procedures. I don’t think the writer is saying “how do I force my mother and people like her to do something she doesn’t want to do?” I think she’s asking how we get otherwise pro-choice medical personnel to get over this kind of hurdle and therefore increase the population of abortion providers?

    Abortion training is something you get in residency, not medical school. The vast majority of ob/gyn residency programs do offer training in abortion, many of them make it mandatory. If you want to learn how to do abortions there’s a way. Even if the local residency programs wont teach it, you can get trained at Planned Parenthood.

  19. OB/GYN doctor
    OB/GYN doctor June 28, 2008 at 3:07 pm |

    I have a problem with this. Medical practitioners who are involved in surgery should not be grossed out by procedures. I am getting tired of people with professional training refusing to be involved in abortions, sell prescriptions that will induce an abortion, etc. With all due respect to your mother, I think she is being irrational. I used to work in a clinic that performed abortions, and while I was not involved in the procedure, I sometimes observed the nurses in their examination of the fetus afterwards. People need to be able to detach themselves if they are involved in surgical procedures.

    I reject your premise that if you want to work in ob/gyn you have to do surgery. Thats not the case at all. Nurse practitioners are not surgeons and dont do surgical cases solo. They usually work as first assistants while in the OR, but that makes up less than 25% of their total workload.

    NPs can write prescriptions for medical abortion, but again thats not a surgical procedure so its really a separate category.

  20. Andrae
    Andrae June 28, 2008 at 3:21 pm |

    Pro-choice.. respect for choice goes both ways.. have you ever been lectured about how “immoral” abortion is? about how you “take an unborn child’s life”? I have and I find it irritating to be forced to agree with something just because it’s supposed to be right.. it’s the same thing if you force someone to want to do abortions just because it’s the “pro-choice” thing to do.. we’re selling abortion as an option, you make it sound like we’re selling abortion, period.

  21. Cara
    Cara June 28, 2008 at 3:25 pm |

    Abortion training is something you get in residency, not medical school. The vast majority of ob/gyn residency programs do offer training in abortion, many of them make it mandatory. If you want to learn how to do abortions there’s a way. Even if the local residency programs wont teach it, you can get trained at Planned Parenthood.

    Apologies for the mix-up with medical school vs. residency, but the point about a lack of training still stands. According to this article, the first reference I found when googling it, you’re mistaken about high rates of training taking place. Fifteen years ago, only 47% of graduating chief residents had performed a single first-trimester abortion. In PA, only 10% of programs required the training. I don’t have time to seek out more references right now, but having looked into this issue in the past few months, I’m absolutely certain that those numbers have only gotten worse, and significantly so.

    Of course they can get trained at Planned Parenthood. But they shouldn’t have to go out of their way to get that training, and it’s my understanding that medical residents are very busy people as is. The fact that someone out there provides the training doesn’t absolve other institutions of their responsibility to also provide it.

  22. Anna
    Anna June 28, 2008 at 3:53 pm |

    Why is the training to perform an abortion done in residency and not in school?

    Please forgive me if I sound all 101 here. Is the breakdown of places where it is difficult if not impossible to get an abortion affected by things like the gender breakdown of doctors at all? Are places that have more women as doctors more likely to have an abortion provider than places that have fewer women as doctors?

    As for things one is squicked out by – I would imagine more exposure to things would help. One of the reasons I feel comfortable going to a doctor to discuss my medical problems, no matter how “gross” they would be to anyone else, is because I suspect the doctors have heard it all, many many times, and are not going to have that “ewwww” response that, say, my best friend would. I would imagine if more medical people were required to “get used to” abortions, the same way I’m sure they’re required to get used to other things (sadly, the only two examples I can come up with is dead bodies and pus), there would be fewer of them “squicked”.

    It would strike me, then, that there should be a requirement of folks moving into the OB/GYN field to have training in abortions as part of their routine schooling, to have assisting with abortions as part of their residency.

    How one would campaign for such a thing, I don’t know – talking to doctors?

  23. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 28, 2008 at 4:44 pm |

    I don’t think any nurse or doctor ought to be forced to perform abortions if they don’t want to: if they prefer not to, they have the option of moving into an area of medical care where they’re unlikely-to-never to have to perform abortions, and so they should.

    But all medical practicioners ought to be *trained* how to perform abortions; it’s just a basic. A wannabe doctor or a nurse who can’t cope with that, needs to find some other profession.

  24. Beth
    Beth June 28, 2008 at 4:52 pm |

    I have a problem with this. Medical practitioners who are involved in surgery should not be grossed out by procedures.

    Medical practitioners are human.

    In nursing school, they do teach ethics. We discussed lots of scenarios. Taking a job where you have doubt about your ability to participate in procedures is considered unethical, so if you are not emotionally able to participate in abortions, the ethical solution is to not take a position where people will be depending on your participation. IOW, if you can’t emotionally handle performing an abortion, don’t work for a hospital in a capacity where that will be expected of you. That’s actually an ethics question that can show up on nursing board exams.

    And for the record, procedures like total knee and hip replacement surgery are fascinating, and are very different viscerally than something like bypass surgery (or an abortion). Truth be told, watching joint replacement surgery these days is more like watching shop than surgery – lots of power tools and mechanical parts, little blood.

  25. Beth
    Beth June 28, 2008 at 5:04 pm |

    A wannabe doctor or a nurse who can’t cope with that, needs to find some other profession.

    We do have a massive nursing shortage, you know.

    The fact is that most nurses have triggers that render some aspects of care emotionally difficult. Whether it is dealing with the visceral aspects of an abortion, or dealing with the young children who are so emotionally scarred from physical and sexual abuse that they have become homicidal and delusional, or dealing with patients with inoperable cancer who are unlikely to live much longer, or whatever. There is a very high burnout rate amongst nurses in many fields, and unfortunately some of these nurses are so scarred that they stop nursing altogether.

    The real trick is for nurses to become self-aware of their triggers, and to specialize in areas where they can do a lot of good while remaining emotionally intact.

    The good news is that our triggers vary widely. I love working with troubled teens in mental health care, or working in a children’s ICU, but have difficulty working with cancer patients (probably because I lots a parent to cancer as a teenager). I know nurses that can’t take working in either of the two fields I find rewarding, but love helping cancer patients.

    If we followed your standards (if you can’t emotionally handle *everything*, you shouldn’t be a nurse), then we wouldn’t have many nurses (and we’d particularly lose a lot of the best nurses, since there is a correlation between empathy and emotional vulnerability).

  26. denelian
    denelian June 28, 2008 at 5:25 pm |

    hey. so, this is my letter, and my mother

    Cara was absolutly right about what i was asking – i’m pretty sure that specifically my mother will never perform an abortion, or assist in another one.
    and i get what everyone is saying – depending on how stubborn she is, she may have less than a decade of professional practice left.
    of course, i’m pretty sure she will practice until she drops.

    but – again, Cara was quoting what i was thinking. somehow. we need more abortion providers. we need nurses and doctors who can move past a knee-jerk reaction to “baybees!”. and often times what people have trouble with in abstract, is easily dealt with when it is specific and personal.

    and my mother (after our last fight) said that if i could find a way to convince more people to perform abortions, she would try to implement it. i have been trying to research this question, but because of my current issue (i go back in for surgery on July 10th. my last surgery was only 3 weeks ago) i wasn’t doing so well, so i thought i would throw it to the feministe readers. the reactions are interesting, and i have to ask – if, instead of a 55 year old mother, i had been talking about a 28 year old just graduated… would the general “leave her alone and let her practice as she wants” have been the same? is this a function of her ethical decisions or her age? that may just be how i am reading it, and not what anyone meant. and i can always blame the methadone

    and Beth – now i want a remote control for my hip. and at least 5 speeds :D

  27. T.
    T. June 28, 2008 at 5:27 pm |

    Reading that letter really struck me. I am pro choice. I was one of those people who would have NEVER gotten an abortion. Never Ever Ever would have done it. Until this year when I had a sick fetus who would have become my stillborn baby. It ripped me to my core to end that pregnancy. I was far enough along that my doctor had to perform what media calls a “partial birth” (actually that’s not even a real medical term, it’s a D & E- but anyway) abortion to end the pregnancy and my fetus’s (in my heart it was/is my baby’s) suffering. When I think that there was a nurse counting the parts to make sure it was complete- that my fetus was totally removed, I am horrified and grateful at once. I have avoided the details until now b/c I just couldn’t handle it. Thank goodness my doctor, a mother herself, was able to do this for me. She held my hand as I went under, and waited with me to wake up because she knew that I love(d) my fetus/baby and that making that choice was agonizing for me. She did this to help me. She does it to help others regardless of thier circumstances or gestation (within legal boundries). I feel like I should thank her again, this time for being able to detach herself enough to be able to do this. To help women.
    I don’t fault that person’s mom for not being able to handle it. I think I’d rather not have read it, but now that I did, I am so grateful that some people can and do. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t I would be 8 months pregnant with a doomed fetus right now instead of trying to get pregnant and give my daughter a sibling to grow up with.

  28. NancyP
    NancyP June 28, 2008 at 5:55 pm |

    Observations. One can see all sorts of blood and guts and not be bothered. Remember, the scrub nurse looking the hardest at the surgical field is also NOT looking at the patient as a whole. She sees a square of skin surrounded by blue drapes. I had completed my anatomy class, and had spent most Thursday mornings in my second school year looking at autopsy organs – non-squicked. Then I started clinical rotations, took care of a woman with terminal cancer, and eventually attended her autopsy. THAT squicked me. I admit, I’d be less squicked today, but I am dreading the day I end up doing an autopsy on a colleague – and those situations happen. (Otherwise, I am pretty much unsquickable, though still objecting to the long-dead-at-room-temperature smell).

    Assembling recognizable, near-full-size parts with skin is likely to squick anyone. It’s like being a medic responding to one of these IED explosions (or 9/11 rescuer) and gathering limbs and heads. It’s like being a homicide scene investigator or detective, or a forensic pathologist. I certainly understand the mother’s squickedness after seeing what she saw. BTW many 3rd trimester abortions don’t need anything more than the very squicky D&X procedure in which the cervix is dilated and uterus induced, and then the head (if any) is collapsed enough to pass through the canal. For anencephaly, probably the most common reason for 3rd trimester abortions, all that is needed is delivery – these fetuses have no cranium, and are delivered easily.

    You want to know why more doctors (ob/gyns and possibly family practitioners with an ob/gyn component to their practice) don’t perform surgical abortions? Domestic terrorism! They don’t want to be shot and they don’t want their spouse and kids harmed either. They don’t want their practice offices to be boycotted or bombed, most support staff don’t want to work in an office where there is a greater than average chance of being blown away, and many patients might be squicked, especially the ones having a hard time getting pregnant.The result is that docs who do abortions pretty much only do abortions, or work at clinics for the uninsured. You are talking about a calling, and real toughness of mind and spirit. Delivering well babies is much more satisfying to the average doctor, the generally cheery nature of ob/gyn is what attracted them to the specialty in the first place.

  29. OB/GYN doctor
    OB/GYN doctor June 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm |

    You want to know why more doctors (ob/gyns and possibly family practitioners with an ob/gyn component to their practice) don’t perform surgical abortions? Domestic terrorism! They don’t want to be shot and they don’t want their spouse and kids harmed either. They don’t want their practice offices to be boycotted or bombed, most support staff don’t want to work in an office where there is a greater than average chance of being blown away, and many patients might be squicked, especially the ones having a hard time getting pregnant.The result is that docs who do abortions pretty much only do abortions, or work at clinics for the uninsured. You are talking about a calling, and real toughness of mind and spirit. Delivering well babies is much more satisfying to the average doctor, the generally cheery nature of ob/gyn is what attracted them to the specialty in the first place.

    This is spot-on. Even though its rare for abortion docs to actually be killed, the harassment is real and very few of us want to choose such a publicly visible and scorned line of work. When you have the option of delivering babies, saving women from gynecological cancer, and doing well-woman checkups, then its an easy choice compared to providing abortions.

  30. OB/GYN doctor
    OB/GYN doctor June 28, 2008 at 7:30 pm |

    But all medical practicioners ought to be *trained* how to perform abortions; it’s just a basic. A wannabe doctor or a nurse who can’t cope with that, needs to find some other profession.

    Mandatory training gives a false sense of security and it wont result in any more abortion providers. There’s no evidence either, but its probably bad for overall womens health.

    Do you want to go to a doc who hasnt done an abortion since residency 20 years ago? I’d say its far better to drive a few hours to the a competent, skilled, experienced abortion provider. Also remember that getting access to a medical abortion is usually easier–you dont need an ob/gyn doc to get it and there are more providers (including NPs) willing to do it.

  31. OB/GYN doctor
    OB/GYN doctor June 28, 2008 at 7:52 pm |

    Why is the training to perform an abortion done in residency and not in school?

    Well med students dont get TRAINING in any kind of surgery, at most they get to observe and maybe retract or stitch up the skin at closing. The actual training part for surgical procedures is left to residency, regardless of whether its plastic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, or c-sections.

    To get real training for any surgery, you need to be in the surgeon’s “chair” and do most of the work, and quite simply med students are not ready for that kind of responsibility. They dont have the manual/dexterity skills and dont know how to use enough of the surgical instruments with any kind of skill yet.

    I think all med students should have the option to observe abortions, and many med schools offer this, but they dont make it mandatory. Med students can always observe abortions at planned parenthood. The fact is however that most women seeking abortions will not consent to have a med student in the room.

    When I was a med student I observed several abortions, and we had about 3 lectures on it. So I was familiar with the concept, indications, complications, etc but I was nowhere near ready to do it as the primary.

    Please forgive me if I sound all 101 here. Is the breakdown of places where it is difficult if not impossible to get an abortion affected by things like the gender breakdown of doctors at all? Are places that have more women as doctors more likely to have an abortion provider than places that have fewer women as doctors?

    There’s no studies on this that I know of, but I suspect that there is very little difference. OB/GYN residency programs are now 90% female, yet the percentage of ob/gyn docs choosing to offer abortions has remained flat. Anecdotally, from my experience most of the “diehard” stringent advocates of abortion who choose to offer it are men. They remember what the “bad ole days” were like and back then most of the ob/gyns in training were men.

    I would imagine if more medical people were required to “get used to” abortions, the same way I’m sure they’re required to get used to other things (sadly, the only two examples I can come up with is dead bodies and pus), there would be fewer of them “squicked”.

    I dont think this would work. In ob/gyn you see a lot of “gross” stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with abortion. Its not the sight of the blood/guts that keeps docs from doing the abortions.

    It would strike me, then, that there should be a requirement of folks moving into the OB/GYN field to have training in abortions as part of their routine schooling, to have assisting with abortions as part of their residency.

    How one would campaign for such a thing, I don’t know – talking to doctors?

    Again, I dont think this will work. I attended a mandatory abortion training residency program in NY, and out of our resident graduates only one out of 15 graduates chooses to do abortions. So in my anecdotal experience, mandatory training has no effect on the number of providers.

    To get more abortion providers, you need to take away the public scrutiny/stigma that comes with the job. Ban the protesters, send the people that put out flyers with the docs name/address in jail, etc.

  32. Kristen
    Kristen June 28, 2008 at 8:10 pm |

    Mandatory training gives a false sense of security and it wont result in any more abortion providers.

    Eh…I’m not so sure about this. I mean if nothing else it might de-stigmatize the procedure somewhat if its performed at every program in the country. Not to mention providing abortions to some women in areas of the country where there are medical programs but no abortion clinics.

    Plus we can stretch the forced birther’s resources…more places to protests = fewer people per location.

  33. tql
    tql June 28, 2008 at 9:50 pm |

    I dont think this would work. In ob/gyn you see a lot of “gross” stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with abortion. Its not the sight of the blood/guts that keeps docs from doing the abortions

    I would say it is probably that thing that many in the pro-choice community don’t like talking abot that is one of the reasons that keeps docs from doing abortions — the fact that abortion ends a potential life.

  34. denelian
    denelian June 28, 2008 at 9:59 pm |

    lots of things can end a potential life. in my case, i have porphyria – pregnancy will end *MY* life.

    in all the times my mother and i have had the fight, it never occured to either of us that if she provided abortions, her life might be at risk.

    now *I* am freaked. sigh. we are all hypocrits, no matter how we try otherwise…

  35. akeeyu
    akeeyu June 29, 2008 at 2:38 am |

    I don’t have a problem with your mother’s decision assuming:

    A: That her declining to assist is not seriously impacting the availability of terminations at her office
    B: That in a dire emergency, she would try to put aside her squickedness to save a woman’s life
    C: That she doesn’t say things like “No, dear, I won’t be assisting with your procedure tomorrow because OMG the dismembered fetuses!” to patients, and she sounds like a nice lady, so I’m guessing she wouldn’t
    D: That she doesn’t take a job at an abortion clinic because, um, that would be silly, right?

  36. Aura Kitten
    Aura Kitten June 29, 2008 at 6:09 pm |

    If we’re dealing with, as someone said, a “massive shortage of abortion providers,” maybe everyone – prolife and prochoice alike – should look at WHY so many women want abortions now ~ look at the socioeconomic reasons, the poverty and lack of housing and childcare… so we WON’T keep needing so many providers…

    Also, I think it’s a pretty fucked up human who WOULDN’T be bothered by handling dismembered baby parts. Call it a fetus if you like, that’s still a tiny human and late-term babies LOOK LIKE BABIES. I can’t believe anyone would complain about someone being squicked out about that. That’s just sick.

  37. denelian
    denelian June 29, 2008 at 6:28 pm |

    not sure she would do B, although i like to hope… the rest is correct :)

  38. Anna
    Anna June 29, 2008 at 6:57 pm |

    To get more abortion providers, you need to take away the public scrutiny/stigma that comes with the job. Ban the protesters, send the people that put out flyers with the docs name/address in jail, etc.

    That I can totally understand. Thanks for clarifying the rest of it for me.

  39. Rockit
    Rockit June 29, 2008 at 7:54 pm |

    I’ve also got to agree with the majority of the posters here. Considering the Romanian story we’ve all heard about over the last week, now as much as ever it’s clear how important it is that there are trained medical staff who can perform abortions.

    Nevertheless though, it does sometimes feel that, just as there are a large proportion of right-wingers who refuse to recognize any benefits of abortion to women, people and society in general, a lot of pro-choice supporters are also unwilling to recognize that it’s just not a black and white issue. I’m not suggesting that camaigning for abortion rights s on the same level as bombing medical clinics by a longshot, just that it’s possible to support something as being on balance a necessity while still disagreeing on the morality of the procedure (or just feeling uncomfortable with its implications).

    But still, don’t nurses often specialise in specific areas? Perhaps it’s different here in the UK but surely if you’re not okay with any particular area of medicine it’s possible to concentrate on a different subsection?

  40. TravelingHomebody
    TravelingHomebody June 30, 2008 at 2:22 am |

    I haven’t had time to read all of the comments, but wanted to add my perspective. I am staunchly pro-choice, and have chosen a career-path that is dedicated to sexual and reproductive health and rights. I am in graduate school, and have recently been involved with some research for a safe abortion program in Asia.

    Before I left the US, I talked with some of the faculty who are involved with the “Med Students for Choice” Group on my campus in preparation for the work I’d be doing. They invited me to come to their clinic, and I had the opportunity to actually observe some abortion procedures. I will dislaim by saying that while I have never been squeamish, I am not a clinician – I am not a nurse or doctor, and have not had much experience with observing medical procedures. I have at times thought that maybe I should get some clinical training, so that I could perform abortions.

    Anyhow – I thought I was prepared for the experience of watching an abortion – I have read so much about the medical procedure, I have seen the illustrations, etc. But somehow, watching it in real life play out in front of my eyes was different. I watched the clinician inject anesthetic into the woman’s cervix, and then I started to feel a little woozy. Within a minute or two, I had passed out cold on the floor. It was a horrible, embarrassing experience – although it is funny to say (to the right person) that my most embarrassing moment was passing out while watching someone’s abortion procedure.

    I spent a long time reflecting on what happened and questioning myself. Did this mean that I couldn’t hack it? If I couldn’t watch a procedure without fainting, should I really be doing this work? And as my initial embarassment receded, I was able to answer those questions. I know that I am in the right field, doing the right thing, and I’ve watched a few other procedures (from a different vantage point, in a very different context, using different surgical techniques) without any problems. I think that I could go back into that clinic in the US and watch a procedure again without a problem, but who knows? Maybe not.

    All this is to say that yes, some of us have limits, and while we can agree wholeheartedly with something, and support it with our time, energy, and emotion, it may be different when you come face to face with it.

    I wanted to share one other story. My father is a family physician. My parents are pro-choice because they understand that if abortion is illegal, the consequences are dire. However, this is a “silent position” – they do not talk about it, fight for choice and access, etc. When I was 19 or 20, my mom told me that my father used to perform abortions in my hometown. He was performing them until a local anti-choice religious zealot started visiting our home regularly, and having chats over coffee with my parents. I was a child at the time, and I remember her coming over to our home. It was a small town, and she was a friend of a friend, coming over to “chat.” My mom was pregnant with one of my siblings during this time.

    It turns out that this woman was, through a succession of conversations, convincing my parents to stop providing abortions in their clinic. She threatened that she would “ruin” him in our small town. Out of fear and confusion, my parents agreed that they would stop providing the services. It was all extremely quiet. There were no picketers in front of his clinic, no rallies, no press – just a series of persuasive chats. My parents are also Christian – not in the narrow-minded way that this woman is a Christian, but I think she questioned their faith just enough that they started doubting themselves.

    So, it was hard for me to learn about this. 10 years later, I still haven’t talked to my father about it, but I hope to interview him about it one day. Sometimes, I am still angry that he stopped providing this service. But because I love him and understand that the real reason he stoppped doing abortions was to protect his practice and his family in a small town, and being a member of that family, I can respect his decision. I still have a lot of questions, and getting them answered may change how I feel. Mostly, I want to know about the “access” piece. When my father stopped doing abortions, were women in my hometown able to get them elsewhere? Because I grew up in an area with decent access to small and large cities, I’m pretty sure that if you had some means, it would not be hard to find another abortion provider in the area. But, I don’t know that for certain.

    When my mother told me this story, I was in the middle of my heady, angry, “newly minted feminist” days where the world seemed very black and white. She told me the story, and followed it with a request. She said that I could do any feminist work I wanted, but please don’t work for Planned Parenthood, or do abortion-related work. It was a “think of your father, think of our family” speech. 10 years ago, my mom still harbored the fear that someone might just get a crazy notion to kill my father, or bring down his medical practice.

    I haven’t talked about my career path with my mom since then, but while I understand her request and I respect my father’s decision to not provide abortion services, I know that I am driven to do this work (in spite of my apparent propensity to faint during the procedure at the sight of blood).

    So, these long-winded stories are really just to say that I think we have to respect that people are complex creatures. I still find myself asking questions like, “if a nurse refuses to scrub in for an abortion procedure, is that akin to a pharmacist denying a woman contraception?” My gut reaction is yes – it is the same sort of issue. But when I think of myself and I think of my father, I know that it’s really complicated when it comes down to the personal level.

  41. miwome
    miwome June 30, 2008 at 2:39 am |

    Given that she works at clinics that don’t offer abortions, rather than working at ones that do and then becoming an obstruction, I see nothing wrong with her personal choice not to perform abortions.

    If she were essentially acting as an anti-abortion mole (even with the best of intentions) by filling a position at an establishment that did perform them–as we’ve seen many times–that would certainly be objectionable. All she’s doing, though, is removing herself from a situation that makes her uncomfortable.

  42. Dianne
    Dianne June 30, 2008 at 5:06 am |

    Hi, late to the party here, but…

    I don’t see why the woman in question should be compelled or pushed into getting over her feelings and helping perform abortions. If she doesn’t want to do it, she doesn’t. However, if, that is IF, she is interested in getting past her visceral reaction and performing abortions for whatever reason (better pay, more socially useful, whatever), I can think of some things that might be helpful for her.

    She might reflect on what exactly bothers her about what she saw and how to get around it. If it was the “assemble the parts of a nearly formed baby” aspect then maybe observing some first trimester abortions and seeing the undifferentiated to the naked eye products of such abortions would be helpful. (Note that if she worked at a clinic she would be involved only in first trimester abortions, not second and certainly not third trimester. So she would be reasonably assured of never seeing a fetus that looked even vaguely like a baby.)

    She might consider whether she wants to do some sort of support work at a clinic that provides abortions, even if she doesn’t want to scrub for the procedure. If she worked as a counselor or circulating nurse for a while she might get over her reaction and feel comfortable being involved in first trimester abortions again.

    My advice to the daughter would be something like this, “Back off a bit. Let your mother know that you’re ready to help her in any way you can if she does want to start working in a facility that performs abortions again and that she shouldn’t hesitate to use you for moral support or a sounding board, but then drop it. Don’t insist that she must get over it or that her response is somehow irrational or wrong. She’ll either come to the idea on her own or not.”

  43. Dianne
    Dianne June 30, 2008 at 5:17 am |

    Incidentally, I agree with the people who are saying that what squicks someone about medicine can be idiosyncratic. I can do a lot of things without losing it too badly. Need someone to do a bone marrow biopsy? It’s one of my favorite procedures. Need someone to deal with the results when an HIV+ patient pulls out his IV and starts swinging it around? I’m not thrilled, but I can do it. Need someone to hold wriggling intestines out of the way so the surgeon can see what she’s doing? Yeah, yeah…so what’s for lunch? But I can’t deal with seeing someone in pain or distress without doing anything about it. I’m ok if I’m doing something that will eventually lead to their feeling better, but just standing there and watching…yeck. Which is why I could never be an OB. I can’t just stand by and watch a woman in labor, even when she’s handling it fine, has no need or desire for intervention. I nearly fainted several times on my OB rotation. Not in situations where something was going wrong, but where everything was going right…it was just that the woman who was laboring was in pain.

  44. Jody
    Jody June 30, 2008 at 10:34 am |

    I’m a nurse. Many of us have something that utterly squicks us out or that we can’t deal with. I seem to be able to deal with blood, guts, psychosis, and death (I know nurses for whom these are difficult) — but I cannot deal with boogers or bugs. I work in respiratory — I probably won’t ever have to see maggots or parasites, but mucus is pretty common in my field. Someone else has to pull NG tubes. I can’t do it, I throw up every time. I can’t look at sputum samples to see if the patient hacked up enough, either.

  45. Shelley
    Shelley July 2, 2008 at 11:30 pm |

    “Why is the training to perform an abortion done in residency and not in medical school?”

    Because it’s irrelevant for medical school purposes. Medical school is the base training for all doctors; they then each go on to residencies in the fields of their choosing, which is where they specialize in the techniques and issues relevant to that field. Knowing how to perform an abortion is only relevant to OB-GYNs; it’s not relevant to dermatologists or ear-nose-and-throat doctors or allergists.

    Jesurgislac’s comment “But all medical practicioners ought to be *trained* how to perform abortions; it’s just a basic” doesn’t make any sense. Why should the med school student who is ultimately going to be a dermatologist have to be trained on how to do abortions?

    And OB-GYN doctor is absolutely right. It’s quite easy for an OB-GYN to be pro-choice personally but still feel uneasy when actually doing the abortions. I suggest that those of you who are complaining that the OB-GYNs need to suck up and do it, might consider going to med school and residency yourself if you’re so committed to ensuring that there are abortion providers around.

    OB-GYN doctor is also quite right in that there is significant domestic terrorism directed towards OB’s and their families. If I were an OB-GYN who performed abortions, I sure would keep it hush-hush … not because it’s something to be ashamed of, but who knows what sort of whack job might decide to off your spouse and children. It is quite a real fear for OB-GYN’s.

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