Abortion Provider Appreciation Day: Dr. Doug Laube of Wisconsin

Did you know that today is Abortion Provider Appreciation Day? Now you do. In honor of the occasion, I interviewed Dr. Doug Laube, an outspoken abortion provider from Wisconsin.

Dr. Laube first started providing abortions in 1974 — one year after it became legal. I asked Dr. Laube what brought him to this perspective — why he started offering these services. He explained, “The year I started participating in doing these procedures was the last year of my residency at the University of Iowa, and at the time, and for a number years thereafter, the provision of abortion was considered a mainstream ob-gyn practice. No other specialties of physician were considered abortion physicians. As it became legalized, it was more or less an expectation. So, really it was part of the mainstream.”

I hadn’t realized that immediately post-legalization, abortion was a mainstream ob-gyn practice. I did know, however, that abortion was incredibly unsafe when it was illegal. Dr. Laube provided some gruesome insights: pre-legalization, there were entire wards in some inner-city hospitals that were dedicated to women who had received illegal abortions, because so many women came in suffering complications. Of the women who populated those wards, 50% died. As Dr. Laube put it, “It was a matter of necessary service to bypass all that.”

It didn’t take long for abortion to become focused in specialized clinics. “The early years were years when abortion was an expectation of general practice, and so it wasn’t parceled out and separated from ob-gyn services,” Dr. Laube said. “The evolution has been towards services in clinics that focus largely if not entirely on abortion provision.” As he noted, this can be a real problem: “This has enabled the procedure to be targeted in a much more efficient fashion by people who do not agree that it should be available.”

Dr. Laube himself has experienced some of that targeting. One amazing story from the mid-1980s involves a group of anti-abortion protesters battering down the door of a clinic with a telephone pole while he was working there. The good doctor was in the middle of performing a procedure at the time, but fortunately security showed up and halted the protesters trickling into the clinic before they got through the lobby.

So what does he see as the big issues facing the pro-choice movement today, and what can we do? The intimidation of providers is a real threat, of course — telephone poles aside, abortion providers are being murdered even today.

In the political terms of more reasonable people, though, Dr. Laube says that “it sounds trite, but readers should really try to contact their representatives and senators both at the state level and the national level. Probably at the state level will make more difference at this point than the federal level, because they’ve already made their funding decisions.” In the doctor’s home state of Wisconsin, the infamous Governor Walker is not just doing terrible things to unions but is doing his best to destroy women’s health care access. That’s just one example, though; Dr. Laube observes that similar things are happening all over the country.

Dr. Laube is currently a Global Health Fellow working on women’s health at the United States Agency for International Development. He is also chair of the board for Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. At one point during our conversation I asked him about his perspective as a male feminist, and he said he doesn’t see where gender identification comes into it. “In the end it is ultimately a human rights argument, a civil rights argument, and an individual rights argument” — not just in America, but across the world. Still, again, Dr. Laube urges us to think locally. It’s worth making your feelings known to your state politicians — state senators, for instance. (At the least, if you haven’t signed the petition to stand with Planned Parenthood yet, do that!)

Update: In terms of the 50% statistic above, I asked Dr. Laube about support for that statistic. He wrote, “The problem with documentation is that, of course, the illegal abortions were never recorded nor documented and patients often didn’t admit to having had one. So, one would have to review the hospital records from those times and make assumptions based on the septic complications which were seen. My info was from the professional opinions of physicians attending these patients.”

13 comments for “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day: Dr. Doug Laube of Wisconsin

  1. March 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

    One of my primary reasons for being pro-choice is because I recognize that even if abortion were illegal, it wouldn’t stop abortive procedures from being attempted. For every dubiously safe and effective medical procedure performed, there will be others who try medicines or “natural remedies”.

    If limiting unwanted pregnancies were truly the goal, one would need to take into account poverty, lack of educational opportunities, limited access to birth control, and basic gender inequality.

  2. March 10, 2011 at 11:55 am

    I’m not exactly pro-gun – for example, I don’t carry a gun and won’t live with someone who does – but I still hope that Dr. Laube carries one and knows how to use it.

    Clarisse, thank you for bringing up that abortion was considered a routine part of ob/gyn practice in the 1970’s after it was legalized. I didn’t become politically aware until the 1980’s, and by then (as the telephone pole as battering-ram incident shows) the right-wingers were already using violence as intimidation tactics.

  3. March 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I stand with Planned Parenthood to defend all of the poor women and families that will suffer without its assistance. Some people think that the organization’s demise will lower the abortion rate, but that makes absolutely no sense. If we shut down the organization supplying thousands of people with birth control, doesn’t it appear that the number of unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions will increase?

  4. Paraxeni
    March 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Cheers to the doctor and his compatriots.

    It shouldn’t be some practice relegated to special clinics. It should be routine gynaecological work, in a hospital, in safe secure surroundings. Nobody should be able to be marked out as anything other than someone entering/leaving a medical establishment, whether they’re a patient, a visitor, or a service provider.

    America needs to stop making sitting ducks of those who need these services, and those who provide them. There should not even be the opportunity for more deaths meted out by foetus-fetishists under their bizarre banner of ‘Life’, or more harassment of the vulnerable by bigots and forced-birthers.

    I’ll raise my glass tonight to the proud few left serving the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalised of the US. I only hope that one day nobody need ever know your names, that you could go home and sleep soundly without the threat of terrorism, purely because that should be your right. A doctor is a doctor is a doctor. End of. Doctor Laube – thank you for putting your head over the parapet to speak out.

  5. March 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm


  6. Paraxeni
    March 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    @comrade kevin – I’ve been made aware of a horrific news story today (trigger warning- concealed birth, foetal damage, total absence of scientific fact, emotive language) http://bit.ly/fbs3eF

    The article claims that a woman in Washington is to be charged with 1st degree murder of a “newborn baby”. In actuality it was a foetus of 21 week gestation, and the pathologist has given the go-ahead for the charge of 1st degree murder because apparently, this pathologist has determined that the “baby” could have lived. I’m not sure exactly where this guy got his medical training, but apparently it was not on Planet Earth.

    This could only have been an induced miscarriage by a desperate woman, in an attempt to abort (hence the damage to the foetus). No woman miscarries a wanted pregnancy then shoves it under the sink. I also don’t think she acted alone. That anyone should ever have to resort to this is unbelievably tragic. To then charge her with 1st degree murder is a disgrace. Why the hell anyone thinks this kind of story will do anything but become a commonplace occurrence if restrictions on reproductive choice are further tightened, is beyond me.

    I am absolutely aghast that a medical professional can say that a 21 week foetus was compatible with life, and that murder charges can be laid on that basis. Is it even legal to base charges on a flat-out lie?

    Like you said, abortion is a fact of life. It cannot be legislated out of existence. Here in the UK it can be obtained for free, but it should be on request. Current laws mean women need the ‘approval’ of two doctors. Changing that law won’t mean more or less abortions, just that the whole affair is less protracted and that delays are rare.

    In the States I’d like to see and end to the “not with my tax dollars” argument. Just because, why the hell not? I’ve never ever been able to get an answer on that from anyone that wasn’t “Abortion is bad” or “I don’t believe in it”. I’d love to hear an actual argument for it. Tax pays for it here, and a few quid worth of RU486 saves a hell of a lot more later. Unwanted pregnancies cost more mentally, physically and societally. So why not help citizens out before an unwanted implantation becomes an unwanted baby?

  7. Cathy
    March 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I’m going to stick my neck out here and say, as an independant, non religious woman (with no kids), there are many women out there who don’t believe in the practice of abortion (in most cases).
    I have my own reasons for this, but I have to say, hosting a tribute to the people that ‘provide’ the ‘service’ is upsetting to me.
    I often get the feeling these days, if you want to be seen as modern and feminist and successful you are automatically assumed to be pro choice as well. Just letting you guys know its not the case, and there are many like me who are too afraid to come out and say it, for fear of being labelled ‘weak’ or other labels out there that imply we are cowed under the dominion of men and ‘god’.
    Just thought comments needed another point of view.

  8. March 10, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I’m going to stick my neck out here and say, as an independant, non religious woman (with no kids), there are many women out there who don’t believe in the practice of abortion (in most cases).
    I have my own reasons for this, but I have to say, hosting a tribute to the people that ‘provide’ the ‘service’ is upsetting to me.
    I often get the feeling these days, if you want to be seen as modern and feminist and successful you are automatically assumed to be pro choice as well. Just letting you guys know its not the case, and there are many like me who are too afraid to come out and say it, for fear of being labelled ‘weak’ or other labels out there that imply we are cowed under the dominion of men and ‘god’.
    Just thought comments needed another point of view.

    ‘K, against my better judgment, I’ll bite. It’s not because you are “cowed under the dominion of men and ‘god’.” It’s because you advocate eliminating the bodily sovereignty of women and other folks with uteri in the name of assuaging your discomfort with abortion. It’s because you advocate returning to a time where untold thousands of women died or were permanently injured from back-alley abortions. G-d or lack thereof has nothing to do with it.

    Dr Doug Laube’s long history of providing a needed medical service, at great risk to his personal safety and life is well worth lauding and applauding, and I hereby laud and applaud him.

  9. sabrina
    March 10, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    if you are not prochoice you are not a feminist, because if you do not think that women have the right to bodily autonomy then you do not believe we are equal. End of story.

  10. paraxeni
    March 11, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Oh Cathy, if you think abortion is icky then don’t have one. Full stop. Until the perfect foolproof contraceptive, with no side-effects, and no contraindications is made freely available for anyone who can potentially conceive, until rape stops altogether, until every implantation is guaranteed to develop and be born exactly when and how the uterus-owner chooses – there will be abortion. As long as women can get pregnant, there will be a need to end it.

    Until all of those conditions are met, abortion is necessary. Saying “It’s not nice I don’t believe in it” (like I mentioned earlier, that’s the best ‘argument’ anyone seems to be able to come up with) and using that to justify forced birth, is distinctly anti-woman. It’s totally contrary to feminism.

    And you know what? It’s precisely attitudes like yours that mean providers have been put in a position in the US, where they are known figures. If anti-choice hate is putting their lives on the line for simply performing a routine gynaecological procedure on women who ask for it, then they deserve a little something in return from people who. are grateful that your attitude, that nobody with a uterus should have PIV sex with a cis male unless they are willing to host a pregnancy for close to a year risking health and employment, has not been enshrined into your legal system. Yet.

    Your side created these visible teams of providers by forcing them out into the wild. Your side drew attention to them. If they were left alone to practice in peace, nobody would know them or need to celebrate them. I’m British and I know of several American doctors and clinics who perform abortions, but I couldn’t name a single British provider. I’d hazard that any of the gynaecologists I’ve received care from do it routinely. I know that general and gynae wards I’ve stayed on perform them or enable them every day, but no provider is marked, no patient is marked, there are people using services and people providing them. No celebration available or necessary, any more than we need to celebrate pap smears or fibroid removal.

    If you like the idea of our system better, then you know what to do about it. Campaign to have abortion services and providers reintegrated into general practice, and fight for the right of women to choose when they birth. Then when it’s just something that occasionally needs to happen, when it’s not a hill people are dying on, when doctors are doctors are doctors – the celebration of individual providers can stop, as per your wishes.

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