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.”