An Abortion Provider Shares His Side Of The Story

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The following was written by an Arizona doctor with more than two decades of experience providing abortion care and other reproductive health services. Arizona is one of the states with the highest number of abortion restrictions in the country. The author has been targeted at home and work by anti-abortion protesters and has chosen to remain anonymous in order to protect his family from attacks and further harassment. 

In the mid-1980s, I was a young doctor in residency in Detroit. One day, a young woman was rushed into the hospital; she was 14 weeks pregnant and severely bleeding. It was clear that if someone didn’t terminate her pregnancy — fast — she was going to die. But, no doctor on hand had the training to perform an abortion. I stood by, helpless, while her life began to slip away.
We finally tracked down a doctor who had been educated in China and had the training necessary to terminate a pregnancy. As I watched him save the woman's life, I knew I wanted to develop those skills in case something like that ever happened again. I didn’t become an abortion provider because of a grand epiphany about women’s rights. I am not an activist, and I don’t approach my work with missionary zeal. I’m a doctor. I provide abortion care because I’m committed to the health and well-being of my patients. 
When I finished my residency and moved to Arizona in the late-1980s to join a multi-specialty practice as an OBGYN, it didn’t occur to me that I was taking my career into the middle of a civil rights struggle — nor did I realize that the greatest challenge of my career would be concern for the safety of my family.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Shortly after joining the practice, I found abortion equipment in a closet at our offices. When a patient needed to terminate a pregnancy, I offered a safe avenue to do so. When news that a doctor in our offices was providing abortions spread through the community, anti-abortion protesters began targeting our practice, and I was reprimanded by others in the office.
I’d assumed that the presence of abortion equipment meant it was okay to provide abortion care to my patients. I didn’t know then what was obvious in retrospect: that someone had long been conducting abortions on the sly. The problem wasn’t that I was providing abortions to women who needed them; it was that I was doing so in the open.

The episode opened my eyes to how politicized and absurd discussions around women’s reproductive health have become. Because the abortion debate today isn’t, in the end, even about abortion, or reproductive health, or women’s rights. It’s about transparency, and whether abortion is safe and legal — or driven underground.
We have moved past the idea that you can stop someone from having an abortion by standing in front of my office with a sandwich board. A woman who wants to end a pregnancy will find a way to do so. Anyone who thinks that they have any influence on a woman’s choice to end a pregnancy is mistaken. What anti-abortion activists — and the politicians who exploit the issue to raise money and drum up votes — can influence is whether or not the procedure is conducted in the safety of a doctor’s office or in the proverbial back alley. 
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
In recent years, we’ve seen state legislatures around the country pass various senseless and demeaning restrictions on abortion access — mandatory waiting periods, forcing a patient to look at a sonogram, onerous regulations aimed at forcing women’s health clinics out of business. Such laws have no medical significance and certainly have nothing to do with keeping abortions safe for women. And, none of them can stop abortions from taking place — they can only drive them into the shadows. 

Amid an ongoing onslaught on reproductive rights by craven politicians, women’s health advocates have to stay vigilant to make sure doctors like me can continue to offer the care our patients need. To keep abortion safe and legal, we need to be sending the message that these decisions ought to be made in a doctor’s office and should not be played out politically.
Supporters should also be strong proponents of comprehensive, medically accurate sex education to ensure that young people learn how to avoid getting into a situation in which they may need an abortion. Here in the state of Arizona, you have to opt in to accurate sex ed. In other words, you have to seek it out — if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen. That’s not the way things should be.

When I turned 40, I decided to open my own practice, and providing abortion care was an obvious niche I could fill. I didn’t start my practice as a political statement, but as a doctor concerned for my patients. Here in Arizona, it’s effectively illegal to provide abortion training at a publicly funded residency. Offering skilled abortion care made obvious sense, because there aren’t many people around here who do. When I need medical attention, I don’t go to a governor’s mansion, a state legislature, or Capitol Hill; I go to a doctor’s office, where discussions about medical care belong.       

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