Barely Legal

In Minnesota, finding an abortion doctor gets harder all the time

The state abets these activists by constructing meticulous paper trails for them: Abortion is the only legal surgical procedure that must be reported to the Minnesota Department of Health. The requisite form--entitled, "Report of Induced Abortion"--is a disconcerting document. It requires the physician's reporting code and facility reporting code, along with the physician's medical specialty, the setting in which the procedure was performed, the patient's city of residence, age, race, education, estimated gestation, number of previous abortions or live births, contraceptive use at time of conception, type of procedure, complications, method of disposal for fetal remains, type of payment, type of health coverage, and, last but not least, "specific reason for the abortion."

The requirement is the result of a state law passed in 1998, at the height of debate over the national Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which President Bush signed into law last year. Because Minnesota found itself lacking hard data about the annual number of abortions by type, MCCL pushed the requirements through, hoping they would provide the smoking gun data necessary to ban partial-birth abortions.

Kimberlee Ward, associate legal director for NARAL Pro-choice America, believes that a very real consequence of gathering and making available this type of data is to allow pro-life activists to target judges who rule in favor of minors seeking terminations. The law also serves to warn abortion doctors that they are being watched at all times. One OB-GYN, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the intimidation factor is very high. On the few occasions he has performed abortions, he has declined to fill out the mandatory form. "I'm not going to report something to the state that could jeopardize my life," he says. "If they want to provide security for me, that's fine." Another physician explained that some doctors skirt the reporting requirement by claiming they are handling miscarriages rather than abortions. Ironically, for these physicians, breaking the law causes less anxiety than admitting to performing a procedure that is legal.

"Each restriction on its own can have a devastating effect on a woman's right to choose," says Ward. "But when you put these limitations together, the hurdles for women and their pro-choice doctors become almost insurmountable." According to figures from a 2003 Minnesota Department of Health report, a mere 20 doctors provided 97 percent of the state's 14,833 reported abortions in 2002. Even more surprising, a smaller, stalwart group of eight doctors provided 74 percent of the total.

 

Stan Davis sits in the family roomof his suburban Twin Cities house, just beyond piles of plywood and scattered home improvement tools. A graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, Davis completed his residency at the University of California, San Diego. Like Mueller, he was trained to do both first- and second-trimester abortions, which came in handy since the operation is all but banned just across the border in Mexico.

Abortion should be part of routine obstetrics training, says Davis, and not just because he's ardently pro-choice. "Say someone is at 18 weeks and starting to miscarry. At 18 weeks, that's getting to be a bigger uterus, and if she's bleeding heavily, you need to know how to evacuate [it]." Davis continues, "[Pregnant] women can get infected and bleed and you have to take care of them. If you don't do it right, you are going to hurt them." Because the majority of local OB-GYNs were taught at the U of M medical school--where, until very recently, a resident had to specially request any abortion training at all--they have practically no experience with the operation. Davis is regularly asked to stand by in cases of fetal death, where a uterus needs to be evacuated.

In March 2003, before the Minnesota House Health and Human Services Committee and a state senate panel, Davis made a strong case against the Woman's Right to Know Act, which took effect on July 1, 2003. The law--another victory for MCCL--requires that all Minnesota physicians who either perform abortions or refer their patients to abortion clinics inform those patients at least 24 hours before the procedure not only about the attending medical risks, but also about adoption possibilities and child support options. Doctors are also required to dispense materials that detail anatomical and physiological characteristics of unborn children and explain details of fetal pain. Until recently, the materials--generated by the state health department--inaccurately linked breast cancer to abortion.

"The 24-hour wait is a bad idea because I don't think anything should interfere with the patient-physician relationship," says Davis. "Once you get behind the closed doors of a clinic, I don't want the government intruding on that environment. And I don't think other people want that either." What really disturbs him about Right to Know, however, is that it pegs women as stupid or, more cynically, easily cowed. "The state telling women that you have to wait 24 hours because you're not smart enough to figure this out for yourself is just plain wrong," he says. "You don't have to wait 24 hours to get a vasectomy."

In cases where couples have conceived a child only to find that something has gone horribly wrong, the Right to Know law only heaps on added pain. "Let's say you have a baby who is anencephalic, meaning that it has no skull," Davis says. "You diagnose it. The perinatologist diagnoses it. The baby's not going to live. You have to tell the parents that they have to wait 24 hours to abort and by the way, 'Here's a website you can go to to learn about fetal development and adoption.'" Davis laughs at the absurdity.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...