Barely Legal

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

When asked whether he currently performs abortions, Davis shakes his head no. "It's not because of the social stigma," he says. "I think I could even handle it with my family and friends. The reason I don't do abortions is because I don't want to be shot. I don't know how else to put it." After a few minutes of discussing something else, Davis interrupts himself. "Bernard Slepian," he blurts out, referring to the upstate New York obstetrician who was murdered in 1998. "He was in his kitchen and the guy was in his backyard. His kids and wife were there and came into his kitchen to see him dying." Davis gestures toward the room's large picture windows, showcasing the first buds of spring along the steep backyards of his neighbors' homes. "You know, there are several perches out there."

 

Besides all the usual duties of an obgyn--yearly exams, birthing babies--Dr. Peter Chang* has performed between 10 and 15 abortions over the past few years. "My feeling is someone doesn't need to give me a reason," he says. But the pressure is getting to Chang, and now that he has children of his own, he is questioning his resolve to continue providing this service. Fear for his family is the number one reason, but a hostile work climate hasn't made his job any easier.

While the partners at Chang's clinic support his decision to provide abortions, a longstanding state law that allows any individual or entity to refuse to participate in the procedure has made staffing extremely difficult. Once, a nurse who initially believed she would be assisting in a miscarriage walked out on the procedure. Another time, a recovery room nurse refused to care for a patient who had just terminated a pregnancy. Lucky for Chang, an orthopedic nurse stepped in to help. "The patient didn't know," he says. "But [the fact that] the nurse had no gynecological experience was quite obvious."

Chang's most frustrating case to date involved a woman whose amniocentesis tested positive for Down's syndrome. The patient already had one child who was born at 26 weeks and required special medical care on limited finances. When the patient and her husband decided to terminate, Chang went about trying to set up an inducement to labor. It took a week and a half to find staff willing to work with Chang. By the time the nursing staff was in place, Chang's patient was almost 22 weeks pregnant, which meant she was both perilously close to the legal cutoff for abortions and at increasing risk of complications.

At the induction, an older nurse who'd volunteered to assist approached Chang. "I heard you needed me," she told him. "You know, there aren't many of us left." Perhaps the pro-choice/pro-life divide is, in Chang's words, a "generational thing." "People of my generation don't know what it was like before Roe," he says. "Maybe this new conservatism comes from taking our rights for granted."

One doctor who crosses this generational divide is Dr. Carrie Terrell, a Twin Cities OB-GYN who works as an associate adjunct professor in the OB-GYN department at the U of M, and as an abortion provider at a local facility. Because she attended the U of M as a student--she completed her residency in 1999--Terrell was forced to learn about abortion procedures on her own time, all the while risking marginalization and poor recommendations from pro-life advisors. Since 2001, abortion training is part of standard U of M curriculum. The new program has received high praise and comes at a critical time since many of the doctors who work at abortion clinics are nearing or past retirement age.

Terrell says residents who graduate these days with the intention of performing terminations and, like her, manage to wedge an extra four hours into an already 40-to-60-hour work week so that they can moonlight at an abortion clinic, will face enormous obstacles, even beyond peer pressure and bad legislation. For example, many private practices and HMOs won't allow doctors to work outside their systems (all abortion clinics, with the exception of St. Paul's Regions Hospital, exist outside these systems). Add to that the additional $6,000 to $9,500 per year in malpractice insurance charged to abortion providers, and many doctors--even those who can withstand the fear factor--decide that it just isn't worth the effort.

Still, Terrell stands tough. "I know I could get shot," she says. "But I feel that I'm qualified and licensed to perform a safe and easy procedure or write a prescription. How in good conscience could I not do it?"

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Minnesota Concert Tickets
Loading...