Why I Perform Abortions: A Christian obstetrician explains his choice

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by Star Ledger Staff @ NJ.com –

Willie J. Parker, an obstetrician based in Washington, D.C., didn’t always perform abortions. He’s a Christian from Birmingham, Ala., who initially refused to even consider the procedure.

But about halfway into his 20-year career, he changed his mind. Now, he’s one of those rare doctors who is willing to push the limits and provide abortions at 24 weeks of pregnancy. That places him among only about 11 percent of all abortion providers who will do the procedure that late in the second trimester.

Some people are determined to stop him. Congress is considering a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks in the district, which would affect Parker directly. Six other states already have one, passed within the last two years. A record number of new restrictions on abortions were enacted last year, including bans, waiting periods and limiting insurance coverage.

A small percentage of women have abortions beyond 13 weeks. But it troubles Parker that abortion supporters and opponents are increasingly willing to bargain about second-trimester abortions in the interest of finding common ground. While this may create a more civil discourse, he says, in the end, it’s dangerous to the health interests of women.

It’s the individual stories of the women who came to him that made him see things that way, he says. He now views the abortion debate through the prism of their particular realities.

Ironically, it’s the lack of access to abortion care that often pushes women to have abortions later in pregnancy, Parker says. He spoke to Star-Ledger editorial writer Julie O’Connor about why he performs them.

DRAWING THE LINE ON ABORTIONRoe vs. Wade doesn’t put any gestational limits on abortion, but that landmark Supreme Court ruling says states have the right to restrict the procedure after fetal viability. State laws vary greatly: Some impose prohibitions after a certain number of weeks, generally 24, and others — including New Jersey — have no major restrictions.Most abortion doctors have strict limits on when they will provide them and few will do later-term procedures. Women very early in their pregnancy or in their second trimester may have a difficult time locating services.

According to a survey of abortion doctors:

• 42 percent offer abortions at four or fewer weeks
• 95 percent offer abortions at eight weeks
• 64 percent offer at least some second-trimester abortions (13 weeks or later)
• 23 percent offer abortions after 20 weeks
• 11 percent offer abortions at 24 weeks

Source: Guttmacher Institute

Q. Why did you change your outlook on abortion?

A. I wrestled with the morality of it. I grew up in the South and in fundamentalist Protestantism, I was taught that abortion is wrong.

Yet as I pursued my career as an OB/GYN, I saw the dilemmas that women found themselves in. And I could no longer weigh the life of a pre-viable or lethally flawed fetus equally with the life of the woman sitting before me.

In listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, I came to a deeper understanding of my spirituality, which places a higher value on compassion. King said what made the good Samaritan “good” is that instead of focusing on would happen to him by stopping to help the traveler, he was more concerned about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help.

I became more concerned about what would happen to these women if I, as an obstetrician, did not help them.

Q. You say women in their second trimester often have the most compelling need for an abortion. Why?

A. They lack access to health care or don’t have an understanding of their body changes, and often figure out later that they’re pregnant. Or they find out early enough that they’re pregnant, but their lack of access to health care or volatile, dysfunctional relationships delay seeking help.

The women most likely to be in those situations are trapped in poverty, often women of color or poor socioeconomic backgrounds, less education, and women and girls at the extremes of reproductive age. Women beyond the age where they think they can become pregnant, or young girls who have infrequent and irregular sexual activity and aren’t conscious of it.

Starting with those women as the ones you’d cut off is kind of ironic, because they have the most compelling reasons to consider abortion in the first place.

Q. Like what?

A. The reality is that unplanned, unwanted pregnancies occur to women in all walks of life and all demographics. One in three women will terminate a pregnancy in her lifetime.

I had a patient who was a 32-year-old attorney, senior staff for a prominent U.S. senator. She and her husband had their first pregnancy and were very excited about it, only to find out in the 21st week that there was a lethal, severe developmental abnormality. They waited until the 23rd week because it was a rare disorder and they didn’t want to have an abortion unless that rare condition was absolutely confirmed.

Another patient of mine was a 13-year-old girl with a very quiet demeanor, which her parents perceived as model behavior. But an uncle who was staying with the family had been sexually molesting her and she kept quiet about it for months until he left. She concealed that pregnancy until she was 19 weeks along, and ended up having a termination at 20 weeks.

These are typical circumstances for second-trimester abortions.

WHO HAS LATER-TERM ABORTIONS? Second-trimester abortions cost more, pose more health risks, are offered by fewer providers and are harder to access. Most are done between 13 and 15 weeks. Very few are done at 21 weeks or later. The overwhelming majority of second-trimester patients say they would have preferred to have had their abortion earlier. These women are more likely to be:

• Age 19 or younger
• Poor
• Black or Hispanic
• Without a high school degree (among women 20 and older)
• Paying for abortions with health insurance
• Those who have suffered three or more disruptive events in the past year (such as falling behind on rent, separating from a partner, having a family member with a serious medical problem or being the victim of a crime)

Source: Guttmacher Institute, based on a national sample of more than 9,000 women who had abortions in 2008

Q. Why else might someone have a later-term abortion?

A. Abortion should be considered a part of reproductive health care and a basic human right, but it’s not. It’s hard to access. About 85 percent of women live in a county where there’s no abortion provider. The distribution is even more dire in rural areas, where 90 percent of women have no provider. Many women have to travel long distances just to get to a provider.

That could easily help you understand why laws that impose waiting limits and notifications further distort the reality of women’s access to abortion care.

Q. Explain why limitations on abortion trouble you.

A. It forces women to take into account the sensibility of people who don’t have firsthand information about what the circumstances are in that woman’s life. It creates a duty and obligation for a woman to make her decision in a time frame acceptable to people other than herself. That time frame may or may not be realistic, and it fails to take into account the complexity of decision-making when it comes to abortion.

As people sit around, and theorize and debate about what should be a reasonable or common ground, the voices of the people who are most affected by this decision are lost. They aren’t represented in these dialogues. Their specific realities don’t count.

So conversations that feel like progress actually end up with restrictions in place on women in desperate circumstances. They don’t reduce unintended pregnancies, they don’t create more access to medically accurate sex education and modern forms of contraception — but they do result in restrictions and rules that push women to desperate measures.

Q. The vast majority of states restrict later-term abortions. Six of them do so after 20 weeks, as lawmakers are considering for D.C., on the grounds that a fetus can feel pain at some point. Is that true?

A. There is no scientific information to support that. The bulk of the scientifically credible evidence shows that the structures that are necessary to feel pain are not developed in fetuses earlier than the 25th week.

Q. So where’s the cutoff line for you?

A. I don’t do abortions beyond 24 weeks and 6 days. In the absence of lifesaving measures, my cutoff is the legal limit. That becomes a moving target, but nobody in D.C. does them beyond 25 weeks. Once a fetus has the possibility to survive outside the womb — with or without extraordinary support measures — I will not do an abortion. The only exception is if a woman’s life is in danger or the fetus is fatally flawed.

Q. In ad campaigns, abortion opponents have argued it disproportionately targets minority babies. Your take?

A. That’s a very cynical manipulation of the reality that the abortion rate is higher in the African-American and Latino communities because their unplanned pregnancy rates are higher and the availability of modern contraception is lower.

And in the same breath of feigning concern about black women and black babies, abortion opponents are limiting access to contraception and defunding health care and child care programs, and all the other things that would be even more necessary if more of the unplanned, unwanted pregnancies were carried to term.

Q. You have a controversial job. Do you worry about your own safety?

A. I’m aware of the risks. There are people who feel strongly about the work that I do. I exercise judgment and discretion, but to be overly concerned about the fact that someone might hurt me for trying to live out my conscience and provide care for women would be a distraction. I think my work is honorable and important, and I won’t be distracted. It’s what I believe in my heart is the right thing to do.

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I’m not a fighter. I don’t have the long-term stamina to handle a battle. It’s just easier for me to walk away and start over.

And that’s how I’m feeling now.

I woke up this morning from a dream that I was in the Texas legislature audience and I was screaming at someone to ask me why I had an abortion. I desperately wanted to speak, wanted someone to hear my story, and not a single politician listened.

I wasn’t a part of the “mob” last week in Austin, but I wish I was. Opponents say that it was undemocratic, that it wasn’t a civilized way of doing business. But you know what? Playing by the rules hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Just trying to speak with my politicians hasn’t helped me out. Rick Perry hasn’t heard my story. David Dewhurst doesn’t give a shit about my situation. They are merely politicians who are supposed to be doing the will of the people.

What pisses me off the most is that the same people who rail against unions breeding “tenure” corruption have the most secure jobs in the county – my employees are failing me, and I can’t even fire them. I honestly think that most people in Texas hate Rick Perry, but they won’t get off their apathetic asses to vote his corrupt ass out of office.

My options as a regular citizen are limited – especially as a liberal citizen in a wasteland of assholes.

David Dewhurst isn’t protecting anymore – except for maybe lobbyists and special interest groups.

But my voice isn’t getting heard. I have contemplated trolling the anti-choice/conservative forums to post my story, but decided against it. Under the blanket of internet anonymity, people turn into vicious assholes. I would be a sacrificial lamb for no real reason. I am no martyr. It would just make me sick to my stomach.

So, I feel that all I can do is write yet another letter that won’t get read by its intended audience:

I was not a part of the angry mob last Wednesday night. But I wish I was.

Why?

Because Texas politicians ignore their constituents’ needs.

After 36 months of battling infertility, I made the heartbreaking choice to terminate my pregnancy after getting a devastating poor pre-natal diagnosis in my second trimester.

You think that SB 5 would protect women’s health and save babies? Nothing could be further from the truth. Senate Bill 5 would have condemned my daughter to life – a lifetime of pain that surgeries and narcotics couldn’t dull.

If this bill gets passed and abortion clinics are shut down, more illegal abortions will take place, endangering the lives of women. If you ban abortions after 20 weeks, it will only force women who have been given a poor-prenatal diagnosis to rush a decision rather than proceed with more testing to verify the diagnosis, perhaps terminating much-wanted healthy babies due to time constraints.

But this letter will never reach you. Interns will file this away, and you will continue on your misguided punitive “crusade”.

I made a promise to my daughter before she was conceived – that I would always love her and keep her safe. But how could I do that with myleomengicle? How could I protect her from her own body? The unspoken promise I made as a parent was tested in the most horrible and painful way. How do I save her from a lifetime (however short it may be) from surgeries, tethered cords, brain damage, and chronic pain narcotics couldn’t dull?

Promises sometimes take you down shady back street alleys that you never thought you’d visit.

I know that for me, the best gift I could have given to my daughter was prevention. I don’t understand how you worry about fetuses feeling pain during an abortion, but don’t seem to give a damn about the pain that infants feel, the pain that children feel, the pain that the families feel – the pain that my daughter would have been in for the rest of her life.

Some of us want to shield these babies from “inhumane and unnecessary pain” as well.

For the record, when I had my abortion, my daughter’s heart was stopped days before the surgery ever took place. I was completely safe when my abortion took place – I was in danger when i had a cervical biopsy done in a hospital by a careless and inattentive doctor. If you really wanted to improve the lives and health of women and children in Texas, there are so many other things you should be focusing on rather than taking this choice away from me.

The reason I am pro-choice is because I value life so much.

I suffer from infertility, and on January 2nd, I started the new year by terminating my pregnancy to save my child from suffering.

I know some of the things in that letter are just stolen from my blog, but it’s easier than rehashing everything every single time. I wish I had copy/pasted my earlier letter to Rick Perry here, especially the one about the second special session, but alas, fogged in a Clomid rage, I hit submit to soon.

Hopefully the intern who reads my letters will be pro-choice and vote their sorry asses out of office.

Thank you, Wendy Davis

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I thought it was all over for abortion rights in Texas. I really did.

And then Wendy Davis stepped in with a filibuster.

This wasn’t the kind of symbolic filibuster in name only seen in the U.S. Senate: Under Texas’ parliamentary rules, Davis was required to speak continuously and only on the topic of the bill the entire time. She couldn’t take breaks to eat, take a sip of water or go to the bathroom. She could not lean against anything for support. If Davis broke any of these rules, the filibuster would die and SB 5 would become law.

I had my abortion in a private clinic, not in a hospital operating room. I can tell you that I have had more complications from a cervical biopsy than my abortion. Proponents claim this is about the woman’s health, but I don’t think they understand the ripples that SB5 would create. I have a family member who had a coat-hanger abortion when she was 17. Her parents were forcing her to get married the week after, so she went to the library, checked out some medical books, and went home to give herself surgery.
I say this not for shock value, but because until I heard the story for myself, I didn’t really think coat-hanger abortions really happened – that they only occurred in movies. If politicians want to prevent fetal pain and improve women’s health, then they need to understand that anti-choice laws only force women into situations like that where pain and safety are serious issues.
Dewhurst had this to say this morning:

I’m just so done with Texas politics. It’s never-ending. I’m really struggling with the fact that David Dewhurst will never hear my story. He will never get it.

*MY* Ten Words

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meme

I tried to make my ten words different from the original, so here’s my half-hearted attempt.

  1. Empty – There are times when I feel like my life is empty, that it’s meaningless. My job doesn’t matter (why am I raising other people’s kids?). My house doesn’t matter (why do I have those three extra bedrooms upstairs?).
  2. Worthless – I am inherently not female. I can’t do the one thing that other women can. I can’t give my parents or in-laws a grandchild. I can’t give my husband a child.
  3. Failure – I can’t do it.
  4. Guilty – If DH had married someone else, he might have a child right now. I am costing us thousands of dollars that could be spent on a vacation back to Scotland so he can see his friends. I am causing all this stress and anxiety in our lives.
  5. Bipolar – One minute, you are excited and happy – you just KNOW you are pregnant, and one pee stick later, you will never, ever, ever have a child. There is no happy medium, no cautiously optimistic in my world.
  6. Helpless – I have no control over this situation, so I control what I can. My pills. My diet. What I do. How I spend my time. Who I talk with.
  7. Exposed – Everyone knows everything. I’m not just talking about the doctor, I’m also talking about my friends and outsiders. Every time they ask how things are going, they know. It’s not just another month – it’s another BFN.
  8. Violated – I have had so many instruments, doctors, nurses, and medical students examining me that my body doesn’t feel sacred anymore. It’s not something that I can share with just my husband. I know that no one is getting sexual gratification off of me, but I don’t feel like my body is sexy anymore. I feel like it’s a medical experiment.
  9. Jealous
    I am jealous of everyone. I am jealous of pregnant women, mothers, and even people doing IVF. I get jealous of people with better sperm counts, and people who have not been TTC for as long as I have. I get jealous when people just TALK about having a baby (I start to think of all the ways that I am worthier of parenthood). I get jealous of the people who DON’T want to have kids, those who don’t have this emotional roller coaster every month and who can just let go. I get jealous of every single positive person I know – ok, maybe jealous isn’t the right word – how about irritated?
  10. Angry

 

Prenatals and Clomid Rage

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Happy Prenatal Vitamins

I’ve been taking prenatals since 2009. Four years. It doesn’t seem that long, but it has. I haven’t been taking them religiously though, not until I got my BFP. I can admit it here, but I think part of the reason I still hold so much guilt is because I had my IUI’s without them. I can’t remember how often I was taking my prenatals before and after the TWW. I’m pretty sure it was semi-regularly, but I know it wasn’t once a day.

I know that it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I know that lots of women get pregnant and have healthy babies without ever haven taken a prenatal at all. I don’t even know if my daughter’s NTD was related to a prenatal, MTHFR, or if it really was just a fluke. All I know is that I know take a prenatal, fish oil, and folic acid supplement daily. Occasionally (maybe once a week), I may forget the second pill of the oil or the folic acid at nighttime, but I always take my morning pills. I feel like a drug addict.

This morning, I was just poking around googling (dangerous, I know) and I wanted to know if taking prenatals on a long-term basis was unhealthy. And I found this article:

http://www.babble.com/pregnancy/not-taking-prenatal-vitamins-diet-pregnancy-dos-and-donts/

I left a comment, but I was using my phone, so I don’t know if submitted. Also, the article is old, so I don’t know if they were even still accepting comments.

But I was livid.

Not taking a prenatal vitamins is all fine and dandy until you get a dx of a NTD.

Just “eating a well-balanced” diet isn’t going to help people who have MTHFR or folic acid deficiency. Sure, she was able to have a healthy baby without extra protection, but that’s not a luxury I can afford. I personally would rather live with a few months of constipation just to be able to hold my daughter in my my arms right now.

I wonder if NTD’s ever even crossed this woman’s mind? I wonder if anyone read that article and skipped prenatals because of it and ended up in a similar situation because of it?

It makes me so angry that there are people out there who are so lucky. That my students can have Taki’s and Monster energy drinks for breakfast everyday and still have healthy babies. I ate organic, whole wheat, and extra (probably still not enough) vegetables, and what am I left with? Grief, anger, and a giant bottle of pills.

I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m also in a Clomid rage right now. I don’t feel like I have mod swings, but I do know that my tolerance level is way down. It’s like I’m on really bad PMS. Things that normally wouldn’t bother me are setting me off. Yesterday in line at the HEB, I almost lost it because they people at the self-checkout were dithering about, slowing scanning one item cautiously, looking at the screen, and then gently placing the item in the bag as if it were delicate crystal. IT”S A BOX OF MACARONI LADY. CAN YOU GO A LITTLE FASTER? I ended up changing lanes to a line with a checker, and even though I was third in line, it was still faster than waiting for the self-checkout. That lady was STILL there even after I left – and she had 20 items or less!

For the record, I do not look ANYTHING like that stock photo that I shamelessly stole off of some OBGYN’s webpage. This is more of what I look like when I take my prenatals:

meOh yeah. Check out my mad MS Paint skills! I’m actually kinda pleased with hos this turned out. I had to give myself bushier eyebrows (I never wax as regularly as I should since I’;ve moved out to the ‘burbs). I also edited a frowny face – especially with Clomid – it tastes bad. Instead of the ONE pill that this chick is smiling at, I replaced it with my 6/7 pills. I also edited the wedding band to reflect mine, and I changed her water into Naked’s Green Machine. I generally use Green Machine or Red Machine when I take my pills. Sometimes it’s carrot juice or pomegranate juice.

I feel like my picture represents me more than the original.

Ten words that describe infertility

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I love this post. I think I’m going to come up with my own ten words…

This Roller Coaster Called Life...

Someone posted this and I thought it rang sooo true.  I wanted to share!!!

Here are ten words I would use to describe how infertility feels:

1. Lonely. We saw couple after couple get pregnant before us, our best friends included. When they told us, we high-fived them, then we went home, and hardly knew what to say to each other. We felt lost, sad, and even lonelier than before. We were excited for them; we were just very sad for us.

It’s okay to go home and cry your eyes out when your friends get pregnant.

2. Exposed. Everybody wants to give you advice, and some people say incredibly stupid things. My favorite: “You just need to stop trying so hard!” Some people want to know every excruciating detail of what you’re doing to get pregnant. Suddenly, your most private details are the subject of casual conversation. Once people…

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TMI Warning: Diva Cups?

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When I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility, it was a kick to my ovaries. I am a problem solver at heart, so I was really hoping to have an answer to all of the BFN’s that I kept getting. Even if it meant IVF, at least I’d have a problem, an answer, and a solution.

But you don’t get that with unexplained infertility.

You just get doubt and more unanswered questions.

I have changed my diet. I avoid fast food. I eat organic. I take my extra folic acid and fish oil (soon to be krill oil). I have cut out all soda. I avoid corn syrup. I don’t eat hot dogs anymore. I make my own cleaning supplies to avoid the chemicals. I am slowly turning crunchy.

When I was in college, I had a failed experiment with the Instead Cup, but I think that had more to do with the fact that I was only 19 and had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t grossed out about my own body (or bodily fluids), but I was definitely did not the have the patience to work with this. I know plenty of women who have had great success with menstrual cups, but I was satisfied with tampons and pads.

Fast forward to today. As I said before, I am slowly making the move toward a more crunchy lifestyle. And tampons and pads aren’t the most eco/health-friendly products out there.

I bought my first Diva Cup last month, I suppose in an effort to trick my body into pregnancy. “Hey, I just spent money on my period. This is your cue to NOT have a period so I can complain about wasting money.” Yeah. Didn’t work.

First of all, I had high hopes. First of all, I’m turning 35 this year and I’ve gotten pretty used to my body. No more qualms, right? Well…

I bought the #2 size since I am well over thirty. So, when I tried it out for the first time this week, it didn’t work. At all. I can read instructions, but every attempt just ends in tears. I think perhaps I should have bought the smaller size, but at 30 bucks a cup, I’m not too keen to drop MORE money on another product that still might not be right for me.

I’ve read glowing reviews that say things things are amazing, but I’m not there yet. Anyone have any experience with these things?