BRATTLEBORO — The Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade has rightfully been a call to arms for women. It is outrageous that five all-too-human beings should be able to decide for all women what they can or can't do with their womanhood.
To have to decide to abort a pregnancy is one of the most difficult and painful decisions a woman could make. Society is right, as most have judged, to have compassion for those having to make such a decision and respect that decision.
But the decision impacts another group of individuals whom we should look at: doctors, who will now, in many states, have to be willing to put their careers, their livelihoods, on the line to perform the procedure.
I come to this awareness of the terrible risk involved for doctors in a fraught environment because of a horrible episode that happened when I was a child. I was not directly involved; I know of it secondhand, but it was traumatic nevertheless.
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My childhood doctor, when my family lived in Queens, New York, was a young, personable, and able physician who would often come on house calls with his friendly cocker spaniel.
When I was 13 in 1957, my family moved to Florida. A few years later, my mother came home from a shopping trip white as a sheet. She had seen the name of our family doctor plastered across the front page of a New York newspaper.
He had botched an abortion - illegal, of course, at the time - and the young woman died. He panicked and attempted to get rid of her body in a manner that could only be called grisly. He did not succeed.
He was put in jail for years and, of course, lost his license. The community in Queens, where he was a well-liked physician, was in a state of shock, as were we - thousands of miles away but in terms of memory, close.
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It was only recently, with the undoing of Roe v. Wade, with the realization that, incredibly, this terrible tragedy could well repeat itself, that I decided to look more closely at the case.
I found the details of how the horror story came about in a piece written by the daughter of the doctor's lawyer. She was 11 years old at the time but old enough to have helped her father with the case by filing newspaper clippings.
The doctor was her family's doctor, too - respected, trusted. As she understands it, the pregnant woman's father came to the doctor, a general practitioner, in desperation. His daughter was five months pregnant. One imagines she waited so long to let her family know out of denial and/or shame.
The doctor refused, saying her pregnancy was too far advanced to safely perform the procedure. The father, head of a “nice, middle-class family,” insisted.
The doctor finally relented, with tragic results. She bled to death. According to the doctor involved, the patient had earlier tried first to abort the fetus herself.
One life was unnecessarily lost, and the physician's and the woman's family members' lives devastated because of the need to perform abortions secretly, without the medical infrastructure to assure a safe outcome.
These are the days we are going back to?
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Making abortions illegal not only tramples upon women's rights but also, in a very real way, makes the procedure more dangerous for both patient and physician.
Doctors and patients are forced into circumstances and situations that can all too easily have dire consequences.
The doctor might be called a monster by some for trying to get rid of his patient's body instead of facing what he had done.
But in many ways society is to blame.
New anti-abortion laws enacted in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision and the unwritten, even unspoken, rules that do not allow for compassion, rules that do not recognize that human nature is fallible, is a prescription for tragedies like this.