Because I have taught about the issue of abortion for years, I was well aware that the number of physicians who perform the procedure is small. However, I was not prepared for my own encounter with the medical establishment.
When I first called my ob/gyn office, the receptionist could not seem to wrap her mind around the fact that I was calling to schedule an appointment about an abortion. She repeatedly referred to my appointment as the "first prenatal visit." It played like a scene from a bad abortion documentary, but I managed to shrug off my annoyance.
Just about the only good news I got in relationship to this unwanted pregnancy was that the first physician with an opening in my ob/gyn practice was my favorite doctor. When I went in, along with my husband, we were straightforward about the situation. I am fairly stoic and did not get emotional when discussing the issue with her.
On manual examination of my uterus, she guestimated my gestation to be 17-18 weeks. Frankly, since I was able to provide her with a date for my last period that put me closer to 15 weeks, I found that rather irresponsible, especially considering that since I have a malformed uterus, my body does not carry pregnancies normally. It was also very clear that she was very uncomfortable with the idea of elective termination at that gestation. At one point, and perhaps this was my imagination, it almost seemed as though she choked back a cry. Now I must say in her defense, that she is apparently the only physician on staff of a major medical school hospital in a state with some of the most liberal abortion laws that does perform elective second trimester abortions. I commend her for that. I also recognize that physicians have the right to their own ethical lines in the sand. Still her reaction really threw me for a loop.
She told me that she knew of one doctor who did perform elective second trimester abortions and that she would call him immediately. She feared that because of my previous c-sections and uterine anomaly, he would not want to perform the procedure outside of a hospital in which case, as she put it "it would be back on her." That sobered us up quite a bit as she left to make the calls. Did my reproductive choices really come down to one or two people? She also called to get me in for an ultrasound immediately so that there would be accurate gestational dates. To her credit, she explained to that office the reason for the ultrasound so I was spared any congratulatory messages upon arrival. That staff was also very professional. Just as we were going back for the ultrasound, the ob/gyn office called to say that my physician had reached the other abortion provider and that he had agreed to do the procedure. That was a huge relief. I was very unhappy about putting my physician in a position that made her feel unethical and did not want that to deal with on top of my own emotions.
On the drive to the ultrasound, my husband and I discussed our decision again. I asked if her estimation of gestation made any difference to him. We also discussed at what stage in the second trimester we would consider continuing the pregnancy. We both agreed that 20 weeks was our cutting off point. When we arrived at the ultrasound, there was a woman with a newborn that was crying. The sound pushed me over the edge and I began to sob. Again, I felt like I was in a bad abortion documentary. It recalled for me also my awful post-miscarriage visit to the ob/gyn where I also broke down when faced with a newborn baby, although for very different reasons. I put on my MP3 player during the u/s and closed my eyes. I had asked my husband to find out the gestation, but the ultrasound tech insisted she could not tell us. A half an hour after we returned home, I got a call from that very office telling me that I was meant to have a copy of the record to take to my abortion appointment. How ironic.
Still as we drove home, and I began to process the experience, I realized that I was happy with the estimated gestation based on my last monthly period. I wanted as little information as possible. I still believe that life begins not at conception, but at birth, and my decision was not swayed by someone else's ethical line in the sand. I had my own.
If anything, I am even more grateful that I live in a time when abortion is still legal and that I am in a geographical location where I have easy access to a competent provider. I try to imagine having no options save for a back alley abortion or giving birth to an unwanted child. In trying to work out the childcare logistics for the day of my abortion, I cannot imagine having to travel to another state. It also reminds me of a slogan from the '80s "never again, never go back." In recent years, I have slacked off on my pro-choice activism. It is still a voting litmus test for me, but this experience has renewed my commitment to make sure that all women have the right to "my body, my life, my right to decide."