abortion

RECENT POSTS

Where Does Life Begin, And Other Tough Abortion Questions For Doctors In Training

Our recent post on how residents training to be OB-GYNs think about providing abortions (or not providing them) went viral earlier this month and triggered a broader conversation among readers. The topic was also featured on Radio Boston and WBUR’s All Things Considered.

I asked Janet Singer, a nurse midwife on the faculty of Brown University’s obstetrics-gynecology residency program, and the person who organized the initial discussion among the residents, to follow up. She, in turn, ​asked Jennifer Villavicencio, a third-year resident​, to lead a discussion digging even more deeply into the topic.

Two of the residents ​in the discussion ​perform abortions, two have chosen not to do so. ​But they are colleagues and friends who have found a way to talk about this divisive issue in a respectful and productive way. ​Here, edited, is ​a transcript of ​their discussion, which gets to the heart of a particularly fraught question: When does life truly begin? ​Three of the residents have asked that their names not be included, for fear of hostility or violence aimed at abortion providers.

Jennifer Villavicencio (Resident 3): Let’s talk about a woman who comes in, has broken her water and is about 20 to 21 weeks pregnant and after counseling from both her obstetricians and the neonatologist [a special pediatrician who takes care of very sick newborns] has opted for an abortion. Let’s talk about how we each approach these patients.

Resident 2: As a non-abortion provider I will start just by saying that a patient of this nature in some ways is on one extreme of the spectrum. As an obstetrician, I view the loss of her pregnancy as an inevitability. I think we would all agree with that. So, taking part in the termination [another word for abortion] of her pregnancy is different to me than doing that for someone whose pregnancy, but for my involvement, would continue in a healthy and normal fashion.

Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs outside the Texas Capitol on July 9 in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)

Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs outside the Texas Capitol on July 9 in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)

JV: Would your opinion change if she were 22 or 23 weeks and theoretically could make it to viability [the concept that a fetus could survive outside of the mother. Currently, in the U.S., the generally accepted definition of viability is 24 weeks gestation or approximately six months pregnant]?

Resident 2: Personally, it wouldn’t, because I feel there is a very slim chance of an intact survival [refers to an infant not having significant mental or disabilities] of an infant. If she were 22 or 23 weeks gestation and could potentially make it to the point of a survivable child, that likelihood is so rare. But for my involvement, she will still lose this pregnancy. My point is, if I help terminate this pregnancy, I am not playing an integral role in the loss of this pregnancy. I feel that supporting her in proceeding in the safest possible way, protecting her while accepting the loss of her pregnancy, is my job.

Future Health Of The Child

JV: Does the future health of the child really play a role in it for you?

Continue reading

Docs In Training Confide Their Feelings On Performing Abortions

Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs outside the Texas Capitol on July 9 in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)

Opponents and supporters of an abortion bill hold signs outside the Texas Capitol July 9 in Austin. (Eric Gay/AP)

Abortion can be hard for the patient. But it can also cause turmoil for the doctor performing the procedure.

Janet Singer, a nurse midwife on the faculty of Brown University’s obstetrics-gynecology residency program, found herself acting as a confidant in many discussions with residents about abortion.

“Over the years, when a resident felt confused, overwhelmed or thrilled about something to do with abortion care, they often came to me to discuss it,” she says.

Tricky questions continued to arise: Where does life actually begin? How do doctors’ personal beliefs play out in their clinical care? And, what’s really best for mothers?

(KateLMills/Flickr)

(KateLMills/Flickr)

Singer thought the general public would benefit from hearing more about the complexities of the young doctors’ experiences. So she asked four residents to write about their feelings about abortion training and services, or as one resident characterized it: “one of the most life-changing interventions we can offer.”

These personal stories are published in the July issue of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, headlined: “Four Residents’ Narratives on Abortion Training: A Residency Climate of Reflection, Support, and Mutual Respect.”

I asked Singer to offer a bit more background on the project, and here, edited, is her response, followed by some excerpts from the residents’ narratives:

Janet Singer: The abortion debate in the U.S. is so divisive, making everything seem black and white; but the real life experiences of doctors and women are much more complex. I am a nurse midwife and though personally committed to increasing access to abortion services, I believe that abortion is not a black and white issue. I speak openly about my personal beliefs with the obstetric residents I work with.

My thinking about the grey areas surrounding abortion care are the result of many conversations with colleagues and residents. One came to me overwhelmed on a day when she had done a late-term abortion and then been called to an emergency C-section for a fetus/baby just a week further along.

She needed to talk about how overwhelming it felt to try to decide where the cusp of life was, why it was OK to take one fetus/baby out of the womb so it wouldn’t live and one out so it might.  Continue reading

New Spending Bill Adds Abortion Coverage For Peace Corps Rape Victims

File this under: “About #$@%&*! Time.

Tucked away in the recently passed $1.1 trillion federal spending bill is a provision that, according to women’s health and abortion rights advocates, is long overdue, ending a 35-year-old ban. The new measure offers abortion coverage to Peace Corps volunteers victimized by rape, incest or facing a life-threatening pregnancy; similar coverage is already provided to federal employees.

Bryan Dwyer, director of Peace Corps and Training in Kigali, Rwanda, and a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador from 2000-2002, expressed his strong approval for the new measure:

As both an RPCV [Returned Peace Corps Volunteer] and staff member, I am very pleased that PC [Peace Corps] Volunteers will now be afforded this protection, even as I earnestly hope that no one ever needs to avail herself of it.

Another former Peace Corps employee I talked to was a bit more blunt:

In a long overdue concession to reality, conservative members of Congress no longer forced their abusive “no choice no matter what” policy on women in the Peace Corps. For far too many years, they had prevailed in insisting that women who choose to serve our country who had been raped and impregnated should be repaid with no health care coverage to end those pregnancies. I am glad this truly appalling policy is finally at an end.

Edson Chilundo/flickr

Edson Chilundo/flickr

Here are more details and background in a Glamour magazine report:

Over the weekend, the Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that includes a provision to provide abortion coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

It’s an important win for reproductive rights advocates in a year plagued by restrictions on abortion and other women’s health measures. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, granting Peace Corps volunteers and trainees the same type of abortion coverage offered to federal employees….

Currently, just over 60 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are female, and many of them work in areas with little to no access to safe, reliable health care. Continue reading

ACOG On Politician’s ‘Inaccurate Abortion Comments’

GOP Rep. Joe Walsh (Talk Radio News Service/flickr)

ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doesn’t normally relish jumping into the thick of a political fight (though they certainly have).

Today, however, the doctors’ group is plunging in with gusto, in response to GOP Rep. Joe Walsh’s statements that abortion is never used to save the life of the mother.

Here’s ACOG’s press release:

Response to Politician’s Inaccurate Abortion Comments

Washington, DC — Contrary to the inaccurate statements made yesterday by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event, particularly for many women with chronic medical conditions. Despite all of our medical advances, more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the US. In fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives.

These inaccurate comments are yet another reason why The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (The College) message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms.

Just this week, The College and other major medical organizations joined together in calling for an end to legislative and political interference in the patient-physician relationship in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Here’s Walsh’s full comment, according to Politico:

Abortion bans don’t need exceptions for the life of the mother because of “modern technology and science,” Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) said Thursday. “With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance” of an abortion necessary to save the life of the mother, Walsh said after a debate with Tammy Duckworth, his Democratic opponent, according to the Chicago Tribune. “… There is no such exception as life of the mother, and as far as health of the mother, same thing.”

Longtime Mass. Planned Parenthood Leader Stepping Down

Dianne Luby, longtime head of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts

This just in from the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts: Dianne Luby, who has led the league for 13 years, has told the board that she’ll step down at the end of this year.

(My first thought: “Wow, 13 years is a long time to endure the level of controversy that swirls around a group like Planned Parenthood, with all its work on contraception and abortion.”)

The Planned Parenthood press release says that Ms. Luby worked to “change the public conversations around sexual health,” to introduce a new approach to sex ed, and to expand access to sexual health care, particularly in “underserved communities.”
From the press release:

“Thirteen years ago, my overarching vision was to make PPLM an essential part of the mainstream healthcare community and I am so pleased about how far we’ve come,” said Ms. Luby. “I feel that this is an excellent time for me to be moving on. Not only are we successfully completing our five-year strategic plan, we have also reached our $30 million Sexual Health Matters campaign goal, which funded a broad range of health care initiatives.”

Under Dianne’s leadership, some of PPLM’s most notable accomplishments include:

•Opening five new health centers in Springfield, Fitchburg, Marlborough, Milford, and Somerville and building a new, eco-friendly facility in Worcester.
•Broadening public understanding of the full scope of PPLM’s programs and services by introducing its “Sexual Health Matters” brand.
•Developing a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for middle schools and high schools that is now in 131 schools and reaching over 30,000 students. Wellesley Centers for Women is conducting a rigorous five-year evaluation of the middle school program’s effectiveness with very positive early results. Continue reading

Commentary: Beyond Komen, Planned Parenthood Remains Under Attack

Despite the breathtaking turnaround by the Komen foundation today on funding for Planned Parenthood, the organization remains under attack, according to Judy Norsigian, co-founder and executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, and Ellen Shaffer, co-director of the Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign, a project of the Center for Policy Analysis. In a blistering blog post today, they describe another assault on Planned Parenthood, this one by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

What Komen, and the evangelicals, and Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, who launched the pointless political inquiry, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are really mad at Planned Parenthood about is this:

Part of what they do is help people plan. Parenthood. You know. They support birth control. In some cases, they provide it. Like your corner drugstore, but better.

And this week, the bishops are howling about it because the Obama administration refused to grant a broad religious exemption to contraception coverage. Continue reading

Globe: Court Rules Against Abortion, Sterilization For Mentally Ill Woman


The Boston Globe reports here:

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reversed a probate judge’s decision to order a schizophrenic woman to undergo an abortion and to then be sterilized, saying the woman had consistently expressed her opposition to the practice as a Catholic.

In October, the state Department of Mental Health filed a petition to have the woman’s parents named as guardians for the woman, who is only known as “Mary Moe,’’ so they could give consent for an abortion, according to the court.

Norfolk Probate and Family Court Judge Christina Harms, declared that the 32-year-old woman was not competent to make a decision about an abortion, citing “substantial delusional beliefs,” and concluded she would choose to abort her pregnancy if she were competent.

Read the full story in the Globe down to the bottom:

Today’s decision was based on a 1982 Supreme Judicial Court ruling which stated that the “personal decision whether to bear or beget a child is a right so fundamental that it must be extended to all persons, including those who are incompetent.”

Will ‘Personhood’ Amendment Force A Ban On Birth Control?

Here’s an excellent (and scary) story in Salon about the latest assault on abortion rights: Mississippi’s “Personhood” Amendment 26, a measure facing voters Nov. 8 that would declare a fertilized human egg to be a person, and according to the article, potentially put a legal end to the pill and other forms of birth control.

Salon reports:

Initiative 26, which would change the definition of “person” in the Mississippi state Constitution to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof,” is more than just an absolute ban on abortion and a barely veiled shot at Roe v. Wade — although it is both. By its own logic, the initiative would almost certainly ban common forms of birth control like the IUD and the morning-after pill, call into question the legality of the common birth-control pill, and even open the door to investigating women who have suffered miscarriages.

The story includes this chilling video of Dr. Freda Bush, a supporter of the proposed amendment, who makes her case for the constitutional amendment (which she says won’t ban contraceptives) by saying: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, or even if your father was a rapist!”

Anti-Abortion Group Seeks Ballot Measure On MA Health Insurance Mandate


Do you chafe against the Massachusetts requirement that you have health insurance? You may soon have a chance to vote on it.

This just in from Kyle Cheney at the State House News Service: The anti-abortion group Massachusetts Citizens for Life plans a press conference tomorrow on its launch of a ballot measure seeking to repeal the requirement that virtually all residents have health insurance. He writes:

Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an anti-abortion organization, intends to initiate a ballot petition that would repeal the requirement that all Massachusetts residents obtain health insurance, a core provision of the state’s landmark 2006 health care law.

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told the News Service she hopes the repeal of the mandate will lead to an eventual dismantling of the entire law, which she said has lengthened the wait for doctor visits, contributed to rising insurance premiums and resulted in an increase in taxpayer-funded abortion.

“It’s a place to start,” she said of the petition effort. “We’re not saying that the individual mandate is the end. It’s the beginning.”

Also:

According to an advisory distributed by the organization Monday, MCFL intends to file 10 signatures with the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley by Tuesday to begin a repeal of “Romney-care,” a name that critics of the law have used derisively to tie it to the former governor and Republican presidential candidate. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, front-runner for the Republican nomination, has embraced the law, which he signed in his final year in office, despite criticism from within his party. Continue reading

Abortion in America: The Video

New reports from The Guttmacher Institute found that unintended pregnancies cost taxpayers $11 billion annually. And two-thirds of births resulting from unintended pregnancies—more than one million births—are publicly funded, the research found. In conjunction with these new reports, the Institute also produced a just-the-facts-ma’am video on who gets abortions in America, including these surprising facts:

1. One of every three women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45

2. Six in 10 women who have an abortion already have a child; and women cite the need to adequately care for their existing child or children as a key reason to not have more

3. Three out of four women who have abortions describe themselves as religious

4. Catholic woman have abortions at about the same rate as women overall

5. In 2008, four in 10 abortion patients had incomes below the federal poverty line