Abortions, especially second-trimester ones, can be emotional and complex. But for me, condemning a person to an unwanted pregnancy is worse.
When I train my family medicine residents in abortion care, we review different scenarios for why a patient might be getting an abortion: because they’re too old or too young to have a child, because they were raped, because they have professional ambitions that don’t include child-rearing, because they can’t afford another child, because they have too many children, because they don’t want any children, because their fetus has anomalies. It’s important to go through these scenarios so residents can clarify their values and examine their biases.
But after 10 years of doing this work, I’ve come to realize that it is not my place, or anyone else’s, to require a justification for why someone is choosing to end a pregnancy. When I was a resident, I would admit heart attack patients to the hospital. Some had faulty genes. Others had poorly controlled diabetes or hypertension. Others had used methamphetamine. It was not my job to adjudicate based on life circumstance who was deserving of medical treatment. It was, and is, my professional and ethical obligation to treat the person in front of me for no other reason than that they need help, and I can help them.
Ultimately every possible reason for seeking an abortion collapses into one: They don’t want to carry this pregnancy to term. They don’t want to give birth to a baby. That’s enough for me. If we’re going to say we trust people to make decisions about their bodily autonomy, we have to trust them completely.
“Is it OK to be sad?” one of the Oklahoma patients I saw asks, as soon as her second-trimester procedure is over. “Of course it’s OK to be sad,” the staff and I tell her. “You’re allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling.”
Later on, I go for a walk along the Oklahoma River. The sky is the bright cornflower blue of spring, but the leafless trees and dry dull grass are still holding on tenaciously to winter. I look up at the trees, and their spread-out branches remind me of human anatomy, the arteries splitting into arterioles and capillaries, branching into ever finer points.
The natural world has all sorts of these redundancies, where life echoes life. I feel a deep wonder at the beauty of the natural world, and the complexities of the human experience within it. And I feel gratitude that, at least for now, I can continue to provide.
Dr. Alison Block is a family physician, an abortion provider and the executive producer of the podcast “The Nocturnists.” She is working on her first novel, about a red-state abortion provider.
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