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Why Are You All So Angry?

Reproduced from Abortion is a Blessing by Anne Nicol Gaylor.

MOST OF MY LIFE I have been somewhat in awe of doctors. I have shared the general view that the profession was noble and the practitioners worthy of respect. My deference was so pronounced that my husband used to tease me, saying I failed to get my money's worth out of trips to the doctor. I was habitually reluctant to discuss my aches and pains to any degree when I actually was in the doctors' offices, because my symptoms seemed so trivial in light of the serious cases I knew they had to treat. And I appreciated that they must frequently be tired, probably overworked, at least pressed for time. I was pleased to have doctors as business friends and acquaintances, and I shared the traditional admiring attitude elicited by a physician's presence in any gathering.

But now all that has changed. I am a pronounced critic of the medical profession. I am on speaking terms only with two or three of my former medical friends and acquaintances. I no longer read or respect the AMA News. We even boo at our house when Marcus Welby comes on TV.

The reason? In my work for abortion reform I have learned that most doctors care more for their bank balances, their colleagues' opinions, their comfortable, unjeopardized way of life than they do for the health and welfare of their women patients.

When a federal court declared last March that the Wisconsin abortion law was unconstitutional and that the state of Wisconsin could no longer deprive a woman of her right to terminate an early, unwanted pregnancy, I was elated. Now, I thought, the doctors will help these women. Yet in the whole state of Wisconsin with its thousands of doctors, only one acted--Dr. Alfred Kennan of the University of Wisconsin Medical School. Calls came pouring into University Hospital from all over the country--as many as seventy in a day, with special-delivery letters and wires adding to that count. The hospital administration very quickly adopted a quota, understandable since they are a training hospital, but totally unrealistic in that only about five to eight abortions weekly were to be performed.

Because of my work with the Wisconsin Committee to Legalize Abortion my own phone started to ring, and I was able to get a few of these patients requesting abortions into University Hospital. But what to do with the others? I phoned every gynecologist in Madison asking for his help. Few were even polite to me. Only one showed any compunction about turning down my request. At the time I phoned one of the patients I specifically was trying to help was a fifteen-year-old girl from a broken home, whose very young age and tragic family situation I thought would surely elicit sympathy. Not a chance! I turned next on behalf of this girl to Milwaukee specialists. One doctor made an appointment and on the day of the appointment cancelled it. Another saw her after a ten-day wait and then refused to do the abortion. The search had been time consuming and by this time the girl had passed the deadline for the D & C. Since my only other safe source at this time was in Mexico City and because it seemed impossible to have a fifteen-year-old go that far away alone, I kept phoning Milwaukee doctors and finally found a crusader who did accept her. However, the salting out did not progress well, there were complications and she was in serious condition for two days before recovery. My relief to have her well and happy again was somewhat tempered by the fact that her hospital bill was in excess of $1,000, and by my knowledge that if there had been one Madison doctor who cared about a teen-aged girl's right not to become a mother, she could have had a safe, simple, inexpensive abortion in early pregnancy.

About this time two or three Madison organizations interested in abortion reform arranged a meeting with Madison General Hospital, a community-supported facility. Women's Liberation people spoke on the side of abortion; a pediatrician, a psychologist and a Unitarian clergyman from my committee urged the hospital to perform abortions. But the doctors from the hospital and its administrators told us they had no intention of doing abortions. It was one of the low points of my life as I listened to male after male speak against having the hospital offer this service. The final straw was the chief of staff who took the podium and talked about his "reverence for life." The meeting broke up into informal arguments and as I left the room I heard one doctor dramatically exclaim, "Why are you all so angry?"

I had not been asked to speak that night and the doctor's rhetorical question went unanswered, but I have often thought of what that answer should have been.

We are angry because for the first time we have seen the need for abortion that you must have seen throughout your careers and would do nothing about. We are angry because the court has given you the opportunity to help women who do not want to be pregnant, yet you will not take that opportunity, even though it brings you much money and much gratitude.

We are angry because we have seen and heard so much tragedy, so much avoidable tragedy. We cannot understand why you would want a fifteen-year-old girl who is physically immature, mentally immature, desperately unhappy, her education incomplete, to become a mother, when you possess the skill and have the legal right to help her.

We are angry because we think of the women throughout human history who have had to endure unwanted pregnancies. We know, now, at this time, women who are too poor to have another baby, who have too many children already. We know women who have begged their doctors for contraceptives or for tubal ligations, and who are now pregnant because they were refused. How, we wonder, do you have the audacity to turn away the woman who wants an abortion when you would not help her prevent that pregnancy?

We know, as we are sure you know too, how many victims of incest and rape there really are in Wisconsin. How, we ask, can you be so inhumane as to turn away a thirteen year-old girl and her eleven- year-old sister, who have been impregnated by their mother's "boy friend"?

And what about those pregnant girls who cry throughout conversations with you because their boy friends have gone--gone to California, or gone to Florida, or "We were to be married, but I don't know where he is now"?

What about the mother who has had a baby every year? Can't you recognize that a pregnant woman with five little children, the youngest three months, has a legitimate claim to any doctor's help and sympathy?

You ask why we are all so angry. We answer with a question. How can you be so cruel?

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