Late Abortion: A Doctor’s Perspective


Dr. Warren M. Hern is the Director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic.

Women who come to my office for late abortions are, without exception, in extreme distress. The most difficult situations are those in which the pregnancy is desired but a diagnosis of fetal abnormality or genetic disorder has been made. Also, medical conditions occur that require termination of the pregnancy, sometimes under emergency conditions. These are not uncommon, especially in a practice such as mine that specializes in late abortion. The anguish that women and their partners and family experience under these circumstances is profound. It is a major life event and it is a terrible loss.

There are teenagers who have become pregnant following a[img_assist|nid=1353|title=Special Series|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=89|height=100] first sexual intercourse and who are uninformed about anatomy, physiology, and pregnancy. They are often terrified and don't know what to do until a family member sees the obvious evidence of advanced pregnancy. Outside of tribal societies in which adolescent pregnancy and family formation is the norm, what 14 or 16 year-old girl in this society is prepared to raise and nurture a child? The medical risks of adolescent pregnancy are very serious, and they have life-threatening and life-altering effects.

There are women who are heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol and whose fetuses are unquestionably damaged. Their individual illness, which is part of a national epidemic, prevents them from both effective contraception and early awareness of the pregnancy not to mention prenatal care. What social purpose is served by making these women carry their pregnancies to term?

While I am engaged in the process of providing a complicated and difficult medical service to these women, the political debate rages and threatens continuation of my medical practice. This is aside from the threat of assassination which we have experienced at the hands of anti-abortion fanatics for over thirty years.

On May 15, 1997, a young couple sat in the recovery room after the woman's late abortion operation, sobbing as they tried to come to grips with the loss of what they had hoped would be a happy, healthy child. At the same time, in another part of my office, I was monitoring a cruel, mindless, and lurid debate about "partial-birth abortion" on the floor of the United States Senate led by Republican members. It was surreal. The demagogues unfortunately included Democrat Tom Daschle, who wanted to prove himself more anti-abortion than the Republican fanatics. So he attacked me by name and threatened to have me thrown in jail for performing the very surgery I had just performed – surgery that was required, not desired, and which had nothing whatever to do with "partial-birth abortion." These are not good conditions for practicing medicine.

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