Monday, November 24, 2008

Not all it was cracked up to be

The Washington Post has a puff-piece about how one young medical student, Lesley, explores her options and decides not to become an abortionist after all.

She likes to help. She likes to make a difference. She went to a lot of trouble to arrange for medical students to practice abortion techniques on papayas so they could explore this exciting field of medicine.

But when she went to do her shadowing at an abortion clinic, she had second thoughts about becoming an abortionist herself.

"Everyone talks about the context, the morality, the politics of it," she said the night before she would observe an actual abortion, "but nobody really knows what it is like in that moment between doctor and patient."

The first thing she learned is that there isn't any real doctor/patient relationship. The patient was already on the table, glassy-eyed and sedated, when Lesley and the doctor walked in. And the doctor went to work:

As Lesley watched, the doctor grabbed the tenaculum, numbed the cervix with a needle, grabbed the specula for dilation, then the suction machine. He was methodical and very fast. The patient was in obvious pain. Her screams gave Lesley the chills, and she thought she might throw up.

"I'm getting dizzy," she said aloud. The doctor told her to sit down. She backed away, found a bench and sat. She was hot and sweaty.

The second patient was more effectively sedated, and Lesley participated in the abortion, hand-over-hand. Not so bad! Lesley stuck around to see the patients being "counseled". She didn't want to leave.

The only woman crying that afternoon was one who was too far along to have an abortion and was sent away. Lesley helped with that ultrasound and saw the fetus moving. It was 20 weeks, 3 days old and "pretty real" to her. In previous weeks, she had tried to keep similar-sized babies alive. This "conflict of effort" was, to Lesley, "weird, even surreal."

But not, evidently, disturbing enough to make her wonder if it was right to be killing the babies in question.

The woman with the red heels asked for a printout of her ultrasound and wanted to know the sex of the 14-week-old fetus. It couldn't be determined.

What the puff piece doesn't bother to tell the reader is that a properly trained ultrasonagrapher can determine fetal sex as early as 11 or 12 weeks, depending on the quality of the equipment and the position of the fetus. The writer chooses instead to give the false impression that it's impossible to determine the sex of a fetus at 14 weeks.

Lesley watched as the doctor counted the parts of the fetus, and, to her surprise, she didn't find it jarring. To her, the parts appeared doll-like.

"It was definitely gruesome," she said. "You could make out what a fetus could look like, tiny feet, lungs, but it didn't look like a person." She knew this abortion was an act that her friend Litty considered tantamount to murder. She herself expected to be very upset. She'd felt that way at her first autopsy, that of a teenage boy who'd shot himself in the head. For weeks, she could not shake the image of the boy. But this was different. She didn't regard the fetus as a person yet. She said she was happy to help the woman: "I feel like I was giving [her] a new lease" on life.

Tiny feet, tiny lungs, but in pieces no, it wouldn't look like a person, would it? Denial. It's not just a river in Egypt.

But even so, the brusqueness of abortion practice is starting to take its toll on Lesley:

Later that morning, though, while conducting a pelvic exam, Lesley noted that she wasn't her usual slow, gentle self.

And this is just after some time spent observing, some time spent hand-over-hand.

That evening, discussing the second-term abortion with her mother, Lesley described a process that she found disturbingly brutal, especially the stretching of the vagina.

"It's a lot more invasive than I thought," she said. "A papaya doesn't bleed and scream." Women do."

A papaya also doesn't die if you screw up.

Lesley didn't want to have to steel herself emotionally to perform abortions, and she was coming to realize that that's what she'd have to do.

It wasn't the destruction of the babies that bothered her. It was the way abortion was clearly an assault on the woman's body that bothered Lesley. Which it ought to do.

Lesley was left disillusioned.

Even as she'd shadowed the abortion doctor, Lesley knew in her heart that this would not be the right place for her to make a difference. It was a big disappointment, she said. "I really thought I'd love it."

You have to wonder what she thought she'd love about it. Seriously. What part of stepping into a room where a dazed, sedated woman is spread-eagled, sticking sharp things into her to get her baby out in pieces, then stripping off your gloves and doing the same thing to the next woman is there not to love?

The things she cared about -- taking care of women, seeing them through the process -- hadn't happened. It was the nurse practitioner who cared for the patient. Vacuuming out a uterus and counting the parts of the fetus did not seem like a desirable way to spend her work days. It took a unique person to do that on a daily basis, she said.

Unique. That's one way to put it.

Lesley still believed passionately in abortion rights and was proud of what she'd accomplished at Maryland with her activism. She didn't want to let people down. Even so, she had to follow her heart. Somebody else -- maybe Laura Merkel, the new chapter president of Medical Students for Choice -- would become an abortion provider. But it wouldn't be her.

For only part of the right reason. That she can't picture herself inflicing humiliation and pain on women all day as being a very fulfilling way to spend her life.

But she still wants to recruit other people to spend their lives that way.

Which is sad.

HT: Pro Life News

UPDATE: Reasoned Audacity has a post on a different topic, entitled "Only Women Bleed" -- which made me think of the women versus papayas comment. Which made me think of this:


Kathy said...

Sounds like this young lady has been so brainwashed with the idea that a fetus is not a baby that she is having a hard time shaking that, even when she sees it in cold blood (or rather, in its own warm, body-temperature blood). From the excerpts you pulled, it sounds as if she's still idealistically pro-abortion -- the way so many people consider themselves "pro-choice" without allowing themselves to think of the grim and gruesome reality of abortion -- but when it comes to actually performing abortions, finds that the reality is not the "warm and fuzzy" picture she had imagined. Too bad she can't figure out that one way to really help women out of the difficult situation they've placed themselves in, is to help them have their babies, rather than help them kill their babies. Why is it that people think there is no middle area? -- that the only choices are between ripping babies apart inside their mothers' wombs or leaving the mothers and unwanted babies to starve in the streets? Sigh...

WKen said...

Wow ... "didn't look like a person."

I suppose you could say the same thing picking up body parts from a plane crash or a fire.

Red_dog said...

Looked "doll like"

Isn't a doll suppose to look like a person?

And she even mentions seeing a 20 week fetus/baby moving on it's own.... How can she not realize it's a human? who deserves to live???

Anonymous said...

The "doll like" comment is repugnant. It's indicative of a woman who's spent the better part of her life telling herself and wishing that preborns aren't actually human. What's more, she talks about the one they can't abort like it's actually alive (the whole movement thing kind of gives that away). Looks like it's a case of legality determining morality for this girl. Abortable fetus = not human, nonabortable fetus = human. This is a sad, but common way many people look at ethics and morality, not just in terms of abortion.