August 8, 2009


The Last Abortion Doctor: For thirty-six years, Warren Hern has been one of the few doctors in America to specialize in late abortions. George Tiller was another. And when Dr. Tiller was murdered that Sunday in church, Warren Hern became the only one left. (John H. Richardson, 8/05/09, Esquire)

By the way, he hates the word abortionist. Though it is a simple descriptive term like "podiatrist," the opponents of abortion have turned it into a degrading and demeaning word that has the same negative connotations as the most despicable racial epithet. All the same, it is the right word, an accurate word, and our discomfort with it is but a measure of how poisoned the language of abortion has become.

Late that night, he calls you at your hotel. You're reading one of his many scientific publications, which have titles like Shipibo Polygyny and Patrilocality or Urban Malignancy: Similarity in the Fractal Dimensions of Urban Morphology and Malignant Neoplasms. This one argues that man is a "malignant ecotumor" laying waste the planet. One of the main characteristics of a cancerous growth is that it resists regulation. A cancer cell is a cell that reproduces without limits. [...]

In passing, the abortionist says you can never get used to this. Next time he gives you a minute, you ask him to elaborate.

You can't, he says. I think we're hardwired, biologically, to protect small, vulnerable creatures, especially babies. The fetuses may not be babies, but some of them are pretty close.

Since you've become wary of even saying the word baby around him, always using fetus instead, this surprises you. But he refuses to say any more. He suggests you read an essay called "What About Us? Staff Reactions to D&E." The antiabortion people quote the [****] out of it. It's kind of antiabortion porn for them. But the pro-choice people don't like it either. They don't like it when you talk about how it really feels to do this work. His voice is somewhere between bitter and proud.

So why did he write it? For that matter, why does he write so many papers and books? And why does he escape to the jungles of Peru every chance he gets? And what about this theory that man is a cancer? Is it all some kind of elaborate coping mechanism that makes it easier for him to do what he does?

I wrote it because, A, I'm a human being, and B, I'm a writer, and C and D, I'm a physician and I'm trying to understand what we're doing here.

You read the paper. He describes the reactions members of his staff have when they see residue of late abortions, which include shock, dismay, amazement, disgust, fear, and sadness. The later the pregnancy, the harder it is to accept. One assistant resented the patients for putting them through such a horrible experience. Two others described dreams where they vomited fetuses or felt an overwhelming urge to protect others from viewing the fetal parts. Common coping mechanisms were denial, projection, and rationalization. For the senior author, rationalization has been shown by his intensive involvement in professional meetings, where this matter is discussed, and by his seeking peer support from colleagues who have similar experiences. Another great help was the relationships with the patients, which helped the senior author maintain his sense of commitment. It ended with the passage the antiabortionists love to quote, always out of context, words so honest they are almost as painful to read as they must have been to write:

We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one's eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current. It is the crucible of a raging controversy, the confrontation of a modern existential dilemma. The more we seem to solve the problem, the more intractable it becomes.

Exactly what is the context that makes him less appalling, unless you too believe man a cancer?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2009 4:52 PM
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