Introducing a new abortion provider

I’ve gotten to know the author of the following essay in recent months, and was delighted to have seen him honored with a 2014 Unsung Hero Award from the National Abortion Federation.  With re-publication of his blog (from sherights.com) it’s my pleasure to introduce Boomers & Beyond readers to a future physician — who represents the future hope of women’s rights and women’s health.

 

WHY I’M BECOMING AN ABORTION PROVIDER — by Sarp Aksel

Growing up, I was quickly labeled an ana kuzusu – Turkish for “mamma’s boy.”

This came from a love for my parents’ holiday parties. Each year, the gatherings brought promises of leftover turkey, börek, and Rus salatasi – a delightfully creamy potato salad I was only allowed to indulge during the peri-holiday period. They were also occasions for storytelling. While my dad would entertain the men with the latest happenings in Turkish futbol – a constant stream of scandalous player trades, colorful diatribes of overly glorified coaches against crooked referees, and frequently contested league rankings – I often found myself cozying up to my mother and her friends. Their tales had power and emotion, and they meant so much more to me.

Even at that young age, I recognized that it was a privilege to be allowed into their space. Those evenings weren’t to be taken for granted and I was grateful to be included. Still, I wasn’t always sure if I was welcome.

As a feminist man and future obstetrician-gynecologist, I recognize that I am not, and nor will I ever be, in a position to fully understand the myriad factors that women must consider when tackling certain challenges. This does not mean I cannot be present and supportive. It would be arrogant at best and offensively misogynistic at worst to be anything other than an observer, a supporter and a witness to the uniquely difficult decisions that women face. This means that I believe whole-heartedly in the principle of autonomy as it pertains to healthcare and women’s dominion over their bodies and healthcare decisions. It requires having a profound respect for female autonomy, particularly of bodily integrity.

The slogan “Trust Women” is well known in the reproductive rights movement. While I am an ardent supporter of Dr. George Tiller’s dictum, I have recently found myself questioning its relevance. As a pioneer and hero to #FeministMen, Dr. Tiller was steadfast in his commitment to woman-centered care. His clinic in Wichita for decades served as a beacon of hope for women who had no other options – and continues to do so to this day. And yet, I can’t help but wonder – why do we still need to be told to trust women? Why are we still suspicious of a women’s ability to govern her own healthcare decisions?

Unfortunately, across our country we see politicians legislating abortion care from mandating ultrasounds to waiting periods and counseling requirements that often contain scientifically inaccurate information. They find themselves compelled to make decisions on behalf of women about matters that they deem women incapable of resolving on their own.

But really I’d prefer to keep legislators out of the conversation entirely. For me, identifying as a feminist provider means actively rejecting the notion that anyone other than the woman is the expert of her life-defining circumstances.

This means asking a woman how she feels about an unexpected positive pregnancy test without making assumptions about what that test result means to her.

It means being there for her as an objective source of medical information regardless of what birth control method she chooses, if she chooses one at all.

And it means advocating for women on a public policy level to ensure that women have unfettered access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion and contraception.

My interest in women’s health sprang from years of working as a teenager at a specialty-maternity hospital in upstate New York – with women, for women. On my first day, an energetic young woman was orienting me to the facilities, my responsibilities, and my colleagues. A couple hours into the day, my supervisor noticed me trailing uncomfortably behind her through the hospital’s hallways. After several attempts to get at the cause of my odd behavior, she finally stopped to ask me what was wrong. With much hesitation I answered:

“I need to use a restroom, but this is a women’s hospital.”

She gave me a reassuring grin, placed her hand on my shoulder, and pointed me down the hall.

“Of course we have a men’s restroom.”

And just as there was room for men in a women’s hospital, there is room for men in the feminist movement. After all, feminism is synonymous with humanism.

Aksel_headshotAbout the author: Sarp Aksel is a member of the M.D. Class of 2015 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and is currently applying for residency training in obstetrics and gynecology. As an advocate for comprehensive medical education, he has developed tools to help students raise awareness and fill curricular gaps in sexual and reproductive health training, including abortion and contraception. He is also the immediate past president of Medical Students for Choice, where he served as chair of the international nonprofit’s board of directors,

Celebrating abortion providers

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

You’d think, what with the incessant campaigns to hobble, harass and vilify them, that abortion providers would be somewhere right up there with ax murderers, and at least lying low under the radar. But you would be wrong.

The National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers is at hand. It is officially celebrated on March 10 by Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice, assorted other reproductive rights organizations and every woman whose life has been honored and restored following the decision to have an abortion. The day comes exactly 21 years after the murder of Dr. David Gunn at his clinic in Pensacola, Florida, a tragedy that was followed by the killings of Dr. John Britton and clinic escort James Barrett in 1994, Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998 and Dr. George Tiller in 2009.

The irony of such losses is that abortion providers – who still face serious risks – save the lives of countless women every day. Is a day of appreciation enough? One day, in return for all the millions of days of life returned to millions of women? I vote for celebrating at least throughout the month of March.

My own abortion, a back-alley experience following a 1956 workplace rape, was emblematic of a time when there were no such people to honor. Luckily, I got my life back. No one will ever know how many women did not, how many were left maimed or dead because they had no safe, legal option. Since 1973, thanks to passage of Roe v Wade (but no thanks to those who are trying to send us back to the dark ages) they have had trained professionals motivated by compassion – and stories of women like me.

Early on there were individuals like Dr. Harry S. Jonas, now retired after long years of medical practice, teaching, and advocacy for family planning. Jonas speaks of a woman he met when doing an Ob/Gyn residency some years before Roe v Wade. She was dying of massive infection and multiple abscesses from a botched self-induced abortion after having endured 14 pregnancies. “I still remember that patient,” Jonas says, “I remember what she looked like. I remember the bed she was in on Ward 1418. I will never forget it.”

Today there are providers in heavily regulated states – most of whom remain anonymous for very good reasons – with similarly tragic stories. They tell of women who misuse abortion-inducing drugs because they can’t get to a clinic, or girls barely past puberty too frightened by protesters to access care that is their constitutional right. Of a 14-year-old incest victim pleading for help to reach the nearest clinic many miles distant. Of a sick, troubled mother of five having to choose between multiple required – and unnecessary – trips to the clinic and the job she desperately needs to keep. The physicians who are there for these women often face the need to treat their souls as much as their bodies.

Among those who choose to be open in their activism is my personal hero, Willie J. Parker. I have never met Dr. Parker, an African-American Ob/Gyn, other than on phone calls while researching Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade. He speaks with passion and conviction. Currently Associate Medical Director of Family Planning Associates Medical Group in Chicago, Parker grew up Southern Baptist, in a community which taught that abortion is wrong. His own views changed on hearing a sermon about the Good Samaritan preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. “(King) said that what made the good Samaritan ‘good’ was that instead of thinking about what might happen to him if he stopped to help the traveler, he thought about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help. That led me to …place a higher value on compassion. I couldn’t stop to weigh the life of a pre-viable or a lethally flawed fetus against the life of the woman sitting across from me.” In addition to his day job, Parker offers help in other parts of the country where help is critically needed. He shrugs off questions about personal risk.

Almost any one of today’s providers could make more money, and have a far easier life, in another job. Instead, they choose to do what they do, so women can choose to control their bodies and their lives. That’s worth celebrating.

So light a candle. Write your congressperson. Send a few bucks to the nearest clinic and the organizations that fight for women’s reproductive rights. One national day is just a fraction of the appreciation abortion providers deserve.

After Tiller: A film for pro-life & pro-choice … and for opening dialogue

George Tiller: Boston Vigil

George Tiller: Boston Vigil (Photo credit: qwrrty)

Late-term abortions have to be the hardest to defend, and the most complex to consider — a segment of the abortion debate that I personally would want to stay as far away from as possible. But in “After Tiller,” filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson present a remarkably clear-eyed and comprehensive picture of the men and women who took on the job of providing this constitutionally-guaranteed right after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder. And force the viewer to confront the issue as a piece of the broader reproductive rights issue.

The two filmmakers, who co-produced and co-directed the documentary, are not taking sides or making points; their hope is to promote dialogue — and I wish them every success. Having seen “After Tiller” online, and later on the big screen at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, I congratulate them on honest coverage of an incredibly difficult issue. They were curious, they say, about the providers themselves and their relationships with their patients. So the film spends at-home and in-the-office time with the providers, Warren Hern, a friend of Tiller’s who practices in Boulder, Colo.; LeRoy Carhart, who considered coming to Wichita after Tiller’s death and now provides abortion services in Maryland; and Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella, who run a clinic in New Mexico.

For the anti-choice forces “After Tiller” offers a bombshell of a quote, when one of the women physicians looks directly into the camera and says, “This is not an abortion; this is delivery of a stillborn baby.” Third trimester abortions are surely nearing the time when “fetus” becomes “baby.”

But if you believe in a woman’s right to make her own choices and her own decisions, “After Tiller” shows just how wrenchingly difficult and complex the decision to have a third-trimester abortion must always be. Most of the cases shown depict parents facing a choice between delivering a live baby who might live a tortured few days or months or a stillborn whom they want to spare such a fate.

In a perfect world, those who oppose abortion at any time and those who believe in a woman’s right to choose could use this difficult but forthright film to talk about — maybe even to begin to comprehend – each other’s viewpoints. Unfortunately we are living in a polarized time and an imperfect world. Still, one can hope.

Go see the movie if you have a chance.

A glimmer of sanity in Kansas

Scales of justice

Scales of justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Associated Press reports that the Kansas Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the law license of anti-abortion crusading former KS Attorney General (2003-2007) Phil Kilne. During his time as Attorney General, and throughout a subsequent stint as Johnson County District Attorney, Kline aggressively attacked Planned Parenthood and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The intensity of that relentless battle led to the killing of Dr. Tiller by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder on a Sunday morning in May, 2009.

No one is pinning blame for the murder of the widely-beloved physician on the anti-abortion obsessed former attorney. But Planned Parenthood supporters and pro-choice activists have to be cheering the small light that’s now shining on Kline’s egregious misconduct. The 154-page Supreme Court decision lists 11 specific violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct committed by Kline while he was in office. As county D.A., for example, he filed 107 criminal charges against the Planned Parenthood clinic, all of which were subsequently dropped.

Third-trimester abortions, which are performed by fewer than a handful of providers in the U.S., are in many ways the hardest to defend, for those of us committed to protection of women’s reproductive rights. But I can absolutely promise that no one chooses a late-term abortion without strong, urgent and very personal reason. It’s a complex procedure with attendant complex effects. But Dr. Tiller chose to offer this procedure to women in need, and others are working hard to preserve the right as part of his legacy.

A new documentary, “After Tiller,” just opened in the San Francisco Bay area. It focuses on the four physicians who now openly offer late-term abortions. Film maker Martha Shane, co-director with Lana Wilson, is in town and speaking at a Q&A session following today’s showing at the Roxie Theater (where I’ll simultaneously be signing copies of Perilous Times.) The event is sponsored by Trust Women Silver Ribbon campaign.

Which brings me full circle back to Phil Kline. Obsessed with his conviction that abortion is a sin and must be banned, Kline brought excessive, unnecessary and costly disruption to Planned Parenthood services — which extend far, far beyond abortion: counseling, breast cancer screening, free screening for STD, contraception, countless services critical to boys and girls, men and women in the area. It was cruelty bordering on the insane to those countless innocent people in need of such services. So as I head over to the Roxie I am personally grateful for the Kansas Supreme Court and the note of sanity it has now brought to the state.