Why the dearth of abortion providers?

Here's a guess: Maybe medical students are choosing careers that won't threaten their lives

Published September 1, 2009 9:01PM (EDT)

Extreme antiabortion activism works. It works so well, in fact, that it is responsible, at least in part, for a critical decline in doctors who perform abortions in the United States, according to the Washington Post. It seems medical students aren't so keen on the idea of spending their entire career wearing a bullet proof vest, being targeted with bombs and arson, having their loved ones lives' threatened and having their mug displayed around town on homemade wanted posters.

Of course, that is exactly the aim of such activists. Not only do they want to frighten women out of obtaining abortions, they also want to intimidate physicians out of the line of work altogether. Better still, by bringing pressure to bear on medical schools, they can limit the availability of training for even those students who want it, as Broadsheet's Kate Harding reported in June. Operation Rescue's Randall Terry unabashedly told the Post, "We want them tormented. If they become a child killer, we will make their lives miserable. It will be so costly for them socially and emotionally," he continued. "What young person is going to want that lifestyle?"

Not many, Randall, not many. "The number of abortion providers dropped from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,787 in 2005," the Post's Sandra G. Boodman reports. "Eighty-seven percent of counties in the United States and 31 percent of metropolitan areas have no abortion services." Put simply, in the words of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "The availability of abortion services is in jeopardy."

A generational gap between those who do and do not remember the days when abortion was illegal has only aided antiabortion intimidation. Boodman explains, "Unlike their younger counterparts, many older doctors cite searing memories of days before the procedure was legal, when they cared for women who tried to perform abortions on themselves using lye or coat hangers." For example, 62-year-old OB-GYN David Grimes detailed a long-past case of his where a woman had a "catheter protruding from her cervix and a fever of 106 degrees" and said, "You see something like that as a young doctor, you don't forget it." The upshot is that 66 percent of doctors performing second-trimester abortions are over the age of 50.

Unless we make it a priority to defend med students' and doctors'  right to this legal profession, the future of abortion access looks pretty bleak. When outlawing abortion fails; a campaign of terror certainly suffices.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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