The following comes from a January 21 story in the London Daily Mail.
Only four doctors in the U.S. offer third-trimester abortions, knowing they risk their own lives every day to carry out such controversial procedures.
These doctors are the subject of a documentary screened at the Sundance film festival last weekend, forty years after the legalization of abortion in the U.S. and four years after Dr Tiller.
Physician George Tiller was a prominent practitioner of late-term abortions shot dead by an extremist in 2009.
The documentary After Tiller is named for him and focuses on the few remaining doctors who perform abortions in the third trimester of a pregnancy. The Supreme Court granted states the right to limit abortions in the final three months of a pregnancy.
It shows Drs Robinson and Sella in Albuquerque, Dr Warren Hern in Boulder, Colorado, and it shows Germantown, Maryland, where LeRoy Carhart recently set up a practice.
Although late-term procedures make up just one per cent of all abortions in the United States, they are the most controversial, facing particularly virulent protests by abortion opponents.
Aside from death threats, such doctors face ‘institutional barriers,’ Dr Susan Robinson, a former colleague of Tiller who still performs such procedures, told AFP following a screening of the documentary at Sundance.
‘If you do abortions, it is very hard to get the privilege to work in a hospital, because they don’t like abortion providers. They are almost all done in outpatient clinics, free-standing clinics, in this country,’ she says.
‘Being an abortion provider is very stigmatized. Other doctors look down on you and think of you as like the lowest of the low.’
Working out of a clinic in Albuquerque, Dr Robinson told ABC of her time working under Tiller: ‘We learned at his knee. Kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect are the hallmarks of a good doctor-patient relationship.
‘People tell me every single day, “Dr Robinson, you’ve given me my life back”. For these women it is life or death. Many women try to self-abort. The less available it is, the poor will have the hardest time.’
New Mexico law grants doctors full discretion over whether to carry out abortions – most often requested in cases in which the fetus is severely malformed – but Robinson says she relies on the judgment of the women themselves.
‘If a woman comes to me, particularly if she struggles to get there, she’s come from Canada or California, Louisiana or France, because she feels so strongly that she needs an abortion,’ she said.
‘This woman has struggled with this decision, herself. She’s not coming because she saw the clinic while she was on her way to the grocery store.
‘Underlying all of what I do is the belief that women are capable of having ethical struggles, working on ethical questions and arriving at the best decisions for themselves.’
Abortion has, and probably always will be, a controversial topic and late abortions are particularly controversial and sensitive.
Two years ago, Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell was arrested and accused of killing a woman with a lethal dose of Demerol.
After police searched his office, they found bags and bottles stuffed with aborted fetuses which had been delivered alive and then killed with scissors. They referred to it as a ‘house of horrors’.
Even supporters of abortion do not approve of third-trimester procedures.
A 2011 Gallup poll showed that making abortion illegal in the last trimester got strong support from both pro-choice 79 per cent and pro-life advocates 94 per cent.
In the U.S., 88 per cent of abortions are done in the first 12 weeks. Fewer than one per cent are in the third trimester.
Dr Robinson is 66-years-old now but does not see herself retiring because she knows no one else will do what she risks her life to do.
‘I’ve been doing OB/GYN for 30 years. I did a residency in OB and a fellowship in perinatology, high-risk obstetrics.’
After abortion provider David Gunn was shot and killed in Pensacola, Florida in 1993, and two receptionists in abortion clinics in Massachusettes were murdered, Robinson began to perform abortions full-time.
‘Women whose fetuses have terrible abnormalities are a lot easier for people to understand,’ she told ABC. ‘The husband and wife want to spare their baby whatever suffering that baby would have.
‘Then there’s the group of women who didn’t know they were pregnant,’ she said. ‘They were told they were not pregnant for one reason or another and they are just as desperate.’
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