A tale of competing “moral balance sheets”: abortion providers versus pro-lifers

By Dave Andrusko

Pro-life blogger Sarah Terzo is a priceless resource for the rest of us. She has an uncanny knack for finding the most revealing quotations not only from abortionists but also from women who are looking back on their abortions.

Over at “Loving Them Both,” she quotes from what remains one of the most illuminating and thoughtful stories ever written about people who work in the abortion industry. The quote is from a woman who worked at a Dallas abortion clinic over twenty years ago, explaining how she coped with the demands of doing her job.

“This may sound like repression: however, it does work for me. When I find myself identifying with the fetus, and I think the larger it gets, that’s normal… then I think it’s okay to consciously decide to remind ourselves to identify with the woman. The external criteria of viability really isn’t what it’s about. It’s an unwanted pregnancy and that’s the bottom line.”

The quote appeared in the story, “Abortion providers share inner conflicts,” which ran in the July 12, 1993, issue of the American Medical News. I would like to offer a few thoughts about what this remarkable story told us then, and tells us now.

To begin with here is the abstract/summary:

“The National Abortion Federation [NAF] sponsored a series of workshops for people who counsel women and perform abortions. In general, the providers explored their ambivalence on performing the procedures. For example, they expressed misgivings about women who have a high number of repeat abortions and who wait until late in their pregnancies to choose to abort. In addition, they discussed the physical and spiritual implications to the fetus.”

The operative word is “ambivalence” or “qualms,” which, in fact, may seriously understate what many of those quoted in the story were experiencing. But reporter Diane Gianelli’s point was who knew? Not many outside the insiders themselves knew about this “well-kept secret.”

“But among themselves — at work, or at meetings with other providers — they talk about how they really feel. About women who come in for ‘repeat’ abortions. About women whose reasons for having abortions aren’t ones they consider valid. About their anger toward women who wait until late in their pregnancies to have elective abortions. And about the feelings they have toward the fetus, especially as gestational age increases.”

Gianelli’s observes that “Oddly enough, many of the issues that disturb abortion foes also seem to trouble providers”:

“They wonder if the fetus feels pain. They talk about the soul and where it goes. And about their dreams, in which aborted fetuses stare at them with ancient eyes and perfectly shaped hands and feet, asking, ‘Why? Why did you do this to me?’”

Well, then how can they do what they do, day in, day out, year after year? It’s because ultimately

“[T]hey have different moral balance sheets. For providers, the bottom line is the woman’s life and the particular circumstances that drive her to choose abortion. For opponents, the bottom line is what actually happens during an abortion: a human life is taken.”

Let me make two observations. First, you (or at least I) might have a different sense of where “nurses, doctors, counselors and others who work in the abortion field” are today. Not that they aren’t still troubled at some level, but rather that perhaps because pro-lifers have made serious inroads these last two decades, they are even more publicly belligerent.

I don’t get the sense that whether a woman has one abortion or four makes any difference to “abortion providers.” Indeed, in some cases, it is obvious that they take a kind of perverse pride in withholding judgment from women who come in for still another abortion or for an abortion of a very advanced baby.

It’s like that capacity to be human (which was a major area of concern in this 1993 workshop) has come and gone for them. But we can hope and pray that a remnant of that acute discomfort (to put it mildly) expressed by some at the NAF workshop over “late” abortions and sex-selection abortions exists today.

Second, what was true then, I believe, is even more true today. What we say does have an impact even on those who work in the abortion industry. The only way they can live with themselves is to blame us for pricking their consciences.

For instance there was one case the reporter heard discussed in which a couple had been happily married for twelve years. They unexpectedly became pregnant and more or less drifted into having an abortion for “no concrete reason.” The discussion leader said

“This is where the opposition has had an effect on us. Stop and think: Where did you get this notion that there has to be some very special, particular, some sort of reason that’s better than some other sort of reason? I think you got it from the anti-abortion movement in America. They have so little to hang their hat on, that one of the things they’ve chosen to hang it on is that there are all these women out there who are having abortions for frivolous reasons.”

“Frivolous” is a loaded word and is intended to move the discussion to grounds on which they feel more comfortable. The truth is—and has been for decades—that a majority of the American people are uncomfortable with the reasons over 90% of the abortions in this country are performed.

They would not use the word frivolous. But it is also completely accurate to say that a majority of the public’s “moral balance sheet” is far closer to the one we have drawn up than that of the pro-abortionists.

Let me conclude with a quote from “Abortion providers share inner conflicts” that comes near the very end. It is extremely telling.

“A nurse who had worked in an abortion clinic for less than a year said her most troubling moments came not in the procedure room but afterwards. Many times, she said, women who had just had abortions would lie in the recovery room and cry, ‘I’ve just killed my baby. I’ve just killed my baby.’

“’I don’t know what to say to these women,’ the nurse told the group. ‘Part of me thinks, ‘Maybe they’re right.’”