Abortion and the Practice of Medicine: 25 Years of Increasing Schizophrenia

By Dr. Steve Calvin

Editor’s note. When selecting stories for our year-long “Roe at 40” series, I try to pick pieces that stand the test of time—that are as relevant (if not more so) today than when they first appeared. This story, written for the January 1998, issue of National Right to Life News, fits that description to a “T.” Everything Dr. Calvin lists here is only more so today.

Dr. Steve Calvin

Dr. Steve Calvin

In 1973, Roe v. Wade shattered the issue of abortion into sharp fragments. We are still dealing with the medical and political fallout of the Supreme Court’s willingness to go far beyond the traditional boundaries of medical ethics and practice.

The tenets of Hippocratic medicine have served us well for more than 2,000 years. But the last 25 years of abortion on demand caused the practice of medicine to become increasingly schizophrenic. The tension between valuable traditions and currently legal medical practice is untenable.

My subspecialty of maternal-fetal medicine has been heavily influenced by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

I am one of 11 high-risk pregnancy specialists in a busy practice serving a complicated referral population. I also teach medical students and residents.

Our practice is unique in that we care for two patients: the mother and her unborn child. (Sometimes our colleagues involved in the treatment of infertility are so successful we have even more than two patients.) Only on very rare occasions are the medical interests of the mother and child in conflict.

In 1973, fetal ultrasound imaging technology was early in its development. The anatomic development and activities of the fetus were invisible. Today the practice of obstetrics is much more effective because of our ability to obtain detailed views of the fetus inside the uterus.

Current ultrasound imaging techniques reveal the marvelous complexity of prenatal growth and development. Just as parents of newborns mark their baby’s developmental progress with milestones of activities, thanks to modern technology we can see similar developmental milestones in unborn babies.

However, this wonderful window on the womb has become increasingly embarrassing to ardent supporters of abortion who would rather refer to the fetus as “pregnancy tissue” or “the products of conception.”

That is why pro-abortionists so vigorously oppose any requirement for an ultrasound prior to an abortion. Let me offer a personal example.

Ten years ago I was on the faculty at the University of Arizona medical school. After numerous requests, I was finally permitted to give a pro-life counterpoint presentation to a class of first-year medical students, During the planning of my presentations, however I was told that the use of a fetal ultrasound videotape would be “confusing” and “irrelevant.” A discussion of the First Amendment and its extension to academic freedom was enough to allow the use of the ultrasound images.

In the last two and one-half decades our ability to obtain clear images of the fetus has expanded the concept of the fetus as a patient. For example, unborn babies can be treated with medications for irregular heartbeats and receive blood transfusions. Indeed, blood flow patterns in tiny blood vessels can be analyzed using color Doppler techniques. Increasingly, there are surgical procedures that can benefit an unborn baby.

A frequent use of ultrasound is to evaluate the health of our unborn patients. In high-risk situations we recommend weekly ultrasound “checkups” that look for prenatal breathing movements and other activities.

There is inescapable schizophrenia when modern medicine works under an ethical construct in which a fetus is a patient only when the mother has conferred this status on him or her. The trouble is that this status can be withdrawn. But how can one fetus at five months deserve abortion when an anemic fetus of the same age can undergo a blood transfusion in the next room?

Even abortion supporters are horrified by the possibility of abortions based only on the sex of the unborn child. But why is abortion for the most sexist of reasons any worse than abortion for any other reason?

Likewise, I am concerned by the degree to which modern obstetrics has become an impersonal techno-specialty dedicated to the concept of “the perfect baby.” Much of prenatal diagnosis is designed to detect fetal abnormalities early so that the choice of abortion is available. The majority of these abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, are not usually lethal.

So far we do not have an overtly eugenic social policy but we are certainly encouraging family-based eugenics. This use of abortion will unquestionably further weaken society’s commitment to the disabled.

It is troubling that abortion is the only medical “procedure” for which supporters fear full disclosure. Many physicians suspect that multiple abortions lead to an increased incidence of future reproductive problems such as incompetent cervix which increases the chance of miscarriage. Even more concerning is the evidence linking abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer

The women of America have a right to a calm, factual presentation of the facts about abortion knowledge. The requirement for truly informed consent is long overdue.

History teaches us that medical leaders and experts can be fatally wrong. In the mid-19th century Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ignaz Semmelweiss clearly showed that lethal germs could be transmitted by physicians’ unwashed hands between the anatomy lab and the delivery room. They were both viciously attacked for their willingness to tell the truth.

Today many medical leaders are intent on making the health care system into an efficient utilitarian tool serving the god of choice. Unfortunately, genuine compassion and caring will never come from such a system.

American medicine must awaken from the moral anesthesia induced by 25 years of unrestricted abortion. Just as the lithographs of slaves stacked like cordwood in the holds of slave ships led to the end of the British slave trade, I believe that ultrasound technology showing detailed fetal anatomy forces us to honestly face the fetal side of the abortion question.

Please send your thoughts to daveandrusko@gmail.com