Lisa Harris: Abortion Provider

Editor’s note. This first appeared at Secular Pro-Life and is reposted with permission.

The Weekly Standard [in 2010] describes former abortion providers who have converted to the pro-life cause. I found this passage particularly compelling:

“In 2008, however, abortionist Lisa Harris endeavored to begin ‘breaking the silence’ in the pages of the journal Reproductive Health Matters. When she herself was 18 weeks pregnant, Dr. Harris performed a D&E abortion on an 18-week-old fetus. Harris felt her own child kick precisely at the moment that she ripped a fetal leg off with her forceps:

[Harris wrote]

“’Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes—without me—meaning my conscious brain—even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling—a brutally visceral response—heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life.’

“Harris concluded her piece by lamenting that the pro-choice movement has left providers to suffer in silence because it has ‘not owned up to the reality of the fetus, or the reality of fetal parts.’”

The article mentions in passing that Harris chose to stay in the abortion business; the article goes on to describe other abortion providers who were so horrified by what they witnessed that they quit and, in some cases, joined the pro-life movement. (See www.attwn.org for a campaign to help more abortion providers leave the industry.)

I’m glad to hear that even people who begin with strong pro-choice views can be moved by the fetus’s humanity. However I’m more interested in Harris and providers like her.

Not only has Harris continued to work as an abortion provider, she writes about how providing abortions can be just as much an act of conscience as refusing to provide abortions. Harris published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine called, “Recognizing Conscience in Abortion Provision.” Harris believes:

“Doctors (and, in some states, advanced practice clinicians) continue to offer abortion care because deeply held, core ethical beliefs compel them to do so. They see women’s reproductive autonomy as the linchpin of full personhood and self-determination, or they believe that women themselves best understand the life contexts in which childbearing decisions are made, or they value the health of a woman more than the potential life of a fetus, among other reasons.” [Emphasis added.]

To be fair, in this passage Harris is describing reasons and perspectives given by other abortion providers besides herself. Even so, it’s very frustrating that the same person who has called for the pro-choice movement to own up to “the reality of the fetus” continues to use phrases like “potential life.”

So many abortion advocates avoid or flatly deny the humanity or moral relevance of the fetus. I’ve had pro-choice people insist on using the phrase “clump of cells” even after I point out that most abortions are performed on fetuses with brain waves and heartbeats.

But (as I’ve discussed before) I find it particularly disturbing when people do accept the fetus as a human being–not just in theory, for the purposes of discussion and debate, but in reality–and yet continue to advocate for the right to kill the fetus.

I’m a big believer in working to change hearts and minds at least as much–if not more–than working to change laws. But how many hearts and minds are actually unchangeable?