Book Review of Choice: A Doctors Experience with the Abortion Dilemma by Don Sloan

Dr. Don Sloan wrote Choice: A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma in 1992, when it was titled Abortion: A Doctor’s Perspective, a Woman’s Dilemma. The book was re-released in 2002 with the new title. By 2002, Dr. Don Sloan had been a doctor for forty years. For most of that time, he had been performing abortions.

Dr. Sloan first tells of how he became involved with abortion. He discusses his experiences as a resident in Philadelphia in the 1960s, when abortion was illegal in all but the most extreme cases. He tells stories of women who came into the emergency room injured from attempted self-abortions as well as poorly done illegal ones (the back-alley’ abortions) Sloan’s stories are very hard to take; he uses graphic descriptions of medical procedures and pulls no punches in describing the terrible condition of many of his patients. His depictions are extremely graphic and upsetting. Sloan describes how he was disturbed by the condition of many of the women he treated and how he came to believe that abortion should be available to all women. Women are still injured form abortion, even when it is legal. However, pro-lifers should remember that when abortion is illegal, it is still important to help women carry their pregnancies to term and have their babies. Pro-life crisis pregnancy centers will be needed more than ever.

Sloan met a doctor named Dr. Douglas Spencer. Dr. Spencer was a small town doctor who was an illegal abortionist of some skill. Unlike the back-alley practitioners that Sloan often ran into in Philadelphia, Dr. Spencer had few complications. Sloan depicts Dr. Spencer as a selfless saint, a kindly mentor and a champion of women. No doubt, his portrait is an exaggeration- no human being can really be as kind and selfless as Dr. Spencer is described to be.

He also discusses how Dr. Spencer had few complications. However, there is no way to really know this. Since women traveled from all over to have their abortions and then went home almost immediately afterward, Spencer would most likely not see any complications that were not readily apparent on the abortion table. For example, there is no way to know how many of those women ended up with life threatening infections. Only their local doctors would know.

Dr. Sloan goes on to discuss how he became an illegal abortionist. Then he describes how he and other doctors worked to make abortion legal in the United States. He talks about how Roe Vs. Wade, the Supreme Court case which struck down all anti-abortion laws and created abortion as a legal right for women, was in his opinion a great victory. After Roe Vs. Wade, Dr. Sloan worked with other pro-choice professionals to set up one of the country’s first abortion clinics. His clinic was a high volume clinic, seeing many clients every day. Sloan describes how patients and their partners lounged on the floor of the waiting room and lined up outside. He discribes making a great deal of money. Despite the obvious lucrative nature of his work, he continues to depict his motives as being purely altruistic.

Sloan also discusses some of the other people he met while in the abortion business, including future pro-life activist Dr. Nathanson, who, at the time, was the co-founder of NARAL, a group dedicated to keeping abortion legal. Sloan also describes some of the women in his clinic, touching on their situations.

Dr. Sloan paints things as being entirely black or white. Abortion is good. Laws against it are bad. Pro-Choice doctors are good; Anti-Choice’ activists are bad. To him, abortion is a morally benign procedure, a gift to women in crisis. Nowhere in the book does he show the slightest ambivalence about providing abortions. Abortion, in Sloan’s world, is unquestionably good. And the doctors who provide abortions, or at least the doctors he depicts, are heroes who do abortions out of compassion and respect for women.

Sloan never deals with the moral complexities of abortion, or delves into the reasons behind women’s abortions. He never discusses the fetus/unborn baby. In his rhetoric, the potential baby is completely omitted, and he never seems to address the central question in the abortion debate- is abortion killing a person? Sloan acts as though this question does not exist; in his world there are only pregnancies to be ended and women to set on a path to freedom and health. When discussing women’s reasons for having abortions, he only skims the surface. For example, he talks about how many inner city women came in to have abortions, but never discusses greater issues that may be driving them, such as poverty, lack of birth control, lack of role models or self-esteem issues that might make them more vulnerable to having unplanned pregnancies. Abortion, in his mind, seems to be a cure-all; deeper issues never really enter into the picture.

He also puts abortion providers on a pedestal. His depiction of Dr. Spencer is romanticized. He even makes excuses for an abortionist he worked with who turned out not to be a doctor at all. This man was non-medical professional illegally performing abortions on unsuspecting women, yet Dr. Sloan makes excuses for him.

Overall, Choice was very much worth reading. It gave me insight into the mind of someone who spent over thirty years doing abortions, and added to my understanding of the issue. I did not agree with most of the points Dr. Sloan made or accept all of his conclusions as being correct, but I still feel that I learned a lot from reading the book.

Anyone interested in the abortion issue should read Choice, because it helps the reader understand the view of a provider. However, it is hardly a balanced or definitive work, in that it never addresses many of the deeper issues surrounding abortion or its moral ambiguity. Despite Dr. Sloan’s rose-tinted perspective on the issue, I appreciated learning about his motivations and opinions. I feel that I can better understand what drives a person to dedicate his or her life to something that so many people find offensive and wrong; why someone would open him/herself up to so much criticism and risk the disapproval of so many people.

Quotes from the book

With the D&E, as with any suction procedure, the materials passing through the suction tip are easy to see, and at that stage, the clear polyethylene tubing and the translucent plastic cannula are of a large enough bore to allow you to identify what you are seeing. In fact, it’s medically required that you do so, to confirm that the abortion is total and the uterus empty. Out pass the limbs, the intestines and the various internal organs. Most important, it is imperative for the operator to be convinced that the skull tissue has passed, this being the largest part of the fetus formed at that stage of pregnancy.”(p 187)

…..

“So we have these centers where patients are counseled, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a thorough job. The counseling is less than might be desirable at times…For someone performing abortions, the volume can be so great it’s overwhelming. I’ve sent out tens and tens of thousands of women, and I know so little about so many of them- most of them. How could I? In a sense, the doctor is only a tradesperson, a technician performing a task, like any other…There are many times- frequently, in fact, and I do to this very day- when I will get a referral to do an abortion on a woman I’ve never seen, will see only for those fleeting minutes of the termination, and then never seen again. That scenario isn’t peculiar to me- it goes with the territory.”(p 103)

…..

“If a woman with a serious illness- heart disease, say, or diabetes- gets pregnant, the abortion procedure may be as dangerous for her as going through pregnancy … with diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, even breast cancer, the chance that pregnancy will make the disease worse is no greater that the chance that the disease will either stay the same or improve. And medical technology has advanced to a point where even women with diabetes and kidney disease can be seen through a pregnancy safely by a doctor who knows what he’s doing. We’ve come a long way since my mother’s time….The idea of abortion to save the mothers’ life is something that people cling to because it sounds noble and pure- but medically speaking, it probably doesn’t exist. It’s a real stretch of our thinking.”(P 45-46)]

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Legal Abortion Death: Ingar Weber (Kidney failure)

From Christina Dunigan at RealChoice:

A suit filed by the survivors of Ingar Lee Whittington Weber alleged that she underwent an abortion by Richardson P. Glidden and/or Thomas Booker on January 20, 1990, at Delta Women’s Clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ingar’s family said that neither Glidden nor his staff at Delta diagnosed Ingar’s kidney problems or the deterioration of her physical condition before, during, or after the abortion. Ingar was hospitalized several days after her abortion for acute kidney failure. She died on January 26, 1990.

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There were 42 legal abortion deaths in 1972 and 1973

On legal abortion deaths:

“In 1972 there were 20 and in 1973, 22 deaths that were believed to be associated with legal abortion in the United States.”

US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 24, January 24, 1975

Cited in Sarah Spaght Brown “National Academy Of Sciences Report” in Warren Hern and Bonnie Andrikopoulos, eds. Abortion in the 70s: Proceedings of the Western Regional Conference on Abortion, Denver, Colorado, February 27 – 29, 1976 (New York: National Abortion Federation, 1977)

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Abortionist discusses possible complications, including “most embarrassing” – a baby that doesn’t die

Abortionist Jane Hodgson wrote about the instrument used to perform early abortions:

“The Karmann cannula is a soft, flexible cannula… However, it is not totally innocuous. I have known of perforations to occur with its use. Another disadvantage is the fact that with a small flexible cannula like this, it is very easy to slip over the implantation site. Continuing pregnancy may result. This is a most embarrassing complication. Also, there is a higher instance of retained tissue.”

Abortionist J Hodgson, MD “First Trimester Abortion” in Warren Hern and Bonnie Andrikopoulos, eds. Abortion in the 70s: Proceedings of the Western Regional Conference on Abortion, Denver, Colorado, February 27 – 29, 1976 (New York: National Abortion Federation, 1977) 21

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Woman says she was “never the same again” after her abortion

On the website AbortionChangesYou.com, a woman tells her story. She got pregnant from a man who was living with another woman. He claimed his relationship with the woman was over, but when she got pregnant, he refused to move out or to support her:

She writes:

“I remember being genuinely happy. I was the outgoing, silly girl who was always laughing. I remember smiling from the soul. I had no true sadness in my heart….

I also become extremely ill when I am pregnant with a rare condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This basically means that I am throwing up and nauseous literally 24/7 during the entire nine months of pregnancy  … When I started feeling ill I became very scared. I felt my back up against the wall. I was responsible for all of my bills, a 2 year old active toddler and for the maintaining my apartment with zero help.  …

I would have panic attacks because I couldn’t stop throwing up but had no choice but to go work 12-14 hour shifts. … I had been throwing up for weeks. My throat was raw. My eyes were swollen from crying. I was extremely dehydrated. My feet hurt from working. My heart broken from not being the mother I knew I was capable of being. My spirit was weak…

I called my mom and cried my heart out. She told me that I need to have an abortion that it was the only way to give myself and my current child a chance. I told her I couldn’t possibly go through with that but she insisted that it was the only way that it was just a clump of cells and not even a formed baby yet. With no fight left in my tired soul, I conceded…

After, the procedure I was never the same again. I was put on the Nuva Ring and must have not been using it properly because a month later I was pregnant again. I felt as if I went through all of that emotional turmoil just to get pregnant again… I felt stupid and like it was for nothing. I didn’t even tell my mom this time. I just went in all alone and had an abortion all by myself…

I felt numb. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was lost. I spiraled out of control. What followed was the characteristics of a person I didn’t knew existed within myself. When I smiled, it felt forced. When I laughed it was insincere. I had multiple angry, violent outbursts where I would destroy things in my apartment just because I couldn’t bear consequences of my actions. I couldn’t remember how to be that happy go lucky and free young woman I used to pride myself on being. I cried constantly. All I could think about was how I caused harm and death upon my children. MY children. Those I should have gladly given my life to protect. It went against nature itself. I had suicidal thoughts and couldn’t bear the weight of the pain. …I pray to the heavens and to my two babies for forgiveness on a regular basis… Not a minute goes by where they are not in my heart and on my mind. … the pain still hasn’t subsided. I have a multitude of mental issues like crippling anxiety and depression. I feel a heaviness in my heart that won’t go away.”

 

 

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Woman obeys husband and has abortion, it affects the way she treats her kids

One woman told her abortion story:

“I was 22 years old and had a young son, my oldest son was four years old. My husband said that my sons were too young, so that I had to have an abortion. I obeyed, without thinking twice, because I was so in love. I felt insecure and I didn’t want him to leave me.

We were married, nothing was missing, and it was a really silly decision. He asked me to do it and I just did it….

My husband did not come with me, I went alone with my friend, I took a taxi afterwards and returned to my house, while my husband was at a party. My brain made the decision to block all that memory.

When I met the Christian pro-life association, Aesvida, and I began to hear about the consequences of an abortion, I realised that I had become an angry woman. You are not aware of where it comes from, but then I understood it.

I did not care for my other children, I did not like to hold their hands, I never gave them a hug. Now they are older, and I want to hug them, but they are used to their mom not touching them.

When I realised it, when everything came back to my mind, I started to get involved with pro-life activities, because I knew what I had done.”

My husband said that I had to have an abortion. I just obeyed” Pregnancy Help News 30 June, 2020

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Abortion worker complains more post-abortive women don’t support abortion

Abortion worker Steph Herold expresses her frustration over how few of the women she who came to her clinic are active in the pro-choice movement:

“We need our patients, who we do everything for, to stand up for us. We don’t need them to tell their abortion stories to everyone they know, although of course, that would be great. We need them to fight for abortion access in whatever way makes sense to them. If one in three US women has an abortion by age 45, where are these women? Why don’t they stand up for us?”

Sarah Erdreich Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2013) 175

Could it be because women don’t find their abortions empowering and don’t want to advocate for abortion after they’ve been wounded by one?

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Abortion clinic owner can’t understand why former patients aren’t defending her clinic

Abortion facility owner Maggie Cage ran a full-page newspaper ad during Operation Rescue’s campaign. While pro-lifers staged sit-ins in front of the facility door, Cage called for her former patients to come and “defend” the facility. She couldn’t understand why they weren’t coming back to support the clinic:

“Where are you? Where are all the people we’ve helped over the years? We need you now. When you needed us, we were there. We held your hand and supported you. We see you in restaurants and at the grocery store, at PTA meetings and softball games. You are the businesspeople, the school officials, the politicians, the voters. We kept you safe. We held your secrets. But now we need help. Where are you?”

Quoted in Susan Wicklund This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor (New York: Public Affairs Perseus Books Group, 2007) 160

Could it be because these women didn’t feel so “helped” by their abortions?

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Pro-Choice abortion worker contemplates telling the public about former patients’ abortions to shame them if they are now pro-life

Pro-Choice former abortion worker Robin Dizard is so frustrated that some post-abortive women become pro-life that she contemplated “outing” her former patients.

“[I]t’s something that has been used very effectively in outing [of gay people], for example. I’m not in favor of it but look what it does. And look what happens when the hypocrites who are holding elected office get found out: “Oh, Senator whoever you are, your office is full of pornography, that’s very interesting,” and then the guy pipes down a little bit.”

David P Cline Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961 – 1973 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006) 207

This former abortion worker seems to think betraying the confidences of abortion patients who are pro-life will shame them into not opposing abortion. Fortunately, Hippa Privacy laws make this illegal.

It’s rather interesting that this pro-choice former abortion provider compares abortion to pornography.

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Abortion counselor surprised that attitudes haven’t changed on abortion

Jeannie Jones counseled women and helped them get abortions both before and after Roe. She says:

“I became convinced within a year or two of doing abortion counseling to great numbers at Amherst Medical that the whole thing – society’s condemnatory attitude toward abortion – was going to change so dramatically because there were all these women of all ages who had abortions and members of their families who knew about it. They had this experience of making this tough decision. I thought that was going to change the political landscape and I can’t believe [that opposition to legal abortion] is still going on. There’s this enormous number of women having abortions still, but it’s like you had one and you don’t have any sympathy or concern for anyone else. Where is this enormous population of people who personally had this experience? Where are their families?”

It seems that society views abortion as a bad thing despite the fact that so many women have had abortions. Perhaps this means having an abortion is not an empowering experience, but a painful one- most women who have them aren’t celebrating their abortions or talking about them.

David P Cline Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961 – 1973 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006) 206

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