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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Book Review: Life Choices: The Teachings of Abortion

Even though I’m pro-life, I read pro-choice books to get another perspective and to learn as much about the issue as possible.I don’t have a lot of qualms about giving a bad review to this one. The book was basically New Age mumbo-jumbo. It was written by a clinic worker who tries to present abortion as being a holy experience that allows a woman to learn about herself and experience the spiritual power of pregnancy. The book was full of long passages of New Age rhetoric that didn’t make a whole lot of sense:

“The soul energies we contact around some pregnancies might be coming in to help women learn how to make choices. With regard to the continuum between nonphysical and physical life, they could probably go either way. Does this sound like a self-serving rationalization to assuage guilty feelings? Perhaps, but I think not. If anything, thinking about the spiritual life of pregnancy allows women to face difficult feelings like fear and guilt while embracing gentler possibilities. As we learn to care for and respect ourselves, we become capable of bringing life through our bodies that is a promise of being loved and cared for the physical world.”

Despite her pro-choice bias, the author lets slip a few times that she knows that abortion is killing:

“The choice to allow death to occur through abortion is an expression of women’s creative life-giving power in action.… For most women choosing to have an abortion is a loving, caring act… It is our sense of responsibility for life that usually plays a central role in decision-making about pregnancy.”

Yeah, killing the baby really is a loving and caring act.

9 week, first trimester when most abortions take place
9 week, first trimester when most abortions take place

She also admits that abortion is hard for many women:

“Consciously controlling the process of pregnancy and deciding to turn back pregnancy often produces a mix of feelings, which includes sadness and loss.… The arrival of the menstrual period during the 1st few months after an abortion reminds a woman that she is no longer pregnant. For some women this is a cause for celebration. For others it precipitates a drop into sadness, and is a painful reminder of the loss of the pregnancy… If the feeling of emptiness goes on for a long time, a woman might become at risk for depression.”

Really, the book seem to be the clinic worker’s attempt to sugarcoat abortion and make it out to be a profound spiritual experience (?) that benefits women when the reality is something far different.

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Disappearing Daughters by Gita Aravamudan: A Review

Very, very powerful. So much information, so much heart rending information. It really illustrates how bad the situation is in India. I like the fact that the person who wrote this did so much research, interviewing so many people who were involved in sex selection abortion. It also touches on infanticide and the history of infanticide in India. The discovery she makes is surprising – that sex selection abortions are commonest among the most educated women and men. She also went into the consequences of having a society that is skewed with more men than women, with men unable to find wives. It talked about polyandry, and about villages buying brides and then treating them as slaves and son producing machines. I am very glad that this author wrote this book, with so much information, but I’m not sure what to do about the problem.

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The Ambivalence of Abortion by Linda Bird Francke Book Review

In the book The Ambivalence of Abortion, Linda Bird Francke tells the stories of women who have had abortions, the men who are their partners, and the clinic workers and who deal with abortion on a day to day basis.

She gives an inside look at what women go through when contemplating abortion, then deciding to abort, going through the procedure, and dealing with the aftermath.

The first thing to consider is that this book was written some time ago, in the late 1970s. Many people, knowing this, would not give it a second look. However, I feel that the book is still relevant today, as the emotional make-up of women and the abortion experience has not changed much in the past thirty years. Women still have abortions for many of the same reasons- wanting to preserve an education, conflict with their baby’s father, financial pressure, etc. People still consider abortion to be controversial – some people oppose it and others accept it. It is still an emotional decision, now as well as in the 1970s.

Francke reveals in the beginning of the book that she had an abortion herself, and compiling the stories of other women may have been her way of coming to terms with it. She maintains that she feels she made the right choice, but does express some grief over the baby that might have been. In her interviews, she explores the grief that many women, even pro-choice women, feel about their pregnancies and abortions. Her book describes how ambivalent women are about ending their pregnancies and how complex their emotions are. She touches on the ambivalence of society as well- a society that decrees that abortion should be legal and available but that it is still a ‘wrong’ thing to do carrying stigma. Few women want the world to know they have had abortions- either in 1970 or today. All of the women Francke interviews use fake names.

Their reactions run the gamut- some are mainly relieved, others sad, some guilt-stricken, many are a combination of all three. The providers she interviews express their own ambivalence. Many of them speak of helping women, but also of their disgust when the same women come back for abortions five times. Some are sure that they are doing the right thing, but are upset by the remains from late term abortions, were the aborted fetuses may have hands and feet and look like babies. Francke also has a chapter where she talks about men and their feeling towards their partner’s abortions. She lets the women and men speak for themselves, often quoting much of what they say word for word.

Overall, The Ambivalence of Abortion is a powerful book, and despite the fact that it is old, it gives great insights into the minds and hearts of women who choose abortion as well as the women and men who provide abortions. It should be read by anyone who is interested in the abortion issue.

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