Former Abortionist: Dr. Paul Jarrett

This testimony was originally given at a “Meet the Abortion Providers” workshop sponsored by the Pro-life Action League of Chicago, directed by Joe Scheidler.

“Thank you for inviting me to the Pro-Life Action League’s fifth “Meet the Abortion Providers” conference, I think you will find my story of how I became an abortionist, unfortunately, somewhat typical, and my story of why I stopped, unfortunately, somewhat atypical.

I say “unfortunately” because it seems the majority of physicians who leave training today have been indoctrinated in [and have adopted] a pro-choice viewpoint. Even those of us who are strongly pro-life face tremendous pressures to support a national standard of care which does not honor the sanctity of human life. I will say more about this later.

I am 50 years old. I have been delivering babies in Indianapolis for 26 years; I lost count many years ago of the actual number, but I would estimate the total to be between four and five thousand. My father is also an obstetrician, now retired, who practiced obstetrics in Anderson, Indiana where I grew up. He delivered over 10,000 babies and has a strong pro-life viewpoint even though he is an agnostic.

I did all of my training at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. I rotated back and forth between the private Coleman Hospital for Women and the Marion County General Hospital for the indigent population. My residency was from 1970 – 1973. Since the infamous Roe v. Wade decision came down in January 1973, my career overlaps the years before and after that landmark decision. However, I became all too familiar with abortions from the very beginning of my residency.

Of course, I saw women whose social circumstances seemed desperate who asked to be referred for illegal abortions. Once, I asked an attending staff physician about such a referral, and rather than condemn it, he said he knew of a general practitioner who had the reputation of doing abortions. In retrospect, I asked the wrong doctor that question, but at that point in my life, I respected the opinion of all of my mentors.

About 1970 the state of New York passed legislation allowing abortions to be performed legally. This was not necessarily a popular choice. Referendums to legalize abortions in Michigan and North Dakota were defeated by 3:1 and 4:1 margins.

A few months into my residency, I came face to face with the issue of abortion for the first time. An 18-year-old Indiana University coed came into Coleman Hospital with lower abdominal pain. She related to me that she had been to New York City earlier that day to have a legal abortion performed at a clinic there. She had gotten on a plane at 8am at Indianapolis International Airport and flown to New York. She was taken to a legitimate clinic by a cab driver. She had believed she was two and a half months pregnant, but after the doctor had unsuccessfully attempted to abort the pregnancy, he told her she wasn’t really pregnant after all and sent her home. She returned to Indiana on the 4pm flight as planned.

When she returned home in terrible pain, she realized she was in trouble and for the first time, told her mother what had happened to her. Her mother contacted her own gynecologist, who in turn referred the patient to Coleman Hospital to be evaluated by the resident on call–me.

Even though I was still wet behind the ears, I know that this pale, frightened little girl was still 10 weeks pregnant and her blood count was only half of what it should be. The private, attending doctor came in and took the patient to surgery immediately that night, where he repaired the hole that had been torn in the back of her uterus, which had caused her massive internal hemorrhage.

Over the course of the next few days, infection set in which did not respond to antibiotics, and we made the painful decision to perform a hysterectomy. Tragically, the shock from the infection severely damaged her lungs and her course was steadily downhill. As I helplessly watched, she slipped into unconsciousness and a few days later she died.

I had difficulty putting the whole thing into perspective. Unfortunately, my conclusion was that there had to be a better way to perform abortions than to send patients off to a clinic in New York.

There was another kind of abortion being done at that time right in Coleman Hospital. These were so called “second trimester abortions” being done for “psychiatric” reasons. Although my textbook stated that true psychiatric indications for abortion were extremely rare, in practice it was relatively easy for a woman to get two psychiatrists to rubber stamp her abortion request for the price of a consultation visit. By the time all the paperwork was done, these pregnancies were more advanced and were classified as second trimester. Technically, these could be between 14 and 27 weeks, but usually they were 18 – 20 weeks along.

19 weeks

This type of abortion was then done by hypertonic saline injection. In laymen’s terms this meant injecting a very caustic salt solution into the amniotic sac which the baby swallows, causing his death. Labor begins 12 – 36 hours later, A well liked member of the teaching faculty would inject the solution and the patient was admitted to the gynecology ward to await delivery.

It was my job to go to the ward and pick up the dead baby from the labor bed and make sure the placenta had all come out. This was my least favorite duty as a resident, and again I concluded there had to be a better way.

Since hypertonic saline was so toxic if it was injected into the uterine wall instead of the amniotic sac; there was a constant search for the ideal drug. Prostaglandin has now become the drug of choice, but one of the early experiments was with hypertonic urea. The major disadvantage in using it, was the problem of live births. I remember using it on a patient that the psychiatric residents brought to us from their clinic from an institutionalized patient who really was crazy. I’ll never forget delivering her nearly two pound baby, and hearing her screams, “My baby’s alive, my baby’s alive.” It lived several days.

Later, I was taught by my chief resident that if I was delivering a defective baby, such as an anencephalic, I should place it in the bucket of water at my side and declare it a stillborn. I never did that, but I’ll always remember it.

The problem of live birth in second and third trimester abortions has been solved by the dilation and evacuation procedure, or D & E. The cervix is dilated with laminaria, which are pieces of dried seaweed which absorb water over a 12 hour period and stretch to 4 times their original size. The baby is then delivered piecemeal.

diagram of a D&E

When I rotated over to the county hospital, I became familiar with illegal abortions and their aftermath. Every woman who came in with even a routine miscarriage was suspected of having had a criminal abortion. We were trained to be suspicious because of the consequences of missing the diagnosis of a perforated uterus.

We were all indoctrinated with the almost legendary story of how one of our preceding residents, Dr. James Brillhart, had gone out of the hospital and tracked down an old, dying abortionist who had been responsible for the deaths of several patients. Ironically, Dr. Brillhart has been one of the leading abortionists in Indianapolis from Roe v. Wade to the present day. The actual number of criminal abortions was small and although I saw some patients who were pretty sick, I don’t recall any patients during my three years who died from a criminal abortion.

At the county hospital, we received patients from the other two private hospital residency programs when they didn’t want to take care of a particular patient. Consequently, we looked down on those residents and developed the mind set that we were to take care of every problem we encountered. We would not “dump” problems on others.

When I finished my residency, I covered my father’s practice for 6 months before beginning a teaching position at Indiana University. I recall asking my department chairman what I should do about abortions, since my father was pro-life. His wise advice was not to perform them in Anderson.

However, when I returned to the medical center, I was placed in charge of the outpatient OB/GYN clinics at the county hospital, now called Wishard Hospital. Since Roe v Wade was now the law of the land, Drs. Joe Thompson and Bob Munsick were both performing abortions at Wishard. I greatly respected both men. I was faced with the direct question, “Would I also perform abortions at Wishard?”

I had already bought the big lies that “Abortion is a logical extension of family planning services” and that “All people needed to prevent unwanted pregnancies is more information and better access to contraception.”

I might add at this point that I was not encumbered by any personal religious beliefs at that time. As a teenager, I had expressed to my future wife, that I had a desire to know God and had joined her church, but I didn’t have any conviction of sin and I didn’t come to a saving faith at that time.

After studying science, I had come to an agnostic position with respect to God. Without a foundation of absolute truth, and under the influence of my peers, and based on my own experiences, I decided to do what was right in my own eyes and perform first trimester abortions for poor women at Wishard. I would be a good soldier and do my duty. A doctor’s duty, I believed, was to do everything in his power to fix what was wrong with his patient.

I believed in applying this medical solution of abortion to a societal problem of unwanted pregnancy. I believed that if these women were unencumbered by unwanted children that they could rise above their poverty.

I still believe that I was not in it for the money. In my teaching contract, I only got to keep 25% of anything I earned in private practice. At age 28, I was idealistic, immature, and too inexperienced in the way of the world.

In making the decision to do abortions, I went against God’s Word, the beliefs of my father and violated my Hippocratic Oath.

Incidentally, the section of the oath stating “I will not give a woman a pessary to induce abortion” has been deleted from the oath when it is used by new physicians today. I’m not sure Hippocrates would understand,

Between January and May of 1974, I performed 23 “pregnancy terminations” at Wishard. That is a euphemistic way of saying that I killed 23 children. One definition of a euphemism is a figure of speech where a less disagreeable word or phrase is substituted for a more accurate but more offensive one.

The deception in the language of abortion is achieved through the use of euphemisms. “Pregnancy termination” rather than abortion. “Menstrual extraction” rather than early abortion. “Products of conception” rather than baby and placenta. “Tissues” rather than flesh and bones. It makes it sound more like a Kleenex than a baby. Even “fetus” and “embryo” are Greek and Latin words for Baby. “Chorionic Villus Sampling” rather than placental biopsy. “Selective Multi Fetal Reduction” rather than random killing of several babies in an attempt to save the remainder of the lucky ones.

All of these terms dehumanize what is being destroyed so that we deceive others — and ourselves.

One of my idealistic bubbles burst in about April of 74, when a patient whom I had aborted in January, returned to me for another abortion. She was using abortion for birth control.

In order to tell you why I finally stopped, I need to explain a little about the technique of suction curettage abortion. Incidentally, I did them under general anesthesia in surgery. Today, most are done under local anesthesia in a clinic.

eight weeks

First, the cervix, or mouth of the womb, is stretched open with pencil shaped dilators, until it is open enough to insert the suction curette, which is a clear plastic straw like tube. A vacuum source is then attached to the curette. After the curette is introduced into the uterus, the water is broken and is seen through the curette, followed by bits of flesh and blood, which is what remains of the baby and placenta. The procedure works well because the baby is small at 10 weeks and is not calcified, so that it fits easily through the narrow tube. All parts become almost indistinguishable in the mesh filter bag in the suction jar.

My 23rd abortion changed my mind about doing abortions forever. This patient was a little overweight and ultimately proved to be a little farther along than anticipated. This was not an uncommon mistake before ultrasound was readily available to confirm the gestational age.

Initially, the abortion proceeded normally. The water broke, but then nothing more would come out. When I withdrew the curette, I saw that it was plugged up with the leg of the baby which had been torn off. I then changed techniques and used ring forceps to dismember the 13 or 14 week size baby. Inside the remains of the rib cage I found a tiny, beating heart. I was finally able to remove the head and looked squarely into the face of a human being — a human being that I had just killed. I turned to the scrub nurse standing next to me and said, “I’m sorry”.

14 week-old unborn baby

I knew then that abortion was wrong and I couldn’t be a part of it any longer. No one was critical of me for what I had done, nor for having stopped. But I had a lot of guilt about that abortion and had flashbacks to it from time to time. I sometimes dreamed about it. The guilt lasted about four years.”

Dr. Jarrett then discusses his conversion to Christianity and explains how it helped him resolve the guilt that he felt from doing abortions.



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Author: TA Smith

Sarah Terzo is a pro-life writer and blogger. She is on the board of The Consistent Life Network and PLAGAL +

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