The Traumatized Lash Out
Addressing the question: From where do abortion-performing doctors get their social support?
An excerpt from Achieving Peace in the Abortion War.
Chapter 11: Colleagues and Clients
(sources adapted for a website)
If other doctors and the pro-choice movement are inadequate as sources of support, then surely at least the clients can be expected to be grateful. And of course many of them are. Yet many seriously do not want to be there. This isn’t unusual in medicine, but most medicine has on-going care so that the doctor is able to monitor the patient and see that she’s improving, allowing for both a sense of accomplishment and gratitude.
The assembly-line set-up of the average abortion clinic is not asking for respect from the clients. In fact, this technique may be employed partly because of knowledge that the gratitude is never really going to come. It’s deliberately not asked for . . .
An abortion doctor who had a problem with inner strength commented on this in the Boston Globe (November 11, 1994) “I could have put up with some more, but I felt no community support at all. I could have taken a lot more abuse, but there was not even a patient saying, ‘I know you’re not a murderer.’ That demoralized me.”
The Feeling is Mutual
Feeling highly stressed can be expected to lead to a lashing out. The lambaste can be aimed at several targets, and for the abortion doctor, there are plenty available. Pro-life picketers are among the best to aim for, but they’re outside the building. Throwing barbs at them on the way in and on the way out only does so much. Politicians, media, other doctors, and the pro-choice movement can be complained about, but they’re off somewhere else and so can be targeted only verbally. Staff people are close by and can make excellent targets, but they’re hired and not likely to stay if they are the butt of too much resentment. Besides, they’re in the same fix.
There is one target left that falls into place nicely – the person that the doctor has never seen before and likely will never see again. The person who is going to allow the doctor to come close to her with sharp instruments. The person who makes this whole job necessary, then isn’t even grateful.
The doctor can blame the person who, if she had only kept her pants on, wouldn’t be doing this. Never mind that there is, in each and every case, another person who could also have prevented it by keeping his pants on. He’s not there to lash out at, and she is. Besides, blaming the woman for getting pregnant is traditional.
Current abortion opponents are not the only ones to have noticed this phenomenon. Marjorie Brerer’s position is unambiguously in favor of ready access to abortion. Yet on a panel discussion at a conference on RU-486 she listed one of the reasons for someone being an abortion provider as, “a relatively sadistic way of punishing women.” She later says that, with RU-486, she, “would like to ask whether providers will still be able to have a punitive role, if that’s the role they want to have.”1
Those that have looked at this in scholarly fashion have found indications of this. “Many faculty and resident physicians doing abortion work reported clinical symptomology. Among these symptoms, the researchers discovered obsession over abortion per se and over the morality of abortion, depression, a need to find ‘reasons’ for performing the abortions, and anger directed primarily at the aborting women.”2
Dr. Hern notes: “One respondent expressed increasing resentment of the casual attitudes of some patients considering the emotional cost to those providing the service.”
The American Medical News article, “Abortion Providers Share Inner Conflicts,” indicates that anger at the woman is regarded as a commonplace, especially for women who wait for late terms. “A New Mexico physician said he was sometimes surprised by the anger a late-term abortion can arouse in him. On the one hand, the physician said, he is angry at the woman. ‘But paradoxically,’ he added, ‘I have angry feelings at myself.'”3 Why is this paradoxical, when he is just as much a participant as she is? Because it’s unusual to admit that responsibility lies on everyone involved, and blaming the woman alone is more common.
Another example is recounted in Don Sloan’s book, Abortion: A Doctor’s Perspective, a Woman’s Dilemma. Dr. Sloan was an abortionist (his own self-description) who was still in the field and still advocated for it strongly. He tells this story (pp. 234-235) as told to him by one of his patients:
“I was working upstate, and I got involved with this guy – it was dumb, but I got pregnant. I mean, we both knew it was just a summer thing, that we weren’t going to see each other again. Well, I asked around and got the name of a doctor there who did abortions in his office. It wasn’t that expensive, a few hundred bucks, and we could get that together between us. I mean, the guy was all right, he just wasn’t the love of my life. So I made an appointment.
“The people in the office seemed real nice, so I was kind of surprised by this guy. He kind of leered at me, you know? But at the same time he really had an attitude – like I was dirt or something. I thought, was it ’cause I’m black? But I think it was just him.
“He said, ‘Get your things off and lie down.’ And I’m thinking isn’t there a gown or something? I was standing right there. So I asked for some place to change and he said, ‘Do it here. We have to get this over with.’ But he gave a sheet to wrap up in, which was clean, at least.
“When I went to put my feet in the stirrups, my legs were too long. And while he’s adjusting them, he’s making these cute little remarks about my legs and my nail polish. I’d already paid, and I wanted to get it over with too, or I’d have been out of there, I swear. I was that angry.
“It hurt – a lot. And I could hear the suction thing – it was real loud, and it was like it was sucking out my whole insides. I kept asking questions, and the whole time, he didn’t say one thing. Just ignored me.”
It seemed like an eternity, Keisha said, but it was probably only a few minutes until the doctor told her he was done.
“When I got up, I felt sort of faint, and there was blood running down my leg. I showed him, and he said it was nothing. But when I went to get my clothes, the blood was getting on the floor. And he said to me, ‘You’re dirtying things up. Get back up here.’ He did some more stuff, and I heard the machine again. It didn’t hurt as much, though, or maybe I was just so out of it I didn’t care.”
He gestured to her to get up again, and this time he gave her a sanitary napkin. ‘You know how to use these things, I suppose?’ he sneered.
Dr. Sloan blames this unknown doctor’s attitude on sexism, a reasonable assessment. He then goes on to relate it to other kinds of sexism in the health care system, as with obstetrics, and he’s right that those are areas in need of improvement. Of course, in any individual case, the doctor may have had a major argument with somebody that day and been in a sour mood. Nor would it be fair to draw any conclusions from one incident.
Still, it does fit the pattern. It could be that the doctor was frustrated for the reasons we’re talking about now, or it could be that the patient was seeing the symptom of estrangement from others that is a symptom of post-traumatic stress.
Sexism is something that can be gotten rid of, to a large extent, if it’s worked on. It certainly can be removed from areas like obstetrics, diagnostic D & C’s, hysterectomies, and C-sections. Much progress has been made already, and hopefully more will be made. If that’s the problem with abortion, progress will be made there as well. But if the problem is the lashing out or the alienation that goes with PTSD, then progress toward sensitivity to the clients could be harder to come by.
- Antiprogestin Drugs: Ethical, Legal and Medical Issues, Arlington, Virginia, December 6-7, 1991.
- Marianne Such-Baer, “Professional staff reaction to abortion work,” Social Casework, July 1974.
- Diane M. Gianelli, “Abortion Providers Share Inner Conflicts,” American Medical News, July 12, 1993.
For similar posts, see:
For more on how various kinds of socially-approved killing are traumatizing to those doing the violence, see Perpetration Trauma.