A doctor defends the right to choose

Book Review

Choice: A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma By Don Sloan, M.D., with Paula Hartz International Publishers, 2002 Softcover, 201 pp., $9.95

During this season of extreme political regression and attacks on the civil and human rights of working people, it is important that we never forget our history of struggle.

At a time when there are more than 150 pieces of anti-choice legislation up for vote in state legislatures, when fetal rights legislation that would trump the rights of living women is being disingenuously argued in Congress, when physician gag rules, phony informed consent bills, and legal intrusions into the physician/patient relationship are becoming the rule rather than the exception, and when the Attorney General of the United States is demanding a peek into women’s private medical records, understanding the struggle for women’s human and reproductive rights is a mandatory part of that historical review.

“Choice: A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma,” by Don Sloan evokes anger, elation, fear, and determination. Using his experiences as a physician, Sloan introduces us to the days when abortion was illegal and clandestine and carries us through the years of abortion rights struggle, the victory of Roe v. Wade, the ensuing encroachments on a woman’s right to choose, and his own internal and external ethical debates.

His firsthand recollections as an intern of attempting to save the hemorrhaging, infected, terrified, too often dying poor and working-class women (women of means could always obtain safe and sanitary abortion in private offices or by leaving the country) in the emergency room are a graphic and urgent reminder about what repeal of Roe v. Wade would bring back into our lives.

The use of case studies, stories about actual patients, makes real for the reader the conflicts and intricacies of this most personal and awful decision. Sloan also makes clear that choice and reproductive rights are more than just a legal right to abortion. The reproductive rights movement is about the struggle of women for equality in all spheres of life. He also wishes for the end to the need for abortion:

“I don’t think anyone doing abortions ... hasn’t wished at some point that the situations creating the demand for them wouldn’t just go away. That includes me. There have been plenty of times when I’ve wanted to say enough. This is more human tragedy than I want to deal with. But that would require a different world – no poverty, no contraceptive failures, no rape or incest, no genetic defects, no maternal illness, better birth-control education, better support for women and children, better day care, better health care, no unprotected moments of passion, no human fallibility.”

This book is a fine and necessary read. The young should read it to understand where we came from. The rest of us should read it to learn from all those bits and pieces of memory how to continue the fight.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org. See ad, page 16, to order “A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemna.”