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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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“I Never Thought I Would”

I was a high school sophomore when the Roe v. Wade decision was announced. Throughout high school, college and medical school, I was a feminist and supported a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, but I only knew one story. That story involved a young woman who knew that she was not mature enough to parent a child or a woman who needed to finish her education in order to have a future livable wage.

My eyes were opened during my OB/Gyn residency where we trained in abortion provision through the entire four years. In my program, beginning in 1984, the intern was paired with a third-year resident to learn, and then later, teach, abortion procedures. At the beginning of each day, we gathered the women who were to have their procedures, in one room. In that room, we discussed the procedure details and risks as a group, we answered questions, and then the women signed consent forms.

However, I never expected what was to come next. My third-year resident, a young man, then asked the women, individually, if they were certain that they wanted an abortion. I would have never asked that question because I assumed that each woman was a capable moral agent who had consulted her own conscience and settled on the best decision that she could make.

But, I learned something that was life-changing for me. As each woman told her story, each story more jaw-dropping than the one before, I was overwhelmed by the challenges that they faced in their lives. My life to that point had not been easy, but I could never have imagined the suffering that these women had endured. Over the years of my career, I never asked for stories, but most women offered them. Almost without exception, every story began with, “I never thought that I would have an abortion, but . . .”

What if everyone heard these stories? What if everyone knew their friend or loved one had had an abortion? Would hearts and minds change?

Deborah McNabb
San Antonio, Texas


4 thoughts on ““I Never Thought I Would””

  1. Louis Verardo, MD, FAAFP

    Dr. McNabb, to answer the question from the end of your piece, Yes, I do believe hearing the stories would give listeners pause, and perhaps result in many changing their minds, or at least not rushing to judgement. This decision is intensely personal, and based on the stories I heard during my years of practice, I don’t recall any patient I knew ever making such a choice in a flippant manner. If I ever witnessed nonchalance or bravado, I would find out that both those emotions were often a front for emotional pain and deep angst.

    As a society, we need to find some empathy to bring to the discussion about abortion.

  2. Warren Holleman

    I had the same reaction as the other commenter–a bit of a cringe at the male physician’s question. I realize that his tone would make a difference–whether judgmental or gentle/supportive. At any rate, what followed must have been an amazing educational experience, story after story. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Although it was a learning experience for you, I wonder whether a female resident would have asked the same question. Implicit in the question is that a woman doesn’t know her own mind.

    1. I’m just now seeing your comment, Leila. I agree, and tred to explain it in the piece. I would have never asked the women that question because I believed in the women’s autonomy and moral agency–I would never have questioned their decision.
      I was shocked when the 3rd year resident asked the question.
      But, it was a helpful learning experience for me.

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