This Sunday’s New York Times featured a story about the next generation of abortion doctors. Generally speaking, it was a rather positive report on how more doctors are incorporating abortion services into their regular practice. Good stuff.
I always found the discussion of the declining number of abortion doctors very interesting. We all know that for many years, pro-choice groups were very concerned about the “graying” of the abortion doctors, i.e., how so many of them were getting up there in years. Working in the field, I was aware of those doctors and, frankly, sometimes it almost scared me to see how old some of them were.
Some of those doctors were hanging in there because they knew that if they left, the clinic would close. Or at least they thought that’s what would happen. But other doctors kept performing abortions because that was all they knew and it just kept them busy. Like so many American workers, they did not want to retire and fade into the distance. And, yes, some abortion doctors still wanted or needed to make money, so they kept putting off retirement.
Now, when a doctor did retire it may have resulted in a clinic closing. But, that doctor may have retired because the number of patients going to that clinic kept decreasing and it was getting hard to make ends meet. That clinic may have soon closed anyway. And in my experience it was very rare that a doctor retired and the clinic wound up closing because they could not find a replacement.
Indeed, there was the other side of the coin – cities where there were too many abortion doctors. I can recall vividly getting calls from doctors who were looking for work in abortion facilities in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In those parts of the country, there was a surplus of doctors. At times, I was able to convince those doctors to take a position on some more isolated area and fly in for two or three days work. But others just couldn’t find work.
One interesting thing to me regarding this whole debate was the statistic put out by the pro-choice groups which said something like “87% of the counties in the country do not have an abortion provider.” Well, that was probably true, but abortion is such a specialized field and it should come as no surprise that you’re not going to find a doctor or a clinic in every Podunk town in America. After all, think about other specialties. Do you think there are retinal surgeons in every town or even a dermatologist?
To me, the issue was always access. If a woman wanted an abortion, could she get one? Of course it is hard to prove how many women did not get an abortion because there wasn’t a doctor nearby but my educated guess is that most women who wanted an abortion got one. Yes, they may have had to travel a few hours to a clinic, like in states like North Dakota, but my sense also is that these women also often had to travel great distances for other services. That is just the nature of the beast in rural parts of the country.
So, I’m certainly encouraged that there may be more abortion doctors coming up the chain but I also have the sense that they might wind up gravitating to where the patients are. Meanwhile, we will still have issues in Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, but for the most part women who are looking for abortion services will be able to get them.