In Vitro Fertilization

Years ago, I met Doctor Bob Tamis, a physician who perform

ed abortions up to 22 weeks in Phoenix, Arizona.  Interestingly, he also had an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) facility in the same building for couples who were having trouble conceiving a baby.  Indeed, as far as I knew, he was the only doctor in the country who performed both seemingly contradictory services.

Like many clinics in those days, his was the subject of some very intense anti-abortion protest activity.  On Saturday mornings, as he entered the clinic, it was not unusual for Doctor Tamis to be greeted by 50-100 screaming, placard waiving, anti-abortion protestors who commonly referred to him as “Doctor Death.”  But, for years, I often wondered what that scene might have been like for Bruce and Sue, a young couple that was seeing Doctor Tamis to conceive a baby, not abort one…

(Cue the going back in time sequence music)

The protestor, a 71 year old former Marine who has been at the clinic every Saturday for years, watches intently as the young couple parks their car and approaches the clinic.  Much like his response years ago when he caught a glimpse of the Viet Cong through his sniper scope, he senses red meat and can’t wait for his ambush.  Suddenly, he screams at the top of his lungs:  “Don’t Kill Your Baby!  For the love of God, don’t kill your baby!  In a few months, you could give birth to a beautiful little girl.  Don’t you want to watch her grow up?  Don’t you want to be grandparents one day?”

Instead of ignoring him, Bruce releases the hand of his wife and rushes towards the Marine.

“You’re an idiot!  We are not here for an abortion, you old fool.  Not that it is any of your business but we’re coming here for our in vitro fertilization treatments!  We’re trying to have a baby!”

The old man looks at him quizzically and asks “You’re fertilizing what vito?”

Bruce can only laugh at the ignorance.  Then, another protestor comes over.

“It doesn’t matter, young man.  What you are doing is still against God’s law!”

“Wait a second.  I thought you folks wanted everyone to have babies, that you wanted us to populate the Earth ten times over?”

“You are a sinner,” screams the protestor.  “You both will burn in hell!”

“Huh???”  Bruce is trying to figure out what he is missing here.

“Well, young fella, let me read you something from our Church pamphlet.  It says her that ‘techniques involving only the married couple, like homologous artificial insemination and fertilization, dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.’”

Bruce has to hold back the laughter.  “Well, that sure clarifies things!  But, wait.  You’re out here all the time, screaming at women because you want them to keep their babies, right?  But my wife and I cannot conceive a child, we want to have a baby and we’re here to start that process.  Ain’t that good enough for you?”

“Well, no.  It’s God’s law.  The Gospel says that spouses who still suffer from infertility should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.”

Bruce’s head is ready to implode.  He can’t believe he is even part of this surreal conversation.

“And another thing,” says the protestor, “did you know that many of the embryos dies in the transfer process, are stored in freezers or are killed and washed down the sink?”

“Yep, the doctor told us that could happen.  And your point is what?”

“Well, you’re killing babies!”

“But, but, don’t you get it?  We’re trying to make a baby!  Doesn’t that make you happy?”

“Well, no, because you two aren’t doing it the right way…..”

And around and around it goes.

Does the Catholic Church want to tell us how to take a crap also?

Dr. Finkel

After a while, we simply referred to him as “Finkel.”

I am referring to Doctor Brian Finkel who for many years owned an abortion facility in Phoenix, Arizona. He was an outspoken Ob-Gyn who performed abortions with a gun on his hip. He was one of the few doctors who would talk openly and honestly about his work. Check that, he never saw a microphone or television camera that he didn’t love. And today he is serving time in a county jail for sexually assaulting and molesting a number of his abortion patients. He will probably be there for the rest of his life.

I can’t remember when I first heard of Doctor Finkel, but I think it was when he called our office to inquire about how he could join the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. At that point, we had only three staff people, including me, so it was impossible to run a complete check to determine if he was a good doctor who was running a respectable clinic. Still, I did call a few people on my board but no one had ever heard of him. When I called him to talk about membership, I was impressed by his candor and his articulateness. And, truth be told, he was one of the funniest guys I had ever met.

We ultimately allowed him to join. What appealed to me was Finkel’s willingness to talk about his work. Around that time, the anti-abortion violence was really hitting the fan and our doctors were running in the opposite direction. They were either quitting their job altogether or at least going underground. But I needed doctors to talk, to share with the world their horror stories, to testify before the Congress, to tell the real story. And Finkel, who employed a professional speech writer, fit that bill.

Shortly after he joined NCAP, I visited him at this clinic. It was one of the more beautiful facilities I had ever seen, all decorated in a southwest motif. I quickly learned that he had an Elvis fixation, as his walls were adorned with all sorts of pictures and tapestries featuring The King. Indeed, Finkel referred to himself as “The Elvis of the Pelvis.” In person, I started to get a different perspective. He was rather short with his staff, often referring to them as “honey” or “sugar lips.” And in private conversations, he would regularly refer to “the bitches” who needed abortions. When he had to go into the surgery room, he would say he was going to “the vaginal vault.” He would refer to the “niggers” or “spics” who “didn’t know how to keep their legs closed.” The invectives flowed so smoothly out of his mouth that it stunned me to the point where at first I literally could not respond. I would ultimately admonish him and he would cool it for a while. Of course, being a total slob did not disqualify him from performing abortions and, again, I needed a doctor who had the balls to speak to the American public. I was very torn.

In 1994 NCAP decided to hold a press conference in Washington D.C. to urge the (Clinton) Administration to help protect abortion providers from the terrorism that was raging across the country and, with a gulp, I invited Finkel. He was a big hit. That night, our event was the first story on each of the network news shows and Finkel was the star because he was smart enough to know about props. At one point, he bent down behind his podium and held up his bullet proof vest to the cameras. “Mr. President, I need protection. I am just an Ob-Gyn in Phoenix Arizona, not an American ranger in Mogodishu.” After that, Finkel became a star. He and I were both on Good Morning America a few days after John Salvi killed several abortion clinic workers in Boston. He debated everyone, he was even on the Howard Stern show.

Behind the scenes, however, he kept telling me that the local District Attorney was out to “get him.” He even asked me to talk to the D.A., which I didn’t do. That’s because deep down I started to suspect that Finkel was a little wackier than I really thought. Then, in September 2001 everything hit the fan. That’s when a woman told a Phoenix newspaper that after undergoing an abortion in Finkel’s clinic she had woken up from sedation to find the doctor lying against her with his hands on her breasts. In the weeks and months that followed, more than 100 women reported similar allegations against Finkel to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which charged him with more than 60 counts of sexual misconduct involving 35 different women and he was convicted on most of those charges. Finkel called me asking me to intervene on his behalf but I couldn’t do it. Of course, I couldn’t prove anything but I had just seen or heard too much over the years. To this day, I wonder if there was anything I could have done to prevent those women from being harmed.

Today, on Father’s Day, I get a letter from Finkel adorned with lots of wild doodling and numerous exclamation points. He tells me how he was “railroaded” and how “justice will soon be served.” His only remaining option is the U.S. Supreme Court. So Finkel, who is now in his sixties and has about 20 years on his sentence left, will probably die in prison.

Good riddance.

Catholic Guilt

I am a substitute teacher at a local high school and over the years I have gotten to know a young man named Carlos.  He is generally a good kid, very shy, pretty smart.  He doesn’t know who is father is, lives with his aunt and has been practically forced to run with the wrong crowd.  As a result, he has had a few brushes with the law.  He is not into school.  When I talk to him, I want to hug him and slap him on the head at the same time.   So much potential.

I hadn’t seen Carlos in about six months but this weekend, as I was driving to Home Depot, I noticed him sitting at a bus stop.  I yelled over to him, he waved enthusiastically and I told him to jump in my car so I could give him a ride home.  We hit a bunch of traffic so we had time to catch up.  He told me how he was working two jobs at two fast food restaurants but was looking elsewhere because he was “getting tired of food places.”  He continues to send money to his mother who lives about 50 miles away.  He doesn’t get excited about much but he beamed when he told me he was attending a “junior police academy” sponsored by the high school.

I asked him where he had been before I saw him at the bus stop and his already soft voice got even softer and he mumbled “I was visiting my baby’s momma.”

Incredulous, certain that I hadn’t heard right, I looked at him and said “What???”

“Oh, yeah, well, uh…I’m gonna be a Daddy.”

His friendly demeanor has always made it difficult for me to get mad at him but this time I wanted to slap him in the head.

“Are you kidding me?    You got a girl pregnant?  Are you out of your fucking mind?”

The minute I said it, I wanted to take it back but it was too late.  We talked about how it happened, who the girl was (his girlfriend since the 8th grade), what his plans were, etc.  He said he would probably have to drop out of school to get a full time job, deferring his dream of entering the police force.   Then, I threw out the bombshell.

Catholic Guilt Trip

“Did you two consider an abortion?”  The tension in the car rose palpably.

“Well, we’re both Catholic.   We talked about it once but we know that God would not be happy if we did that and we would go to Hell.”   I thought of making a quick detour to his church to confront the head priest or whatever he is called, but I again held back.

So, these two kids originally defied their church when they had sex before getting married but when that act produced a fetus, they could not defy their church again.  And now they were stuck because their church had indoctrinated them for who knows how many years about the “evils” of abortion.  And now they were going to be parents.

But not to worry!   Things will be fine because their church will no doubt be there for them when the bills start coming in, right?  That priest will certainly organize fundraising drives for Carlos and his new family to pay for the clothes, the food, the sport uniforms, the field trips.  I mean, they are good Christians so they’ll be there every step of the way, right?  Of course they will be there to help because, after all, they were the ones who convinced these two kids that that oh-so-precious life inside that girl must be protected at all costs.

We all know that there are many Catholics out there that ultimately have abortions.  But think about the incredible guilt they will carry with them for the rest of their lives because the Church – the male dominated Church – has deemed that that little thing that is in the woman’s body is a “life” that needs protecting.

So, because the church basically forces pregnant Catholics to give birth, Carlos and his girlfriend will go through the drill.  You can tell he is not excited, but he wants to do the responsible thing.  She will have the baby, they will break up within a few years, he will send her money, never see his child and the mother and child will enter that never ending cycle of poverty.

Does the Church not see what they are doing?  Is it so damned important to protect that “life” and practically destroy these two kid’s lives in the process?

Women's History Month

Did you know that the month of March has been designated as “Women’s History Month?”

Isn’t that great! Aren’t you excited?

Okay, I confess. I didn’t know it either.  And, unless there was a way to connive a nice celebratory dinner out of my spouse, I probably would have totally ignored it.  But, when I think of it, maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe the advances and contributions made by women over the years is now such an endemic part of our culture that it no longer needs to be recognized by the President or whoever signed the friggin proclamation.  Still, as an award winning, internationally recognized blogger on women’s rights, I suppose I should take a minute and opine.

One thing I ain’t gonna do is talk about what legal abortion has done for women. I’ve written about that issue before. We all know by now the impact Roe v Wade had on women’s health and, yes, I know there is another human thing involved that is being killed/terminated/annihilated/whatever – but I’ve written about that also. So, let’s do something different and talk about the advances that have been made in women’s sexual health in general.

Remember how every once in a while a young girl in your high school just stopped coming to school for no apparent reason? Remember how the rumors started spreading around the cafeteria about how skinny, pimply faced Betty had “gotten herself into trouble.” The news would be communicated in whispers, rolling of the eyes, knowing nods of the head. Well, Betty had actually gotten herself pregnant!  Then, at some point Betty might come back all shiny and new and you would know that she had had an abortion, probably somewhere far from her town . Other times, however, Betty would not return at all.  It was all so sad.

Women's History Month

Then there was – dare I say it – masturbation.  We all did it and – dare I say it again – it was even fun. But in those days it was no less than a mortal sin. Maybe it still is (note to Pat:  check your Bible.)  But in those days we were constantly warned to not engage in that “self-defilement” or “self-abuse” because, if we did, then we would go blind, go gradually insane or, worse, hair would grow on our palms!  Things are a little different now, huh?

I remember in Catholic school how the nuns would try to convince the girls to retain their virginity until they got married. I remember a time when Sister Heloise showed a flower to the class and proceeded to slowly pick off all the petals, one by one. She then asked one of the girls to come up and replace the petals which, of course, she couldn’t do. “And it is equally impossible to get your virginity back,” was Sister Heloise’s stern warning. “What man wo

uld want a flower with no petals?” she asked the stunned crowd.  Oy vey.

Well, things have changed dramatically but, unfortunately, in some parts of this country we seem to be regressing when it comes to women’s sexual freedom. Of course, you’ve got the Tea Party and the other whackos to thank for that. Still, I am now sixty one years old and, despite some blips on the screen, there has been an incredible amount of change over the years. Ours is now a much healthier society in terms of not just the sexual lives of women but their professional lives as well.  Indeed, I won’t begin to bore you young folks out there about how women were treated in the workplace just a few years back. Actually, if you want an education go see some episodes of “Mad Men.” It’s all true.

Women are clearly in a much better place these days and, of course, more progress needs to be made. But I’ll leave those fights up to the next generation.

Thank You!

Today is “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.”

It is a day where supporters of abortion rights acknowledge, in some way, the contributions of their local abortion providers (doctors, staff and/or owners).  When I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers years ago, it was encouraging to see pro-choicers across the country sending flowers, making calls of support or finding other ways to acknowledge the contributions of abortion providers.   Until then, there always seemed to be a chasm between those who were “pro-choice” and those who were part of the actual abortion process.

This day – March 10 – was selected as “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day” because in 1993 on this date, Doctor David Gunn became the first abortion doctor to be killed by a pro-life activist.  Doctor Gunn was approaching the back door of the Pensacola Medical Services, one of the many clinics down south where he worked, when a man named Michael Griffin walked up to him and shot him several times at point blank range.  Doctor Gunn died instantly.  Ironically, there was a gun for protection in David’s glove compartment.

I got the call about two hours later.  In many ways, I wasn’t shocked.  Those of us in the abortion provider community had seen the harassment, the threats, the stalking, the butyric acid attacks and, yes, the bombings, escalate over the years.  We knew it was just a matter of time before someone went all the way and killed one of our doctors.  When it finally happened, it was national news, the front story in all the newspapers and the network news.

A year later, someone came up with the idea of using March 10 for something positive, versus wallowing in despair over David’s murder.  Instead, it was suggested that one way to honor him was to honor those who followed in his footsteps.  So, groups like the Fund for the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women got their troops to inundate the clinics with thank you calls and notes.  Some actually held vigils outside the clinics with signs thanking those inside.  It was all very gratifying and I know that our doctors and clinic staff really appreciated the efforts.

So, today I just want to use my moment to once again thank those doctors who walk into the clinic every day knowing that someone could walk up behind them with a gun.  As we saw in the case of the late George Tiller, these doctors can find no sanctuary from the violence.  Just imagine for a second the feeling of going to your office knowing you could be gone in an instant.  Think about the security guard at the Birmingham All Women’s clinic who walked up the pathway to open up the facility, only to be blown up by an explosive device planted by Eric Rudolph.  Or Baird Britton, driving up to The Ladies Center in Pensacola in 1994, seeing Mr. Paul Hill, a regular presence at the clinic, walk up to him with a shotgun, blasting away.  I could go on and on.

And these doctors and staff are putting themselves into these life-threatening situations because a handful of women made an appointment at the clinic a few days earlier after making the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy.  No one forced those women to make that call, they did it on their own volition.  And, as history has shown us, if these doctors were not there for these women, many of those women would have resorted to other, unsafe measures.

Kudos to the doctors, the staff, the owners and their families for being there.

Law

Okay boys and girls, let’s talk about fetal homicide.

In April of 2004, President Bush signed into law the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.”  That law made it a crime to harm an embryo or fetus at ANY stage of pregnancy during an assault on a pregnant woman.  At this moment, about 36 states had similar laws on their books.

The first thing I gotta say is kudos to the pro-lifer movement.  I mean, they come up with some great names for legislation, don’t they?

Second, I’m confused about this law.

So, if I understand it correctly:  if a woman is carrying something in her belly that she wants to carry and that something dies because of someone else, then that other person can be prosecuted for the death of that something?  But if that something is not wanted if that other person is an abortion doctor then that doctor can go in and terminate/kill/abort that same something and that would be perfectly legal?  In other words, the determinative factor here is whether or not that something was wanted or not?    One last time:  if a pregnant woman was driving to the abortion clinic to get rid of her pregnancy and someone hit her car and caused the death of the unborn child, then that other driver can be convicted of manslaughter?   And if there was no accident, minutes later the abortion doctor could do the same and suffer no consequences?

I can remember vividly when this legislation was introduced in the Congress.  The immediate, joint (and private) reaction of the pro-choice community was “Holy Shit, what do we do now?”   Were they ready to argue that if an 8 month old fetus died because of a third party, then the prosecutors should ignore that “baby?”   You can imagine the discussions about how they should argue against that one.

Ultimately, however, they got language put in the bill that made it clear that the doctors could not be prosecuted if they were performing an abortion.  That was pretty clever.  Of course, the other side had to accept that language because if the effect of the law was to outlaw abortion outright, then the law would have been ruled unconstitutional.

Still, the pro-choice groups cringed when the bill came up for a vote but they did not really push their allies on Capitol Hill on this one because they knew it was a very, very tough vote.  So, the bill passed by wide margins in the House and the Senate.

But there is one problem that still exists.  There is now a law on the books that says that the person who committed this new crime could be punished for intentionally killing “a human being.”   In other words, the U.S. Congress has now recognized that the fetus/baby in utero – no matter at what stage – is a “human being.”

In the grand scheme of things it might seem like a small thing.  But at some point in the future, some clever pro-life lawyer will be arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and they will be able to say that the Congress has recognized that even a 5 week fetus is a “human being.”

The pro-choice groups did get language protecting abortion doctors, which was the short term victory.  But in the long run, they may second guess the fact that they let the Congress go out and personalize the fetus.  That might come around and bite them in the ass one day.  And the reason why they let it go is because the pro-choice movement can talk about “choice” all they want but they still cannot talk (without stuttering) about ABORTION.

Abortion

In early 1991, just months after the formation of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I hopped in a car and drove around the Midwest visiting clinics to get educated on the provision of abortion services.  One of my first stops was at a clinic in Arkansas.

I had a good initial meeting with the physician (who offered me a joint that he had been keeping in his desk drawer), then I met with the administrator for about two hours to discuss how clinics are run.  Very educational.  At one point, we started talking about the reasons why women have abortions and I mentioned how I’d love to meet a woman who was going to have an abortion.  The administrator responded “well, that shouldn’t be a problem.  You need to talk to Gloria.”

I learned that Gloria was in for her 6th abortion.  I couldn’t believe it and my initial reaction was that I needed to know why this was happening because, if I was going to represent abortion providers on Capitol Hill, I needed to know how to respond to charges of women “abusing” abortion. The administrator left the room to ask Gloria if she was willing to talk to me and she came back within a minute and said that Gloria would “love” to talk to me.

Gloria was in her mid-thirties.  She was what my father would call “a sassy broad.”  She was very confident, had a bee-hive hairdo and, from the crusty tone of her voice, a heavy smoker.  She was chewing gum as we spoke.  Probably worked as a waitress at the local diner.  You get the picture..

I told her that I was just hired to fight for abortion rights, which she appreciated, then I told her I needed to know why she was at the clinic for her sixth abortion.

“Well,’ she said, “the first time the condom broke.  The next time my boyfriend said he didn’t want to use a condom and threatened to beat me if I insisted on using one.  The third time, I had gone on new birth control pills and there was some problem with them, don’t remember the details.  The fourth time, I was raped by two truckers outside of the Rusty Skillet café in Little Rock.  The fifth time.  Geez, I can’t remember what happened the fifth time.  Then this time I was just playing Lady’s Luck.”

Medical Office

“What is Lady’s Luck?” I asked.

“Well, I was not on birth control, didn’t want to use a condom so I just kept my fingers crossed and hoped that I had good luck.  I actually should have just kept my legs crossed, huh?”

During her story, she kept cracking her gum and when she was done she looked at me coldly and said “Any more questions?”

I asked how she felt at that moment, knowing she’d be going in for anotherabortion in about 30 minutes.  She said she felt fine.  “I’ve been through this before, I know what to expect.”   She was a rock, ready to get on with her life.  Then, to my surprise, she asked me if I wanted to go in with her to the surgery room.  I said yes.

We walked in and the nurse put her on the table and started prepping her.  Then the doctor came in and said a few words to her before he got started.  Gloria looked at me and then reached her hand out to me. I grabbed it and she squeezed.  I then saw the doctor insert a tube into her and heard a vacuum-like sound.  I looked at Gloria and she had tears in her eyes.  I asked if she was okay and she said “I am such a loser.  I have got to get my act together.”  I started to well up myself.  The nurse asked if she wanted to proceed and Gloria said “let’s do it” and the process was complete within minutes.

Abortion

Later, in the recovery room Gloria was her old feisty, gum cracking self, ready to go out to her cold harsh world and kick some ass.  She hugged me as she was leaving and said “thanks for being there.”

When she left, the nurse came over to me and said “she cries all the time.  We always ask her if she really wants to do this and she always tells us yes.”

Thanks for the education, Gloria, you sassy ole broad….