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My Hour with an Abortion Doctor, Part 3: “Our goal is to normalize this”

March 9, 2010
Pro-choice paraphernalia

NARAL youth summit paraphernalia

“I love what I do, it allows my political activism to be my day-to-day life.”

How does a woman, a mother, get to the point where providing abortions defines her life?

The Activist Doctor

Dr. Deborah Oyer’s radical roots run deep. She grew up on the east coast with “a very liberal mom in the day and age when moms stayed at home, well over-educated”. Her mother “put all her energy into political activism”, to the extent that Oyer reminisces about distributing leaflets in front of the grocery store at age three from inside her stroller. Grass roots activism was a defining part of her upbringing, but she was “not really a good person out at rallies”. Instead she sought to make a difference by practicing medicine: “I tend to try and make my mark this way as opposed to that.”

Oyer started out in family medicine, but soon “felt incompetent all the time” due to the breadth of expertise required in general practice. She preferred instead to focus on one area, learning “a lot about a little”. This is what eventually led her to become an abortion provider: “I love what I do, it allows my political activism to be my day-to-day life.”

The feminist values are enmeshed into the fiber of Oyer’s passion: a worldview that exalts convenience above life itself:

Roe v. Wade happened my senior year of high school…we did not have good birth control…for me, to have a woman have the right to have her life be as it is, with the same rights that a man would have, is so paramount to who I am and what I believe, that for me to be able to hand a woman her life back in five minutes is really an honor and a gift and I love what I do.

Our goal is to normalize this…

Describing a sincere and twisted empathy towards her patients, she explains “they come in vulnerable, they know I know something about them that most people don’t know, and they are willing to discuss anything…it is a privilege to be a part of.” Oyer owns her own practice, Aurora Medical Services, operating out of Seattle,

“What I like about it is that I can do it the way I want without someone else telling me how to do it and our goal is to normalize this. Over one-third of women will have at least one abortion, why are we not talking about it? Why are we acting like it’s something bad?”

Ironically, Oyer went to a Catholic institution for her residency, where she surprised the other residents with her eagerness to learn about abortion. Her first job out of school was at Planned Parenthood in order to receive training. Since then, she has not looked back, “if I needed to look back, I would have opened a craft shop,” Oyer quipped. “I can be having the worst day you can image, but put me in a room with a patient, and I am just there. And it’s really who I am, it’s what I become, and I love it.” In her mind, there is “no other part of medicine that is more gratifying.”

Mother and Abortionist in the real world

“I started doing abortions in 91, Dr. Gunn was shot in 93”. Shortly afterwards, NARAL held a rally, “I had my [6 week old child] in my snuggly as I stood up on federal plaza to talk about this.”

“Bringing up children in the 90’s as an abortion provider was interesting. It was a lot easier in Seattle than elsewhere…”  She described conversations with each of her children around the age of five, telling them why she was wearing a bullet-proof vest on her way to work. “It’s fun” she said, referring to the conversations she had with them, “and it gives them a reality that no one else their age has.”

Oyer relayed the story of tucking her young daughter and a friend into bed one night. They were discussing children and babies, and her daughter’s 8-year-old friend, who was raised Catholic, said: “you know, some people kill their babies before they’re born.” Oyer’s daughter innocently piped in, “Oh, that’s what my mom does!” Laughter rippled through the audience. “It’s very interesting”, Oyer concluded.

I get through my life by denial

An audience member asked Oyer to reflect on the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortionist. Tiller was the first doctor she knew personally. It had been 11 years since the last shooting of an abortionist, and Oyer had let her guard down. “I’m a really good denier, and I get through my life by denial.”

She described Tiller, a man renowned for his specialty in performing partial-birth and labor-induced abortions up to 25 weeks, as a “lovely, unassuming man” whose positive impact on society “was really quite remarkable”.  She felt that President Barack Obama’s initial reaction did not go far enough in condemning the act of violence. “Murder is murder, no matter what”, she declared, “this is a time to say ‘this is murder, pure and simple, this will not be tolerated, this is not ok.'”

It really pisses me off

How does Oyer react when she sees protesters or pro-life billboards?

“Irrationally” and “egotistically”, she admits, imagining that each billboard is personally directed towards her. “It really pisses me off.”

She went on to describe the hypocrisy she sees in women who have been pro-life their whole lives, but are now in her office seeking those very same services. “You have to own up to your abortion and understand you’re choosing it.”

When counseling these “hypocritical” patients, Oyer controls her more visceral reaction by calmly saying to them, “You’ve been against abortion your whole life…how are you going to feel about yourself when you wake up tomorrow and know you have gone against everything you believe in?” Her goal is to make it appear to be all about them: “We start from that point of view…when I really feel like slugging them in the face.”

My lesson

With that, the “Day in the Life of an Abortion Provider” session was soon brought to a close. The room filled with applause and expressions of gratitude directed towards Oyer and the two other abortion workers who joined her on the panel.  The day continued on with other lectures and discussions relating to the theme of  “reproductive justice”.

I hadn’t known what to expect entering in to such a foreign environment. Would I be able to stomach it? I am embarrassed to say, the answer was “yes”.   Despite the horror of the actual words being spoken, a sense of hollow decency and seductive deception hung in the air like a smoke screen.  I had immersed myself amongst the “enemy”, and they looked a lot like me. Instead of anger or disgust,  I felt sadness and vulnerability. But more importantly I felt gratitude, that by the grace of God,  I had been spared from the same deadly deception, and that the God I serve loves not only the little ones He fashions in the womb, but the very doctors who seek to destroy them.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mel permalink
    March 10, 2010 5:19 am

    Terra,

    Thank you for taking Dr. Oyer’s picture down from your blog.

    Best,

    Mel

    P.S. If you would like to have a more in depth conversation about our differing views, you can email me at any time :^)

  2. March 24, 2010 4:48 pm

    Her daughter’s 8-year-old friend said: “you know, some people kill their babies before they’re born.” Oyer’s daughter innocently piped in, “Oh, that’s what my mom does!” Laughter rippled through the audience.

    This almost made me throw up. That poor kid. By now she’s old enough to realize “it could have been me.”

  3. Kathy Monroe permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:45 pm

    I have a question for Dr. Oyer—Why is it murder for Dr. Tiller to be killed but not murder for her to kill the” humans ” she has killed through abortion?? She admitted that these babies are human. She is definitely decieved and in denial. Her childern should be removed from her custody for child abuse. I will pray for her deliverance from the clutches of satan.

  4. Hailey Allen permalink
    April 24, 2010 5:56 am

    Thank you for writing this piece. I am a pro-choice medical student and have attended teaching sessions like the one you write about, and I haven’t thought about what that experience would be like for someone who does not share my views. I think you treated the subject with respect and thoughtfully wrote your argument.

    Although I can’t speak for Dr. Oyer, I want to explain a little about why somebody might feel as she does about her work. No physician would argue that an embryo is not human, that it does not have ‘potential for life’ or that by the time most abortions occur that it is ‘just a clump of cells’ without human form. The argument is that in spite of these facts, abortion providers (and the U.S. Supreme Court) find that the more significant moral bearing belongs to the mother, that her life and her power for self-determination supercede any claim the embryo or fetus has to life. As chilling as that can sound to some, it simultaneously is empowering to women who feel enslaved by their fertility and their failure to prevent conception. Abortion literally gives women their lives back- that is why it it feels like truly helping, whereas much of what we do in medicine fails to feel as gratifying.

    To the above commenter- why would Dr. Oyer being an abortion provider make her a child abuser? Clearly the children she has are ones that were wanted from the beginning, which is what she wants for all children. How is that child abuse?

    • April 24, 2010 6:23 am

      Hi Hailey,

      Thank you for reading this posting and sharing your honest reflections. I appreciate your perspective.

      If you are willing, I would like to ask you a few questions:

      1) You acknowledge that the embryo is human. As we know, it has a detectable heartbeat within a few weeks of conception. Would you state then, that it is in fact an actual life, and not just a “potential life”? If it is biologically human and alive, but not “a life”, then what would you call it?

      2) On what basis do you state that mothers have “moral bearing” over their own lives? On what basis does a woman have the right of self-determination over her life?

      3) Are these rights (and all rights) determined based on how other people view these women, or by some fundamental standard?

      4) What makes a woman powerful? Does the power of woman need to conform to what male power looks like?

      I would truly love to hear your thoughts on these questions!

      Thank you,

      Terra

  5. Hailey Allen permalink
    May 11, 2010 4:44 am

    Great questions, thank you for asking- I truly appreciate the opportunity to re-evaluate my thoughts on difficult issues like this one- and thoughtful questioning by people who think differently are important for me and likely edifying for both of us.

    I want to first say that I am not an ethicist and so I realize that some of the words I used have much richer meanings in the world of ethics and philosophy– forgive my sophomoric use of them.

    1) An embryo is human, and in a biological sense it is alive in that it is not dead- it consumes energy, it is genetically distinct from its parents, with the passage of time it may be able to live independently of its mother. It is alive. At the time the vast majority of abortions occur it could not survive outside of its mother. But yes- it is alive. It is a life, but removed from its mother it is not capable of sustained life yet. It is a life only because it is connected to its mother. This, I believe, is why the greater standing belongs to the mother. If she wants to be pregnant, if she sees that growing embyro inside of her as her child, as a future doctor I will do everything in my power to make that baby’s passage into the world a safe and happy one. If she does not want to be pregnant, if the pregnancy was a mistake or a failure of contraception and she does not see the embryo as her child but as a threat to her life as it is and as it could be, then I can end that pregnancy for her. The embryo has as much right to life as its mother gives it, because without her it doesn’t exist.

    2 and 3) I am not sure I understand the nuance of these questions. I think you are asking me to defend, on ethical grounds, a person’s right to self-determine. I’m not sure I can defend that or any other right. A person has whatever rights some other person or organization gives them. I believe that a person has a right to live free from enslavement, but there is still slavery in parts of this world. Whether a person has a right to something does not mean they get it. So for me, what your question means is, can I help a woman make decisions concerning her own life? In many instances, this answer is no. I can’t always take away a patient’s cancer because I think people should have a right to healthy life. I can’t help every infertile couple conceive a child even though I think people have a right to build families. In the case of abortion, I can actually help. I can help a woman who feels like her body and her life are beyond her control get her body and her life back, and I can do it while preserving her safety and dignity. Is this her right? In this country it is her legal right. I guess what I am trying to say is that, where possible, I think people should be able to choose what they feel is right for them. Circumstances surrounding pregnancy, and really all life boundary issues, are too complex to feel that any one answer is appropriate for everyone.

    In your third question, what do you mean by “how people view these women”?

    For these questions, perhaps you could show me how you would answer them yourself and I could get a better idea of what you are asking.

    4) I feel like choice is power. For men, for women- everyone. Having the ability to choose is empowering. I have had the pleasure to meet women who have made vastly different decisions regarding their pregnancies. For unplanned pregnancies there are options. For wanted pregnancies suffering devastating fetal anomalies there are options. For totally healthy desired pregnancies there are options. This is where the power is- as long as a woman or a couple really thinks about the decision and does what they feel is best at the time, it doesn’t matter what they choose- it is empowering to them. To me it is not male power or female power, it is the power of my patients to make decisions regarding their healthcare.

    This is the root of the matter for me— my job as a provider is to give my patients the best information and the best care that I can. Not to make any decision for them, and not to judge them after they make the decision they think is right. The situations are complex, the decisions are seldom made lightly. I respect that.

    Here’s my question for you, I would really appreciate hearing what you have to say. Part of the question is based on the assumption that you believe that abortion should not be performed in this country and should not be legal. My question is at what point does a person’s free agency supercede your belief that a choice they made or want to make is wrong? As in, you can feel that abortion is wrong and never choose abortion for yourself. This is different than saying that noone else should be able to choose abortion. I can understand that you can’t agree with abortion if you believe it is murder, but can you respect that other people see it differently and allow them to choose as they may?

    Thank you so much for this exchange!

    Hailey

    • Philip Stephens permalink
      May 19, 2010 6:07 pm

      Dear Hailey,
      I only read this post recently so I understand if the moment has somewhat passed, however I thought I might take the liberty of replying to a few of your points:

      Firstly, you wrote

      “the more significant moral bearing belongs to the mother…and supersedes any claim…to life”

      However, this argument seems deeply flawed, consider, if you will, a thought experiment. It is surely not beyond the realm of possibility that medical science will soon be in the position to create an artificial womb. Since you have admitted the moral imperative of the child’s right to life (though you regard it as lesser) in such a case you would be compelled to save the child by transferring it into an artificial womb. However, once born, a parent who has the capability to care for their child surely has the moral obligation to do so.

      Put another way, you see abortion as a means of avoiding the difficulties of pregnancy, but the thought experiment above shows that this is in conflict with your statement that abortion “literally gives women their lives back”, since, after the child grew to an age of sustained viability, parents would be viewed as having a duty of care.

      Secondly, you write “I feel like choice is power.”
      Equating these two concepts seems to me a very dangerous game, perhaps the dichotomy can be illustrated with the question, “Power to whom?”. After all, the argument applied to women could be applied to any dictator – that unassailable authority in one man is the ultimate expression of “choice” and hence empowering. Of course, in this setting the flaw is clear, for the extra power (or choice) comes at the expense of others, and indeed, this is seems to me an inevitable outcome, since conflating these ideas always leads to a misplaced reverence for might as the true expression of choice. It cannot even be argued that providing the capability for abortion improves the totality of choice, since, by its nature, it removes an entire lifetime of choices. In reality, the “power/choice” is achieved only at the expense of the “power/choice” of the foetus.

      Thirdly, while you directed your question to Ms Mork, I believe that I have some useful comments: you wrote

      “My question is at what point does a person’s free agency supercede your belief that a choice they made or want to make is wrong? As in, you can feel that abortion is wrong and never choose abortion for yourself. This is different than saying that noone else should be able to choose abortion. ”

      There are several strands of argument that can be applied here, I will state those I think are valuable (although I do not by any means claim comprehensive knowledge!)

      1)The purpose of Government is to provide an ordered and just society, not to impose ones morality. For statements in defence of this principle I refer you to enlightenment works such as “The Social Contract” by J J Rosseau. This then, is the principle to which you refer above, the question then, hinges on whether abortion is conductive to a “just” society. I would argue that abortion is unequal: why should the pre-born have a different status under the law than the post-born? It is unjust: we do not have unfettered rights to decide when another should live or die. For the religious among us that is because God created every human being at a place and time of his choosing, and part of believing in God is acceptance of His will. For the irreligious, our births are cosmic accidents, and what right have I do deny another his accident purely on the grounds that I was here before him? Is this different from simply declaring by fiat that all persons born from now on will be our property to be directed as we see fit. In both cases, the power to act is purely an accident of timing, that nevertheless provides us with the capability to choose. (Afterall, by your argument above the ability to choose whether or not to enslave our children would be empowering). I could also argue that it leads to disordered society, undermining marriage etc, but while I think its probably true, I do not claim that there is enough evidence to provide a causal link without referring to a religious picture of Mankind.

      Finally, I will finish with the one that isn’t like the others: Its just wrong.

      Life is a binary state, one is either alive or dead. Our life from conception proceeds by a series of incremental changes until the day that we die. If then our death is a radical change of state, so must our creation be, and conception is the only moment when that happens. To tie ones conception of life to ability, or capability, is to say that some lives are more valuable than others, and that’s just wrong. To claim that one must reach a certain level of development to be called a person, is to infer that being further beyond that line is to be a “better” person. Moreover, the value of our lives can not be measured in an instant, but is the totality of what we have and will do. To end a life is to claim that one has authority to say that his not-being will be better for the world than his being. And it is not within our power to know the future of a child not yet born.

      Yours
      Phil

  6. Hailey Allen permalink
    May 22, 2010 6:44 pm

    The moment is never passed, Phil! And thanks Terra for providing this wonderful nidus to thoughtful conversation.

    In response to your first point, and I apologize for this is the medical student part of me talking, we are not close at all to creating an artificial womb, surely not in our lifetimes. The mammalian pregnancy machinery is one of the coolest things in this natural world of ours, replicating it and its incredible dynamics is, sadly, way out of our league for now. So as I reject your thought experiment on those grounds, I’ll entertain it on a different ground- even if a woman carries a pregnancy to term, when that baby is delivered there is never a moral obligation to parent. It is wholly legal to leave your baby in the hands of a police officer or a hospital worker and abdicate in full your responsibility to parent without recrimination- no explanation necessary. This even is separate from adoption, a wonderful way to deal with an unintended pregnancy where you also don’t have a duty to parent. You do have a legal responsibility not to leave that baby in a garbage can or on the street- but that is so not the same as a duty to parent.

    Second- what you call might is not always the expression of choice, but action certainly is. Anything less is only preference. Dictator-like power can hurt others and take away their choices, I agree that this is unjust. I will, though, grant a woman dictator-like power over her body, accepting that an unplanned fetus can be a victim in this. I want to make it clear that I don’t think abortion is a morally neutral decision- but I see making a woman continue a pregnancy that she doesn’t want or that fell subject to a tragic anomaly as more immoral than allowing her to terminate if she so chooses. This is where we differ- I don’t argue that abortion is a really great option, just that it should be an option. I think it can be the more moral option for some women. This is folks like me call ourselves pro-choice, not pro-abortion.
    That the totality of choice is greater if the fetus goes on to be born is irrelevant- so is the totality of everything else- pain, sin, love, hate, pollution….

    The next part: “Why should the pre-born have a different status under the law than the post-born?” The answer is because they are not the same. A born human is not completely biologically dependent on one other person. A fetus is, and that dependence can not be circumvented or transferred in any way. They are not the same. If mom dies and baby is less than 24 weeks old, baby must die too. This is the only time in biology that this situation occurs. The circumstance is unique and it is totally incorrect to compare it to deciding whether a post-natal human should live or die. It is not about timing or property and to say that it is disrespects the amazing thing that pregnancy is. Your analogies drive me nuts- the situations you describe are NOT comparable to pregnancy. If humans were like birds and laid eggs, fine- this whole debate would be settled because our chicks would be physicially separated and transferable from the get-go. See the difference?

    Also, I insist that the ability to choose whether to enslave your kids or not IS empowering- as is every other choice— the empowering and valuable part is not that choice that is made (enslaving your kids is bad, rape is bad, theft is bad…ad nauseum) the value is in the verb- the ability to make a choice. The ability to choose is, I think, the greatest thing about being human. It’s what makes us different from other instinctual living things- truly God’s greatest gift, if you believe in God.

    Question: how in the heck does abortion undermine marriage? Lots of times it happens outside of marriage, and lots of times when it happens inside of marriage it’s a result of both the husband and wife choosing together. This is a non-sequiter for me.

    Your last point: “To claim that one must reach a certain level of development to be called a person, is to infer that being further beyond that line is to be a “better” person.” This doesn’t make sense. The first part of your sentence refers to so-called personhood- is a fetus a person or isn’t it? It’s binary, like you said. Being an older person implies nothing about being a better person, that is not an inference I think anybody would make. It makes as much sense as saying that a fatter or taller person is a better person.

    I find your comment about tying ability to one’s idea of life quite funny, sorry- there are MANY capabilities and abilities that are tied to my idea of life, value has nothing to do with it. Is it ‘just wrong’ to ask that someone have the ability to convert oxygen to CO2 or metabolize fuel sources to be considered alive? These and other biological abilities are the only ones tied to the idea of life. The abortion argument is not about whether a fetus is alive or not.

    I appreciate that you think abortion is “just wrong”, and for all the reasons you gave. I also appreciate that you believe that terminating a pregnancy is no different, from a moral viewpoint, from shooting a guy on the street. What I want you to appreciate is that not everybody agrees with you. There is not much ambiguity in the morality of shooting a guy in the street, but there is with abortion. That is because it is complex- biologically, emotionally, spiritually, in so many ways it is complex. I stress- terminating an unintended pregnancy is not a choice people make likely or without thinking. My unshakeable belief is that it is not my place, or anybody else’s, to choose for a woman in that situation. We don’t do that in other realms of medicine, it is especially wrong to do so in such a sensitive situation.

  7. Craig permalink
    June 4, 2010 2:58 pm

    It has to be stated that biological independence is massively overrated. Human biological dependence does not end at birth. This attempt at getting around that by saying a child is “transferable” through giving them to a police officer or hospital or adoption is frankly a cop out.

    You don’t like the more abstract analogies, but if the biological dependence of a child on his mother while in the womb does not imply a relationship of responsibility for the mother, then what exactly makes it reasonable to transfer that responsibility to a police officer, nurse at a hospital, or adoptive parent?

    What makes it an obligation to even go to the lengths of dropping a newborn somewhere they can be taken care of, if it is totally reasonable that at an earlier stage you could disregard and discard their life and body? Why, if they can remove the life that you acknowledge is there while a fetus, do you believe that they have a responsibility to deliver the still very much biologically dependent child to an adequate surrogate?

    A child out of the womb and a child in the womb depend on many (though obviously not nearly all) of the same things from a mother: shelter, food, protection, a safe place to grow. A child in and out of the womb do most the same thing for the 9 months before and (at least) the 9 months after birth (eat, drink, and GROW), as they are pretty incompetent at doing much else. The mother and father’s only role then, is one of responsibility. They must serve. They do not get to define life, as you have noted when you acknowledged that biologically alive is not a question. (There is no other form of life on earth other than biological, so we really shouldn’t have to use the term “biologically alive”)

    If they get to decide that the child is an inconvenience before birth when what they have to do is feed and nurture (decidedly hard things to do), then it would follow that they could do the same after birth, walk away from the child AT ANY MOMENT, and never think about them again. But you acknowledge that almost NO ONE, accepts their right to do this (I have met more than a few pro-abortion people who have defended the right of a mother to walk away from a child sitting on a kitchen counter, or kill them directly-there are more people who think that than most people realize). Why do you not accept this “right” if the obligation to feed, clean, nurture, and let grow are much the same both before and after birth?

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