After all the drama over the proposal to provide second-trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center, it was good to see the University of Wisconsin Hospital Board vote to move forward by a healthy 11-3 margin. With Dr. Dennis Christensen's retirement last December, second-trimester abortion would be unavailable in Madison if the Surgery Center didn't pick up the slack.
What's more, the vote represents a brush-back to the anti-abortion culture warriors who staked out the clinic, with their usual gruesome signs.
The targeting of women seeking abortions has always struck me as particularly nasty. The well-organized intimidation campaigns by Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin Family Council have already succeeded in subjecting Wisconsin women to onerous restrictions - including cutting off public funding, a 24-hour waiting period, and mandatory reading of literature designed to discourage abortion. Good for UW Hospital for standing up.
Years ago we ran an essay in The Progressive by a woman who had a second-trimester abortion after she found out her much-wanted child would be born with fatal birth defects. The anguish of her story underscored how dreadful it is for people to aggressively insert themselves into these women's lives.
"The morning of the 'procedure,' as I sat drinking coffee trying to steel myself for the day's ordeal, a radio news story grabbed my attention," Natalie Pearson wrote in the July 1992 issue of the magazine. "A coalition of 50 Iowa ministers had declared their opposition to abortion, the public-radio reporter noted, on the grounds that it was 'not consistent with Christian teachings.' I had to stop myself from throwing the radio across the room."
Pearson, who was five months pregnant when she got the bad news about the daughter she had been planning to have in the summer, spent early spring putting away the name books and baby clothes, and trying to get over a loss that few people talk about.
"I found little consolation anywhere. The problem-pregnancy books at the library didn't even discuss our situation. They all talked favorably of amniocentesis, ultrasound and other diagnostic tests, yet...never mentioned the special pain of 'choosing' to end a doomed pregnancy."
Like Pearson, most women who get second-trimester abortions are either confronting devastating medical news, or they are in such turmoil over their pregnancies that they have put off making their decision. Waiting that long is relatively rare. (Nine out of 10 abortions take place in the first trimester).
The silence and shame around abortion only make a bad situation worse for these women.
Yet here is Dr. Karla Dickmeyer, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Meriter Hospital, explaining why she opposes the Surgery Center proposal.
"It's illogical that if something is life-threatening, you're going to schedule it as an outpatient," she said, objecting to the argument that second-trimester abortions are performed in dire situations. "A clinic would make it too easy."
It seems to me that making life easier for women confronting a second-trimester abortion is a good idea.
Let's hear it for a social movement that aims to lessen, not increase, anguish and hardship!
Good health care, easy access to contraception, plenty of information about our bodies, and a generally supportive and respectful environment for girls and women are what I want for my daughters.
One thing I love about Madison is just that kind of nurturing environment. From our midwife to our family doctor to our childcare professionals and teachers to the many family-friendly businesses around town, Madisonians make this a very healthy place for raising our little girls.
Judith Davidoff reported recently in The Capital Times that the Madison Surgery Center has "energized Wisconsin's anti-abortion base," drawing 800 activists to a recent protest and garnering support from at least five statewide groups, as well as the Alliance Defense Fund, a national pro-life organization.
But the broad, quiet support for women making their own reproductive choices is evident in the unanimous vote by the Surgery Center Board, as well as the majority opinion of the UW Hospital.
We can sidestep the occasional pack of shrieking protesters with their pictures of dismembered fetuses. As long as we know they don't run the place.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.