“I just think that we are afraid,” Dr. Katherine Wei, a psychiatrist in Chicago, told me. “We’re afraid for our patients, we’re afraid of our patients’ families, and we’re afraid of ourselves. That’s the beginning of the anxiety.”
That, in a nutshell, is why the American Medical Association has announced that it will consider prohibiting physicians and nurses from performing an abortion. The doctors and nurses who support the resolution argue that their professional obligation to be objective, uninfluenced by emotion, leads them to see abortion as a grave moral responsibility.
“The trauma of witnessing someone die from a miscarriage is stronger than many of us can bear,” Dr. Eugene Kuchler, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist, wrote in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology last year. He pointed to a proposed rule change by the National Association of Health Facilities of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which included the suggestion that workers at hospitals should be permitted to refer mothers to crisis pregnancy centers, which deny women health services in the process. Those centers, he said, “are the opposite of the very model physicians are trained to uphold.”
The sentiment is widely shared in the medical community, including the Emergency Medicine Society of America, whose new policy calls for its members not to refer patients to crisis pregnancy centers. Dr. Gail Blackburn, the society’s president, said that when she was in residency, she received several death threats for her pro-choice advocacy — and that the health centers the patients’ families were supposed to call were often religiously affiliated and felt little compunction about keeping them in the dark. “We found that many of the so-called crisis pregnancy centers were problematic,” she said.
The doctor-nurse practice union, the American Nurses Association, issued a statement last year that did not support the resolution, and noted that there are other organizations that are more suited to the task. “No one, regardless of their job title, has the best knowledge of a patient’s medical history and needs,” the statement said.
But anti-abortion advocates say they have it easy.
“The American Medical Association does not know how to speak health care,” said David Bereit, director of the Center for Individual Rights, a nonprofit that fights abortion-related restrictions in the courts. In its public comments, the AMA took issue with the stance of the Center for Reproductive Rights and other pro-choice groups, who have argued that many doctors who support late-term abortions and so-called medically unnecessary procedures are themselves ignoring their professional moral responsibility in these matters. “I’m sure some doctors who support abortion have been fumbling their way through it like everyone else in our country,” the AMA acknowledged. But, it added, its position had shifted because late-term abortions and medically unnecessary abortions “are no longer considered normal health care.”