By Dr. Gifford Jones on June 3, 2019.
Abortion became legal in Canada in 1969. I faced a dilemma. I had written a book titled “On Being A Woman, The Woman’s Guide to Gynecology.” It supported a woman’s right to control her own body, including the right to abortion. So I had two choices when doctors started referring patients to me for this procedure. I could change my mind about abortion to avoid censure. Or I could follow my own conscience. Thus, legal abortions became a part of my surgical practice. I entered what I described in my biography “The Bastille years of my life.” They were difficult times.
If I were a woman, I’d be mad as hell now, considering what is happening in the U.S. Several states are passing laws so restrictive that, in effect, they have banned abortion. And often it’s men who are at the forefront of this legislation. So, here’s what I learned about the hypocrisy and injustice of this contentious medical procedure.
First, I was never involved in illegal abortions. Rather, after they became legal my patients had to be referred to the hospital Therapeutic Abortion Committee (TAC), usually composed of men!
On one occasion a 45-year-old Italian woman was referred to me. She had borne four daughters and was married to an abusive, alcoholic, unemployed man. I believed there was no sound reason why the committee would reject her case request. But they proved me wrong. Three male members rejected her application. The reason was, she had four girls and the next child might be a boy! Talk about male chauvinism!
I’ve never forgotten another incident. One physician I knew well, a well- respected member of society was vehemently opposed to abortion. I acknowledged his right to that position. But he and his colleagues conspired to deny me operating time.
One day this same physician called me. He repeated his opposition to abortion. But then he said, “I have a young girl in my office. I’ve known her parents for years.” I knew what was coming next. The girl was pregnant. In this particular case he believed an abortion should be done!
But that wasn’t all he had to say. Since he was the referring doctor, it was his job to write up the patient’s admission history on the hospital chart. My job was to write the consultant’s report. He then requested that I do him a favour and write up both so his name wouldn’t appear on the hospital chart. It was hypocrisy at its worst.
On another occasion I had performed two operations on a colleague’s wife. But he advised me he would never again refer patients to me unless I stopped doing these procedures. And for months I endured pickets accusing me of being a murderer. My life was threatened several times.
As I look back on those Bastille years I had more respect for Catholic Priests who opposed me than the hypocrisy of colleagues who were involved with the Therapeutic Abortion Committee. Most days they would pass some cases and turn down others for no rhyme nor reason. The TAC reminded me of The Zuni Rain Dance. The tribe knew it did not bring rain, but it made the tribe feel better. It was a complete farce.
So why pick up the pen again on this contentious issue? I have always believed that every child brought into this world should be a wanted child. I wish that all women, and men, would have access to health services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But this is not reality. Pregnancies will occur, and as a society, we must make abortions safe, affordable and accessible. Nor can I condone the fact that wealthy people can always travel elsewhere to obtain abortion while poor women suffer disastrous consequences. Prior to legalization some patients flew as far as Japan for the procedure.
There will be no justice in abortion until it’s fairly applied to all women who want it. As an Arab proverb states, “One hour of justice is worth a hundred hours of prayer.”
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