It’s hard out here for an abortion doctor.


It’s not that I’m obsessed with abortion; it’s more that I’m obsessed with people not having their personal rights violated. It should be pretty clear by now to my two or three regular readers that I’m very pro-choice. And I do mean choice. Every pregnant woman’s situation is too individual, there are too many variables, I believe, for people to cast judgment on one another’s personal lives. Especially when that judgment turns homicidal.

In a recent article on, retired abortion doctor Robert Livingston recounted his experience as an abortion doctor in the 1960s—before 1972’s Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal. In Livingston’s account, he said he believes that it’s more dangerous to provide abortions now, when the procedure is supposed to be safe and legal, than the sixties. He said he managed to fly under the radar because he charged a low fee for the service ($400), and because of his discretion. He was able to buy equipment in neighboring New York, which had the most permissive abortion laws of the sixties.

Livingston said that he had been reluctant to talk publicly about his experiences for a number of years, largely because his own children, who all work in medicine, feared retaliation at their own practices. After the Akin fiasco, he said that he felt compelled to talk. Livingston said that his views were shaped when he was in medical school, when he saw 19 year-old woman die from a botched abortion that resulted in kidney failure because Lysol had been injected into her cervix. When he started his own practice, he moved into a space in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which overlooked the local police station. He remembers his first abortion patient, an unmarried 40 year-old woman, who also had a uterine cyst the size of a baseball. According to Livingston, the situation wasn’t life-threatening, but it would probably have done more damage to her socially, because unmarried mothers were still seen as disgusting sinners fit for nothing but ostracism—as if they got pregnant by themselves.

Livingston said that he debated the decision to perform the procedure for a few days before proceeding. He said that after that, word got around, and that eventually averaged three abortions a week. While details weren’t provided, there is some reference to what can best be described as Livingston’s disgust at doctors victimizing their patients. He was located next to a busy restaurant, which made his after-hours patients able to come and go unnoticed.

Ironically, it wasn’t until after the Roe vs. Wade ruling that Livingston, along with another doctor, was indicted. However, a federal judge threw out the charge, calling New Jersey’s abortion ban unconstitutional. After that, Livingston announced that he was open for business. The Right-to-Lifers proudly showed up outside his doors almost daily for the rest of his career. He said that for the most part they remained peaceful. He and his staff did have to call the police once in a while if they believed that patients were being harassed, or if they were blocking the entrance. He eventually got a restraining order to push them across the street, but he said he almost never felt intimidated.

It’s ridiculous to me that today, when abortion is supposed to be safe and legal, there are so many who would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship to the point where abortion providers have to fear for their personal safety, and must also extend that fear to their patients. Earlier this year, when abortion restrictions were being debated before the state legislature in Atlanta, Georgia, the testifying physicians said that they had been warned of threats by lawmakers, and many said that they fear testifying ever again. Eventually, four of their offices were broken into, including two were set on fire while there were patients on the premises.

I have no problem calling those acts of terrorism, and neither should you. Those doctors were exercising their First Amendment rights, their rights as doctors, and their patients are entitled to safe treatment. That people would threaten violence or act out violently because people are exercising their rights is what makes me view this as domestic terrorism. It’s the same as destroying a groups house of worship because someone don’t like their religion. We must never forget that tolerance is a two-way street.

But it must also be said that there is still enormous resistance in this country of women developing autonomy over their own lives. If the people who seek to outlaw abortion were able to do it today, they would go after contraception tomorrow. This is the same mentality that allows religious police to harass women in malls in Saudi Arabia for wearing nail polish, and is behind the rise in acid attacks in Colombia. This takes me back to the picture at the beginning of this post, that most anti-abortion leaders are men—the gender that doesn’t get pregnant. Roseanne Barr once made a great joke that the reason so many men want to regulate our wombs is because they don’t come with remotes. And, really, that sums up the debate better than anything I could have come up with.


  1. North Retired N.J. abortion doctor speaks up, again
  2. YouTube Saudi Woman Defies Religious Police: It Is None of Your Business If I Wear Nail Polish
  3. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Doctors fear testifying at Capitol
  4. The Washington Post Acid Attacks Reflect Rage
  5. NPR Sikh shooting puts focus on hate groups at home
  6. BBC Egypt bomb kills 21 at Alexandria Coptic Church

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