an abortion provider? What brings an individual to this important –
and regretfully still controversial – practice of medicine? The answers
are as varied as the brave doctors who do the work of helping women.
One such doctor has shared his story in the 2008 book "Jailhouse Journal
of an OB/GYN." We know from the title that this book will not have
a happy ending.
Steir’s memoir starts out an interesting and easy read, as he describes his
youth in Miami Beach, his sister’s unwanted pregnancy in 1943, his
adventures as a young doctor learning his craft, his years in the military,
and the great satisfaction he derives from his work. As he shares his
anecdotes, he also discusses racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, the impact of World
War II, and the politics of women’s health. For much of his
early career, abortion was illegal in the U.S. Dr. Steir’s compassion,
political beliefs, and deep respect for women shine through when he
describes his feelings about the lack of justice for women, the punitive
adoption system, and how unsafe abortion humiliates, harms, and often
kills women. As a medical student, when faced with a neighbor’s deteriorating
medical condition after she has had an unsafe abortion, Dr. Steir (who
gets her medical care on time) writes:
The act of abortion is to
remove an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. The abortion is to erase
the mistake they [the couple] have made together and get on with their
lives. That is why there will always be abortion, be it legal or illegal,
in this imperfect world that we breed in.
might never have written this memoir if not for the tragic death of
a young woman whose abortion he performed in 1996. The death of a woman from a legal abortion is extremely
rare in the United States and, indeed, as to be expected, Steir
was devastated. The witch-hunt that ensued only compounded this tragedy. Steir was charged with homicide, transforming
a civil suit of malpractice (in and of itself debatable) into a criminal case with the charge of murder (marked by improper testimony and even more questionable). The vicious anti-abortion network in California was looking for a scapegoat,
and thanks to their undue power and oppressive collaboration with the medical
board of California and the district attorney’s office in Riverside
County, Steir became a convicted felon. He was incarcerated and
forced to give up his medical license, thus ending his 40-year medical
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Over these four decades of delivering babies and performing
abortions, Dr. Steir touched, and saved, many lives. Indeed, I worked
with him for a few years in Seattle, Washington, and it would be difficult
to find a more skilled and compassionate physician. Dr. Steir performed
40,000 legal abortions throughout the years, helped countless women
have babies and abortions, and his message is more important than ever.
As he writes, "With the possible demise of Roe vs. Wade, my memoir
will be timely and of great interest for anyone concerned about the
With the election of pro-choice Barack Obama to the presidency, is Roe vs. Wade safe for now? Perhaps, but
true access to safe abortion care for young women, poor women, and rural
women remains a crisis. In addition, destigmatizing abortion in our
society continues to elude us, even after 35 years of legal abortion.
Dr. Steir’s journal reminds us how critical it is to never back down
and to keep working and speaking out for women’s health and dignity
everywhere. The work for reproductive justice is never over and this
personal narrative is an excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion
of abortion provision and the importance of safe abortion care and compassionate
providers. Thank you, Dr. Steir.