Remembering Cy Romney: The Lifetime of a Pioneer Supporter of Reproductive Rights

Jodi Magee

Cy Romney, prominent Ob/Gyn, founder of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, advocate for legal abortion, believed every pregnancy should be a wanted pregnancy.

I had the great pleasure of knowing and working alongside Seymour “Cy” Romney, MD, for almost two decades. Since learning of his death on August 22, I’ve been reminded of how much he accomplished in his long and highly productive career. Though abortion was legalized in Cy’s lifetime, subsequent attacks on providers and restrictive laws led him to found Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) in the early 1990s. Although Cy was a noted gynecologic researcher with important scientific contributions to his name, his greatest legacy may be the work we do at PRCH to encourage and support access to quality reproductive health services for all Americans.

Cy’s support for abortion rights began early in his medical career. When he became an obstetrician/gynecologist in the 1940s, he was horrified by the many young women he saw suffering from botched attempts to end unwanted pregnancies. Decades later, Cy could still recall a phone call from a fellow physician in New York City who was trying to save a young woman’s life.

“Someone had put darning needles through her uterus in an attempt to end the pregnancy,” he recalled.

“She was 16 years old and was about six months pregnant. We were confronted with how to terminate the pregnancy and prevent this woman from going into shock and dying. Ultimately, we had to remove her uterus in order to save her life. Doing a hysterectomy on a 16-year-old woman because of a primitive, botched, criminal abortion is an unforgettable experience.”

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Cy’s desire to help women like this one led him to fight for legal abortion both in New York state and nationally. He was present in 1970 when Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the law making abortion legal in New York. Three years later, Cy was at a medical conference in Boston when he learned of the Roe v. Wade decision.

“None of us will ever forget that night,” he said. “It was a landmark victory for public health, for women and for a compassionate, confidential patient-physician responsibility.”

In the early 1990s, legal abortion was under violent attack—anti-choice protestors were vandalizing clinics and even killing physicians, and new laws were making it difficult for women to access abortion services. Cy felt that doctors’ voices were missing from the public discourse on this issue. Believing that doctors could be effective public spokespeople, and that they had a public health responsibility to speak out, he gathered together a handful of other concerned doctors and created Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. He wrote hundreds of letters to fellow physicians, cajoling and flattering them to contribute to his vision of a physician-led organization that would work with the women’s movement to protect a woman’s right to choose.

In the nearly two decades since its founding, Cy’s vision has grown into a national organization representing doctors from a variety of disciplines in almost every state in the US with programs in public policy, communications and medical education. It has even spawned an international initiative, Global Doctors for Choice. Yet the need to protect abortion rights, both here and abroad, continues unabated. One of the last PRCH events Cy attended was an awards ceremony honoring his former PRCH board colleague George Tiller, MD, who was killed shortly thereafter by an anti-choice extremist—the first such murder in years. In the year since Dr. Tiller’s murder, PRCH’s network has pushed back against such extremism. At this year’s abortion provider awards ceremony, we launched the Abortion Provider’s Declaration of Rights, which captures everything Cy fought for all along: the physician’s right to practice medicine in the best interests of his patients without fear of harassment and violence.

Violence and harassment aren’t the only anti-choice activities we combat. PRCH is also involved in fighting laws that impede women’s access to reproductive health—and championing laws that help doctors provide the best care to their patients. In a few weeks, PRCH will bring a group of physicians to Washington, DC, to urge Congress to lift the ban on abortions in military hospitals. I know I’ll be thinking of Cy that day, the trips we took to Washington, the day we celebrated the FDA’s approval of mifepristone medication abortion, and the countless letters he wrote state and federal government officials urging support for sound reproductive health policies.

The work of protecting abortion care may never be over, but I am encouraged when I look back over Cy’s lifetime and his distinguished career. He helped achieve so much: legalizing abortion in New York and the United States; training hundreds of physicians as advocates; founding and leading an organization that has become “the voice of the pro-choice physician.” The greatest way we can honor this amazing man and humble doctor is to keep fighting for what Cy believed in—every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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