“How May I Help You?” Baird Bardarson, MD: Loss of a Champion

Marcy Bloom

Dr. Baird Bardarson of Seattle and Whidbey Island, Washington, was a true champion, pioneer, humanitarian, and heroic abortion provider. His loss cuts very deeply for our community of abortion providers.

There are many losses in life, but some are more painful than others. The passing of a pioneer, humanitarian, and heroic abortion provider cuts very deeply for our community of abortion providers. For those who did not have my joy and privilege of knowing and working with a true champion, Dr. Baird Bardarson of Seattle and Whidbey Island, Washington, I will do my best to describe this amazing man and visionary physician.

Dr. Bardarson lived a long, accomplished, and fruitful life and filled his 84 years with joy, wit, skill, love, laughter, hard work, play, family, friends, and wisdom. His Seattle Times obituary describes him as a pioneer abortion provider, champion sailor, and community activist, but that description is really only the beginning. He was married to his beloved wife Peggy for 59 years and was always surrounded by women, both professionally and personally, as they had five accomplished daughters. Dr. Bardarson loved sailing and won many honors and trophies with his sailing prowess. He and his family loved cruising for pleasure in British Columbia in their sailboat “Bright Star”; in fact, that was a summer family activity for thirty-one years. There is no question that Dr. Bardarson knew how to live passionately and enjoy life to the fullest.

And a key part of his passion was that he also knew how critical it was to take on important social issues. He was always deeply concerned about the equitable provision of medical care to all those in need and worked for access to care for poor patients using public assistance in the King County region south of Seattle. When abortion became legal in Washington state in 1970, Dr. Bardarson began to provide first trimester procedures at his Renton office. He was no stranger to this critical women’s right and women’s health need, as he had been the only physician who had enough stamina and guts to defend another doctor who was performing safe, but still illegal, abortions at the local hospital in the late 1960s. Further, he and Peggy, who was then president of the Renton NOW chapter and who had lobbied in the state capital, had been active in the struggle to liberalize Washington state’s abortion law through a vote of the people. When the law did pass in 1970, it was the first time that an archaic and dangerous abortion law had been changed by a vote of the people! Truly~this was an incredible accomplishment moved forward by many dedicated people, including Baird and Peggy Bardarson.

In the 1970s, Dr. Bardarson had a busy general practice, but his interest became increasingly focused toward safe abortion provision because of the overwhelming need. He saw nothing incongruous in both doing abortions and in delivering babies as part of a busy family practice. He was performing abortions full-time by then and had become an expert in still harder-to-obtain second trimester abortion care. Women from all over the country were coming to see him. In fact, working at his Cedar River Clinic, Dr. Bardarson pioneered second trimester abortion techniques. Indeed, before the advent of dilation and evacuation~D & E~as a safe abortion technique, women could only have abortions in the second trimester through saline or prostaglandin induction. The use of D&E as pioneered and led in the Pacific Northwest by Dr. Bardarson made the procedure safer, more comfortable, and less emotionally difficult for the woman.  He also worked diligently to change the state code allowing second trimester abortions in outpatient clinics and he became a recognized regional and national leader in introducing the new technology of D &E for later abortion care.

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Dedicated to the provision of expert, caring, and non-judgmental abortion services, Dr. Bardarson brought his enormous expertise to the board of the National Abortion Federation in the early 80s. He was extremely proud that his organization Cedar River Clinic was a model of high clinical standards for safe abortion care. In a speech he gave in 2003, he wrote of his work in those times, the need to treat women with utmost respect, and the significance of outpatient clinics: “Outpatient abortion clinics revolutionized how surgical care was delivered. Gone was the dependence on the hospital where patients might be psychologically traumatized in hostile settings. Now the patient was well-counseled and treated with respect. The patient had to be in charge of her destiny. This was not a procedure for the husband, or the parents, or the boyfriend. The patient was helped to arrive at her decision by wise and compassionate counselors. Repeat abortions were not stigmatized but realized to be a problem of the vagaries of birth control methods or perhaps lack of proper counseling by the previous provider.”  

In this same presentation, Dr. Bardarson also described his strong Unitarian-Universalist principles, “which urges us to honor the inherent worth of every person and to strive for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations…In addition, the three leading principles of bioethics-respect for persons, beneficence, and justice-together provide an ethical mandate for guaranteeing women throughout the world a legal right to safe abortion….Abortion is, after all, about helping people. About helping people in trouble. As an issue of public health, it’s a very simple matter. Our abortion policies over the last 30 years have been a resounding success in improving women’s reproductive health. It has remained an issue of intense religious and political debate…but I can tell you from the many women I have served over the years, that whatever a person’s belief system, those who seek abortion services represent a cross section of ethnicity, religion, and political belief….our common humanity binds us together in this regard.”

In addition to being an exceptional abortion provider with this hopeful vision of humanity, Dr. Bardarson was an exceptional husband and father. At his memorial service, his daughter Siri indicated that “ in the 35 years of his medical career, I never heard him make a negative comment or disparaging remark about work….there was a  strong model of work ethic and an almost giddy acceptance of responsibility…he had big work and an even bigger passion with his sailing. He sailed every week-end and every summer during his vacation. He loved fraternity and competition with the guys, while his domestic life was all girls…H e exposed us to everything!…H e learned a new musical instrument every winter… and learning was always experiential, kinesthetic, and discovery in the doing…he always told me to ‘Figure it out’ and that’s how I learned to drive and sail! …My Dad operated where the rubber meets the road and he was the epitomé of love in action. There are very few people in this room that haven’t heard him say as he extended his hand with a twinkle in his eye: ‘How may I help you?’ …I learned [from him] about…the idea of personal sacrifice for another’s good….”

Indeed, Dr. Bardarson’s personal sacrifices were extensive, especially as violence against abortion providers began to increase in the 1980s and he worried for his and Peggy’s safety. “As I started to become heavily involved in abortion care, I felt fortunate that my children were grown and out of the house…But I must confess to having apprehension at night when I would answer a knock at the door. Was there someone out there who would blow my brains out with a shotgun? I would grit my teeth and try to feel brave. After I retired in 1991, the climate worsened for abortion providers and doctors started to wear bulletproof vests-for good reason.”  In the mid 1980s, Dr. Bardarson had outrageously been arrested for allegedly assaulting a picketer on private property in front of his clinic when all he had done was to ask the protestor to leave and had taken literature out of the demonstrator’s hands. It was a two day jury trial and a propaganda circus for the anti-choice forces (of course), but after 20 minutes of deliberation, he was (of course!) found not guilty. Still, as he indicated at the time, “even when you are innocent of wrong doing, it is humbling to be put in this vulnerable position…It was because the city attorney was anti-abortion that it was I who was made the criminal and not the demonstrator on private property waving plastic fetuses at my patients as they approached the clinic door.”

Reacting to this shocking incident of one of their own, and because of the great respect his colleagues held for him, the Washington State Association of Abortion Providers (WSAAP) was ultimately formed, and it began to meet regularly for support, fellowship, continuing education, and advocacy training. Always the teacher, humanitarian, pioneer, and activist, it was Dr. Bardarson who initially brought the group together .WSAAP has grown over the years and still meets to this day, now under the auspices of the Abortion Access Project. .

One of Dr. Bardarson’s esteemed colleagues from those years who is still teaching and speaking out is Dr. Suzanne Poppema, former chair of the National Abortion Federation and Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. She recalls that the providers of the Pacific Northwest have felt his passing keenly. “Baird was such a gentleman and so supportive of all of us. He very kindly advised me, taught me,  and took over care of my more complex patients when I was a young doctor just beginning…he is missed.” Jane Connell, former Director of Counseling at what was then Planned Parenthood of Seattle/King County, recently wrote to me: “Of all the providers we had, he was absolutely my favorite. Baird shared stories with me about his yearly trips to Mexico with Peggy and their five girls. They were all accomplished musicians and would take their instruments with them to Mexico and give afternoon concerts in the hotel lobby…Dr. Bardarson was the most modest, sensitive, and generous physician I have ever encountered.”  And Dr. Jack Leversee, yet another valued colleague and renowned  retired family practice professor at the University of Washington who for many years taught residents how to perform abortions, shared with me: “I learned many special things from Baird, as did so many others…also, he was a humanitarian first. He paid careful attention to the emotional needs of the patient. Often, abortion providers leave that up to their staff. In my way opinion, never a satisfactory way to proceed, and Baird felt strongly about that and acted upon that belief as well. He also had a finely honed sense of humor. He was an excellent husband and father. There is just no way we can replace such a fine man.”

So true…This pioneer, hero, and brave leader guided and helped so many for so many years. He and Peggy enjoyed their well-deserved retirement on Whidbey Island where they both became active in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation and where Dr. Bardarson led the decade-long effort to plan and build a new meetinghouse that was completed in 2008. Still making changes and changing the world…of course! And I still recall his tall, sturdy, handsome Icelandic frame leaping into the clinic with his ever-present effervescence and twinkle in his eye, wearing Sperry topsider deck shoes, and always ready for the challenging, revolutionary, and inspiring work of helping women by providing excellent abortion care for more than three decades.

I later found out that towards the end of her life and as he neared retirement, Dr. Bardarson’s had mother told him that she had needed to have an abortion when she was very sick-at times near death-with tuberculosis. Dr. Bardarson was 10 years old at the time-this would have been in 1936-and his mother had waited many years to confide in him.  She was very proud of his work. And as a proud Icelandic-American-he had studied the language, made many trips to Iceland, and was President of the Icelandic Club in Seattle for many years-isn’t it perfect that, according to the October 10th World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report,  the best country in the world for women is Iceland

Thank you, Dr. Bardarson. There are no words to say what you mean to us…but we miss you. We will miss your skill, dedication to ethics and justice, gentleness, strength, leadership, humanitarianism, joy for life, and bright eyes. You passionately served us all…you told us to “Figure it out”…and you did it all for 84 incredible years with grace, style, warmth, openness, and greatness. You were a champion for women in your life and work and your legacy is strong, powerful, and bright…and so is the never-to-be forgotten twinkle in your eye as you lived your wonderful life. 

Roundups Sexuality

This Week in Sex: Why Men Fake Orgasms and How Real Ones May Help Them Avoid Prostate Cancer

Martha Kempner

Many men pretend to have orgasms to make their partners feel better—and report higher levels of sexual satisfaction, at the same time. Another study suggests that the more ejaculation, the better if men want to reduce their prostate cancer risk. And there may be more help for women with sexual arousal problems.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

When Men “Fake It,” Their Motives Are Often Altruistic 

In the pilot episode of the TV show Masters of Sex, Dr. William Masters seems shocked to learn that women might fake orgasms. When he asks his new assistant, Virginia Johnson (who becomes his research partner and later his wife), why women might do such a thing, she replies: “To get a man to climax quickly. Usually so the woman can get back to whatever it is she’d rather be doing.”

Masters and Johnson, whose real-life work and relationship was fictionalized in that Showtime series, were pioneers of sex research in the 1950s and 1960s. Those who follow in their footsteps today are still trying to answer some of the same questions.

A new study from two Canadian researchers looks not at why women fake orgasms, but why men do—and what, if any, correlation there is between faking it and relationship satisfaction.

Researchers surveyed 230 young men between ages 18 and 29 who had admitted to faking an orgasm at least once in their current relationship. Using an online survey, they asked these men at what point in their relationship they began to fake orgasms, how often they did so, and why. They also measured sexual desire and relationship satisfaction.

On average, the men began faking orgasms 14 months into the relationship. On average, the men said they faked an orgasm in about 30 percent of their sexual encounters; 71 percent of participants reported having faked an orgasm during penile-vaginal intercourse; 27 percent during oral sex; 22 percent during anal intercourse; 18 percent during manual stimulation by a partner; and 5 percent while being stimulated with a sex toy by a partner.

Many of the reasons the men gave for faking orgasm revolved around making their partners feel better—including giving their partner an ego boost, feigning simultaneous orgasms, or avoiding upsetting their partner.

Interestingly, men who faked it for these relationship reasons tended to report higher levels of sexual desire. The authors theorize, “It is possible that men feel good when giving a partner pleasure, either out of love and generosity, or because it provides indirect reassurance of their own sexual adequacy, leading them to associate this reward with sexual activity, further leading them to seek more sex (i.e., experience higher levels of sexual desire).”

Men who faked orgasms also had higher levels of relationship satisfaction, though the authors point out that pretending might not lead to relationship satisfaction; those who are already satisfied may be more likely to fake orgasms for the sake of their partner’s feelings.

While it’s reassuring to know that some men fake orgasms for altruistic reasons, we here at This Week in Sex are not big fans of the fake orgasm, regardless of the gender or the reason. Once in a while is understandable “to get back to whatever it is [you’d] rather be doing,” as Johnson said. But, for the most part, we think it’s better to talk to partners about why you didn’t have a real one this time and what could be different next time.

Is Frequent Ejaculation a Cancer Prevention Method? 

Another new study found that men who ejaculated more frequently were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Researchers followed about 32,000 men for almost 20 years, using the national Health Professionals Follow-up Study  at the Harvard School of Public Health. The men were all in their 20s when the study started in 1992 and therefore their 40s (or close to it) when it ended in 2010. They filled out questionnaires that asked about their sexual behavior (including masturbation), and researchers also looked at the men’s medical records.

During the course of the study, about 4,000 of the men were diagnosed with prostate cancer. The researchers’ analysis showed that men who ejaculated at least 21 times a month in their 20s were 19 percent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men who ejaculated no more than seven times a month at that age. Similarly, men who ejaculated more often in their 40s were 22 percent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer diagnosis.

There are some limitations of the study, including the possible inaccuracy of self-reported data on ejaculation and the lack of diversity among participants. In addition, one urologist who spoke to Reuters questioned the fact that the relationship between ejaculation and prostate cancer applied mostly to less invasive forms of the disease. Dr. Behfar Ehdaie of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who was not part of the study, noted: “If ejaculation frequency was truly a causal factor for prostate cancer development, we would expect to find the association across all prostate cancer risk categories.”

And, of course, correlation does not equal causation. There could be other reasons that men who ejaculate less often are more likely to get prostate cancer. Specifically, as study co-author Dr. Jennifer Rider points out, men who ejaculate less than three times a month may be suffering from other health issues.

Still, there could be a prevention strategy in the findings. Rider told Reuters in an email: “The results of our study suggest that ejaculation and safe sexual activity throughout adulthood could be a beneficial strategy for reducing the risk of prostate cancer.”

Given that ejaculation tends to be enjoyable, it seems like a pretty good idea to try even while more research into the correlation is being conducted.

Emerging Options for Women With Sexual Arousal Issues

When the drug Addyi was under development, people referred to it as “female Viagra” because it was intended to address women’s sexual dysfunction. But the two treatments actually work very differently. While Viagra causes an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, Addyi (or flibanserin) works on chemicals in the brain to increase sexual desire.

Now, researchers are developing a new treatment for women that is actually much more similar to Viagra. A company called Creative Medical Technologies filed a patent last week for a treatment that uses regenerative stem cells to increase blood flow to the vagina. Unlike Addyi, this treatment is designed for women who desire sex but are having trouble becoming aroused. Increasing blood flow to the vagina can cause the clitoris to become erect and the vagina to lubricate, both of which are important parts of the arousal stage of sexual response.

The treatment still needs more research and, of course, FDA approval, which was a very controversial process for Addyi’s maker. Moreover, it’s not clear how big the market is for female sexual dysfunction treatment, as prescriptions for Addyi have been low since its market release last October.

Analysis Politics

How Many ‘Helpful’ Questions Can We Expect From Thursday’s GOP Debate Moderator Hugh Hewitt?

Ally Boguhn

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s “focus” on getting answers from the GOP has been undermined by his own statements and failure to hold candidates accountable.

On Thursday night, the remaining GOP contenders for president will take the stage for their tenth debate. One of the moderators, a noted conservative, claims to care about getting real answers from candidates, but his history suggests otherwise.

Hosted by CNN, Telemundo, and the Salem Media Group at the University of Houston, the debate will be moderated by a representative from each of the three networks. For CNN, Wolf Blitzer will take the stage; Maria Celeste Arraras will represent Telemundo; and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt will be there for Salem Media Group.

This isn’t Hewitt’s first trip to the debate stage: The conservative radio personality participated as a panelist in the second GOP debate in September and moderated another on CNN in December.

“I am excited by the opportunity to continue to help shape the conversation about which of the candidates ought to be the GOP nominee in 2016,” Hewitt said in an October statement regarding his future participation in debates. “My focus remains on posing questions that elicit answers GOP primary voters will find helpful in casting their ballots …. I’ve done over 50 in-depth interviews with the candidates who remain in the field and will continue to invite them onto my radio show between now and March to pose tough, straightforward questions. There’s no better way for me or for them to prepare.”

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But Hewitt’s “focus” on getting answers from the GOP has been undermined by his own statements and failure to hold candidates accountable.

In September, Hewitt faced heavy criticism from conservative media figures after the radio host asked candidate Donald Trump a question about foreign policy during an interview on his program, The Hugh Hewitt Show, seemingly hoping to test his knowledge of terrorist organizations. When Trump was unable to come up with an answer, he lashed out against Hewitt, accusing him of posing a “gotcha question” and claiming it was a “ridiculous” one for Hewitt to have asked. Hewitt initially defended his questions; eventually, however, he backtracked amid backlash from fellow conservatives, saying that Trump “legitimately misunderstood” the question and taking responsibility himself for the candidate’s inability to muster an answer. “I framed the question wrong,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

The Washington Post in December chalked Hewitt’s repeated inclusion in the GOP debates up to “Republican carping,” after candidates repeatedly claimed they were treated unfairly by CNBC moderators during the third debate.

That same month, in an episode of NPR’s All Things Considered, the show’s hosts discussed the matter with the chief strategist of the Republican National Committee (RNC), Sean Spicer, who explained that Hewitt was included in the debates as part of the party’s push to gain more control over what occurs during the events.

“The media controls all aspects of the debate—when they were going to debate, how many there were, where they were. And really, what this came down to was the Party recognizing that while the media has a huge role to play, that ultimately, people are seeking our nomination and that we should have the responsibility to make sure that that process is a little bit more orderly,” Spicer said.

Hewitt’s own commentary also raises confusion about the kinds of answers he’ll be seeking. In January during an appearance on CNN’s New Day, Hewitt concluded that even when candidates are wrong, “fact-checking doesn’t matter,” and that “personality and aura” mattered more.

It isn’t just Hewitt’s ability to fact-check others that is in question, but also whether he has his own facts straight. In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood late last year, the conservative radio host invited Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on his program to discuss the matter. Dismissing those who tied the clinic violence to increasingly threatening rhetoric, Hewitt claimed that he had never met an anti-choice activist who favored violence.

“I have never met, not once, a single pro-life activist who is in favor of violence of any sort. Have you, Senator Cruz?” Hewitt asked the Republican presidential candidate.

Cruz agreed, “I have not.”

As Cruz himself stated in 2015, however, “Rhetoric and language do indeed have consequences.” The rhetoric about abortion employed by conservatives and GOP politicians, especially in the wake of the deceptively edited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), is no exception. The FBI has found that it has led to an increase in clinic violence; according to reports, the alleged Planned Parenthood shooter used the same language invoked by conservatives discussing the videos to justify his acts.

And Cruz does in fact know of anti-choice proponents who favor violence—he has even been endorsed by one. In November, prior to his interview with Hewitt, Cruz welcomed the endorsement of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-choice group Operation Rescue, who harassed Dr. George Tiller for years prior to the abortion provider’s assassination. Although Newman later condemned Tiller’s killer, the group nonetheless continued to associate with other extremists.

Hewitt’s assertion in November comes as no surprise, however, as he has consistently defended the CMP videos since their release. During an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press in September, Hewitt stood up for then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina after she falsely claimed the anti-choice videos depicted a “fully-formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking.” Although numerous fact-checkers debunked Fiorina’s claim, Hewitt stood by it, claiming that Fiorina simply misspoke and that the media had taken her comments out of context.

“I don’t agree that [the CMP videos] are highly edited. This is highly edited. The debate the other day was highly edited,” Hewitt claimed according to the program’s transcripts, before suggesting that Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

The month before, during an interview with Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) on his radio program, Hewitt had referred to the CMP videos while questioning whether the presidential candidate would “push back against the war on women tag” he suggested Republicans would face in this election cycle. “No one can defend this,” Hewitt said, referring to the claims made against Planned Parenthood in the debunked videos.

Perhaps even more alarming is Hewitt’s assertion that he will not address reproductive rights and health at all in the debates, having criticized previous moderators who did so.

During an interview with Bloomberg Politics in early 2015, Hewitt discussed how he came to have a role in the debates. “This is really all Reince Priebus’ doing,” Hewitt claimed, referring to the head of the RNC. “Of all the things he’s done, getting conservative journalists on the panels is probably his lasting legacy. Our issues are not the standard issues people hear about. The conservative primary voter has been frustrated with Republican debates for as long as I remember. They don’t hear the questions asked that they want answered by people who want their votes.”

When asked what questions he had objected to during the 2012 election cycle, Hewitt pointed back to a moment when George Stephanopoulos asked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney about whether states had the right to ban contraception. The question came just days after Republican candidate Rick Santorum asserted that he did believe states had that right.

“There wasn’t one conservative in 2012 who wanted to make birth control inaccessible to women. Not one. Zero,” Hewitt claimed. “And so when George Stephanopoulos asked about birth control in New Hampshire, I thought it summed up very nicely the problem with using even good journalists like him, a former Clinton operative. That question would never come from a conservative journalist. It’s not a debate. It doesn’t exist.”

When asked whether he would ask questions about birth control or abortion during a debate, Hewitt replied that “it does not seem to be on my top shelf,” because all of the candidates are anti-choice. “I can’t imagine I’d be asking questions from the mindset that those questions are important,” he concluded.

Now in 2016, Republicans such as Ted Cruz are again falsely claiming that no members of the GOP are trying to ban birth control. This ignores a years-long crusade by members of the party to do just that, through attempts to pass “personhood” measures, which could outlaw many forms of contraception, attacks on the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, and other restrictions.

Can Hewitt be trusted to ask about these topics, let alone push back on Republicans’ misinformation about them, given his own admissions that he doesn’t believe fact-checking matters or that reproductive health is worth discussing?