Commentary Abortion

Why I Do This Work: An Abortion Provider Speaks

Dr. Curtis Boyd

Let me tell you why I am not doing this work. It is not because of the bleeding, septic, and sometimes dying women that I, and others, saw in our first years of training.

May 31, 2011 is the 2-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.  In May, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health gave awards to several providers at an event in New York. Dr. Boyd gave this speech to accept the William K. Rashbaum, MD, at the ceremony.  All articles in the 2011 series commemorating Dr. Tiller can be found here.

I have a prepared statement, which I am going to immediately deviate from. I know that I only have a few minutes to make this response and I know you know that. Those who know me better know that I am going to exceed that amount of time no matter what Jodi does they will not be able to drag me off the podium, but I will try to show some restraint.

I want to put out something about these late-term pregnancies, something that I am going to introduce, so this is a pure diversion. I believe that maternal indications should have equal consideration with fetal indications. And we do not ask how long the woman has been pregnant, we ask what does she need and want from us and are we able to provide it. So I offer you that as a guideline to the future.

Just know that those of you who are here: I’m just so grateful to the family, to our dear friends and colleagues who are here tonight to share this special occasion with me, thank you for your years of support and encouragement.

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But most essential to me that I will call out is Glenna [Glenna Boyd is Dr. Boyd’s wife], without whom all of this could not have happened. She has been my constant, faithful, and loving helpmate since 1974, and I adore you. We are truly a yoked pair.

I want to say thank you to the Rashbaum event committee, the group of my peers who has chosen me for this award, and to Dr. Carolyn Westhoff for your kind words.

I think you all know that Dr. Rashbaum was an irascible character, no doubt about that. I hope I do not match him in that department—although Glenna says otherwise on occasion. But what I most admired in Bill Rashbaum and hope to emulate is his persistence in the face of all opposition. He also trained other doctors and health care workers with enthusiasm and encouraged public awareness of the need women and their families have for safe legal abortion services. And the man could not be deterred when he set upon a mission—that I do try to emulate.

But why have I chosen to commit my best efforts to abortions services for most of my professional career, such that I am now honored with this most important award?

Let me tell you why I am not doing this work. It is not because of the bleeding, septic, and sometimes dying women that I, and others, saw in our first years of training. No, it’s not. I had compassion for those women, and I regretted their plight but my commitment to women’s rights and ultimately to abortion rights preceded my medical experience. What moved me to do this work and to take such high risk in the early, illegal days was a certain knowledge, that an unwanted pregnancy could at best disrupt a women’s life and at worst could ruin her. I believe that a woman should decide for herself whether to continue a pregnancy or bring it to an end.

I believed this without words and from the depth of lived experience, from the girl I had a crush on in high school but was told I could never date. She had gotten knocked up—I gotta say that right: “She got knocked up,” you see, had the baby. Didn’t I understand she was beneath me? When I was told the name of the boy who had gotten her pregnant, I knew him. He had suffered no loss of status; in fact his reputation was enhanced. She was “damaged goods.” He was a “stud.” And no, I did not understand, I still don’t. I hope that I never shall.

The story is old, but sadly it’s not dated. The women’s movement has made great strides, yet we are now seeing the most regressive and oppressive legislation against women’s rights and abortion rights since the early 1950s.  Those were my high school years. I followed the rules then, but the unfairness of it all, the double standard for sexual conduct was simply, obviously wrong.

Years later my silent high school outrage at this, and so many similar injustices, would inform my work. To this day my quest is for social justice, for human rights is my guide, my motivation.

Whether woman or man, whether black or white, rich or poor, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, whatever, I want compassion for all. I want mercy and justice and respect and dignity to flow over all of us. Thank you.

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