Rodney Roe's Blog

Still Trying to Make Sense of It All

Rodney Roe

Rodney Roe
Clayton, Georgia, USA
November 22
I currently place myself among the curmudgeons of the world. Always thinking about why things are, and how they may be better, I tend to rant at times, but mostly I just look for a reasoned discourse. I have previously worked as a cotton scout, grocery bag boy, cannery worker, and am a physician. I am married, have two daughters and four granddaughters. I retired due to vision loss in 2005 after a 30 year career as a hospital pathologist. Fortunate to have a wide range of interests, life following retirement has been good.

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MARCH 16, 2012 9:51PM

What a Return to Family Values Really Means

Rate: 32 Flag

Social conservatives are engaged in a battle to prevent women from having access to birth control while, at the same time, attempting to force women to suffer when they get abortions to terminate the pregnancy produced by the lack of access to contraception.The mindset of the people – men – who are behind this assault on the rights of women is difficult to fathom, but there seems to be a desire to return women to second class status as citizens by forcing them to be baby bearing factories for husbands.

I remember the days when abortion was illegal except under extraordinary circumstances. 

I was a doctor in training during this period.  I would like to put a human face on America at that time; a time that preceded the Roe vs. Wade decision.  (I, by the way, am not related to that Roe.  As you know, I'm sure, Roe was a generic name like Doe.)

The year was 1966.  I was a third year medical student.  For some reason, still a mystery to me, Obstetrics and Psychiatry were taught at the same time using the same patients for teaching purposes.  So, we interviewed young women in the prenatal clinic who were just coming in for their routine visits before having a baby, as though they were psychiatry patients.  The care was free so the young women, mostly African-American, went along with the game.  The upshot was that we found some seriously disturbed people in the process.  We, also, had our leg pulled by some.  One young woman told me with a straight face when I asked her what brought her to the hospital, “the bus.”  I asked which one and she said, “The one that the people at the bus stop said went to the Medical Center.”  As part of the psych work-up we asked questions to establish orientation to time and place.  This same woman who came "on the bus" told me that the governor, mayor and president were the ones who had been in office two elections before.  The governor was a one term, not very memorable governor.  It was then that I realized the woman was very bright, was playing a joke on me, and totally “with it”.

Unfortunately, one of the women, seen by someone else, wanted an abortion.  She seemed very depressed and threatened suicide.  She was admitted for evaluation, and following admission there was a student-teacher conference to discuss the legal issues, the difficulty of establishing depression as a condition that would qualify as a threat to the woman’s life should she be denied an abortion, and we were told that the young woman would be discussed at a meeting of psychiatrists, the hospital attorney and obstetricians the following day to decide how to proceed.

The meeting never happened.  The woman stepped out of her 7th floor hospital window and fell to her death that evening.

 Fast forward to 1973.  I am a resident, moon lighting in the emergency room of a community hospital in a small town near Phoenix.  It is a fairly slow week night.  A young Hispanic woman is brought into the emergency room after being seen in a doctor’s office for weakness and abdominal pain.  The doctor finds that she had been to a back alley abortion clinic earlier that day and had a “coat hanger” abortion.  Whatever was used to do the abortion went through the wall of the uterus and she has been bleeding into her abdominal cavity all afternoon.  She is unresponsive and in profound shock when I see her.

Despite the administration of intravenous fluids and blood she dies before the Gynecologist can get there to do a hysterectomy and stop the bleeding.

I don’t know the details of either woman’s story.  Were they married?  Was this their first baby?  It doesn’t matter.  It was their last pregnancy, the one that pushed them over the edge.

These are just two stories that I remember.  There were many others, like the young woman that lived with her pediatrician’s family throughout her pregnancy – she was in high school and unmarried – prior to giving up her baby for adoption.  Some sadistic nurse showed the young mother her baby after delivery before taking it away.  It was a heart wrenching moment that was, apparently, supposed to punish mom for her sin.  We were “house sitters” for the pediatrician while he and his family were away on vacation and got to know this young woman very well.  She was just a teen that got caught doing what a lot of teens get away with.

I interned and did my residency in a Catholic hospital.  There were an unusually high number of hysterectomies done on Catholic women by Catholic doctors.  Many of the women had normal uteruses removed.  We jokingly referred to these hysterectomies as Vatican approved birth control.

Is this the America we want to return to?  Do we want to return to an America where religious zealots are not content just to provide moral instruction, but insist, in addition, on punishing women, sometimes at the cost of their lives, for failing to follow their misogynistic religious laws?  Do we want to have a lot of celibate, sexually-frustrated, men dictate how women live their private lives?

Do we want to return to a time when a major surgical procedure becomes a substitute for birth control? 

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Your personal experiences add clarity to this issue. I am researching abortion in America before writing a novel about my great grandmother who served as a midwife/abortionist in central Minnesota in the late 1800s-early 1900s. It's amazing how similar the arguments against contraception and abortion still are a century and a half later.
Thank you for your story. These politicians do appear to want to go back in time. They suffer from the denial of history and how things were before Roe v Wade. They do not care for women, they do not care for children born into intolerable circumstances. They suffer from hubris, from ignorance and every time another one is elected the suffering of others is increased.
Thank you for your story. These politicians do appear to want to go back in time. They suffer from the denial of history and how things were before Roe v Wade. They do not care for women, they do not care for children born into intolerable circumstances. They suffer from hubris, from ignorance and every time another one is elected the suffering of others is increased.
Thank you, Rodney. Whether it's this or many of the other things which are mythical renditions why we need to return to a past that was supposedly better, first hand experiences like yours are an essential element in rebutting that. I remember some of those good old family values days too: The drunken abusers, the child beaters, the women who could only flee to a friend or relative, the child who had to watch it all or worse. Yee haw, see what we're missing! Too bad modernity wants to stick it's busy-body nose into all of that admirable stuff!
When it comes to birth control and women's health my question has always been, "When do the real men step up?" When my wife had to give up her birth control pills due to some not so good looking pap smears, I made the decision to have a vasectomy. Didn't even blink an eye, just went to the urologist, made the appointment, snip, snip and four days on the couch with a moist towel and bags of frozen peas.
It is beyond my comprehension how anyone could want to return to those times and methods, but it does seem to be the goal of far too many.

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences!
Thanks for writing, Rodney. You're right, we don't want to go there.
I still am not sure how they can call it family values if there is no family sense at all, though of course, even married couples who love each other still want abortions when they cannot handle another child. People have been miserable for having large families, and miserable for dying from childbirth, and miserable from watching their children die off because we couldn't do anything about it. Now, we can do almost everything about it, and somehow, misery is still supposed to be part of the women's gift from god.
I did a rotation in a walk in, spanish speaking, catholic mission sponsored medical clinic. We were allowed to ask about periods, contraception, and give pregnancy tests. After that, we were banned from talking about contraception or abortion services. I remember being startled when the nurse/interpreter squeezed my writing hand and said, We're catholic here, you can't talk about that.
Doc- your speaking truth to what passes for power in the authoritarian mind is very much appreciated and far beyond simply instructive. Also thanks to Oryoki as well, and to both of you generally for all your good works. An unbiased look at history shows us the temperance movement was merely the only way to leverage organized religion's massive hypocrisy into a lever for what would become suffrage. The whole thing goes back to the same old thing, all religion is in essence merely a vehicle for authority and control of resources, and they view the bodies of women as just that, and nothing more. While I could go on, I will instead just fall back on the facts: no man has anything whatsoever to say about any woman's decision on reproductive issues, ever. No exceptions.

Despite how disturbing this all is, it means we will persevere in November and once again be an example for the rest of the world, instead of the embarrassment we've, for the moment, become.

That said, once you have lost respect you never quite get it all back, no matter how hard you try.

Auwe (Alas)
You paint a vivid picture of people's actual lives and what "policy" means in terms of the lived reality of the lives of real people. It is outrageous that religious zealots are once again determined to forcibly impose their twisted values on individuals, the medical professions, and society in general. [r]
Your view on this is just great and the memories you bring to it make it a solidly fine piece of thoughtful writing.
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Thanks to everyone for your comments. jmac1949, that was the path we took, my wife and i, after a number of years with an i.u.d., I got clipped. I had even less discomfort than you describe. Went to work the next day.
Oryoki Bowl, thanks for your addition to the story. Also, you are right to be confused about the term. It is the "double speak" that H. G. Wells wrote of.
Thanks for this moving and thoughtful post that gives us the perspective and reminder many of us need to keep on fighting for reproductive freedom.
Thank you for adding all of the clarity and sanity to this insane situation that is occuring right now! Your narrative explains all of the reasons why abortion needs to remain safe and legal-regardless of our personal feelings. Because ultimately the mother's life will be 'terminated', also in many cases in places where abortion has been outlawed. R
It just boggles my mind that we're close to going back there again. I hope a little more thought and reason will win out in the long run, but it's scary. Thanks for the personal perspective.
Very good piece. Thank you. The desire to make women second class citizens and to force religion on other people must encounter strong push-back and resistance wherever and whenever it occurs.
The most compelling arguments on social policy are always those which involve real people and real scenarios for they put a human face and voice to what is being advocated.
All this smacks of an effort to return to a time when women were property. If these lawmakers are ultimately successful there will be repercussions far beyond contraception and child bearing. The very structure and foundation of what freedoms we have left will be compromised to an extent that they will be ultimately meaningless.
We are lucky here to have such an insider viewpoint. No one could read this and not be moved, maybe you should mail it to some people or try to get it published in a major media outlet! Bravo!
When we stop equating birth control, abortion, contraception, etc. as sexuality issue, we'll make progress. It's also unfair to treat women who've been impregnated as permiscuous people incapable or unable to exercise sound decisions, particularly when most of these women have limited education available to them during their child-bearing years.

Children having children. It's sickening how some of the teen mom scenarios are televised on reality shows; is this what a return to family values really means? Contestants are encouraged to apply! My teen is a better mom than your teen...just don't apply a social stigma and all is well with family matters.
Such a great piece, Rodney! I hope you turn this into an op-ed. We need to hear from more doctors on this issue. Thank you so much for sharing these stories!
I cannot add much more to these comments as they are all great at expressing how informative and excellent this article truly is. You certainly do provide us all with much needed insight into this issue. As always, thank you for gracing us with your wonderful experiences that are invaluable lessons for all.
There are a lot of smiling sadists driving the anti-birth control, anti abortion crowd. I've been married 5 times, men that pretend to care but are bullies don't fool me anymore. Sadists, nothing more.

It makes sense that obstetrics and psychiatry were together since the uterus, or hyster, was once considered to be the reason for female hysterics.
ANOTHER great post, Rodney. I'm sorry that it took me so long to find You, but I sure am happy that I FINALLY DID find You.

This is a wonderful, important post. The family values the conservative republicans talk about are a joke. They want to give life status to a couple of cells, yet will do nothing to help the children in need who already occupy our clinics and classrooms. What a world. Women punished, children punished, funding cut off for education and health care. Those are republican family values for you.
l'Heure Bleue: You clearly know something about men who want to own and control women. Thanks for your input. You are right about the origin of the word "hysterics". The OB clinic was a good place to get a feel of psychiatry, since most of the expectant mothers were within the range of what passes for normal.
A few people suggested that I try to get this published elsewhere as an op-ed. I really have no idea how to do that. If anyone has a suggestion send me a p.m.
Oh God, Rodney; THANK YOU. Yes, I remember the coat hanger abortion era and, unlike you, I never succeeded in my attempt to get beyond pre-med to becoming an m.d. (though I DID manage to marry one). Thank you _so_ much for the work you've done both as an m.d. and in your posts here to Open Salon. Let's just hope that a decent quantity of simple sanity can win out in this appallingly politically-exploited current issue.

R+++ ;-)
P.S. to l'Heure Bleue -- only just now ... in a quick rundown of comments here, noticed yours. Yes, I always kind of ?"blamed Freud"? for that :-(. But it does help me understand what initially struck me as [for starters] ?"odd"? about Rodney's tale's detail that obstetrics and psychiatry were seen together at that time. [Rodney, which hospital was this, and where? Or would you rather not say?]
I'm sorry, this is a sad story, but social conservatives are not pushing to return to a time where women don't have access to birth control. There might be one or two nuts out there who feel this way, but even Mr. Santorum says that while he personally does not favour ARTIFICIAL birth control, that, unlike leftists, he would not try to legislate his view.

I appreciate that it was awful what happened to these women, but the factoid that social conservatives want women to not have access is just that, a factoid. They may not want to PAY for other people's birth control, but that, of course, is a different matter.

Name me one prominent social conservative who has said that they don't want women to have access to birth control as a matter of law.
And no one is forced in America to be a Catholic. If a woman wants to leave the Church, HELLO???? , she can.
Podunkmarte, it was the University of Arkansas School of Medicine.
Barbara Joanne, I respect your opinion, but think "aspirin between the knees" and rhythm, are unreliable forms of birth control. I have known people who left the Catholic church because of policies that they couldn't deal with, but it was painful because of the family conflict that ensued. As to the cost issue, I think that is a smoke screen to hide the real objections which are several. Thanks for your opinion.
Barbara Joanne,
Your comments reveal what I think are some common confusions. The problem being complained about by the Catholic church, with respect to birth control and the ACA, would related to all employees, whether Catholic or not, of a Catholic hospital. The church itself is already exempted. So your point about leaving the church seems not relevant.

The church wants to prevent the government from requiring its health insurer for hospital employees to provide free preventive care in the form of birth control pills.

Note that the church is not required to pay for this, neither are taxpayers. It is actually coming out of insurance premiums. The church is trying to say that they don't want the insurance company to provide the birth-control to Catholics or non-Catholics, as long as they are covered under the hospital's policies.

To say you are paying for it is a mistake. It actually saves the insurance companies money to do this, because of prevented pregnancies.

To say you are paying for it is like saying that you pay for someone else's heart surgery, because you are paying insurance premiums.

It's like you going to a restaurant, and paying for your meal, and then claiming you are paying the chef's salary, so you want to be able to specify how he does his job.

If you really pay attention to the details, the church is exempted, and this only applies to hospitals that hire both Catholics and non-Catholics. And you or other taxpayers aren't paying; it is a matter of how the insurer is required to manage their insurance risk pool derived from premiums.

A careful examination of the details shows how misrepresentation of the facts explains that this is just a political show created by conservatives to be able to claim there is a war on religion (which there is not). It's a political stunt and it's overreach on the part of the church to try to control the insurers according to their religious preferences.

There is no war on religion. There is just an attempt to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and hence reduce the number of abortions, which the religious ought to consider an improvement.
I sure don't.
Oops, before someone thinks I'm disagreeing with Jeff, I meant, "I sure don't want to return to the policies and the days to which Rodgney referred to in this post."

I certainly agree that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is a good thing.
Rodney, thank you for drawing forth this issue through the prism of your harrowing, real-world experience. We have to keep beating the drum of social progress against the darkness of religious fanaticism.
You really personalized this, Rodney. We are definitely stepping back in time or else entering a "brave" new world of patriarchy and misogyny, more outright in this country than ever before. Excellent post.
I have to make a confession of an erratum. I credited H.G.Wells with 1984 when it should have been George Orwell. Also, Orwell never used the term, "doublespeak". This term has been coined from Orwell's words, "doublethink" and "NewSpeak".

One of the dangers presented by the current attack on women's rights is the amnesia produced by time. The Roe vs. Wade decision came down in January of 1973, nearly 40 years ago, and the number of people who were directly affected by the laws before the decision is dwindling.