I have been an abortion provider since 1972. Why do I do abortions, and why do I continue to do abortions, despite two murder attempts?
The first time I started to think about abortion was in 1960, when I was in secondyear medical school. I was assigned the case of a young woman who had died of a septic abortion. She had aborted herself using slippery elm bark.
I had never heard of slippery elm. A buddy and I went down to skid row, and without too much difficulty, purchased some slippery elm bark to use as a visual aid in our presentation. Slippery elm is not sterile, and frequently contains spores of the bacteria that cause gas gangrene. It is called slippery elm because, when it gets wet, it feels slippery. This makes it easier to slide slender pieces through the cervix where they absorb water, expand, dilate the cervix, produce infection and induce abortion. The young woman in our case developed an overwhelming infection. At autopsy she had multiple abscesses throughout her body, in her brain, lungs, liver and abdomen.
I have never forgotten that case.
After I graduated from University of British Columbia medical school in 1962, I went to Chicago, where I served my internship and Ob/Gyn residency at Cook County Hospital. At that time, Cook County had about 3,000 beds, and served a mainly indigent population. If you were really sick, or really poor, or both, Cook County was where you went.
The first month of my internship was spent on Ward 41, the septic obstetrics ward. Yes, it’s hard to believe now, but in those days, they had one ward dedicated exclusively to septic complications of pregnancy.
About 90% of the patients were there with complications of septic abortion. The ward had about 40 beds, in addition to extra beds which lined the halls. Each day we admitted between 10-30 septic abortion patients. We had about one death a month, usually from septic shock associated with hemorrhage.
I will never forget the 17-year-old girl lying on a stretcher with 6 feet of small bowel protruding from her vagina. She survived.
I can take an anxious woman, who is in the biggest trouble she has ever experiences in her life, and by performing a five-minute operation, in comfort and dignity, I can give her back her life.
After an abortion operation, patients frequently say “Thank You Doctor.” But abortion is the only operation I know of where they also sometimes say “Thank you for what you do.”
I want to tell you one last story that I think epitomizes the satisfaction I get from my privileged work. Some years ago I spoke to a class of University of British Columbia medical students. As I left the classroom, a student followed me out. She said: “Dr. Romalis, you won’t remember me, but you did an abortion on me in 1992. I am a second year medical student now, and if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be here now.”
It’s sometimes easy to forget how much choice can mean.
And of course, though this hardly needs to be said, Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are the two remaining candidates who are pro-choice.