"Many of the [clinic worker] respondents reported serious emotional reactions that produced physiological symptoms, sleep disturbances, effects on interpersonal relationships, and moral anguish," Hern and his co-author, Billie Corrigan, conclude.
Hern notes that, among the different abortion facility staff members, "it appears that the more direct the physical and visual involvement with D & E, such as that experienced by nurses and physicians, the more stress is experienced. This is evident both in conscious stress and in unconscious manifestations such as dreams."
"The most important challenge in [the practice of] late abortion ... is how we feel about doing it," Hern acknowledges. "Some part of our cultural and perhaps even biological heritage recoils at a destructive operation on a form that is similar to our own," he writes. "We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one's eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current."
Conscience is a stubborn thing.
Clinic workers, Hern explains, respond to D & E using traditional defense mechanisms:
We discerned that the following psychological defenses were used by staff members at various times to handle the traumatic impact of the destructive part of the operation: denial, sometimes shown by the distance a person keeps from viewing D & E; projection, as evidenced by excessive concern or anguish for other staff members assisting with or performing D & E; and rationalization.Hern and Corrigan try to help staff "cope" with the experience by encouraging them to talk about their feelings and giving them occasional time off.
But this trauma is not merely an emotional response that must be strategically managed and overcome. The anguish of clinic staff reflects a deep knowledge that there is something wrong with tearing off arms and legs and crushing the skulls of tiny human beings. It feels terrible because it actually is terrible.
Dr. Anthony Levatino used to perform dismemberment abortions, but everything changed after the tragic death of his young daughter. "All of a sudden, the idea of a person's life becomes very real," he says. "It is not an embryology course anymore. It's not just a couple of hundred dollars. It's the real thing. ... I couldn't even think about a D & E abortion anymore."
He continued to perform abortions, but the procedure became much more difficult. "If I knew I had an abortion scheduled in the office the next day, I got very surly. I was hard to be around. I was getting very, very rough with the staff in our office," he says. "My own sense of self-esteem went down the tubes. I began to feel like a paid assassin. That's exactly what I was."
Dr. Levatino continues:
It got to a point ... that it just wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth it to me anymore. The money wasn't worth it. I don't care. This is coming out of my hide; it is costing me too much. It is costing me too much personally. For all the money in the world, it wouldn't have made any difference. So I quit. I slept a lot better at night after that.More than 700 D & E abortions were performed in Minnesota last year. Many tens of thousands are performed nationwide. It's long past time to wake up to what this really is.