An Abortionist Profile In the "Health" Section

Buried in the cruelly misnamed "Health" section Tuesday was a profile by science reporter Cornelia Dean of abortionist Susan Wicklund, author of "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor." The tucked-away story was nonetheless very popular with liberal Times readers, who as of Thursday afternoon made it the #8 most emailed article.

"Dr. Susan Wicklund took her first step toward the front line of the abortion wars when she was in her early 20s, a high school graduate with a few community college credits, working dead-end jobs.

"She became pregnant. She had an abortion. It was legal, but it was ghastly.

"Her counseling, she recalls, was limited to instructions to pay in advance, in cash, and to go to the emergency room if she had a problem. During the procedure itself, her every question drew the same response: 'Shut up!'

"Determined that other women should have better reproductive care, she began work as an apprentice midwife and eventually finished college, earned a medical degree and started a practice in which she spends about 90 percent of her time on abortion services. Much of her work is in underserved regions on the Western plains, at clinics that she visits by plane.

"In her forthcoming book 'This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor' (Public Affairs), Dr. Wicklund describes her work, the circumstances that lead her patients to choose abortion, and the barriers - lack of money, lack of providers, violence in the home or protesters at clinics - that stand in their way."

Dean doesn't acknowledge that much "violence in the home" involves boyfriends pressuring their girlfriends to abort, or see the contradiction between Wicklund's determination that women should have "better reproductive care" and the fact that she spends "90 percent of her time" ensuring women don't reproduce.

Dean does showcase some of Wicklund's qualms, but ended her profile with Wicklund talking of what a "rewarding thing" it was to give pregnant women "back their lives" by killing their unborn children.

"But Dr. Wicklund acknowledges that abortion is an issue fraught with dilemmas. In the book, she describes witnessing, as a medical student, the abortion of a 21-week fetus. She writes that at the sight of its tiny arm she decided she would perform abortions only in the first trimester of pregnancy. She says late-term abortions should be legal, but her decision means she occasionally sees desperate women she must refuse to help.

"Dr. Wicklund describes her horror when she aborted the pregnancy of a woman who had been raped, only to discover, by examining the removed tissue, that the pregnancy was further along than she or the woman had thought - and that she had destroyed an embryo the woman and her husband had conceived together. And she describes the way she watches and listens as the women she treats tell why they want to end their pregnancies. If she detects uncertainty or thinks they may be responding to the wishes of anyone other than themselves, she says, she tells them to think it over a bit longer.

"On the other hand, Dr. Wicklund has little use for requirements like 24-hour waiting periods, or for assertions like those of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who said in a recent Supreme Court decision on abortion that the government had an interest in protecting women from their own decisions in the matter."

"One of these people might be a woman she recognized as one of the protesters who regularly appeared, shouting, outside a clinic where she worked. Only now the woman was in the waiting room, desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy. Dr. Wicklund performed the procedure.

"And then there is Dr. Wicklund's maternal grandmother, a woman she was afraid would disapprove of her work. But it turned out that she had a story of her own. 'When I was 16 years old, my best friend got pregnant,' is how the story began. Her friend turned to her and her sister for help. They did the only thing they could think of - putting 'something long and sharp 'up there,' ' according to the book. The girl bled to death, and the cause of her death was kept secret.

"'I know exactly what kind of work you do,' the grandmother told Dr. Wicklund, 'and it is a good thing.' One question Dr. Wicklund hears 'all the time,' she said, is how she can focus on abortion rather than on something more rewarding, like delivering babies.

"'In fact, the women are so grateful,' Dr. Wicklund said in the interview. 'Women are so grateful to know they can get through this safely, that they can still get pregnant again.

"'It is one of the few areas of medicine where you are not working with a sick person, you are doing something for them that gives them back their life, their control,' she added. 'It's a very rewarding thing to be part of that.'"