Friday, February 23, 2007

Dr. Bill Roy: "Abortion, a front row seat."

Dr. Bill Roy,
Kansas Congressman, 2nd District, 1970 - 74
Abortion has been America’s single most important political issue for 33 years, because its one-issue voters have provided the margin of electoral victory for Republican members of Congress and presidents from Bob Dole in 1974 to George W. Bush in 2008.

Without the Republicans’ successful manipulation of the abortion issue (for example, George H. W. Bush‘s 1980 overnight pro-life conversion in order to become Ronald Reagan’s vice-presidential choice), it is unlikely five of the last seven presidential elections would have swung Republican. And probably the intermittent Republican majorities in the Senate would not have happened, and certainly Republicans would not have controlled the House from 1995-2007.

Republican political victories have resulted in a vastly different America, culminating in the calamitous presidency of George W. Bush.

Because Christian conservatives make up about 40 percent of party activists and 20 percent of GOP general election voters, they have dictated Republican political positions from Terry Schiavo to Samuel Alito to stem cell research.

Mostly accidentally, I have probably observed and participated in the issue of abortion from more perspectives and more closely than anyone else on this planet. I never intended this to be so, and I do not claim to know more about any one facet of abortion than many others.

When not on stage, I have had a front row seat. For these reasons, I intend to write occasional articles about this practical, medical, moral, philosophic, religious and political issue that, unarguably, has determined America’s destiny over the last 33 years..

For the impatient, let me give you an immediate glimpse of where I am on the issue. Abortion is always an unpleasant happening because it signals an unwanted pregnancy--unwanted because it jeopardizes the health and/or life of the mother, unwanted because of abnormal fetal development, or unwanted simply because the mother and/or others do not want her to have a baby.

But even with abortion’s many contexts, President Bill Clinton probably said it best, “Abortions should be safe, legal and infrequent.” I buy that, fully realizing it’s probably not a satisfactory response for those who think differently, or seek more reasoned answers.

I am not writing to change minds, only to provide you with my unique experiences and not so unique perspectives.

I grew up an Illinois farm boy in the mid-20th century. Abortion was not discussed at home, church or school. If some girl in our high school of 155 students had an abortion, I didn’t hear about it. Ditto college.

When I decided to become a physician at age 15, my vague image of an abortionist was someone who performed abortions outside the law. My hasty five year, seven month trip though college and medical school gave me no cause to think about abortion.

Only when I entered my obstetric and gynecologic residency in Detroit Receiving Hospital, an emergency, charity hospital for over two million people, things changed big-time. There I saw literally hundreds of incomplete and/or botched abortions, with associated hemorrhage, infection and death.

As an Air Force obstetrician and gynecologist at Forbes Air Force in Topeka, I learned, to my dismay, how cavalierly Kansans dealt with abortion in the 1950s. When I became a Topeka practitioner, I found myself dealing with real women with unwanted pregnancies, but unable to help them.

Later, I worked with fellow physicians and mostly Republican state legislators to pass the “liberal” 1969 Kansas abortion law. During that time--often as I waited to deliver babies--I studied religious, philosophic and legal treatises on abortion. I was also attending law school, and wrote a 1970 law jourmal article anticipating Roe v. Wade.

But only then did my only marginally unusual journey become very unusual. I was elected to Congress in 1970. January, 1973, one Democrat and six Republican Supreme Court justices passed Roe v Wade 7-2, narrowing the allowable scope of criminal laws regarding abortion.

I ran for the U. S. Senate in 1974, and lost on the newly found issue of abortion. Suddenly everyone knew abortion was not just a medical and legal and moral issue, but also a potent political issue.

Dr. Roy may be reached at

No comments: