Don Sloan, MD

Don Sloan, MD, is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the New York Medical College and Director of the Division of Human Sexuality and Psychosomatics at the Lenox Hill Hospital and the New York Medical College in New York City. During the pre-Roe era, Dr. Sloan provided countless abortions in his office on Park Avenue.

I was a faculty member at the medical school and trying to build a practice. I did abortions on the side. No one knew about it. We did our cases on 88th Street across from the Guggenheim Museum. The office is still there. We saw patients on Saturday, for the most part, never during office hours. I was not a busy doctor in those days. I was building my practice.

Women would call. They missed a period and would call my nurse, Ann. Ann was very sensitive and very motherly, and she’d say, "Doctor, a lady wants to talk to you." That was the way she would say it, and I knew what she meant.

They’d call me from Vermont or Maine. They’d call from college campuses and schools, Ohio schools, Pennsylvania. So word gets around.

I’d get a small history on the telephone. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dealing with a diabetic or a hyperthyroid, a condition that would negate a medical problem or a cardiac. And I was selective. I followed the rule of about six weeks. So I was very cautious on that.

They rarely came alone. They traveled four or five hours from New England or Pennsylvania or South Jersey. And I made sure that they had not eaten or drank. Because just in case, I knew that if I had to go to the hospital and do surgery, I would be able to do it if they hadn’t had any food. I was on staff at one of the city hospitals. I always had that out, I had that emergency room. But it never happened.

I always permitted the partner in the room, if the boyfriend or the significant other wanted to be in the room. I always welcomed it, so they could hold their hand. I had a large office I shared with an old-time, retiring pediatrician. He took me in and helped me get started, because I couldn’t afford the full rent then. I used his office for a recovery room.

They’d be on their way, never saw them again. Once in awhile, they would be close enough to come see me post-op six weeks later. They couldn’t go to their own doctors because they’d had an illegal abortion, and they wanted to protect me.

They’d pay me a few bucks. Some of them insisted I take $10, $5, which was more like $100 today, but still very little. Never was cheated, none were mean, none were belligerent. Just a nice bunch of people who were in trouble and appreciated me. I was careful and no one ever told on me. No one ever called and blew the whistle on me in any way, shape, or form. And it was certainly very rewarding. I knew what I was doing. I knew I was safe. I was very cautious.

Only Ann knew what was going on, and we didn’t talk about it. I always wanted Ann around when I did anything, someone to help me clean up, but also to stand by, hold hands.

She stayed on with me when I wanted her to. Did me the favor of going home late in those days, or even stayed in the office. We had a pull-out couch for Ann to sleep on overnight. She kept a nightgown there and had a toothbrush there.

My career was on the line. I could have been crazy enough to throw the whole thing away, my whole life, everything. We were trepidatious, but it just never dawned on me that there was going to be a knock on the door and a cop was going to come in. I just never thought of it, never.

I couldn’t have those gals that I would see call the hospital and say, "Where’s Dr. Sloan? He did my abortion." So essentially we had to be trusting, because they knew who I was. I wasn’t some clandestine back-alley nut somewhere, who would never see you again. They knew where to find me.

Illegal abortion and illicit abortion became political, became social, became moral, became ethics for us. We were providing our patients with a service that we thought was needed. I was young, spirited. It was my calling, it was my need. It was what I went to school for and what I trained to do. I picked this as a vocation and that was part of my duty call. That’s how I looked at it. Some I liked, some I didn’t like so much, but they were all still my patients.

It was a way of reaching out to women and being an activist. My sense of social justice taught me to reach out in that way. I wanted to be a political activist.

—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice