Eugene Glick, MD, was medical director of West End Women’s Medical Group from 1978 to 1992. He was also a consultant, educator, and medical/legal expert. Dr. Glick was the author of the medical text Surgical Abortion (1998), as well as numerous other papers. For several years during the 1960s, Dr. Glick performed a select number of illegal abortions. He died in 2010.
When I graduated medical school, I was not particularly sympathetic to patients having an abortion. I had the same prejudices that everyone else had.
I went out for my internship at Harbor General Hospital in Los Angeles and there we saw women coming in with incomplete abortions that had been obviously induced. I remember one woman had taken a coke bottle, broken it off, fired the end of it so she made her own speculum. And she put the neck into the vagina and then got it against the cervix, and then somehow or other managed to get this rubber tubing up inside. And she got quite ill.
I remember getting introduced to something called septic abortion. It is a condition that is caused by the breakdown of bacteria in an infected site. I remember a woman losing the tips of her fingers because of the endotoxic shock causing the blood vessels to shrink down. It was just terrible.
They were denied the medical help to save their life unless they confessed. Detectives came in and were questioning. Whenever we got a hint that it might be illegal, or the causation was some sort of illegal operation, we had to report it.
I’d say, “You’re going to die if you don’t tell us. You’re going to die and it’s going to be terrible.” That’s a horrible thing for a doctor to have to scare the hell out of his patient in order to save her life. It’s terrible, but that’s what we did. That’s what we had to do.
We were reduced to become the tormentor of the patient to make her confess. We had to try to scare her so severely that she would admit that she had instrumented herself. This was the travesty. We’re physicians. We’re doctors. To save her life, we had to scare her so that she would confess to having done a felony, which might implicate her family or her boyfriend.
The image that I retain was that of a 31-year-old Mexican-American woman who died of endotoxic shock with her husband and four or five children around. I see the bed. I see the kids crying and I see the husband crying. It’s a strange condition, this endotoxic shock. Your ability to reason and talk is fine. You just don’t have any blood pressure and have a blue coloration. We know they’re going to die and yet they haven’t lost it. The last thing that goes is the brain. The kidney is shut down. The heart’s going a little irregular and there’s nothing we can do, because the bacteria and clots have gone throughout the body into all the blood vessels of all the vital organs, and yet they’re talking to us. It’s a sense of helplessness.
I started looking for ways to circumvent the law. When I first got involved, it was for personal friends or people I knew who were having a problem. The first abortion that I remember performing was on a woman who was a girlfriend of my best friend. She was able to walk out about an hour later. They were both desperate not to be pregnant.
As soon as I started doing it, someone else is going to tell someone else, is going to tell someone else, because everyone wants to help each other. It’s an evolutionary thing. You know, you do it once or twice, then you feel good about it. Then you feel better. And you realize you can do it and it’s a simple thing and why the hell doesn’t this become legal? Because if it’s not legal, look what happens. I know other physicians who went through the same process, and who honestly feel that this is a tremendous service to women. To be able to give them a safe, comfortable abortion.
I could never turn away a patient who really needed it done for economic reasons, so we did a lot of free abortions when I was in practice, and everybody knew it.
I remember a woman who came with her husband and two kids. They were living in the car. It was terrible and they didn’t have a dime. I said, “We’re going to do it now and get it over with and get her out of here. Give her enough money to get a shower, get a hotel room.”
I felt good about the fact that I could help somebody when I knew they were really hurting. I knew it was against the law, but I also knew the law was wrong. I really felt that this was crazy. That this was a law that was bound to be changed.
—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice