George Miks, MD, is on the staff of both the Women’s Health Center in Duluth, Minnesota, and the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota. He is clinical associate professor emeritus in the Department of Family Practice and Community Health at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, and adjunct clinical assistant professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. Known as a "circuit provider," Dr. Miks regularly flies his private plane to rural areas in Minnesota and North Dakota, where he performs much-needed abortions.
A circuit provider is a person like me, who travels to various clinics to provide the service. At one time I was providing services to four separate clinics and four different states. Now I’m down to just two clinics and two different states.
In the clinic in Duluth, Minnesota, we service women from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, of course, and also Northwestern Ontario. In Fargo, North Dakota, we see women from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Eastern Montana.
Since there is only one provider clinic in North Dakota and only one provider clinic in the Northern part of Minnesota, our geographical area is great. You’re looking at five, six hours of driving or more. And of course, we do have some severe weather in the winter. So that puts another stress factor and risk factor into their travel. It’s not easy for them to get to a provider because of distances and cost. Some have to stay overnight if they drive a long distance.
When we moved here to Northeastern Minnesota, my wife said, "If we’re going to see your parents at all you better learn to fly." Actually I wanted to learn to fly anyway. I was interested. So I’ve been flying for 35 years. I have my instrument rating. I have my commercial rating, so it’s not very often I miss a flight. Safety is first and foremost when you’re flying. Prior to even going to the airport, you get your weather briefings from Flight Service. You’re very much in tune to the weather.
Sometimes if I couldn’t get there because of weather the women couldn’t get to the clinic either because of weather. The locals might have been able to get in that lived close by, but those out in the state wouldn’t be able to get there. So we delayed it for a day or rescheduled, whatever, but they were taken care of eventually.
I’m providing the service because if we weren’t there to do it, women would be doing it on their own and probably be killing themselves or they’d ruin their lives, in terms of having unwanted children. I’ve always felt a strong personal commitment to this service.
There are precautions we need to take. You just have to be alert to your surroundings particularly and, of course, other people are there too to keep you informed of what’s going on at various clinics and to make sure that you’re safe. The antis have carried out such an organized program. Also our politicians have been involved in making it more difficult for providers to provide the service, and administrations such as George W. Bush. We had picketers outside the house here for a whole week. Our neighbors, some of whom we had never even met at that time, would come over and offer to take my wife shopping. There was a man down the block here that brought over a pie. We had all sorts of support in town. A rally even took place in town. So I’m sure that it wasn’t 100%, but we certainly had a good support group here to get us through this whole process.
I’ve paid my dues, and I would like to certainly step back and let somebody else take over. We need new providers. Young providers, because the doctors right now are of the Roe v. Wade era and we saw and took care of women prior to Roe v. Wade, and the young doctors now have no clue how things were at that time. We saw, years ago, the results of illegal abortion. They were coming into the hospital bleeding, very high temperatures, foreign bodies in the vagina. That’s how I decided to do it myself.
I do feel a responsibility for providing a service because, number one, I’m well trained. Secondly, there is no one else. There are no physicians in either Duluth or Fargo that wish to provide the service and that’s the sad part of it. It kind of makes me angry in a certain sense because those of us who have been providing the service a number of years are going to be retiring. I think that ob/gyn doctors are supposed to be devoted to healthcare for women, so is abortion not a part of the healthcare process? It’s upsetting to me to know there are doctors in these communities who are perfectly capable and are trained to provide abortion services, but do not for various reasons.
I think if push came to shove, women would just have to travel further. They’d go to the larger cities like Minneapolis, St. Paul, so they would just have to travel more. That would be a victory for the antis because the fact is that if there are no providers, then whether abortion is legal is a moot point.
—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice