Miriam McCreary, MD, has been a physician for more than 40 years, and has worked as a family practitioner in both Southern India and throughout the Midwestern United States. She performs abortions at Planned Parenthood and Duluth’s Health Center for Women. Because of the provider shortage in Dr. McCreary’s part of the country, it is not unusual for her to drive hundreds of miles to perform abortions.
A circuit provider is a doctor who travels to destinations remote from where the doctor lives, in order to provide abortions for areas where there aren’t any providers. Sioux Falls, South Dakota is the only clinic in South Dakota. Fargo is the only clinic in North Dakota. There used to be two in Fargo, but now there’s only one. And Duluth is the only clinic in Northern Minnesota. So it’s hard to get doctors in these areas.
I work at Regents Hospital and have taught ob/gyn residents ever since Roe v. Wade became legal. I’ve worked there a half a day a week teaching residents abortion procedures. So I’ve trained about 50 or 60. I would say less than ten of them are now doing abortions. This is discouraging because you spend time training people and then they go into a practice and their practice partners say, "Oh, you can’t do any abortions." And I’ve seen this over and over again with the residents that have graduated from the program where I work. One of them in particular, he had a private practice near Fargo and was planning to do abortions and set up his own abortion clinic and he was harassed so much by local people that he had to close his abortion clinic and stop doing abortions. And this happens over and over again.
Finding providers for remote areas is one of our biggest challenges. So I feel like I have something to contribute here because I’m retired from my full-time ob/gyn practice. Two days a week, I’m out of town going to Sioux Falls or Fargo. I’ve traveled about 28 or 30,000 miles per year, and this means taking a whole day out of my retired life, which I am enjoying most of the time, but there are other things a retiree likes to do. I have ten grandchildren. I like to spend time with them. We like to travel.
When I travel out of town, it takes the whole day. Weather gets bad, you end up in Green Bay, Wisconsin instead of the Twin Cities. And sometimes I’ve had to stay overnight at Fargo and catch the early flight back the next day. So it means a lot of sitting around in airports. But I don’t mind doing it because the reason I’m going is because I want these clinics to have a doctor to provide the services. It’s very important to me to be able to keep providing these services to places where they don’t have other doctors. Sometimes I say to myself, "What if I decided not to provide abortions anymore?" If I leave, there will be a gap.
I just feel this strong commitment to helping women who come in for abortions. I put myself in their place. I think, "If it were me, I’d really want to have this service provided," because women who get pregnant and they are not ready for a pregnancy, they can have their whole life changed. They can have their career ruined. They can have their education totally obliterated. And I say, "If it were me, I would really want to have a doctor there to give me this provision," and I want to be able to help them.
I think what worries me the most is that there might be a crazy person out there who wants to get rid of me because I’m an abortion doctor, but we’ve been very fortunate in Minnesota. We haven’t had as many incidents of crazy people, as I call them, like the Lambs of Christ. These people were very active about 14 years ago and they were picketing in front of our house, carrying signs that said, "Dr. McCreary is a murderer." And I wrote a letter to Dr. Barnet Slepian, the doctor in Buffalo, New York, who was later murdered; and he sent me a nice copy of the local ordinance that they had passed in Buffalo prohibiting picketing in front of a private residence. So we were able to get an ordinance passed in the city of Mendota Heights prohibiting picketing in front of a private residence.
So after that picketing ordinance was passed, then they didn’t come around so much, but it was traumatic emotionally. They threw oil and nails in my driveway and threw red paint at our white front door and put pictures up and this was very disturbing emotionally because I live in a neighborhood with families and children and I didn’t want them to have to see these things. They put "killer" on the sidewalk in red paint. So these are the emotional things that are bothersome. But I think as an abortion doctor, you have to be willing to realize that these things are going to happen. And I worry sometimes that maybe they will go after me like they did after Dr. Slepian, but so far I’ve been lucky.
Somebody picks me up at the airport and then when we get to the clinic, they take me in through a back door, so I don’t have to walk through the picketers in the front and that prevents the picketing population from seeing me face-to-face. One day somebody was in the back though, and snapped a picture of me, I suppose for publication in their anti-choice literature, which I wasn’t too happy about. But I said, "Well, I’m here. I’m doing this. I’m taking chances. If they publish a picture of me, that’s the way it will be."
I’m hoping that there will be more and more doctors who are willing to provide abortions. Passing the torch is very important. There have to be doctors who are willing to do this and there have to be clinics who are willing to provide the service and willing to stand up to the protestors and not be intimidated by protestors and anti-choice people. I think young medical students are part of the future.
—Edited transcript from Voices of Choice