"Our patients deserve better, Lucy deserves better, and we do too."

Story No. 571: Dr. Shandhini from Hawaii

Voices of Courage is excited to present This is Life, an illustrated series by artist Magnolia Porter bringing your stories about reproductive health care to life.

My patient, who I’ll call Lucy, was in her second trimester and having an abortion for a desired pregnancy with multiple fetal abnormalities.  Lucy has a one-year old at home and knew that she couldn’t take care of a baby with special needs as well.

Lucy’s abortion was scheduled for the very first procedure in the operating room at my hospital that day, and I made sure everything would be running on time.  I went to the operating room to make sure all the instruments and equipment were set up. Thirty minutes later, a colleague came in saying, “There’s a delay because we’re trying to find a replacement nurse for religious reasons.”  The nurse then ran in and said, “Sorry, doctor, I didn’t realize this was an abortion, I’m Catholic,” and ran out again.

Another half hour passed before the new nurse came in. We went to get Lucy and wheel her in to the operating room together. She didn’t ask about the delay. I said, “It’s OK to be nervous. We’ll take good care of you.”

Right before the anesthesiologist put her to sleep, Lucy mumbled a quiet prayer, ended with “Amen,” and crossed herself. This was the hardest and most ironic part of the entire morning – knowing that a nurse who shared my patient’s faith tradition, and who could have been in a position to offer her comfort and support in a way that I would never have been able to, had instead refused to take care of her for religious reasons.

Lucy’s procedure itself was successful and uneventful, like all of the abortions I perform. She went home to her son and her partner who had taken off work to watch him while she had her procedure.

Delays in care like this this happen all the time, all over the country, and I’m lucky to only have to face it rarely. Almost all of the time, I work with amazing staff who take excellent care of my patients and are happy to do it.

Abortion providers put up with this, and are nice about it, because we have to – because we work in a medical system that tells us that we and our patients are different, that it’s perfectly fine to treat us this way. It’s not. Our patients deserve better, Lucy deserves better, and we do too.