An Abortion Provider Speaks Out: ‘I’ll Do Whatever My Conscience Tells Me I Must’
By now, most of the right-wing investigations into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices — spurred by a series of heavily edited, deliberately misleading videos produced by a right-wing anti-abortion fringe group — have wrapped up. Investigators turned up no wrongdoing. But Texas Republicans are still pursuing a highly public campaign against the group, with the state attempting to boot Planned Parenthood from the federal Medicaid program.
Meanwhile, in the GOP presidential primary, candidates are attempting to out-extreme each other on their stances against abortion, leaning heavily on the aforementioned videos as evidence that nefariousness is afoot not just at Planned Parenthood, but at any abortion provider’s office.
So Rolling Stone decided to ask one — an actual abortion provider, not a pundit or a politician — about all this. Dr. Cheryl Chastine is a Chicago-based family physician who provides abortion care. Here, she talks about why she decided to specialize in abortions, the maddening trend of dismissing abortion providers’ medical expertise as political bias, and what the upcoming presidential election could mean for abortion rights.
Why, and when, did you decide to become an abortion provider? And what kinds of challenges did you face — personally, professionally — in doing so?
I didn’t go to med school thinking I wanted to provide abortions. I’d always been politically conscious, though, so I worked with some fellow University of Kentucky students to start a chapter of Medical Students for Choice (MSFC). I figured we ought to have one. But I had no real intention of providing abortions myself.
Medical Students for Choice made a new connection for me: for abortion to remain a meaningful option, we need doctors who are trained and willing to do them. With the providers at the time aging and retiring, I realized, there would be people who would need abortions and not be able to have them, unless I stepped up.
Given that abortion is such an incredibly common and safe medical experience — 1 in 3 people who can get pregnant will have at least one — it’s amazing and appalling how marginalized it is in most areas. We didn’t cover it in my medical school classes, although we spent countless hours on rare genetic diseases. I wouldn’t have been taught during my family medicine residency, if I hadn’t had the connections via MSFC to seek it out independently. And when you go into practice, even as an OB-GYN, the default assumption is that you won’t provide abortions.
I was practicing family medicine in the Chicago area when I heard from a woman who was looking to connect clinics with trained providers who were willing to travel. I figured I could do that occasionally and use my training, as planned, to provide abortions for people who wouldn’t be able to access them otherwise. The first clinic director I heard from, though, was trying to open a new clinic in a very high-profile, hostile area. So once the national anti-abortion domestic terrorist organizations found out who I was, I was bombarded with calls to my office, nasty comments and veiled threats online (“I wonder if someone will shoot the new provider…”).