Susan Wicklund. THIS COMMON SECRET: My Journey As An Abortion Doctor (New York: Public Affairs, 2008) Review by Nancy Yanes Hoffman, THE WRITING DOCTOR, www.writingdoctor.typepad.com, www.nyhwriter.com, email@example.com 585-385-1515
There’s an election going on (in case you hadn’t heard). Listen to Obama and Clinton, even to McCain and Huckabee perching restlessly on the cusp of the presidency. But with all their talk about CHANGE vs EXPERIENCE, what do they think when nobody’s listening? What will they do if elected? Does anyone except McCain, Bush's "true conservative," whisper a word about ABORTION? About stem cells? Or, perish the thought, about the Supreme Court repeatedly eroding Roe vs. Wade, as it "celebrates" its 35th birthday?
Yet at least 40 percent of American women—voters all--have had an abortion. Nobody talks about it although abortion is more commonly performed than tonsillectomy or pulling wisdom teeth.
Dr. Susan Wicklund’s memoir of her life, THIS COMMON SECRET (New York: Public Affairs, January, 2008), reveals the huge sacrifices demanded by her life as an abortion provider As an innocent high-school graduate, Susan Wicklund began her fight in the abortion battles reacting against the cruelty of in her own abortion provider. Whenever the young Susan asked a question, the doctor replied, “Shut up!”
Ever after, she couldn’t shut up. She resolved to provide better care for other women in the same boat. Somehow, this feisty young girl, "poor as a church mouse," managed to become a midwife, go to college, obtain her M.D., cope with an internship's rigors, and open a general practice. All this, while caring for her only child, Sonja.
THIS COMMON SECRET bursts with stories of Wicklund’s life (“Call me Sue,” she instructs patients) and the lives of her patients of all ages, religions, classes, backgrounds. The abortion barricades fill its pages: protesters’ omnipresent intimidation and violence stalk her. Her daughter needs a police escort to go to school. The protesters scream imprecations at women coming to her clinic. They follow Dr. Wicklund to the airports where she travels endlessly from one remote Western clinic to another.
But she never gives up, never shuts up. She talks to, listens to every woman coming to her distant clinics. If a woman is ambivalent about abortion, if it seems she is doing this because other people are coercing her, Wicklund advises her to wait and be sure before she goes ahead.
Nonetheless, she makes a case against the 24-hour waiting period, the rules about obtaining parental consent, the Supreme Court’s increasing restrictions. The Court asserted that government needs “to protect women from their own decisions.” This from a Court and a political party ostensibly devoted to interfering less in people’s lives.
Wicklund particularly fears “professional protesters, "mostly men, for whom protesting is a full-time obsession. They target different regions in the country or particularly vulnerable clinics. They bring their hate-filled slogans, their planes that fly over towns and cities pulling banners depicting bloody babies, their confrontational tactics. When they come to town, I wear my bulletproof vest and carry my gun. Unfortunately, their views have infiltrated the laws and policies of our country and the lives of my patients.”
Wicklund’s life is devoted to her patients, her own choices in the war over choice. But fighting battles for women deserving the right to safe, legal abortions has been enormously costly.. The prices she paid—and those paid by people she loves and who love her—were and are egregious. Depicting them honestly, she admits her losses, without regret.
Abortion protesters have been increasingly successful in corroding women’s rights. Between 1982 and 2000, the number of abortion providers has dropped 37 percent from 2,900 in 1982 to 1,819 in 2,000. The “graying of providers,” 60 percent are older than 50, is a serious problem. Even Dr. Wicklund, now 53, had to close her abortion clinic, the only one in Montana, to help care for her ailing parents. Lonely and alone, fighting the abortion battle, takes its toll. Wicklund sounds as though she, too, is suffering from burnout.
Worse yet, medical schools, like politicians, are simply not addressing these trends. “Most physicians are graduating with little more than circumstantial knowledge of abortion,” reports Medical Students For Choice (MSFC.org), an organization of 10,000 medical students. trying to “stand up in the face of opposition, work to destigmatize abortion provision among medical students and residents, and persuade medical schools and residency programs to include abortion as a part of the reproductive health services curriculum. “ MSFC aims at “training a new generation of pro-choice doctors in leadership, advocacy, and organizing skills.”
THIS COMMON SECRET should be required reading for medical students, residents, patients (aren’t we all),families, and politicians waving their election flags. That’s pretty much all of us.