But for the grace of God. Had we been born in ancient times, things medical would have been very, uh, interesting. In 5000 B.C., a bad headache was treated by trepanation — the boring of holes in the skull. Mercury was used to fight off diseases. Teeth grinders slept by a human skull for a week and licked it seven times nightly to exorcise family ghosts trying to make contact. The ancient Egyptians tried to cure baldness by mixing the fats of a lion, hippo, crocodile, cat, ibex, and serpent. It rarely worked. The serpents wouldn’t go along.
In 460 B.C. along came Hippocrates, the “father of medicine.” Though an ancient doctor, many of his beliefs form the basis of the modern practice of medicine. He taught that diseases were caused naturally, not by superstition or the gods. He understood that the body has self-healing powers and that the best practice was to aid the body’s natural processes. He urged that patients be treated with humility, kindness, and gentleness.
Hippocrates also raised the bar on what was expected of those in the healing arts. Physicians were called to be serious, understanding, and honest. Their places of practice were to be well maintained. Their records were to be intelligible to others. And they were called to practice under an ethic that has been synthesized into an oath taken by physicians for centuries.
Though the exact words are not found in the Hippocratic Oath, the oath’s essential substance can be reduced to a single phrase: do no harm. And as part of the original oath, physicians pledged to “give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.” Those words are not contained in the current version of the oath. It’s a nod to the tragic times in which we live.
Whatever values the Supreme Court saw in legalizing the killing of unborn babies, a number of physicians, probably many who had taken the oath, saw a profit center. Legal abortions are not done for free. Some doctors quickly realized that taking money from a woman willing to end a pregnancy was like taking candy from a baby — only they took life. They opened clinics, sometimes chains of them. Their business was strictly cash, and cash upfront. “That’s the only time as a doctor you can say either pay me up front or I’m not going to take care of you. . . . Either you have the money or you don’t. And they get it.” One doctor made so much money that he would buy a new car “out of boredom” and would “fly to another city” to have dinner. From another: “It wasn’t unusual for me to take $10,000 or $15,000 a day to the bank – in cash.” Still another: “By the end of the weekend, you’d open [an office] door and walk into a sea of money.” Of course, the doctors couldn’t do it by themselves. Their staffing needs were often filled with workers desperate for money. The two go hand in hand.
Money wasn’t the only reason that medical personnel became involved with abortion. Some believed that they were providing a benefit to women, “the job of my dreams” as one nurse said. One doctor claimed that there was nothing wrong with his performing nine abortions on just one patient because it freed her from her unwanted babies. Regardless of motives, the repetitive killing of the unborn left some providers calloused to the lives they were taking. But for others, the work took its toll. Former clinic worker Norma McCorvey explained how workers coped: “Drugs got us through the day, and when memories kept us awake, drugs helped us get to sleep. When we couldn’t bear the thought of going back for another day’s worth of work, drugs got us out of bed.” Something was changing their minds. What?
For one worker, it was the sight of aborted quadruplets, two of whom held each other as they fell from their mother. For another, it was a sound she could not shake from her mind, the sound of babies’ skulls being crushed. Clinic worker Marlene Goldstein was proud to be part of the abortion movement. Once at a clinic, she was eager to gain experience. One day, a doctor aborted a 30-week baby who he misrepresented to be 15 weeks. When the baby was born alive, the doctor told her to “put it in the room and close the door. Do not enter til the morning shift.” She spent hours unsuccessfully trying to get other hospitals to take the baby. Goldstein quit the next day. “Til this day I hear this crying infant in my head.”
Dr. Tony Levatino, was a bit troubled by the work but not troubled at all with the money. Having done 1200 abortions, he made lots of money. But he came bothered by the fact that while he was throwing away baby after baby, he and his wife were struggling to have a child. “Just give me one, I thought.” They adopted a little girl named Heather. Years later, Heather was struck by a car and died in Levatino’s arms. It made him see who he had become, a “paid assassin.” “This is somebody’s child. I lost my child, someone who was very precious to us. And now I am taking somebody’s child and I am tearing him right out of their womb.”
The stories of former abortion providers abound. Like the centurion who stood at the foot of the Cross, the providers had come to realize that they had killed the innocent. They were blessed by God’s gift of conscience, and conscience does not easily give up the fight. Today, the Society of Centurions ministers to the emotional needs of providers injured by the abortion experience. Healing can come. They need our support and prayers.
As we need theirs. Have we become so indifferent to the killing of the unborn that the issue doesn’t register? Do we refuse to look at what is plainly visible? Do we cover our ears to the suffering of those who had to learn the hard way? Have we numbed ourselves to the pain of others? We must remember. We could have been those abortion providers now struggling with guilt and regret from their actions. We could have been the women and men who sought a fix that will never work. Or we could have been the unborn, with no one to hold us as we die.
But for the grace of God.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.