Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Former Abortionist? Oh, we don't talk about Controversy.

In February at the AAPLOG conference, I met Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life. There, I learned about Medical Students for Life of America (MedSFLA). This group facilitates pro-life medical student interest groups. Aware that medical students have less time than undergraduates, MedSFLA arranges for one speaker to visit 20-30 medical schools per semester. The medical students get a pre-packaged major event and catering funds--all they have to do is book a room and announce the date and time.

I told Kristan I wanted to help, but wasn't going to put too much time in it. After all, I thought, I'm submitting CMA's paperwork to become an official chapter and arranging our first White Mass, the OB/Gyn interest group still had two meetings on the calendar and I was thinking about running for something, I'm taking part in a national research forum in Galveston in April, and (oh yeah) I also have to study.

Well, so much for all those resolutions. I ended up helping get Dr. John Bruchalski to talk at my school after cancelling Galveston. Dr. Bruchalski is an OB/Gyn who performed abortions during his residency but, after completing his training, opened an NFP-only practice in Virginia called the Tepeyac Family Center. He gave a tremendous talk, asking the audience (which was mostly pro-life but a little mixed) five questions:
  1. Why is the abortion rate decreasing?
  2. Why do so few OB/Gyns do abortions?
  3. How does Opinion #385 of the American College of OB/Gyns touch conscience protection?
  4. Is abortion good medicine?
  5. Can physicians provide quality medicine while opting not to performing abortions?
But the wonderful evening was an adventure to obtain. Granted, I was not threatened with expulsion or anything serious. But I didn't feel exactly encouraged beforehand. In the final analysis, I believe this was a combination of my inexperience with hosting events and the skittishness of faculty (most of whom politically and medically agree with me about abortion, but prefer discussions to be about grayer issues to avoid controversy).

This is what the poster looked like.
(Obviously, the particular info was different.)
I tried to do everything right and, for the most part, I think I succeeded. I submitted a formal request to begin a pro-life medical student group, outlining what our officers would do, etc. I asked permissions before hanging posters (see right) on other colleges' bulletin boards.* I followed all the necessary procedures to reserve rooms, cater, and have the event recorded. I sent out three mass-emails (which makes me cringe) to the entire COM and the CON announcing the event, as a reminder, and as a follow-up to announce the recording and the survey. Since people send out mass-emails every day, I expected this would be fine.

De jure, it was; de facto, not so much. An assistant dean who is friendly to me passed me in the hall shortly after I announced the event with my first mass-email. Smiling, he said, "so who'd you finally get permission from?"

I had a moment of internal panic. have to get permission to host speakers? Don't we just kind of...let them come talk? "Oh," I said haltingly, not wanting to admit that I'd gotten permission from no one, "I just went through [the student event coordinator]," which (while true) is not the permission he was asking about. I knew he was looking for a higher name--the director of the Humanities Department, the Dean, the assistant dean for student affairs.... This mini-conversation should have been a red flag, but I let it slide off me and went on my way.

But next I got a concerned email from another mentor:
Dr. ____ stopped by my office this morning to discuss this event.  He made me aware that you had approached the Dept. of Humanities to sponsor or fund lunch for this event.  Dr. _____ and I believe that this event should be strictly a student organization event and should not involve any department or office of the College.  I respectfully ask that you withdraw your request of the Dept. of Humanities to sponsor the event. 
This resulted in a series of visits (by me) to certain higher-ups (just two, actually: Dr. _____ and the director of the Humanities Dept). The head of Humanities told me he glanced at the poster and winced. "Controversial!" he exclaimed during our meeting. "I can't do that!" he continued, explaining that he would have the president on his case immediately in a state-funded institution if there was no counter-point. I did a lot of smiling and nodding during that conversation, but it was a very interesting one (so hopefully it will become its own post).

Even after the dust settled, the friendly dean advised me that he had been dodging light comments he'd heard around him. He advised me, next time, to publish on the poster that it was a Catholic event. Resisting the urge to bury my head in my hands, I told him, it wasn't. I (as a medical student) through a totally ecumenical group (medical students for life) was hosting a doctor (not a religious leader).

In the end, people who attended the event have given me positive comments precisely because abortion is an under-discussed and polarizing topic. I got comments from students...
Thank you VERY much for sending this out to the College.  It’s a very relevant and controversial topic that needs much discussion! 

Thank you for making this video available.  I enjoyed listening to Dr. Bruchalski... very thought-provoking. 
 ...and staff.
Thank you much for facilitating  this!  We really had good discussion after the conference and were grateful for the participation opportunity.
So it wasn't all bad. In a subsequent post I'll tell you, in fact, just how good it was.

* Funny story: when I went to the school of graduate students (which is adjacent to the medical school building) to ask their administrative staff whether I could hang a poster on the grad student bulletin board, the following conversation took place:
Me: Hi, I'm a medical student and I'm hosting an even this April. It's open to all HSC students and I'd like to put a poster on the bulletin board so that the grad students can come--they have a lot to contribute. Is this okay?

Administrative Assistant: Oh, sure. Yeah, I think so.

Me: (aware that deceiving or unpleasantly surprising is counter-productive) Do you need to look at the poster?

Administrative Assistant: Oh, well, let me see...  

I offer her the poster. She looks at it. Her "I don't want to be involved with anything controversial" neurons start firing.

Administrative Assistant: Uhh...hang on. (Looks across the office to another lady in a different cubicle.) Roseanne [name changed], is it all right if she posts something?

Roseanne: Yeah, sure.

Administrative Assistant: Even if it says... (trails off because "don't say anything controversial" neurons are firing hard)

The Administrative Assistant, instead of saying the word "abortion," flips the poster around to Roseanne. But Roseanne is twenty feet away and even if she had 20/15 in both eyes she couldn't read the text.

Roseanne:Yeah, go ahead.
Administrative Assistant: (uneasily smiling, handing my poster back to me) Have a nice day.
Me: (warmly smiling exteriorly; guffawing interiorly) You, too.


  1. I am so happy this all came out well - looking forward to hearing more about that. Hey, next time give us a heads up when you have something important like this coming up - would love to offer some prayer support!

    1. Thanks! I would love to take you up on any such offers and next time I definitely hope to notify in better time. If you would like a good intention to pray for, pray for the reunion of the Society of St. Pius X by offering your communion this Sunday. I have former classmates in SSPX and would love to be reunited with all the devout souls in that group.

    2. I will certainly do so! I just today read a very good article by Fr. Christopher Smith over on Chant Cafe that nicely summarized the whole SSPX reconciliation issue.

    3. Thanks for letting me know! I appreciate your prayers for them. God reward you. :)