'I don’t want to go back to the butchery again'
A retired OBGYN on life before Roe v. Wade and why it's only a matter of time before the carnage returns.
Without being too dystopian about it, this feels like a different time than any I’ve lived through.
It’s not just Roe v. Wade. Or the Uvalde shooting. Or the July Fourth shooting. Or the death of all those people so desperate to leave their home country that they would voluntarily load into a tractor trailer truck without air conditioning or water during one of the hottest summers on record.
It’s that this is normal now.
I’m the kind of person who is always looking for silver linings, the opportunities in the crisis, the infinite possibilities that are held within our imaginations.
But I think things are going to get worse before they get better, and we’re all going to have to come up with new strategies to cope. (More on that in a minute.)
In coming weeks, I’ll continue to write about some of the new perspectives (and projects and people) that are helping me keep my head above water and focused on my own purpose during this mess.
This week, I wanted to share a story about Daniel Belsky, 90, of Voorhees, New Jersey, who was an OBGYN for nearly 50 years. He’s still an abortion rights activist, and his granddaughter lives in my South Austin neighborhood.
A few weeks ago, she posted on our Buy Nothing group, asking if there were any journalists who would be willing to interview him so they could document his story of being a medical practitioner in the 1960s, before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion.
I messaged her immediately to set up a time to talk with him.
I love a chance to talk with elderly folks who have seen so much in their long lives, but I was heartbroken to hear what Daniel had to say.
He’s not hopeful. His story won’t warm your heart. He’s seen horrific deaths that he knows we will return now that abortion is illegal is more than half of the states.
“I don’t want to go back to the butchery again,” Belsky told me in May over Zoom. “That’s what’s going to happen again.”
The father of three started his career in medicine in South Philadelphia, an area so diverse that he remembers “you can go down Ninth Street and see the whole world.”
He moved his practice to South Jersey, where he eventually helped open a number of hospitals, but during his first years working in the ER, he saw so many cases of botched abortions that he became an advocate for legalizing the process.
“It was horrible. People were doing illegal abortions who knew nothing about surgery. They knew nothing about the anatomy of the female. They knew they could put something up the vagina and if they put it up far enough they could destroy the fetus.”
His voice cracks as he remembers one particular detail: holding the hand of a patient who isn’t sure they are going to survive.
Those were the stories he told at seminars that he and his fellow doctors and nurses hosted around the Northeast.
“Any time somebody would listen, we would promote Roe v. Wade,” he says. “We’d travel with doctors and nurses, sometimes with a rabbi or another Christian clergyperson who was also in support of Roe v. Wade.”
The day in 1973 that the Supreme Court decided that abortion was a federally protected right, Belsky recalls crying and celebrating with his wife. “It was one of the best days of my practice.”
For the rest of his career, until his retirement in the 1990s, Belsky was able to provide natal care to people who wanted to be pregnant and offer options for those who did not.
Belsky brought electronic fetal monitoring to South Jersey during the early days of his practice, which allowed he and his team to diagnose fetal issues earlier. He performed a few abortions over the years, but for the most part, he referred patients to a nearby clinic.
Patients no longer had to seek unregulated abortions, so they were no longer dying in his emergency room
Belsky, who says he doesn’t support either political party right now, said that it’s only a matter of time before the unregulated abortion industry returns.
“Any time there’s a need, there’s someone who wants to make a fast buck,” he says. “Young people today are saying, ‘I want my rights’. It’s not your rights as much as it is your lives. There’s going to be dead bodies after all this crap. People are going to die.”
I know not everyone who subscribes to The Feminist Kitchen might agree with my sentiments about Roe v. Wade, but I hope that hearing from an elder in the medical community will illuminate why I decided to share his story here. (I found out this week that, on the day Roe v. Wade was overturned last month, Belsky was profiled in the Philadelphia Inquirer.)
If you’re feeling helpless or looking for some kind of traction to help you feel like you’re part of something that is moving forward instead of moving back, here are a few ideas:
Find some kind of service work. I was delivering Meals on Wheels on the day Roe v. Wade was overturning, and I was reminded that service work is always medicine for the soul, particularly on days when it feels like the world might stop turning.
Listen to “The Pink House at the Center of the World,” an episode of “This American Life.” The show features a story from Maisie Crow, who has been covering the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic in Mississippi, the abortion clinic at the heart of the Dobbs decision, for ten years.
Look for what else is true. This is where a spiritual practice can help cope with the grief, uncertainty and fear that comes with these monumental changes. I did a livestream last week about what we can learn from the Tower, which is the tarot card most closely associated with cataclysmic change.
Consume AND create. If we spend all our time consuming the news (or analysis of the news), we aren’t spending any energy on what we can possibly do to create whatever comes next. The “Emergent Strategy” podcast is a good place to start.
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