Visiting the Family Planning Clinic in Fresno, California, was an important part of our Ob/Gyn rotation and of our medical education. Although most students have mixed feelings about elective abortions, the general consensus appears to be that most students are pro-choice, but would never be able to personally perform abortions. How can there be such a contradiction? It is almost impossible to be neutral or apathetic about the issue of abortion, because everyone has deeply held personal beliefs, personal experiences, and cultural or religious backgrounds that influence how we feel and act.
The doctor working at the Family Planning Clinic was extremely cordial and eager to teach medical students. He encouraged us to ask questions and made efforts to have us observe several procedures. After the embryos were extracted, the doctor had the samples placed in dishes of saline so that we could observe the villi, gestational sac, and parts of a 14-week embryo.
There were several moments during the visit when I was very grateful for the opportunity to visit the Family Planning Clinic to observe an important process that even doctors and hospitals will not openly acknowledge. It also made me aware of how difficult it is to be a woman with an unwanted pregnancy with few options, and how the stigma of abortion can be still be so potent. Overall, the experience strengthened my conviction that legalizing abortions is crucial to women’s health and well-being, because so many women would lose their lives to infection, hemorrhage, and dangerous procedures if safe, effective, and confidential medical procedures were unavailable.
Admittedly, there were also a few moments when I experienced twinges of sadness. Gazing into the saline dish, we could see the gestational sac and 2-centimeter body of the 14-week embryo. The embryo’s head had been ripped apart during the vacuum process, but we could still discern the legs, spine, and arms down to the tiny fingers. When we found the embryo head, the two small eyes seemed to be staring at us with a sad confusion that mirrored my own unresolved feelings.