Now 70, Harrison estimates he's terminated at least 20,000 pregnancies. . . .
Harrison warns every patient he sees that abortion may be illegal one day. He wants to stir them to activism, but most women respond mildly.
"I can't imagine the country coming to that," says Kim, 35, in for her second abortion in two years. . . .
He calls himself an "abortionist" and says, "I am destroying life."
But he also feels he's giving life: He calls his patients "born again."
"When you end what the woman considers a disastrous pregnancy, she has literally been given her life back," he says. . . .
His Fayetteville Women's Clinic occupies a once-elegant home dating to the 1940s; the first-floor surgery looks like it was a parlor. Thick blue curtains block the windows and paintings of butterflies and flowers hang on the walls. The radio is tuned to an easy-listening station.
An 18-year-old with braces on her teeth is on the operating table, her head on a plaid pillow, her feet up in stirrups, her arms strapped down at her sides. A pink blanket is draped over her stomach. She's 13 weeks pregnant, at the very end of the first trimester. She hasn't told her parents.
A nurse has already given her a local anesthetic, Valium and a drug to dilate her cervix; Harrison prepares to inject Versed, a sedative, in her intravenous line. The drug will wipe out her memory of everything that happens during the 20 minutes she's in the operating room. It's so effective that patients who return for a follow-up exam often don't recognize Harrison.
The doctor is wearing a black turtleneck, brown slacks and tennis shoes. He snaps his gum as he checks the monitors displaying the patient's pulse rate and oxygen count.
"This is not going to be nearly as hard as you anticipate," he tells her.
She smiles wanly. Keeping up a constant patter — he asks about her brothers, her future birth control plans, whether she's good at tongue twisters — Harrison pulls on sterile gloves.
"How're you doing up there?" he asks.
Harrison glances at an ultrasound screen frozen with an image of the fetus taken moments before. Against the fuzzy black-and-white screen, he sees the curve of a head, the bend of an elbow, the ball of a fist.
"You may feel some cramping while we suction everything out," Harrison tells the patient. . . .
When he's done, Harrison performs another ultrasound. The screen this time is blank but for the contours of the uterus. "We've gotten everything out of there," he says. . . .
For the few women who arrive ambivalent or beset by guilt, Harrison's nurse has posted statistics on the exam-room mirror: One out of every four pregnant women in the U.S. chooses abortion. A third of all women in this country will have at least one abortion by the time they're 45.
"You think there's room in hell for all those women?" the nurse will ask. . . .
Amanda, a 20-year-old administrative assistant, says it's not the obstacles that surprise her — it's how normal and unashamed she feels as she prepares to end her first pregnancy.
"It's an everyday occurrence," she says as she waits for her 2:30 p.m. abortion. "It's not like this is a rare thing."
Amanda hasn't told her ex-boyfriend that she's 15 weeks pregnant with his child. She hasn't told her parents, either, though she lives with them.
"I figured it was my responsibility," she says.
She regrets having to pay $750 for the abortion, but Amanda says she does not doubt her decision. "It's not like it's illegal. It's not like I'm doing anything wrong," she says. . . .
His first patient of the day, Sarah, 23, says it never occurred to her to use birth control, though she has been sexually active for six years. When she became pregnant this fall, Sarah, who works in real estate, was in the midst of planning her wedding. "I don't think my dress would have fit with a baby in there," she says. . . .
The last patient of the day, a 32-year-old college student named Stephanie, has had four abortions in the last 12 years. She keeps forgetting to take her birth control pills. Abortion "is a bummer," she says, "but no big stress."
Harrison does not get frustrated with such patients.
He has learned to focus on the facts he considers most important: This woman does not want to be pregnant. He can give her back control of her life and keep a child from coming into the world unwanted. He believes in this so strongly, he waives his fees for women who can't come up with the money.
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