Public Media Arts Hub

A Brief But Spectacular take on saving lives with abortion services


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: At every pivotal moment of the fight over legalized abortion in the United States, Dr. Warren Hern has been on the frontline. He`s run a Boulder, Colorado clinic providing abortion services since 1973, the year Roe vs. Wade was decided. Tonight, we get Dr. Hern`s brief but spectacular take on his nearly half-century of specializing in abortion services.

Dr. Warren Hern, Boulder Abortion Clinic: There was a particular case I remember quite well. She had red hair, she was in her early 30s, and she was shaking. And I said to her, "What`s wrong?" She said, "It`s so different. You`re a doctor. The lights are on. It`s clean. The windows are open." Then she told me about her illegal abortion that she had which was the most terrifying and humiliating experience of her life. Then she said, "Don`t ever stop doing this." And so, I didn`t.

In my third year of medical school, my first clinical rotation was on obstetrics. I was taught to deliver babies, and I loved it. It was a very joyous occasion for most of the women. On the other hand, we had women who were in a great deal of emotional pain. They were very much alone. My next rotation was on the gynecology ward taking care of women who were desperately sick and about to die, and I learned that it was because they`d had an illegal, unsafe abortion. This was in the early 60s before abortion was legal.

And one of the things that I learned about was that the death rate due to unsafe abortion for black women was nine times higher than it was for white women, and thousands of women were dying each year. So this was a public health issue, a social justice issue as a matter of great anguish and suffering for individual women.

The Roe vs. Wade case came down in 1973. I thought that implementing the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade was very important. It didn`t mean anything if doctors weren`t doing the abortions.

I became convinced that performing abortions was the most important thing I could do in medicine. When I opened my practice, I wanted women to be able to know that they could walk in with their hat on and have a safe abortion and that was the purpose, that our commitment was to that.

Two weeks after the abortion clinic opened in Colorado in November of 1973, I started getting obscene death threats in the middle of the night and I started sleeping with a rifle by my bed. That was 49 years ago. And really nothing has changed.

There were five shots fired through the front of my office with a high power rifle, one of the bullets just missed a member of my staff. These people will stop at nothing and they will accept any level of violence to impose their views on other people. This is a violent fascist movement.

Overturning Roe versus Wade is a very significant decision in American judicial history because this is the first case where a right given to the women of this country has been taken away by the Supreme Court. A woman who is pregnant deserves the best medical care she can get, regardless of whether she wants to continue the pregnancy and have a baby, or she wants to end the pregnancy.

Women will have abortions whether they`re safe or not and whether they`re legal or not. There is no justification whatsoever for forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. None.

I am Dr. Warren Hern, and this is my brief but spectacular take on specializing in abortion services for 49 years.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.