Retired doctor says the stigma against abortion providers is worse today than it was before Roe v. Wade

Retired OB/GYN Robert Livingston performed abortions in New Jersey in the 1960s. A year before Roe v. Wade, he held a press conference outing himself as an illegal abortion provider. In the 1970s, his clinic was protested daily. And yet, according to him, the stigma of being a provider has never been worse than it is today. Via North Jersey:

Livingston, once a lightning rod in the North Jersey abortion debate, now avoids telling anyone about his role in that chapter of American history, even though he strongly maintains his belief that abortions ought to be legal. The issue, he says, has become so emotionally charged that he no longer feels comfortable talking about it — not to the colleagues of his grown children and not to the residents of what he described as a conservative retirement community where he now lives.

“I would be afraid,” he said, adding that he believes the stigma of being an abortion doctor is greater than it was in the 1960s, when it was illegal to perform the procedure. “The atmosphere is so ominous now. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Livingston, who didn’t consider himself “anyone special” for risking his license to offer abortions before Roe, says he’s been inspired to speak out again, because Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments were just that ridiculous. “It needed to be done. The patients were so grateful.”

As Robin Marty notes, this “should tell us a great deal about how the right to a ‘legal’ abortion has been cut off — mainly through intimidation, threats, and actual violence.” And regardless of your position on abortion, it should probably be considered a national shame that the public discourse around the issue has become so extreme that doctors who once risked their licenses to provide an illegal procedure now have good reason to actually fear for their very lives for providing a legal one.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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