Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Abortionist's Life

The September issue of Esquire features "The Last Abortion Doctor," a profile on Dr. Warren Hern, one of the only remaining doctors in America to specialize in late-term abortions. The author, John H. Richardson, drew me in largely because of the access he got to Dr. Hern's office and staff, mother, wife and patients. The intimate details keep you reading on to find out what his mother really thinks about her son's profession, how his wife copes with the death threats, why many of his patients get abortions even though they're morally against the practice and what Hern really thinks about antiabortionists who rejoiced at the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Throughout the piece, Richardson uses second person rather than first person. For example "Walking out, he leaves the door open. You hear voices drifting down the hall." I haven't seen this technique utilized much, but it did make me feel more involved in the story than if the writer had used first person. Richardson also uses "the abortionist" instead of "Hern." I suppose this technique was intended to humanize the word and challenge the notions associated with it. However, at times I became frustrated with the overuse of "abortionist." It seems like overkill to describe his mom as the "abortionist's mother" and his wife as the "abortionist's wife."

This story has gotten much flak because it describes Hern as the "last" doctor of his kind. Apparently, this is not the case. Newsweek is working on a profile of LeRoy Carhart, another late-term abortionist. Even the headline proclaims Hern "The Last Abortion Doctor." How could this have gone through the editing process without anyone realizing that other doctors exist, some under low profile because of the nature of the job? Words such as "last" and "only" usually raise red flags, so I wonder why they didn't in this instance. Otherwise, I thought it was a great read as was "The Man Who Couldn't Eat," a first-person piece by Jon Reiner.

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