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Former abortion doctor tells Citizens Assembly about reality of procedure

At the 4th session of the Citizens’ Assembly the reality of abortion was brought home to the 99 members of the assembly when Dr Anthony Levatino gave a riveting, heart-breaking testimony. Watch it, share it, and read it below. Make the truth behind the repeal slogan known.   

Note: The organisation Women Hurt put Dr Levatino forward in their speaking slot so that the reality would be heard by the Assembly.  

Your government has asked you to do a very important function and I thank you for doing it but there's a possibility here of unleashing something on your country and I want you to understand exactly what we're talking about.   In my career I performed 1200 abortions and I everything I tell you is first-hand and true.   

I want you to imagine for a minute that you're a pro-choice obstetrician-gynaecologist like I used to be. Your patient is 17 years-old, she's 20 weeks pregnant. Her uterus is all the way up to around her umbilicus. If you could see her baby, easily done an ultrasound, her baby is about eight inches long, basically the length from the tip of your finger to your wrist not counting the legs. She's been feeling baby kick for two weeks but now she's asleep on an operating room table and you're there to help with a problem.   

You walk into that operating room scrubbed and gowned and there's some instruments on a table to your right. The first thing you want to get is a suction catheter – that’s a clear plastic tube about nine inches long, and picture yourself, if you could, putting that tube up through the cervix into the uterus and instructing your circulating nurse to turn on the suction.   What you'll see is pale yellow fluid running through the tubing into the machine. That was the amniotic fluid that was there to protect the baby. Now, if she were only 12 weeks pregnant or less, a 12-week baby is about the width of your hand, you can pretty much do the entire abortion with that one instrument. Babies this big, they don't fit through catheters that size, so you reach down for something called the  sopher clamp, that’s about 13 inches long it's a heavy instrument and the business end is  two-and-a-half inches long and a half inch wide with rows of sharp teeth.   

It's a grasping instrument, when it gets a hold of something it will not let go. A second trimester abortion is a blind procedure, you can't see what you're doing. Carefully place that instrument - see yourself doing this -  into the uterus and grab blindly anything you can and feel yourself pull and I mean hard. Out pops a leg, that big, which you put down on the table next to you and reaching with that instrument again blindly, grasp and pull hard and out comes an arm just as big that you put down on the table next to you, and reaching with that instrument again and again, and carry out the spine, the intestines, the heart and lungs.   

The head on a baby that size is about the size of a plum and, again, you can't see it but you're pretty sure you got it if you've got the instrument around something and your fingers are spread as far as they'll go. You know you did it right if when you crush down in the instrument, white material runs out of the cervix .

That was the baby's brains, then you can pull out the skull pieces, and sometimes a little face comes back and stares back at you.   

Congratulations. You just successfully performed a second trimester D&E abortion, you just affirmed the right to choose, you just made eight hundred dollars cash in 15 minutes. This is what we're talking about folks, this is what they are asking you to decide on.   

I graduated from medical school in 1976 and if you ask me how I felt about the abortion issue I was one-hundred-percent pro-choice  - this is a decision between a woman and her doctor and no one, including the baby's father, had anything to say about it. A lot of people identify themselves as pro-life or pro-choice, but if you’re a gynaecologist and you say you're pro-choice that means you're going to learn how to actually do abortions, and I did as part of my training both first and second trimester. It was during my training when I was doing those abortions and learning how to do them, I met my wife. My wife's a hundred percent Irish, I'm a hundred percent Sicilian descent so we have spirited discussions at times.

We married and wanted to have a family of our own and found out pretty quickly that we had an infertility problem, no kids.  After an extensive infertility workup, she was subjected to one more procedure that was supposed to take an hour and a half and actually took four and a half hours and that gynaecologist came out of the operating room and told us that “look I don't ever tell anybody they're not going to have a child but don't count on it.”   

“We were devastated, but we were very fortunate, very blessed and we were able to adopt a little girl that we named Heather, and as sometimes happens after years of trying and years of frustration trying to adopt a child, we were successful and then my wife became pregnant the very next month and our son Seán was born just 10 months after Heather had been adopted.  

I started having some doubts about abortion when we were trying to adopt, I'm not stupid, I know that's why there's so few children to adopt, but now I have a family of my own, and any doubts I had about  doing abortions simply evaporated and I went back to business as usual. I went into private practice, and I wasn't running an abortion clinic, it was a routine OBGYN clinic like most women in this room have been to. Abortion was only a small piece of our practice. But in the early eighties, when I joined another practitioner in New York we were both practiced abortionists and we were looking for, people in the abortion industry were looking for, a better method of second trimester abortion. We were doing a type of abortion called the saline that's not done any more but it's extremely difficult on patients, difficult on staff,  very expensive, very dangerous.   And D&E abortions were developed and we saw an opportunity and we trained ourselves to do these late-term abortions, we got referrals from other physicians and as I said over four years I performed 1,200 abortions. Life was good until June 23rd 1984. Heather was exactly two months away from her sixth birthday, Seán was just a few days away from his fifth birthday it was a Saturday, a beautiful day in Albany, New York where we lived I was on call but it wasn't too busy. We took the children to an amusement park that afternoon, had dinner together and our kids were playing in the backyard and we had guests come to the house for cake and coffee. At 7.25 that night we heard the screech of brakes out in front of our house, our daughter Heather had been hit by a car. She was a mess.   I'm a doctor, I'm supposed to be able to save people's lives. My wife was an intensive care nurse, this was our job but it made no difference and she died in our arms in the back of an ambulance that night. If you have children you may have some idea what that might feel like, if you haven’t been through this yourself you have no clue and I hope you never find out.   

And I don't know how long it was after Heather's death that I did my first abortion, but I ripped out an arm or leg and I just stared at in the clamp and I got sick.   I finished the abortion - you know you can't stop an abortion you have started, and I didn't talk about stacking body parts to say something shocking or gross. When you do an abortion you have to keep inventory, you have to make sure you get two arms, two legs and all the  pieces because if you don't, your patient’s going to come back infected, or bleeding or worse.   So I finished it, and for the first time in my career I looked, really looked at that pile of goo on the side of the table, and all the sudden I didn't see her wonderful right to choose, and I didn't see what a great doctor I was helping with their problem, and I didn't even see the eight hundred dollars cash it just made me 15 minutes. All I could see was somebody's son or daughter.   

You often hear about how abortion is absolutely necessary to help preserve the life of your mothers – I worked for over 10 years in a tertiary referral center, high risk OB in Albany, New York and I saw hundreds of patients with serious problems in pregnancy, out-of-control diabetes, heart disease, cancers, where the pregnancy was a true threat to their lives.  What they don't tell you when they talk about how abortion is necessary to save a woman's life, is that it takes two to three days to prepare them for that procedure. I have terminated hundreds of pregnancies in my career to save women's lives and I didn't have to kill a single baby in the process.   

If you let this genie out of the bottle you will not be able to put it back. First it will be because only the hard cases, then it's going to be for the health of the mother, and we can talk about how that is not defined in US law if you ask. And soon enough it really will be ‘choice’.

Thank you.


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