Doctors OK language on state abortion Web site

Physicians grapple with emotional side of abortion

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A panel of five doctors has approved the state's official abortion Web site as objective and medically accurate.

The doctors Friday incorporated some comments offered by members of the public and rejected others.

The Legislature ordered the Web site as a way to ensure that women seeking an abortion are fully informed about risks and consequences.

The bill was approved one year ago. The law was supposed to take effect in October.

The Alaska Medical Board, which had to appoint the doctor panel, was caught by surprise by the law and the panel was not named until November. The first meeting of the obstetrician-gynecologists was in January.

About $20,000 spent on the Web site's creation has been used largely on staff, transcription, copying, mailing and the costs of a nurse-midwife who has been leading the doctor panel meetings, said Stephanie Birch, who oversees the project as a section chief in the state Division of Public Health.

The doctors volunteered their time. Two perform abortions, one was recruited by Alaska Right to Life and two others fall in between. All five are men. No women doctors volunteered.

Doctors grappled with the emotional side of abortion. Some who wrote in or testified at a public hearing in April wanted the Web site to better reflect the strong emotions women may feel.

"Sometimes this occurs within days, and sometimes it happens after many years," said Lynda Belden, director of client services for a crisis pregnancy center in Anchorage.

The existence of support groups for women who have had abortions shows "abortion is not just another surgery," wrote Mary Ruebelmann-Benavides. Some who testified had abortions years ago and now are activists against them.

The doctors added anger and grief to a listing of the emotional effects of abortion that already included emptiness, guilt and sadness as well as relief.

They also included more description of how the experience differs from woman to woman depending on age, stage of pregnancy and religious beliefs.

Some women may not have gotten good counseling, said nurse midwife Marilyn Pierce-Bulger, who guided the doctor panel.

"The angst that some of these women experienced - in many ways the system may have failed them," she said.

That's why the Web site is important, said Dr. John DeKeyser, an obstetrician on the panel, "so people can look at this on their own time."

"Outside the influence of other people," added Jan Whitefield, another panel member.

It could take another couple of months before the finished Web site is online and available to the public.

The site also will include information on family planning, pregnancy, fetal development and adoption as well as resources for adoption, abortion, pregnancy care and counseling.

Abortion providers will have to refer women to the Web site or ensure they are fully informed another way.

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