Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Doctors as allies and enemies

I have been feeling uneasy about the relationship between doctors and feminists because I am both a (future) doctor and feminist. A while ago I went to a Planned Parenthood conference for college activists in Michigan with fellow members of MSU Students for Choice, and the issue of doctors vs. women or doctors' alliance with women came up. In addition, Women's Council is getting ready to show the documentary "The Business of Being Born". I fully support the screening and have actually planned the logistics of the event. But I felt that now is the time I talk about my views of medicine and women.

I want to be on the side of both doctors and feminists. But I know that some feel the two fields are incompatible, that feminists hate doctors and doctors aren't supportive of women.

First, I want to identify a phenomenon that I have observed: doctors are sometimes praised and at other times villified by feminists.

My experiences with pro-choice activists has been that they are sympathetic and grateful for doctors who perform abortions. For pro-choice activists concerned about abortions as a public health issue, obstetricians who perform abortions are good doctors. When abortions were illegal, they risked their medical practice to perform them. When abortions will legal but faced violent opposition, they risked their lives to perform them. The few were murdered by anti-abortion extremists in their own clinics became martyrs to the cause. The abortion doctor in a several hundred mile radius is applauded and praised. I'm probably not going to be an obstetrician/gynecologist, but if I were, I would feel that my work has a purpose.

But many pro-choice women are also feminists who feel disempowered by a medical profession that is patriarchal, impersonal, selfish and downright inaccurate. The same ob/gyns that women are appreciative are included in their critique of all doctors. I have also noticed a weird confluence that both anti-abortion and ardent feminists call doctors who perform abortions "abortionists". This language intentionally removes the accolade associated with being a "doctor". A doctor is an abortionists for killing babies or for humiliatingly poking around a woman's reproductive organs or cruelly performing an abortion.

Secondly, I have more to say on my thoughts about medicine, but it started to go off topic from feminism and choice, so I'll save that for another day.

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