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OPINION - The abortion doctor

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Beware of the man who is certain he is right. Once we're certain of something, it becomes a baseline -- something we no longer think about. It's a given.

Dr. Dennis Christensen is certain he's right about abortion. He's performed more than 85,000 of them. Here is a man who is sure that his medical practice is a blessing to his patients. He makes no apologies. He began performing legal abortions a few months after Roe vs. Wade was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Dr. Christensen's career is also a window into where the abortion debate might end up, and the news is good for pro-lifers. Christensen is 71-years-old and is ready to retire. He's vowed to keep going until he finds someone else to take over his Milwaukee clinic. He's had no takers so far. Many younger doctors find this specific practice distasteful, if not outright immoral. Who goes through the training and expense of becoming a doctor only to make a career out of terminating pregnancies? Other doctors have personal or professional reasons for deciding not to become abortionists. It's a dangerous business; crazy-fringe protesters intend physical harm for these doctors. Their regular work-day often involves wading through protesters, being escorted by security guards, and picketing that may also target their homes and families.

It's also hard to imagine doctors wanting to be ostracized within their profession, which is what's happened to Dr. Christensen during his career. He gave up trying to get admitting privileges at any area hospital, even before Wisconsin's new law (now being challenged in court) took effect. No hospital -- and there are 26 within 30 miles of his clinic -- wants to be associated with Dr. Christensen. He can't get the recommendations and peer-review of his practice that most hospitals require. The real reason may be simpler: many hospitals don't want to be associated with abortions.

Christensen is the only doctor in Wisconsin who performs abortions after 20 weeks. He is the doctor of last resort for women who've waited unusually long to have an abortion. And, sooner or later, he'll retire. No one appears ready to take his place. And when he goes, de-facto there will be no more late-term abortions in Wisconsin. There are only three other clinics in the state: in Madison, in Appleton, and Milwaukee. All are having trouble attracting doctors and meeting the hospital-affiliation requirements. Yes, there will still be the abortion pill. Tragically, there will still be back alleys and coat hangers.

I find the case of Dr. Christensen sad and tragic. He has medical training, including the required biology classes that are a part of any physician's college courses. He knows more about when life begins than I do. I freely admit that I'm not sure whether life begins at the moment a female egg is fertilized by a male sperm. I'm scientifically ignorant. I've had no Divine message about where life starts. And that's why I'm opposed to abortion. Since I'm not certain when life begins, I hold open the possibility that conception may be that moment. And if it is, then that life must be respected and preserved.

I have one question for Dr. Christensen. How can you be so sure?

Chris Conley