This is a letter written by Dr. Bill Harrison of the Fayetteville Women's Clinic. We were so moved by it that we wanted to reprint it here.
Jan 22, 2000
A Letter to Medical Students for Choice,
I write this now because I grow older and recently have been granted
a glimpse of my mortality. Like you, I don't know when or where I
will die, but I suspect that I run a little greater risk of meeting a
violent death than most Americans, for I have dared to ride the tiger.
This tiger is ignorance, intolerance and hatred incarnated in some of
the anti-abortion Religious Right which now almost totally controls
the Republican Party and the political right wing in this country.
And I have chosen to ride this tiger unquietly, raking its sides with
verbal spurs, swinging my hat and whooping like a cowboy for the past
15 years. Does riding this tiger in this way rather than silently
going about my business - and avoiding at least as much as I can
attracting its attention - mean that I love my family less than those
Pro-Choice physicians, especially Ob/Gyns, who silence the voices of
their consciences and creep away from the controversy for fear of
social, economic or personal consequences if they do what they know
to be right?
Though many might disagree, I don't think so. I believe that after
loving and supporting the mother of his children, that the greatest
gift a father can give his family, or a brother might give his
siblings and their children, or a child his parents, a citizen his
country, or we frail human beings the world, is to act rightly and
openly to do justice as we are given to know what is right and just.
The greater the cost and risk of doing this, the greater is the
necessity one should so do. In our democracy, when those who know
that they should advocate, advance and act on a particularly humane
and rational public policy, such as Roe v. Wade, remain silent and
still from fear of shrill and hate-filled voices, from fear of the
very real slings and arrows, bullets and bombs of some whom they
might offend - giving way to those who would dictate bad public
policy based on narrow sectarian beliefs or fraudulent propaganda
with no regard for the terrible consequences which face millions of
people every year - then our free society threatens to degenerate
into a totalitarian theocracy or a dictatorship. And dignity and
freedom will be inexorably crushed.
When we dedicate our lives to worthy causes, causes greater than our
own petty dreams and fears, we play the same role as have those who
have gone before us and pledged or given their lives, their fortunes
and their sacred honor in the quest for freedom and dignity. Most who
advance the cause of human dignity and freedom are not called to give
their all in the noise and strife of the battlefield or at the scene
of some great disaster.
But all of us are auditioned and everyone of us constantly tested in
other theatres in this human drama, in arenas which mandate a
different kind of courage. Most of these roles don't require the
sudden adrenalin-propelled acts of nearly superhuman bravery
displayed in war and disasters, but call for a more mundane day-in,
day-out effort to stand up to our own fear and to unrelenting public
criticism, sometimes to threats of violence, often with little or no
obvious support. (Though, sooner or later, support will come if one
Quite by chance, I found my place in the age-old conflict between
reason and unreason, freedom and bondage, dignity and indignity -
between good and evil, if you will - while practicing my specialty,
Ob/Gyn, and providing safe, affordable abortion as just one aspect of
my professional duties. I hope that each of you and your medical
school classmates may find in your lives a part so fit, a cause so
William F. Harrison M.D.