A physician’s dilemma: Finding the middle path in the abortion debate

Dr. Will Hamilton


In 1962, after a rollicking flight libated with free drinks all the way across the Atlantic, the chartered Aer Lingus 707 landed in New York. Its cargo of university students from London was soon scattered across the United States for their summer vacations. I traveled 10,000 miles around the U.S. in Greyhound buses and was won over by Americans’ generosity and spontaneous kindness. On my return to England I became an advocate for that vast and beautiful country.

One student on that cheerful flight, however, was less fortunate than I. He was shot through the spine by a fellow guest in the motel where he was staying, who’d spotted the student climbing in his own bedroom window. He paid a high price for losing his door key.

Seven years later, in the summer of 1969, two women who attended my evangelical church asked me to help Heidi, a distressed German girl they’d met who’d come to England to seek an abortion (still illegal in Germany then). I was surprised but agreed and took her to an abortion clinic. Afterward, a very relieved Heidi and I strolled along the Thames embankment, watching the swallows skimming over the river. I took her home for the night and never heard from her again. Was I complicit in a murder? Donald Trump is president because many people think so.

At the London Hospital, I was one of the first residents to care for patients having legal abortions in the U.K. My first such patient, the wife of one of my professors, was severely depressed; her two sons had recently drowned while ice skating. My second one was a very poor lady with many children who felt overwhelmed by the prospect of caring for a further addition. Three years later, a colleague told me how the husbands of her poorer patients would come home from work and, without even bothering to remove their boots, expect their wives to have intercourse.

In England I met Susie, who hailed from Fairview, N.C., and we later married. But she missed her family, so we moved to the U.S. in 1976. I was ready for an exciting challenge, and I quickly felt accepted by Americans, whose enthusiasm, hospitality and diversity I greatly admire.

We settled in Fairview, and I was invited to run a 15-bed hospital in Bat Cave. A pregnant young woman wanted to give birth there. Could she keep the baby with her after it was born? Could she breastfeed as soon as it was born? When I answered yes to these and other questions, she burst into tears; over the next three years, I delivered 150 babies in Western North Carolina’s first birthing room.

In 1986, I was asked to consult for a scene in the movie Dirty Dancing, which was filmed 5 miles from the hospital. That was fun, and my 15-year-old daughter Annie Louise was excited to see Patrick Swayze walk across the set.

Some years earlier, however, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, a prominent theologian whom Susie and I knew personally, wrote two books that were made into movies. Their message was that the United States’ Christian culture was being taken over by humanism, and to fight this it was essential that abortion be banned again.

Susie and I attended a screening of one of those films, and a lady there invited me to serve on the board of the local chapter of Birthright, a Catholic nonprofit dedicated to providing support to pregnant women as an alternative to abortion. We took two women into our home throughout their pregnancies, both of whom put their children up for adoption. A couple of years later, one asked if she could have her honeymoon at our home! We were very touched. The other lady has become a close friend who visits us regularly with her husband.

During this time I was approached by an attorney who represented people accused of criminal activity against abortion clinics. He asked if I was willing to be an expert witness on behalf of his clients.

“Is an unborn baby a human being?” he asked me. When I replied that I thought it was a developing human being, he dropped me like a hot brick!

Somewhat later, I was chairing the Birthright board when we decided we needed to create a separate organization that, rather than being solely Catholic, would have broader ecumenical support.

Shortly after we set up the new group, a desperate teenager who was a patient of mine asked me to find her a gynecologist to provide her with an abortion, which I did. A few days later, I was fired from the newly formed board when I explained the physician’s dilemma: There is no perfect situation or solution.

The firing was fine with me: I had plenty else on my plate. Several years after that, I had the opportunity to ask the girl’s dad if he thought we’d done the right thing. “Absolutely,” he said.

Another time, two of my children and I were 20 minutes into Gorillas in the Mist when my beeper went off (this was pre-cellphones) and a distraught woman’s voice said, “Please come: My daughter just had a baby in the next room, and I didn’t know she was pregnant.”

I tried to persuade her to call an ambulance instead. Undeterred, she repeated, “Please.”

So we left the gorillas to whatever they were doing in the mist and headed over to the woman’s house. My kids stayed in the car and never learned any more about the young lady’s plight, though it turned out that they were in her class at school.

Inside, I found a slim, pretty 15-year-old, her mother and a newborn baby sitting in silence. I delivered the placenta and took a seat.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

In unison came the response, “Have the baby adopted.”

That was easy to arrange, and the baby was picked up the next day. Two days later, I gave the girl a sick note so she could return to school, and no one was the wiser.

I was recently told by an attractive member of a local evangelical church how grateful she was to be able to attend a concealed weapons class. White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to carry guns, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey. But are being pro-life and pro-guns really compatible?

St. Francis of Assisi founded his Third Order for those who wanted to live in the world but follow his precepts. Members — allegedly including such luminaries as Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante and Galileo — were forbidden to carry arms, which contributed to the end of the feudal system. Nonetheless, Francis is said to have been honored by warrior popes such as Innocent III, warrior knights such as Walter of Brienne and the Muslim sultan of Egypt.

The “little man” from Assisi found a way that did not provoke anger, hostility and division. Can we? Blessed are the peacemakers. Is there a place where anger and compassion meet?

Retired physician Will Hamilton lives in Fairview. He can be reached at drhamilt@gmail.com.


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One thought on “A physician’s dilemma: Finding the middle path in the abortion debate

  1. Robear Macd

    Dr. Hamilton, You have brought a very potent question and introduced another! First, how to get reasoned debate when the feelings Pro and Con are too explosive either for or against abortion. In my circles even people who agree on the pro-con part may not agree on the fine print! Much of the discourse I would expect on education levels or maturity or both. If one party is emotionally challenged discussion will be impossible! Public debates might just help. I am reminded of the Scopes (Monkey) trial over 100 years ago. The winning side in the debate became the long term winner. Of course the little town in Tennessee was totally biased so the short term outcome was probably known before hand. Discussion is important and can help bring clarity to future generations, but may NOT effect the opinions of the already grown adults.
    The second part of your question has to do with persons who will fight for all fetus’ life but are willing to KILL with a gun those who threaten them. Perhaps the man who shot the man climbing into his own motel room (not the shooters) In the recent book Fantasyland:was such a conflicted person. It has puzzled me how it is not OK to kill a fetus but OK to kill another person who frightens you. Perhaps we should look at their philosophical beliefs as to how they can those 2 totally opposed ideas with full passion! In a recent book Fantasyland the author, Kurt Anderson, speaks of how America developed very differently from Europe after the American Revolution, just because the country was big enough for people to get away from one another. Example of Mormans transplanting to Utah when things got too dicey for them on the East coast!. Many Christian and non Christian religions have come and gone, but one thing is certain many of those creating new beliefs within Christianity and without were not well educated. Therefore, beliefs could be created with little in the way of feedback or correction. Over the 100’s of years since the 1700’s, what has evolved is the attitude of Realitivism. President Trump relies on this a lot when called upon to defend his seemingly malaprop explanations for his irregular actions. (False Facts he cites his accusers for using!) “So whatever I believe is True and whatever I do not believe is False.” Therefore, I can believe fetus life is important but adult life more expendable but never take it the conclusion that both are Human lives. NO Problem!

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