The “usuals” were gathered at the annual Abington Memorial Hospital board meeting Monday night in Abington, Pa., just north of Philadelphia. Around the long conference table sat a dozen men and women—the board. In the peanut gallery, waiting through the soporific business of the evening, sat a score of people hoping for a chance to speak—the Christians.
It has become a tradition: The policy makers open up the meeting to the input of the citizenry, and the citizenry make their gentlemanly case against abortions performed at the hospital—and nothing changes.
The first member of the loyal opposition to speak was Dr. Louis Welsh, who was chairman of otolaryngology at the hospital from 1967 to 2000. He handed out copies of the Hippocratic Oath to one and all, in case none of the attenders has ever read the thing. It includes among its promises:
“I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary [small soluble block inserted into the vagina]to produce abortion. …”
Dr. Welsh noted that the Hippocratic Oath pre-dates Christianity by five centuries. The point of chronology was not misplaced. Two years ago a proposed merger between Abington and a local Catholic hospital, which would have ended the practice of abortion as part of the agreement, was nixed by a vociferous campaign that characterized the opposition to abortion as “religious coercion.”
It was my first time observing these proceedings and I was impressed by the blend of respectfulness and boldness on the part of the pro-life faction: the tireless Irish firebrand and father of 12, the Catholic priest, the mother of a special needs child, the Indian doctor, the physician with Parkinson’s disease whose tremulous hands did not keep him from delivering a plea that geographical location of a baby—i.e., whether inside the uterus or a few inches away outside the mother’s body—can surely not be the criterion for its disposability.
One comes away from such a meeting thinking many thoughts: Will the board be moved this year or once again be like the stony path on which the scattered seed is snatched up by fowl birds from hell soon as all have left the conference room? Would it be too much to hope that on some quiet, sober bed later that night, a man I saw in suit and tie with pie charts at his table had second thoughts?