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This Doctor Only Performs Abortions - Meet the Pro-Choice OB-GYN who specialize in Abortions

The Falls Church Healthcare Center is slated for multiple coats. Located about 30 minutes outside of Washington, D.C. in Falls Church, Virginia, it's a nondescript mid-century office building on a standard commercial strip. There is a waiting room decorated with a small stone fountain and paper flowers.

The interior of the clinic could also be a little fresh paint, but that's not high on the priority list, says Dr. Sara Imershein, M.D., who performs first trimester abortions once a week, one Saturday per month. It doesn't have to look like a spa - it has to do an important job.

“We're doing everything we can to keep costs down for patients,” says Imershein. She used to have a private gynecology practice near upscale Dupont Circle, but after 30 years it closed its doors. Instead of spending her retirement playing tennis or traveling to Europe, Imershein uses her time for abortions - exclusively. When Imershein emailed colleagues and patients their plans in late 2015, a college friend replied, "You've been working on it since college."

When Imershein meets with patients in Falls Church, she first washes her hands and introduces herself by name. She checks the patient charts one last time and answers all open questions. “Sometimes they will ask, 'Will it hurt? ‘”, Says Imershein.

By this point, all patients have already gone through a “full” open-ended counseling session to ensure that they have chosen the procedure themselves. In Virginia, Imershein's patients have already received a statutory ultrasound and waited at least 24 hours before being allowed to see them.

"I like the idea that a woman should make a decision for herself and that she shouldn't be forced for any reason other than her own reasons."

“To be clear, the first wait for most women is when the pee stick changes color, until she picks up the phone and makes an appointment. Your second wait is from meeting to appearing here, ”explains Imershein, visibly frustrated by the fact that there is a woman third The waiting period is required by law. (At Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., where Imershein also works, there is no waiting or ultrasound requirement for patients across the border.)

Most ambivalent patients are screened out by the clinic staff, but occasionally they come to Imershein. In one case, a woman told Imershein that another doctor said she needed an abortion because she was on the pill and her child was likely to have complications. When Imershein told her the risk of an abnormality was incredibly low, their conversations quickly turned to prenatal care.

Being pro-choice means providing women with the medical care they need, not just abortions: "I feel good helping women make the choices they want and live the life they want," says Imershein. Giving women access to the option that is best for them fulfills Imershein's role not only as a doctor, but also as a Jew. The two roles are intertwined.

When Imershein was cleaning up her office last December, she found a single page that she had written herself before speaking to a Jewish group at the Washington Hospital Center in the mid-1990s. The note was hidden in a file on methotrexate, a drug that can be used to terminate a pregnancy within the first seven weeks. The first sentence is “Abortion is not murder” and contains a circumscribed version of Exodus 21:22. According to the verse, if two men fight and one man accidentally injures the other man's pregnant wife and her fetus is lost, all he has to do is pay one fine. The loss of a fetus is not treated like the loss of a human life.

Courtesy of the subject / NARAL

In the tradition of Reform Judaism, abortion is not only tolerated, but can even be ordered if the woman's life is in danger or if she is in physical or emotional pain, Imershein said. “However, a woman who has an abnormal fetus cannot make decisions based on the child's suffering, but can continue to make decisions you Suffering, "she adds." I like that. I like the idea that a woman should make a decision for herself and that she shouldn't be forced for any reason other than her own reasons. "

Imershein describes himself as a "long line of liberal Jews". She learned the principles of through Sabbath meals with her family Zedaka and tikkun olam- “Justice” and “Repairing the World”.


Imershein's desire to help people is rooted in her belief, but her advocacy is based on a firm belief that abortion should only be viewed as a medical problem. “Women's health is medical, not political,” she says.

Although abortion is legal in the United States, decades of lobbying by anti-election activists have made it inaccessible in certain parts of the country. By introducing burdensome regulations that require counseling, long waiting times, and ultrasounds, conservative lawmakers have made it harder for low-income people and rural patients to get access to the care they need. In 25 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of women live in a county without an abortion clinic.

"In my world, abortion was already legal."

Imershein, who serves on the board of the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation and teaches medical students in abortion techniques at George Washington University, sees her work as part of a larger effort to depoliticize women's bodies. She cites second wave feminists like Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, and Bella Abzug as being a major influence on her views on women's rights. During our interview, she pulled out a copy of Florynce Kennedy and Diane Schulder in 1971 Abortion Rap, documents the testimonies of women who challenged the constitutionality of New York State's abortion laws in 1970. In addition to descriptions of roe abortions, the book contains a theological recording of Rabbi David Feldman, who has written extensively on the permissibility of abortion in the Jewish tradition. "It was the first time that I had read in detail why abortion is not murder in my culture and why abortion is the right option in many cases," explains Imershein.

Imershein was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania when the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruled and made abortion legal in the United States. "In my world, abortion was already legal," she says. (Abortion was legalized in New York State in 1970 while Imershein was in high school.) "I didn't know what was going on then."

Later in college, she worked with what was then known as the Penn Sexuality Center, a joint project between the school's psychology and gynecology departments, to teach students how to provide peer counseling on sexuality, contraception, and reproductive health. And when she graduated from Emory University in 1980, she was part of a new wave of women entering medicine in great numbers. The influx was a result of the women's rights movement - which challenged the standards of medical treatment for women - as well as women's representation in the field. Just a few years earlier, in 1972, Title IX was passed prohibiting schools from discriminating on the basis of sex.

"The Flyer said I was a" murderer worse than the KAPOs in the concentration camps. "

After her residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York, Imershein moved to Washington, DC. She married her husband Mark in 1985 and their daughter and son were born shortly thereafter. For the next two decades, she was a private practice gynecologist with fellow doctor Alan Birkankrant who performed abortions when needed. But when her kids finished college in the late night hours, Imershein looked for a career change.

It all came together over the course of a few coffee sessions with Willie Parker, then director of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington. When she told Parker that she was interested in a career change, he guided her through the practice of leaving her private practice to perform full-time abortions.

Parker, an OB-GYN and devout Christian, provides abortions to women in the southern states with the most restrictive abortion laws. Although he admits that abortions were morally wrong, he eventually came to believe that he offered abortion treatment to women in need as his "life's work" (the title of his newly published memoir). Imershein appreciated his directness: “He didn't do any abortions, then he realized that women were in need.


There are risks associated with being an outspoken abortion provider in the United States, and Imershein has had her share of scary run-ins with life protection advocates. In the summer of 1995, an unknown group distributed leaflets in the vicinity of OB-GYNs across the D.C. area and called doctors by name.

“The airman said I was a 'murderer who is worse than the KAPOs in the concentration camps' - that is, worse than the Jews who supervised other Jews in World War II,” she says. A similar flyer, covered in feces, appeared on Birnkrant's door. “I was scared,” says Imershein. "Doctors were murdered." In the spring of 1993, Dr. David Gunn shot dead by an anti-abortion protester outside his clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, whose clinic was bombed in the 1980s, was shot in both arms later that year. He was later killed by an abortion activist during a church service in 2009. Most recently, in 2015, a man who declared himself a "warrior for babies" killed three people in a shooting at a planned parenting clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Fortunately, the office building where the Falls Church Clinic is located is surrounded by private parking, which means pickets have to stay on the sidewalk and not be outside the door. But their number has increased since the 2016 presidential election. “Some of the protesters are screaming, but we just ignore them,” says Imershein, who no longer fears for her safety in the “buffer zone” of the bypass.

“Maybe I just have my head in the sand,” she says. "But I am so morally obliged to give that concern and use my medical skills in a way that is so empowering, and wow, I'm being said 'thank you' every day beyond that. How cool is that When I start to be more afraid for myself than the women who need me, I give in to the antis. "

Imershein doesn't care what anti-abortion advocates believe, but they condemn the use of religious freedom as an argument to prevent access to abortion. She calls it "religious intrusion".

"Religious freedom is the freedom to be left alone, not the freedom to create laws based on a group's religion," she argues. “I don't think that if you cut off your own arm, or if you commit suicide, you will be locked up. But if you try to set yourself off, you can be jailed in some states. " In fact, 38 states allow a person to be charged with murder if they are held responsible for the unlawful death of a fetus, and many of these laws allow the ex-pregnant woman herself to be charged. At least half a dozen women in the United States have been arrested and charged after attempting an abortion with illegally acquired abortionists, including a Virginia woman arrested for "abortion or miscarriage" in late March.

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These interferences with women's health have increased since Donald Trump took office, Imershein said. In his first week, the new president resumed the "global gag rule," a Reagan-era ban on federal funding for international health organizations that perform abortions. And in March, Vice President Pence gave a Senate vote to allow states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood facilities.

"I wake up every morning angry and frustrated about what is happening and what I see as writing on the wall for women's health, women's rights, and women's ability to control their bodies," says Imershein. She strongly believes in the importance of educating the next generation of OB-GYNs and believes that "every OB-GYN should learn to perform an abortion," not least because every professional organization involved in the field says how to do it is a basic skill requirement. "You would not become a cardiac bypass surgeon and then limit your practice if you were religiously or morally opposed to blood transfusions," she explains.

During her senior year at school, she taught a reproductive health class at GWU Public Health Science. She tells me about one of her students who said at the beginning of the course, “I think abortion is wrong and I try to be open. Maybe you can convince me it's not. "

“I don't want to convince you that it's right or wrong, these are your values, your religion, your upbringing,” Imershein replied. "What I want to show you is that the scientific evidence shows that the safety, legality and availability are good for public health."

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