John H. Richardson’s Esquire feature on abortion doctor Warren Hern is the best profile I’ve read in a very long time. It’s an emotionally complex piece of writing about an emotionally battered man-abused by his patients (“you should all be killed,” a 14-year-old asking for an abortion tells him), disturbed by the violence of his work ("I think we’re hardwired, biologically, to protect small, vulnerable creatures,” he tells Richardson), attacked by even the pro-choice crowd for refusing to deny the ugliness of what goes on in his office. The relationship between abortion providers and their patients seems more fraught, because it’s more intimate, than the relationship between abortion doctors and their politicized critics. As Hern’s Spanish wife tells Richardson:
When I was aborting in Spain, I finished the abortion to a young woman, first trimester. When I finish this procedure, she sit on the table, see me to my face, say, Oh, doctor, you are really nice, you are such angel, how do you kill babies? I say, I’m sorry, I don’t kill any baby. I aspirate gestational sac. You kill your baby.
All of this occurs against the backdrop of desperate women, many carrying hideously deformed, doomed fetuses, for whom Hern is the only hope. He comes off as a man too honest to hide behind ideology and far too good to leave these women stranded. It amounts to an incredibly damning indictment of absolutist, keep-your-hands-clean moral purity.