Almost two years ago, I had a conversation with a friend that sparked an idea for a story.
She’s an OB/GYN who practices in rural Mississippi, where most of her colleagues were staunch conservatives. I asked her how they broached the subject of abortion with patients who might be unsure about their pregnancies.
She had a simple answer for me: They don’t.
Before that conversation, I’d never thought about my doctor’s politics. It didn’t seem relevant. My OB/GYN is a medical professional — so of course she is going to provide objective advice and care. But then I discovered the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization with over 4,500 members who pledge to keep abortion out of their practice. That’s far fewer than belong to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the leading professional organization for OB/GYNs, but still a pretty significant number. Antiabortion doctors were everywhere, I realized. How were they counseling their patients?
I did a little searching and came across a name: Byron Calhoun. He is one of the only high-risk pregnancy doctors in West Virginia, where patients drive for hours for that kind of care. He is also an internationally known antiabortion activist.
There were already a few articles about him online, mostly about the role he played in a 2014 lawsuit filed against a West Virginia abortion clinic. Calhoun had encouraged a former clinic patient to sue after claiming to have found a 13-week fetal skull in her uterus. The case was quickly dismissed, because medical records showed no fetal skull. Local women wrote letters calling for his resignation. In court records, the judge expressed disbelief that a doctor would insert himself into a case in this way.
I wanted to hear from his patients.
Over the next few months, I scoured infant obituaries in the area where he practices, because he treats patients with fatal anomalies. I read through hundreds of pages of lawsuits that had been filed against him. I called up more than a dozen OB/GYNs in the region. Then I drove six hours to Charleston, W.Va., to meet with some of the women he’d counseled. West Virginia is one of the most antiabortion states in the country, and I found that many of Calhoun’s patients appreciated how he allowed his personal beliefs to shape his care.
Coronavirus put this story on hold for 10 months. I picked it up again earlier this year, reconnecting with dozens of sources I’d already interviewed, and adding many more into the mix.
This is the most ambitious reporting project I’ve ever taken on. I’m very excited to finally share it with you.
Do you have an experience with an antiabortion OB/GYN? Email us.