Profile: Dr. Beverly McMillan
In 1975 Dr. McMillan opened the first abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. It goes without saying her journey to serving as a Pro-Life Mississippi Board Member (and currently President) is full of very unexpected twists and turns. She also serves as a magnificent example of God's awesome power. Dr. McMillan's story printed here is from her speech at the second "Meet the Abortion Providers" conference in February 1989:
Proverbs 16:25 says: There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.
Unlike the two other physicians you heard from this morning who were kind of reluctant participants in abortion, I was not. I was one of those radical feminists who was all in favor of it. It's a little odd that I turned out that way, I guess, because I grew up in a very conservative home in East Tennessee, a Christian home, and I went to Christian schools for the first eight years of my schooling, and I certainly knew all about Thou Shalt Not Kill along with the other Commandments, so it wasn't that I was ignorant about it.
I knew pretty early that I wanted to be a physician, and my father is to be commended. He didn't put me down at all about it. He encouraged me along the way. I guess he thought that I had what it took, the right stuff. I remember my Uncle Tom, my dad's brother, who taught school and had a real way with children. He would come to visit us in the summer and he would line the six of us children up and he'd say, Arthur's going to be a teacher, and so-and-so would be this. He'd tell me that I was going to be a physician, and that my sister was going to be a nurse. He said that the reason for that was if someone came in with blood streaming down their face or whatever, my sister would hold their hand and say, oh, you poor thing and she'd cry with them and she'd be a real good nurse, a sympathy giver. And that I'd sit there and say, now let me look, let me look, and I'd be real cool about it. That's important for later on as to how I was able to handle doing abortions.
I left this little town in East Tennessee to go off to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I'd started my pre-medical training when I was 18, and I was ready to take on the world. I found out, however, that the world I was in was a lot different than what I'd grown up in. It was a very anti-Christian atmosphere and I was immediately confronted by a bunch of people who were living by a different set of rules than what I had grown up with. I basically came to a point where I knew I was going to have to make decision about what I was going to do with my life. Was I going to live by the rules I was brought up with, or was I going to live with the NOW generation.
I'm afraid, like a lot of young college people, I looked around and the world around me seemed a lot more real and a lot more fun than what was going on back home. I made a decision as a 19-year-old sophomore that I was going to live the way of the world. I remember going to church one last time and my parting prayer was, "God, if you're real, I hope you come back and get me some day. So long." And I didn't step foot inside a church for another 14 years.
I was able to go off to Memphis, Tennessee where the medical school was, and start studying about the human body of ours, so fearfully and wonderfully made, and I really believed all the trash those secular humanists were telling me. That we were not a special creation of God; that instead we had evolved up out of the mud ala Darwin, and this was just all accidentally put together.
I remember when I started studying kidney physiology that seemed like it was just absolutely too intricate to be real, but I just put that out of my mind and decided I'd go into something else besides kidney physiology.
What I decided to do was to go into obstetrics and gynecology. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I really had not encountered abortion at all in my medical school training or my internship. It wasn't until I went off to do my residency training that I came face-to-face with it. I went to the Mayo Clinic up in Rochester, Minnesota to do my training. For those of you who know the place, it's a very small town and they really did not do enough obstetrics to train 8 or 12 residents there, so they would ship us off two at a time to Cook County Hospital in Chicago where we got plenty of training.
I'm afraid that I made my decision to be an abortionist right here in this city (Chicago) back in 1969. What happened was I had to spend six weeks of my six months on a ward called the Infected OB Ward and, as usual, they didn't give us very much orientation before we were sent to work. I was told to show up on the ward at 7:00, meet my intern and get to work. So I showed up at 7:00, met my intern, and we kind of walked around the wards. And I had this idea in my mind that we would probably be taking care of women coming from the surgery wards where my fellow residents had maybe done C-Sections and they had messed them up and maybe gotten infected, and that would be Infected OB. I did take care of some of those. But that first night on call, I found out where my patients were really going to be coming from. It seemed as though as soon as the sun went down that night, the elevator started coming up from the Emergency Room and they started depositing women on our doorstep. All these women had very similar situations. They were all bleeding, a lot of them were running a fever, on physical exam they had a tender enlarged uterus, and trying to get any history out of them was like pulling teeth. Nobody wanted to talk to us at all. I was a little puzzled, but we went to work and did the obvious things. We wrote out their histories, did physicals, we started IVs on everybody, we gave blood to the ones who needed blood, we gave antibiotics to everybody. We just basically tried to shuffle through to get them in bed and stabilized and keep up with the elevator. About halfway through that evening it finally hit me what was going on. These women were coming from the back alley abortion mills in Chicago. And they weren't talking because they were afraid they were going to get into trouble with the law.
The year, as I said, was 1969, four years before Roe v. Wade was legalized. Well, that was astounding news to me. But we got everybody admitted. Every night I was on call it was the same situation. Some 15 to 25 women every night would come in that way. We were lucky in that as we got everybody admitted, my intern and I would catch a couple of hours of sleep, and then at 7:00 in the morning a wonderful thing happens in a hospital. A fresh shift of nurses comes on. We were then able to take these women back, one at a time, to a little treatment room where, without any anesthesia at all (they didn't waste their precious anesthesia on the Infected OB Ward at County, they were too busy with the gunshots and the car wrecks, etc.), we would have to do another D&C and we would have to scrape out whatever infected tissue the abortionist had left in. It was really a pretty brutal situation to deal with.
I remember that at the end of that six weeks, I was very angry at what I had seen. It occurred to me that if women were so desperate about an unwanted pregnancy that they were willing to go to some back alley plant and put their life on the line, I was ready for the medical profession to start offering a little real help to these women and show a little social responsibility.
So in 1973, when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, like much of the country, I was shocked that the court had gone so far, but I was delighted. I thought, finally, here comes a little sanity into this area of abortion.
At that time, I had finished my residency training and my first husband and I were living in Lexington, Kentucky and I was on the teaching staff of the University there, and I had been already doing abortions prior to 1973. We had a system set up in the hospital where, if a woman came in and wanted an abortion, if we could arrange it so that she met two psychiatrists who would agree that this was deleterious to her mental health, we could get it through a committee and we could do an abortion. And I really felt like these women ought to have a safe abortion and I would provide it.
Joe mentioned to me last night that he wanted us to spend more time talking about how it was back in the days doing abortions, and I found it really hard to think back and remember a lot of the things that went on. I guess it's not really too hard to understand why.
I remember back in the days when I was on the teaching staff there, we had a woman who was about 10 weeks pregnant who wanted an abortion and she didn't want to have any more children. She wanted a sterilization. We did a hysterectomy abortion, just took the whole uterus out. I had forgotten all about that until I met a friend from Kentucky a couple of years ago who was practicing in town at the time, and he remembered the case and remembered that we had to give her a whole lot of blood, it was such a bloody mess. And I had no memory of that. I think that part of this you just want to block out.
But in 1973, after spending two years teaching at the University, I had gone into private practice with another physician in a little town just outside of Lexington, and when we finally realized that yes, the Roe v. Wade decision was real, I think we thought it was so fantastic we couldn't believe it was real. We knew it was real when a couple of physicians in Lexington started doing abortions themselves. Nobody was arresting them, so we decided we would start offering this as part of our laundry list of things that we would do for our patients.
So we went out and we bought a suction abortion machine and we started doing first trimester abortions in our office. In 1974, after being in private practice about two years, my husband presented me with the news that we were moving to Jackson, Mississippi. I was really upset about this. I liked where I was, I liked what I was doing, I was close to my family, I had a lot of friends and had been living in the area for four years. I wasn't sure if people in Mississippi wore shoes. I didn't want to go there. (Mississippi still enjoys some bad press. Some of it is deserved; some of it is not.)
I was very unhappy about the idea of going there. By this time I was also very much into (I don't know how radical my feminism was, but I was a real feminist) feminism, and the idea of having to interrupt my career and my plans to follow my husband down to Mississippi was not sitting well with me. However, at the time, I had three little boys, one of them not quite a year old, and, my goodness, I didn't think I could handle raising them by myself. So very reluctantly I moved down to Jackson, Mississippi in the fall of 1974.
I got organized and opened up my private office with a practice of obstetrics and gynecology in January 1975. I began what was probably one of the most difficult years of my life. As I said, I was far from home and family. All my support group of friends were back up North. I was mad at my husband and he was the only person I knew in town, so there wasn't anybody I could talk to.
Business was very slow. I didn't know anybody in town, indeed, and therefore the referrals were few and far between. In that entire year, I think I delivered six babies. Some weekends are much worse than that now. It was a real difficult year for me.
One bright spot in that year, however, was in the Spring of 1975 I met a group of concerned citizens and clergy who had banded together for the express purpose of opening up an abortion clinic in the City of Jackson, in the State of Mississippi, because the fact was that two years after Roe v. Wade there was not one place you could get an abortion in the entire state of Mississippi. Sometimes it's not too bad to be #50 on the list of states.
Women in Mississippi were having to travel to Alabama or Tennessee or Louisiana to get an abortion. This group had done their homework well. They had lined up a place to rent, they had nurses ready to work in their clinic, they had set up counselors, they had the money to buy all the equipment that they needed, they just didn't know what they needed yet. They had everything ready to operate, but they could not find anyone willing to stick his or her neck out and be called the local abortionist.
So here was somebody new in town. They came to me and asked me if I would consider it. I said, no, thank you. By this time I had realized that I was in a very conservative community and being the new kid on the block, you don't want to grab hold of a hot potato like opening up the state's first abortion clinic as your introduction to the community.
But as time went on it really started to bother me because I knew that the reason I had turned them down was because I was just afraid. I really did think that legal abortion was a good thing for women. So I did finally accept their offer, and in the fall of 1975 I gained the dubious distinction of opening up the first abortion facility in the State of Mississippi.
We called ourselves Family Health Services. Isn't that a euphemism? And I was determined that we were going to run the best abortion clinic in the country. We were going to do it right, and I set about figuring out how that was going to be. We had counselors that we trained, and we really talked to people about complications. I don't know what other clinics do, but I know what we did. We had a sheet of paper that we handed out to them after the abortion was finished that listed 1-2-3-4-5, if this happens, call, and we had a telephone number for them to call. We also went around to a couple of hospitals in town and made sure that if we had complications they would accept our referrals, so there was a place for them to go if I were out of town, for instance. This is usually not the case, I understand, in most abortuaries today.
We counseled our counselors that if they had woman who came in who seemed to be ambivalent about the abortion, or who seemed like she was being strong-armed into it by someone who was with her, that we were not going to do that. We sent a number of people home to think about it overnight or to talk it over.
Despite all those roadblocks that we were willing to put up in the way of abortions, we got busy in a hurry. In fact, I had to soon start training some other physicians to help me do the number of abortions we were having to do at the clinic. It was just getting too much for me to do because this was a moonlighting job that I had in addition to my office. I had my office in one part of town, and there was this free-standing abortion clinic in the other part of town that I was medical director of.
1975 had been a really difficult year for me, but it did come to an end. I remember that about this time of year in 1976, as we started into January, as I often do at the end of a year, I was looking back over the past year and kind of making some resolutions and looking forward to the next year. I realized that I had survived that year, and, in fact, things were really going pretty well for me. My private office was getting busy enough now that I was operating in the black at least. The abortion clinic was so busy that, as I said, I couldn't do all the procedures myself; I had to get some other folks to help me out and do the operations. You can't stay mad forever and I was finally talking to my husband. I had a nice car, a nice house, I had three healthy little boys, all the clothes I could put on my back. In fact, I realized that everything that I ever wanted to accomplish when I left East Tennessee as a wet-behind-the-ear high school graduate, I had pretty much accomplished.
The confounding part to me at that point was that if life was such a bowl of cherries, why was I in the pits, as Erma Bombeck says. Because I was. I was so depressed that January, I couldn't stand it. I didn't know what was wrong, but thoughts of suicide were starting to go through my head and that had never happened before, and I realized that something's wrong here. It even frightened me.
So, being an intellectual type, I decided I just needed something to get my head straightened out. I went out to a secular book store and started looking through the inspirational titles to see if there was something I could find to get my act together. One title caught my eye: The Power of Positive Thinking, by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I thought, this sounds like a good book. I've got a lot of things to be positive about, I just need to get my attitude right. So I bought the book and I took it home and started reading it. I read books front to back. (I eat things on my plate one at a time too.) You never look at the back of the book; you have to start at the front. I was reading this book the same way. I read the Introduction and the Preface and the Table of Contents, and it sounded pretty good. I read Chapter One, and it was about people just like me; they didn't want to get up in the morning; they didn't know what the meaning of life was; they were depressed all the time. I thought, yes, this is the right book. At the end of the chapter, Dr. Peale had a list of ten things to do to start getting your positive attitude in shape and I was doing fine. I like lists too. You just go down and check them off. I was checking off the list and got down to #7, and it said: Affirm ten times a day, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Well, I choked. I thought, what kind of trash did I pick up in this bookstore? I thought I bought a psychology book and here's some religious nut.
Well I was able to do everything on that list of ten, except that #7 and I was just "bumbfuzzled," you know. I couldn't read Chapter Two because I hadn't finished Chapter One. You know, eat peas if you haven't finished your potatoes. But I couldn't say that verse either, and I laugh about it now, but I carried that book around with me for a week and a-half trying to find something to substitute for that verse, just something that would be acceptable to my heart. I remembered some other inspirational books I had read, one by a fellow named Kuai who suggested saying, "Each day in every way, I'm getting better and better" over and over, a sort of autosuggestion, and I thought, that's a lie. If that were true, I wouldn't have to be reading this book in the first place.
One Monday morning I was driving to work and for those of you who don't know about Mississippi in February, it's always raining. It's the monsoon season and it was a miserable Monday and it was cold and grey and Monday and I was driving to work, and that book was on the car seat beside me, and as I was pulling into the doctors' parking lot at Baptist Hospital I finally was just so weary with this whole thing, I just said, okay, I give up, I'll say the thing. And I'm afraid that it was with that attitude of heart that I first mouthed the words: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I was unprepared for what happened next. I'm kind of a cool person, as I said, and don't have a lot of emotional ups and downs, and God doesn't deal with me very often through emotional blitzes, but this was a big emotional blitz. I was not alone in that car. I felt the presence of someone coming up over the back seat of that car over my right shoulder, the hand of heaven, like something just burst through the bushes or something. It was just right there in the car with me and, oh, my goodness!
Well, I got it parked (that was a major accomplishment), and put my makeup back on because I was crying--and joyful. I felt better. I must have said that verse a hundred times that day, not just ten times. I went and made rounds and I guess, more importantly, I was able to finish reading the book. At the end of the book, Dr. Peale had two other suggestions: He suggested reading the Bible every day and finding some Christian fellowship. Both of those were a little hard for me to come up with. I didn't own a Bible, so I went back to that secular bookstore and started checking out the Bible section and found out I had 40 selections I could choose from. I decided on a King James version and get some Elizabethan English and get cultured, you know.
So I bought it and started reading the New Testament. Christian fellowship was difficult, too. I thought back over my friends and acquaintances and realized there was only one person that I knew who was a Christian, a very important person, however. I had met this woman the summer before I had opened up the abortion clinic at a Childbirth Education Association tea. I was going anywhere, everywhere to meet people to build-up my practice, even Childbirth Education teas. When I met Barbara, within five minutes of talking to each other, she realized I was a heathen and I realized she was a Christian, and we decided we'd be friends anyway.
So I decided to spend more time with my friend Barbara. What I didn't know until about four or five years later was that she had been so horrified after meeting me and hearing that I was getting ready to open up an abortuary, she had gone home and called a friend of hers and they had made a covenant to pray for me, and within six months I was in the Kingdom of Heaven. I never met this other woman until about five years after the fact. That was a very humbling experience to me.
Well, I began noticing that after this experience some strange things were happening during my nights on call at the abortion facility. What had been very easy for me to do up till this time now started to become harder and harder to do. I didn't understand why because nothing that I was reading in the New Testament said Thou Shalt Not Commit Abortions. But it was the Holy Spirit starting to work on me.
I've heard other people talk about their experiences in coming out of the abortion situations and my situation seems to be very similar. It doesn't happen all at once. There's a miracle recorded in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus heals a blind man. When the man is brought to the Lord, he's absolutely stone blind; doesn't see a thing. I think that was me before the experience in the car. After Jesus met the man, He took some spit, touched his eyes, and asked him what he saw. And he said, I see men walking around but they look like trees. He was seeing something but he wasn't seeing very clearly. It took a second touch from the Lord before that man was able to see well.
One of the things that was starting to bother me was, as I said, I was trying to run the best abortion clinic in the country. We were just a first trimester abortion facility, and we did that on purpose too. We were new in the community; this was a conservative community; what we didn't need was a bunch of complications. Complications increase with increasing size of the pregnant uterus, so we deliberately stopped at 12 weeks and we just did suction D&Cs. I would go in and meet my "well-counseled" patient; I would examine her, and then I would do the suction D&C procedure under a paracervical block. After it was all over, I would leave my patient on the table and I would go over to the suction bottle and I would take the little stockinette out and go outside the room to a sink where I would open the stockinette up, and I personally would pick through it with a forceps and I would have to identify four extremities, and a spine and a skull and the placenta. If I didn't find that, I would have to go back in that room and scrape and suction some more, or else my patients would be showing up in 48 or 72 hours, just like those women at Cook County with an infected incomplete abortion.
Standing at that sink, I guess I just started seeing these bodies for the first time. I don't know what I did before that. I think I just counted. I was cool. Blood didn't make me sick. I could handle all the guts and gore of medicine just fine. But I started seeing this for the first time and it started bothering me.
Being medical director of the clinic, rank has its privileges. I made out the schedule of who worked when. So I just started making out the schedule so that I wasn't scheduled to do abortions. I just directed. My fellow abortionists by this time loved it, because we got paid by the procedure and there was less pie to share with me. In fact, at that point, I was an unpaid employee of the abortion corporation because I did my medical directing gratis. So I can't say that money was the reason behind our clinic. They're all different, but that was how ours started.
I remember one afternoon in particular, a very attractive young woman who was the day-to-day manager of the clinic came up to the sink one day while I was getting ready to go through my little procedure, and she said, would you let me see? I've never really seen what you look at at the sink. I said, sure, and I started showing her. And this happened to be about a 12-week abortion, and that was about the farthest along we went. That day as I was showing her, I remember very clearly seeing an arm and seeing the deltoid muscle, and it just really struck me that day how beautiful that was. The thought just flashed through my mind: What are you doing? Here is this beautiful piece of human flesh here, what are you doing? That was one of the very last ones that I did.
So for a number of months I just medical directed. I kept track of our complications; we had monthly meetings where we went over morbidity; we fortunately did not go through mortality. I had one of the worst complications at the clinic. I perforated a uterus and sucked a piece of small bowel right into the tubing. Something very interesting came out of this. We had the young lady taken over the hospital where the residents took care of her and a surgeon spliced her bowel back together, and I went over to see her about two days later before she left the hospital to just say hello and are you doing okay, and to tell her I was sorry this had happened. She didn't want to talk to me. She wasn't angry at me. She didn't want to think about the abortion, thank you. She was ready to get out. Denial. Absolute denial just right there. That's why abortionists don't get sued. These folks don't want to think about it for at least two years and then the Statute of Limitations is up. That is (denial) the reason that many women don't sue from complications from abortion.
I eventually started going to church and, sitting under the preaching of the Gospel and really hearing it for the first time, God began impressing me with a number of things, one of which was that He wanted me to get baptized as a believer and publicly identify with what He had done in my life. At that point, I felt that I needed to do something with this abortion clinic over here. My pastor was not bothered that I was a medical director of the abortion facility. This was in 1978 and the church really didn't wake-up, I don't think at that time, to the abortion issue in many ways.
But God was just impressing on my heart that I was not to come into the church and bring the abortion clinic with me and sully the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ. So in the fall of 1978, by the grace of God, I got baptized in my church and I resigned from the abortion clinic. At that time, I think I was like a lot of Christian folks and Christian physicians. I was uneasy about abortion. Something about it really bothered me, but if you'd asked me to give you two or three good reasons why it was wrong I couldn't have told you one.
It wasn't until 1980 that I got my second touch from the Lord. This was four years after my conversion experience. I got invited to a Pro-Life meeting where Dr. Paul Fowler from Reformed Theological Center was organizing Jackson's first Right-to-Life group. We were late with everything. We didn't even have a Right-to-Life chapter until 1980. He thought that he needed a group of physicians to give some moral support and their knowledge and expertise to the Right-to-Life group and I got invited to a brown bag luncheonette at the First Presbyterian Church to just rap about abortion. It was there in that meeting with fellow believers, fellow physicians, who knew much more about the Scripture than I did, that I had my eyes opened up to what God thought about unborn human life. My medical knowledge also began to be filtered through the Scriptures. One of the things I left that meeting with that day was a conviction about IUDs. I smile when I hear some of your experiences, too. A family practice doctor told me (the expert, the gynecologist) that of course IUDs were mini-abortions. Didn't you realize that conception takes place in the fallopian tube and implantation inside the uterus and that an IUD certainly doesn't stop fertilization? It was like, ah, he's right! He's right! And I tell you, it was harder for me to quit putting in IUDs than it was to quit doing abortions.
When you quit doing abortions you get lots of pats on the back; people say, 'Nice kid,' 'You're cleaning up your act.' When you stop doing things like IUDs and people say, that "kooky" over there--they're getting a little far-out. It took me about two months to make the decision and set a date when we would no longer put in IUDs, but I did it.
I also started sharing my story locally and wherever the Lord opened doors about how I had been lead out of the abortion business.
My pastor, a very wise man, has said very wisely that private sins require private confession and repentance. Public sins require public confession and repentance. So I don't mind a bit sharing about the sin of abortion in my life. I think it's even harder for people who have had abortions to share it because it's a little bit closer. I'm always impressed that I can tell this story and not feel a lot of condemnation. I never had bad dreams. It happened so wonderfully with me that when I was forgiven, I was forgiven and I knew it, and I knew it all the way through. It never bothered me any more.
I guess the abortion that bothers me the most was one that I helped my kid brother obtain for his girlfriend. The thought of that niece of nephew that I will never know until I meet them in heaven has weighed more on my heart than the hundreds of ones that I did myself.
God has opened up lots of different areas of service to me. Education has been a very important one because doctors are uniquely qualified to speak about the science of what goes on inside the womb and what abortion really does. I've had an opportunity to participate in alternatives by delivering a lot of the babies that have been saved from the abortuaries. I've had an opportunity to do some legal things. I testified in the Mississippi State Senate for a parental consent bill which was passed, but is now tied up in the courts. I've been willing to testify against some abortionists when they have injured patients through their abortion procedure. And last of all, because it has been the hardest thing for me to do, participate in some direct action missions: sidewalk counseling and rescue missions.