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Time to stop holding the football stadium over UMC

Kendrick Wilson
By Kendrick Wilson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday September 10, 2003

Did everybody see our football team get creamed by LSU last week? Did anybody stop to think about the even more dreadful loss that surrounds the very stadium in which the game was played?

For those who are already confused, here's the story:

In 1974, before the new or at least newer part of the football stadium was added, the university needed to raise $5.5 million for the construction quite a chunk of money in those days.

Of course, the Arizona legislature did not let go of it easily. The bill that provided funding for the stadium did not pass without a rider added by since-retired Rep. Jim Skelly (R-Scottsdale), which prohibited the University Medical Center from performing abortions and teaching the procedure to medical students.

When it comes to our legislature, some things never change it seems to have always wanted a government small enough to fit into bedrooms and doctors' offices.

This "gag rule," as it has been called, has constricted UMC's reproductive services ever since.

The time has come to life the gag rule that prohibits a legal procedure from being performed where it can best be handled.

So, you ask, surely they have a provision for a woman whose life is at risk. Indeed they do, but it's not the quick fix one would expect it to be.

If an abortion became necessary for a patient at UMC, would there be a doctor at the hospital who could safely perform the abortion, given that by law it is not a routine procedure? Would someone have to be called in? Who decides when a procedure is necessary to save the woman's life? When does the risk of the woman dying become too great? What about large pregnancies where selective reduction could save the lives of overcrowded fetuses?

As far as specifics, the people I spoke with at UMC didn't agree and were hesitant to give any answers whatsoever.

UMC spokesman George Humphrey said he believed a doctor would be available who had proper training to perform an abortion, but wasn't sure. On the issue of selective reduction, Humphrey referred to the text of the law, which states that abortions will only be preformed to save "the life of the mother," thus rendering the procedure illegal at the hospital even if the lives of other fetuses are at stake.

Jim Richardson, an attorney for UMC, was not aware of the hospital's preparedness to perform abortions if necessary, but said he believed selective reduction might be allowed if it is not legally classified as "abortion."

Fortunately, Cheryl Kleiman, the co-coordinator for Students for Choice, a campus pro-choice group, seemed to know more.

"Technically, if the mother's life is at risk, UMC can perform an abortion," she explained. "However, this has only happened once and required several attending doctors to sign papers, which increased the time the patient had to wait."

When the woman's life was at risk, adding to the time she had to wait could have further complicated her medical situation.

While most of the people I spoke with at UMC seemed to think that just about every obstetrician-gynecologist would know how to perform an abortion, Kleiman said it isn't so.

"The number of abortion providers is decreasing and medical schools across the country fail to teach their students about basic reproductive health services," she pointed out.

Since the UA gag rule applies to the medical school as well, it isn't helping to cure the lack of doctors who can safely perform abortions.

"UA's gag rule is political manipulation, but realistically it's a major health risk," Kleiman added.

Hospitals are clearly preferable to clinics as places to perform abortions, since they are better equipped to deal with complications. However, Tucson has no hospitals that perform elective abortions. The nearest abortion clinic to campus is the Tucson Women's Clinic, about three miles away on Tucson Boulevard, which is quite a walk, even for someone who isn't pregnant.

While Rep. Skelly and his anti-choice brigade still claim victory today, all they have done is endanger women and fail to make sense abortion has no logical connection to the football stadium.

The time has come to lift the gag rule that prohibits a legal procedure from being performed where it can best be handled. Until then, unless they can get better answers on selective reduction and medically necessary abortions than I did, pregnant women might consider having their children somewhere other than UMC.

Kendrick Wilson is a political science junior. He can be reached at

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Time to stop holding the football stadium over UMC


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