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Culture Q&A

Camilla Hersh

Camilla Hersh: The happiness specialist

A pro-life OB-GYN delivers hope in a world of pain

Camilla Hersh: The happiness specialist

Camilla Hersh (Lee Love/Genesis)

Dr. Camilla Hersh, founder and owner of Virginia Women’s Health Associates, is a board member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

People say you always remember your first kiss. Do you remember the first baby you delivered, in 1979? I do remember my first baby.

And 5,000 since then—does it become old at some point? It never gets old. One of my favorite phrases in obstetrics and gynecology is: “I get to specialize in happiness.” It’s an honor and privilege to be able to see a mom and dad see their baby for the first time.

Tell us about one of the happy memories. A patient had insurmountable infertility: Every test in the works showed that. She had three adopted children. We were pretty sure she was going through premature menopause because her periods had stopped. I thought she might have fibroid tumors in her uterus because her uterus was enlarged. I got the ultrasound out, and one of the fibroids moved. But it wasn’t the fibroid at all—it was her baby who was six months along. When that baby was delivered, her adopted children, now teenagers, were there. That was a really beautiful delivery.

You can specialize in happiness, but sometimes there’s unhappiness. When it’s happy, it’s very happy. When it’s sad, it’s dreadful. One in 100 babies is stillborn. With people who are nonsmokers, exercisers, taking their vitamin every day, one stillbirth still occurs in every 200 to 300 births. So when a person has gone through pregnancy and everything seems fine and we check the heartbeat and the baby has passed away—that’s unspeakable.

Why do some OB-GYNS trade happiness for abortions? Most decline to do them. They refer patients to abortion centers. To be the one who, with your own hands, ends the life of the growing baby—you wouldn’t get up on a Monday morning saying, “Oh great, I’m going in to do abortions today.”

‘Most [O B-GYNs] decline to do [abortions]. … To be the one who ... ends the life of the growing baby—you wouldn’t get up on a Monday morning saying, “Oh great, I’m going in to do abortions today.”’

Pro-aborts complain about pro-life fanatics imposing on women requirements for ultrasound and informed consent. What valid arguments are there against informed consent? There are no valid arguments. Everything we do in medicine has informed consent. Even when my daughters had their ears pierced, I had to sign a consent form. My dog has more rights than young women have: She actually swallowed an entire bone that was puncturing her stomach, so we took her to the vet and saw informed consent forms for surgery. I had to smile, thinking that if my daughter had been going in for an abortion, she wouldn’t have required my consent, in many places.

People in favor of keeping abortion legal say if you criminalize abortion, you will be cutting off the ability to abort babies who are the results of rape, or pregnancies that could harm the mother’s life. How frequently do you see that in your practice? Rare. I’ve had a couple of patients where the baby’s little amniotic sac has ruptured too soon and an infection has set in and the mother’s white count is elevated and she has a fever and her uterus is tender. That’s the onset of sepsis, which if untreated she will die of, so to save the mother you have to evacuate the uterus—technically it’s a type of abortion. We had a sad case five or six years ago with a woman who was 18 weeks along. Usually we can save the baby at 24-26 weeks, and it’s getting closer to 23 now in some studies, so we wanted to get this lady a little further along, but she was 18 weeks and the placenta was bleeding. The uterus at 18 weeks should be football-sized. Instead, it was beach ball–sized, full of blood. Meanwhile the baby’s heart was still beating and still moving around in there. We’d already given the woman six units of blood, and a woman her size only has four or five units of blood. We’d already replaced her whole system and blood was coming out like a faucet. I had to do an evacuation to save her.

Those memories stick with you. It’s a bit like being a fireman, I suppose. If I went into a burning building and could put you and you over my shoulder and drag you out, but one person has a beam over his torso and I couldn’t get him out, I would have to save the people I could drag out even though my heart would break forever wishing I could have saved the person trapped. When I have to empty the uterus, I think about it for years and it brings me to tears: If only I had an incubator small enough to put that 18-weeker in. But I didn’t. I did save one life, and she had a baby about six months ago. We love that baby, but it won’t bring back the baby we lost.

How do you respond to abortion in the case of rape? It’s interesting to say you’re solving a crime by killing a victim. I would understand if a legislator voted that way. I would like to think that society would imprison the perpetrator and provide life-sustaining situations for the baby who’s a victim.

Incest exceptions? Here’s an incest story: One day a colleague from pediatrics called and said, I have to bring a patient to you, a 14-year-old girl who’s pregnant, and security is coming to arrest her father because when she found out she was pregnant he put his fist through the wall and threatened the girl and the mother. We need you to set up an abortion for her. I’m thinking, “You haven’t met me yet, have you?”—but I said, “Bring her up.” I have found you don’t need to go full guns blazing right away when someone brings up a topic. So we talked to the girl and her family. She said, “Oh, you mean you’d kill the baby? I don’t want to kill the baby. No, no, no. I just want you to stop Grandpa from hurting me.” The mom and dad were working, the grandfather was doing the day care and hurting everyone. The girl continued her pregnancy, placed the baby up for adoption, continued school, had a good life, and the law stopped the grandfather from hurting her and her sister and her brother. When you say there’s a pregnancy as a result of incest, there’s usually some horrible abuse that must be diagnosed and treated. To kill the victim doesn’t really treat the crime.

You’ve been at this a long time. When you look at your patients, American society generally, or perhaps this younger generation that’s represented here at Patrick Henry College—optimistic, pessimistic? I’m optimistic, but I’m an obstetrician: I specialize in happiness. I have never seen a generation as intelligent, well-informed, and pro-life as our young people are now. You really have to be counterculture, but more young people are pro-life than ever have been.

Over five days, Jan. 18-22, WORLD’s website——is running other responses from Dr. Hersh.