It turns out that if you spend your days sticking needles through heavily pregnant women’s abdomens to stop their unborn children’s beating hearts and then removing those deceased children, either whole or torn apart, you get nightmares.
That was the experience abortionist Warren Hern shared with Atlantic staff writer Elaine Godfrey. In the Atlantic’s profile of Hern, which was published on Friday, Godfrey details how the 84-year-old performs abortions on women whose unborn children are five months, six months, and seven months along. He still works out of the Boulder, Colorado, abortion clinic he started nearly 50 years ago. The wood-paneled office’s decor is eerily stuck in the 1970s.
Hern told Godfrey that for “a long while,” visions of an abortion he performed in the 1970s would wake him up at night, jarring him from sleep. In that particular abortion, Hern had used his forceps to pull the child out from his mother, only to find that the child’s heart was still visibly beating.
Hern’s nighttime visions focused on the baby’s beating heart, visual evidence that all the children he aborted were living beings.
“He could see it in his mind, the inches-long body and its heart: beating, beating, beating,” writes Godfrey.
Hern mentioned to Godfrey that he was unsure as to whether another child had been born alive under his watch. It had happened maybe once or twice, he said.
In another of Hern’s nightmares, he used his body as a shield to prevent his staff from seeing a baby who, having been born alive, had a beating heart. Did he perhaps not want them to see what he saw: that the babies he killed were living human beings with blood that flowed through their veins and beat through their hearts?
Hern, one of America’s most prominent late-term abortionists, has long been outspoken on the psychological toll of performing abortions. In a 1978 paper on the subject, he wrote, “Some part of our cultural and perhaps even biological heritage recoils at a destructive operation on a form that is similar to our own, even though we know that the act has a positive effect for a living person.”
Hern described in the paper how he could feel the destruction of the act coursing through when he used forceps to pull out a baby.
“The sensations of dismemberment,” he said, “flow through the forceps like an electric current.”
Hern concluded thusly: “[T]here is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes.”
That “act of destruction” had Hern frequently fleeing to his office so that he could “compose himself.”
Godfrey explains that part of the reason why Hern constantly needed to retreat to his office after performing abortions was “the high-stakes nature of the procedure.” The other part of it, she said, was that “he also needed time to process how the dead fetus looked, how removing it felt.”
“Sometimes,” Godfrey writes, “he’d sit in his office and think, What am I doing?”
One of the most terrifying aspects of all of this is that those feelings stopped. After performing thousands upon thousands of abortions, Hern no longer needed to go to his office to “compose himself.” The psychological distress he felt at the “destruction” greatly diminished.
And chillingly, all his nightmares of babies lying on a cold medical table with their hearts “beating, beating, beating” eventually stopped.
Post-Roe, Hern is in hot demand. Women all over the country are flying to his clinic and paying the $6,000 cost for the 84-year-old to abort their late-term unborn babies. Currently, Hern is seeing 50 percent more patients than what is typical.
Women come to him for late-term abortions for all sorts of reasons, most of which are not medically related, Hern said.
Sometimes, the women are given a set of the baby’s handprints or footprints to take home. Other times, if the baby comes out whole, the nurse wraps the dead child in a blanket for the woman to hold.
And Hern, evidently, feels nothing.
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