When Dr. Timothy Spurrell first walked through the doors of Planned Parenthood as a second-year ob-gyn resident, he was determined to make a difference in people’s lives. Now, 18 years after his first rotation, Dr. Spurrell serves as the medical director for PPSNE, and works to bring critical reproductive health care to women across the country.
Tell us about your decision to become an abortion provider. Was this something you had always planned?
What I knew is that I wanted to help people. As a board-certified ob-gyn, I’ve delivered thousands of babies in my life, and performed lots of surgeries and procedures, including abortions. Being an ob-gyn is about caring for women in all senses of the word. Abortion is one part of patient care.
Can you talk a little bit about your work in Texas? Why is it important for you to work there?
In Texas, I'm forced by state law to say things that are medically inaccurate. I’m legally required to tell patients there might be an association between abortion and breast cancer, even though the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and experts across the globe, say this is not true. Providers are required to pass an ethics test and get admitting privileges. Clinics are miles apart. Patients drive all day to reach the nearest health center and are subject to a 24-hour waiting period. It is so hard to access reproductive care in Texas. I go where the need is greatest.
What are the logistics of abortion care like in 2016? Are you ever in fear of your safety?
There are always protestors. They’ll yell things about me or my kids, but I try not to engage them. They definitely don’t impact my decision to come to work. The real challenge is that there are not enough doctors who will perform abortions. I’d feel negligent if I didn’t do something to help. Whatever I go through personally, I can’t imagine what it must feel like for our patients. There is a real stigma and, for some women, a shame associated with abortion. Even if they get through parking lot without being embarrassed or harassed, there’s a lot going on in their head.
With all the criticism around our work, what keeps you going?
Last year we found an osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, at our Providence Health Center. We’ve diagnosed many endometrial cancers. Every patient who comes through our doors has a compelling story. When a woman grabs my hand, looks into my eyes and thanks me for my help, I know it’s because our staff provided care without judgment. People aren’t used to be treated respectfully when making these decisions. Our patients are the heroes in our work. They are always the story. We’re fortunate to work with people who give so much back to us. There is no way you can do what we do without feeling like you made a big difference in a person’s life each day.