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April 13, 2007

The Last Clinic Standing

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Of course, most unintended pregnancies are not caused by vicious attacks. They're the result of kisses that get carried away-and, as Nancy and Jim found out, birth control that breaks.

By the time Nancy returns to Jim in the waiting room later that day, Dr. McCreary has performed 15 other abortions. Kristen Peterson, 28, a South Dakota native and teacher at a local middle school, cleans up after her. Married and super-careful with birth control, Peterson has never had an abortion and probably will never need one. But she's still willing to spend her summer vacation holding the hands of women in the clinic in an effort to stop her state from morphing into a place where she no longer feels at home. A few weeks back, Peterson attended a Planned Parenthood rally. The next day, her photo wound up in the local paper. "That wasn't smart," a school colleague told her.

Why? She wondered. Because I'm pro-choice? Because I'm any kind of political? Because I don't think women should be punished for being sexual beings? "Gosh," Peterson says, "it's getting bad here in South Dakota."

Outside, the late afternoon sun is painfully bright. In the clinic, Nancy looks pale but relieved. Jim just looks pale. They don't seem to notice the protesting grandmas, and the grandmas don't look up from their rosary beads to consider them.

I try to imagine if the world were just a little different-say, one U.S. Supreme Court justice different. What would Nancy and Jim be doing instead of leaving an abortion clinic? .Would they be preparing to give the baby up for adoption? Or would they, like the one time I thought I was unintentionally pregnant, find the notion of someone else raising their child less bearable than aborting it? Would Nancy be on the Internet figuring out how to end the pregnancy herself? Would she and Jim already be arguing over child support and custody? Or would they be down the street, at the state's only Wal-Mart, buying a crib? The last scenario is the one Leslee Unruh and Roger Hunt imagine, and it's one, I suspect, Jim sorely wanted to create. But it wasn't for Nancy. The clinic staff doesn't allow me to probe the depths of why, but I'm guessing Nancy already found out the hard way that a gurgling baby won't fix a troubled relationship, turn a hot-headed boy into a responsible man, or transform a woman into a joyful mother. "I just want to get on with my life," Nancy tells me. And that, for now, is her choice.

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