My father graduated from medical school in 1928 on the threshold of the Depression and set up general practice in a small New York town. My mother's engagement ring sported the world's tiniest diamond and had been given to my father by an elderly patient in payment for his compassionate care.
Our family went to church every Sunday in our "Sunday best," and like our president, my father would sometimes read the Bible in the morning before heading to work.
My parents were also Republicans -- common, and true compassionate conservatives-who would not belong to the exclusive country club and who were charitable in every sense.
Beloved by the community and particularly by his patients, he was a general practitioner that delivered babies, repaired hernias, set bones, treated pneumonia and -- well, it seemed like everything, really.
He was the school physician, and at a recent high school reunion, my classmates all had a story to tell about something that he had done for them -- fix a broken nose, coach them through a complicated labor and delivery, remove an infected gall bladder.
My father was a complex person who was difficult to know. He didn't become my hero until several years after his death in 1992, and for me, that carries all of the regrets that go with insight coming too late.
He was muscular and strong, an outdoorsman and a hunter -- a man's man. The one and only time I saw him cry, I was a sophomore in high school. His lack of control was both a shock to me and a life-altering experience where my feelings for him changed in an instant. He became human.
Dad was just home following his efforts to save a 16-year-old girl who had developed a raging infection from a "botched abortion." She was a student at the neighboring school so I didn't know her, but he knew her well.
The shame of an unintended pregnancy had forced her to an unskilled abortionist who used dirty instruments on a table in a garage. By the time she came to my father, the infection had spread, and she died under his care. He was despondent and angry for weeks.
With wisdom based on first-hand experience, my conservative parents breathed a sigh of relief at the Roe v. Wade decision back in 1973.
They knew the significance of eradicating these self-righteous, mean-spirited laws. They welcomed the end of onerous, life-threatening prohibitions on women making personal decisions about childbearing.
My dad has been gone many years, but he would not have been pleased to see science replaced by a narrow view of morality and politicians again claiming jurisdiction over women's bodies and lives a full 34 years after the Roe decision. How angry he would be to see physicians threatened and harassed for providing compassionate care to women making difficult life choices.
He had welcomed the advent of new technologies that gave women and men the opportunity to plan their families, and he would be furious, as I am, to know that our president had appointed someone who does not even support contraception to run our nation's family planning program.
Before the days of Medicare, Medicaid, and even Blue Cross/Blue Shield, my parents spent Christmas Eve in front of the fireplace going through the unpaid bills of Dad's patients. They usually burned the bills and forgave their debts, except for a few who they knew could and should pay.
The inequity of poor women -- those perhaps most impacted by an unintended pregnancy -- being denied funds for abortion care is something they could not have understood.
The issue of abortion is abstract and hypothetical for some and Roe is a history lesson for others. But for those whose memories stretch back a few decades, and for my father and all of our mothers and grandmothers and sisters, the significance of Jan. 22, 1973, can not be overstated.
This week, I am honoring my father and the memory of that 16 year-old girl. I am telling the story because going back is not an option.
J. Michael Taylor, M.D., (e-mail: email@example.com) is a physician in Portland, Maine.
Copyright © 2007, Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.