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ABORT AND DELIVER

Dr. Robert Tamis built his medical practice by making it easier for women to have babies.

In the early 1960s, the Phoenix obstetrician was one of the first Arizona doctors to prescribe epidural anesthesia, a treatment that made his patients' labor and delivery less painful.

A decade later, he opened a sperm bank and began specializing in high-tech infertility treatments. Last month, he heralded two "miracle" pregnancies by mastering the latest technology.

All this from the doctor who established Arizona's first abortion clinic.
Tamis, an obstetrician-gynecologist, is the only doctor in Phoenix who performs both abortions and high-tech fertility treatments. In nearly 30 years of practicing medicine, he estimates he has performed more than 50,000 abortions.

Critics call the doctor confused. "It's certainly contradictory," says Jay Nenninger, director of Arizona Right to Life. "He's a very confused individual."

Tamis says he doesn't think performing both procedures creates a conflict. "I don't know how as a gynecologist to not be in favor of a woman's right to choose. Women are my patients."

Tamis does detect one important irony in the controversy. Pro-life activists, Tamis predicts, might actually halt delivery of test-tube babies. He believes that the U.S. Supreme Court this year will reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion and allowed him to open his clinic.

Tamis says in many high-tech fertility treatments, multiple eggs are fertilized. But only the seemingly healthiest embryos are implanted in a woman's body. Others are routinely discarded, Tamis says. If the Supreme Court agrees with antiabortionists that life begins at conception, such programs could be stopped.

"If this is a human life, I don't want to be accused of murder," Tamis says. "I don't know of one obstetrician who would want to be subjected to that. . . . They may accuse me of fantasy. It's not fantasy."

But John Jakubczyk, the attorney for Arizona Right to Life, says Tamis' argument is a smoke screen. The Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade only addresses whether the state or federal government legislates the legality of abortions. "They're trying to cloud the issue because they do not want to focus on what an abortion does, which is take the life of a child."

Meanwhile, protesters target Tamis' abortion clinic every day.
Tamis says his practice isolates him from other doctors. Some colleagues consider him "tainted." "I believe some doctors don't send me patients because of my involvement in the abortion movement. Even today, some people wouldn't work for us at the fertility institute because I was associated with pregnancy termination."

Tamis looked for a building to house his abortion clinic for more than a year, he says, but couldn't find anyone willing to rent to him. "We finally bought a building. We had to."

So just how did the gynecologist decide to open an abortion clinic?
Tamis says in the 1950s, when he was receiving medical training, gynecologists routinely performed abortions, but only after finding a psychiatrist who would attest that the patient's emotional health would be endangered by a pregnancy.

After a stint in the Army, Tamis decided he didn't want to function as "God" for his patients anymore. That's when he began consulting them and asking their opinions. Because he was a woman's doctor, he began thinking about who should have a right to tell women when they should bear their children.

In 1969, Tamis took his beliefs public. Tamis, along with Planned Parenthood, filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona to make abortions more accessible. The lawsuit floundered in the court system until the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.

As to the religious component of the abortion debate, Tamis says he's a doctor, not a clergyman. "It's not for me to decide whether there's a God or not, just as it's not for me to decide whether a woman should have a pregnancy terminated or not."

After all the years of arguing the issues, Tamis says talking about abortion makes him tired. "Sometimes I feel like I'm 200 years old, but I'm 60."

Tamis plans to continue practicing high-tech fertility treatments and performing abortions until he retires. "I will stop performing pregnancy terminations when I want to stop, not when anyone forces me to stop." --

Tamis is the only doctor in Phoenix who performs both abortions and high-tech fertility treatments.

Pro-life activists might actually halt delivery of test-tube babies, Tamis predicts.

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Ellen Grant