Scenes From an Abortion

In 2000, Brian Finkel on average performed four to 15 abortions daily, six days a week, roughly 20 percent of the abortions performed annually in Arizona. New Times profiled Finkel in 1999 ("The Terminator," June 17) but was not privy at that time to the performance of an abortion. The next year, Finkel, with permission from a patient, allowed a reporter to watch him perform an abortion. That account has never been published until now.

Rock music pours out of the ceiling of the small operating room in the Metro Phoenix Women's Center on a cool March morning in 2000, as Dr. Brian Finkel prepares for Mary's abortion.

"All right!" he says, approaching the table where the 26-year-old lies, naked under the gown except for her socks. "Sit up straight, please. Nice deep breath. Once more. Arm up. Take a deep breath. Stick your tongue out.

". . . Okay, why don't you put your feet in the stirrups and come down to the edge of the table, please. You're going to feel me touch the opening to your vagina, possibly your clitoris, and I will not intentionally hurt you. You can put that pillow under your head if you'd like.

". . . That's a big rock you've got on that ring there, sweetheart, somebody loves you. How big is that sucker? Make sure it's there before you leave."

Finkel and his assistant, Vernora, chuckle.

"What better way to spend three months' salary than on the woman you love forever?" the doctor asks.

"Oh, he makes more than that," Mary assures him. (Her name has been changed.)

"Oh yeah? He makes more money than that? That tightwad! He get you a car?"

"We're working on that. I want a new truck."

A mattress commercial comes on.

"You're gonna taste something in your mouth in a few seconds, all right?" Finkel says, as the Valium drip begins.

He busies himself between Mary's legs, opening her cervix with a metal speculum, preparing instruments and singing a Pretenders song, with gusto.

"I wanna let you see . . . nobody but me . . ."

"All right, darling," he says, "you're going to feel a shot in your vagina three different times. Try not to jump, okay, and I won't intentionally hurt you. Here's your first one. And your second one. And your last one."

Finkel waits a few minutes for the shots to take effect. " . . . nobody but me. I'm special, so special, I wanna find some of your attention . . . Give it to me!"

"All right, sugar, you're gonna feel a pinch, a tug and a bunch of cramps, and then we'll be done, all right?" he says, sticking a tube about an inch in diameter inside the speculum, into Mary's cervix, and flipping on the Synevac Vacuum Curettage -- a metal, industrial-looking box about the size of a mini-refrigerator.

A whirring noise drowns out the radio. The suction procedure -- in which the contents of the uterus are sucked out through the tube -- takes about three minutes. A medical waste bag fills with foamy, orange-red liquid. Mary shudders a few times, and cries out. (Thanks to the Valium, she won't remember the procedure.)

The nurse comforts her. Finkel keeps singing.

"Well I'm gonna make you see there's nobody out there, nobody like me . . ."

He pauses, calling out to Mary, "Sugar, you're doing great."

"You're all done, Mary," Vernora tells her.

Finkel hits a switch, the whirring stops, and Sugar Ray's singing about his girlfriend's four-post bed.

"All done, sugar, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Finkel asks.

Mary doesn't say a word, so Finkel answers for her, in a falsetto: "Not at all."

"Take a deep breath, dear. We're done. Permission granted to breathe," he says, walking up to the head of the bed. "Sweetheart, take a deep breath for me. That's better.

"All right, Mary, Vernora's going to give you a couple of pain pills and then we'll let you rest here by yourself. That all right?"

He pulls out a heating pad, turns it on and places it on Mary's abdomen, puts her hand on top of it.

"Okay, put that big diamond on that thing. There you go."

Finkel pauses to fill a cup with water, sips, then straightens a painting of Native American pottery that hangs above Mary's head, and leaves the room to see more patients.

Later that morning, the nurse leads Mary into Finkel's office. She's dressed, but woozy.

"Are you feeling better?" Finkel asks. She nods.

It was so much nicer than the last place she got an abortion, Mary says, where she could hear other women screaming and they were all crowded into the same room in their gowns. And she liked the music in the operating room; it reminded her of happy times.

"We party on here, baby," Finkel says, rising to escort her out.

Mary looks up adoringly at the doctor. "Thank you," she says.

"All right," he says. "Give us a hug."

And she does.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at