And in too many religious people he sees inconsistencies. They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need. …
As a physician, he said, you’re privy to patients’ secrets — to their truths — and understand that few people live up to their own stated ideals. He has treated a philandering pastor, a drug-abusing financier. “I see life as it really is,” he told me, “not how we wish it were.”
He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “whore” at every woman who walked into the clinic.
One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ ” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.
She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”
“Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”