Illinois doctor shrugs off protests, plans to keep performing abortions

October 20, 1991|By Michael Martinez | Michael Martinez,Chicago Tribune

AURORA, Ill. -- Dr. Aleksander Jakubowski, frequent target for increasingly violent attacks by anti-abortion demonstrators, takes a surprisingly mild view of the protesters who often clamor outside his office.

The 53-year-old physician came to the United States as a Cold War refugee in 1968. And because he can remember the absence of freedom in the then-Communist bloc, he doesn't become deeply perturbed by the demonstrations.

"When you look out the window and see people protesting peacefully, you say, 'I'm in America,' " he said.

Not all the protests have been peaceful. Recently, vandals caused $150,000 damage to his Aurora gynecological clinic. Days later, vandals poured paint and acidic paint remover on his car.

Dr. Jakubowski, an affable man with thinning, graying hair and an easy smile, sometimes leaves out articles and backtracks his sentences as he speaks in a voice still accented by his native Lithuania.

"I'm still a firm believer that this is the good old U.S.A., and I'm hopeful society will take proper measures, and before long, we'll know what people want" on the abortion issue, he said.

Like other physicians in his generation, Dr. Jakubowski can also remember when abortion was illegal and women risked their lives to obtain the procedure.

"I'm old enough to have seen all the possible complications of an illegal abortion," he said.

"I hate to see again, to go to the hospital and see a 16-year-old girl disemboweled by somebody who before practiced astronomy and decided to go into obstetrics.

"Most of us in this country, we have seen terrible, terrible complications beyond description."

Dr. Jakubowski has become a target because he is one of the few doctors in the Chicago area who perform abortions in the second trimester.

He also follows a regular routine in his 120-mile commutes between his clinics in Milwaukee and Aurora, and he refuses to change his habits of visiting certain roadside restaurants for coffee or a sandwich.

In April, protesters chained themselves to his car after he stopped at the Lake Forest (Ill.) Oasis on the Tri-State Tollway.

Despite the protests, Dr. Jakubowski said that he remains determined to continue offering abortions. He said protesters will have to run him out of the medical profession before he stops performing the procedure.

"From Day One, any physician who enters medical school is confronted with the issue of pregnancy termination, and when you go in the ob/gyn program, it's part of your training," he said. "I look at pregnancy termination as part of my gynecological-obstetrical practice."

While Dr. Jakubowski said he has delivered 6,000 babies in Poland and the United States, he would not say how many abortions he has performed.

And while he has described himself as a Roman Catholic "in a general, universal way," he would not delve into his religious feelings about performing abortions.

"The decision to have an abortion, it's one of the most dramatic moments for a patient and her significant ones," he said. "All of us, we have to cope with it: my staff, nurses, counselors, and myself. In 27 years I haven't seen one happy woman enter my office."

Dr. Jakubowski was born in a Polish quarter of Vilnius, Lithuania. When the Soviet army occupied the Baltic country, his family fled 1945 to Gdansk, Poland.

Dr. Jakubowski left Poland in 1968, a year after being certified in obstetrics and gynecology.

"It was tough times. It was [Leonid] Brezhnev times," he said, referring to the former Soviet leader. He told the government he was taking a two-week vacation in Sweden, and he never returned.

His fiance also fled Poland with her young daughter from a previous marriage, telling the government she was taking a vacation in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The couple rendezvoused in Chicago and married in Wheaton, Ill.

Nine months later, his wife delivered the first of their two daughters.

His Milwaukee clinic conducts mostly abortions. In Aurora, 20 percent of his practice involves abortions, and the rest is related to gynecological services, he said.

Anti-abortion protesters have gained a momentary victory against Dr. Jakubowski. After maintaining his Milwaukee practice since 1980, Dr. Jakubowski closed the clinic, the Bread & Roses Women's Health Center, on Oct. 1. The landlord did not renew his lease.

"People are so terrified to be vandalized," Dr. Jakubowski said recently in Milwaukee while women from as far as Michigan sat in the waiting room. "Nobody will lease us space. We have to close, so we'll practice only in Aurora."

Attacks against abortion clinics across the country have become more aggressive and violent. The number of arson attacks and fire-bombings increased to seven this year from four last year, according to the National Abortion Federation, an association of abortion providers.

Young physicians are expressing greater reluctance to perform abortions. That leaves older doctors such as Dr. Jakubowski to continue offering the service.

The number of abortion providers in the nation dropped 11 percent between 1982 and 1988, while the number of abortions each year, 1.5 million, remained stable, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute of New York, a research organization.

Explanations for the shrinking pool include anti-abortion harassment and violence, social stigma, professional isolation, peer pressure and the perception of abortion as an unrewarding field of medicine, according to the National Abortion Federation and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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