Retired New Jersey abortion provider Robert Livingston was a champion for abortion rights in the '60s and '70s — once, in 1972, he even held a press conference outing himself as an illegal abortion doctor. But now, almost half a century later, Livingston avoids talking about reproductive rights because he believes the issue has become more "emotionally charged" than it was back in the day.
"I would be afraid," the 77-year-old, who now lives in what he called a "conservative" Florida retirement community, told The Record. "The atmosphere is so ominous now. I wouldn't know where to begin."
Livingston said he thought the stigma of being an abortion doctor is greater now than it was in the 1960s and that public opposition is stronger than he's ever seen — including during the 1970s, when his office was surrounded by protestors on a daily basis. But he's not just talking about national sentiment. He's only spoken with one of the 300 residents of his retirement community about his pro-choice past, and when he broached the idea of writing an autobiography with his children, they asked him not to because they worried it would ruin their medical practices (they're all doctors) and anger some of their anti-choice spouses.
The retired doctor was once such a fixture of the pro-choice movement that even Carol Lavis, the former interim chairwoman of Bergen County Right to Life, acknowledged his importance. "He definitely was the radical figure in the area," she said. "When he started talking up, pro-lifers said, ‘Oh, boy, we've got to get our act together.'" Now, especially after the Akin "legitimate rape" controversy, Livingston is dying to talk about his past — but no one wants to listen.
"I'm bursting to talk about my experience with abortion over all these years," Livingston said, even though he also said he never thought of himself as a radical. "Those years, I didn't think I was anyone special," he said. "It needed to be done. The patients were so grateful. And it was so easy."
Retired N.J. abortion doctor speaks up, again [The Record]