By Zachary D. Roberts
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Conlin also helped pick the first Giuliani health commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, whose department runs abortion counseling and family-planning centers, and says that Giuliani's transition team "would never have considered anyone who wasn't pro-choice." Hamburg was one of only three commissioners initially appointed by Giuliani's predecessor, David Dinkins, who was retained in the new administration. She served three years under Giuliani before taking an assistant secretary post in Bill Clinton's Health and Human Services agency. Hamburg says her pro-choice preferences were a given in the Giuliani administration, and that "the subject of abortion never came up" during or after the selection process. "The only question Giuliani asked me in my interview was whether I believed in the legalization of drugs," Hamburg says. "He was comfortable with our high-risk pregnancy and pregnancy-prevention programs, though he didn't engage much. There were no restrictions on abortion counseling. This was not an area where there was any signal of a policy change between Dinkins and Giuliani."
Shortly after taking office, Giuliani also reappointed Pam Maraldo, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), to the city's four-member Board of Health. Maraldo got to know Giuliani through her close friend, Maria Mitchell, another pro-choice activist that Giuliani named to chair the Health and Hospitals Corporation, whose 11 hospitals actually perform about 6,500 abortions a year. Maraldo says that Giuliani's campaign consultant, David Garth, arranged a dinner that included her, Giuliani, Hanover, and Mitchell during the 1993 campaign, and that Mitchell asked her in 1994 to allow Giuliani to speak at the organization's annual national event in Atlanta.
Gloria Feldt, who subsequently became PPFA president, remembered Giuliani's appearance: "That was my first encounter with him, and he spoke very eloquently about family planning. It's hard to be that eloquent if you're saying something you don't believe. He was very believable." Maraldo, who also went to Giuliani's periodic Roev. Wade celebrations and supported his re-election in 1997, says that "in whatever way he could, he created the impression, whether it was in speeches or over dinner, that he was authentically pro-choice." City records indicate that Giuliani's health and youth agencies awarded more than $2 million in contracts to Planned Parenthood's New York City branch over the years.
Mitchell wasn't the only pro-choice activist installed at HHC. The first chief executive officer that Giuliani put there, Dr. Bruce Siegel, was another pro-choicer who, like Hamburg, says it was simply the default position within the Giuliani administration. "All Giuliani ever talked to me about was saving money or privatization," Siegel says. "I don't remember abortion ever coming up." The mayor also appointed Barbara Gimbel, a legendary leader of the leading statewide pro-choice group within the GOP, the Republican Family Committee, to the HHC board of directors. Gimbel had helped organize the Republican contingent from New York that joined a million other women in a 1992 march on Washington that included Donna Hanover. Announcing that Rudy was home baby-sitting the kids, Hanover said that day that the Bush administration needed to focus "on the fact that so many people in their own party, not just the Democrats, feel passionately" about the threat to abortion rights. Gimbel, who served on the board throughout the Giuliani administration, said the tens of thousands of abortions performed by the corporation over those years were "never an issue." Siegel's and Mitchell's successors, Luis Marcos and Rosa Gil, were also strongly pro-choice.
A 2000 NARAL study of abortion services at HHC facilities, coupled with other data acquired by the Voice, flies in the face of Giuliani's current posturing about hating abortion and doing everything he can to reduce it. Using 1999 data, the study found that HHC's 11 hospitals provided almost a thousand more abortions than the city's 35 private hospitals. It chronicled the doubling of the number of abortions at Bellevue, one of the corporation's flagship facilities, from 400 in 1997 to over 800. It boasted that Kings County Hospital "is possibly the largest hospital abortion provider in the country, performing over 2,000 abortions per year"the largest number of surgeries the hospital does.
And Giuliani's 15-minute exchange with Reiter about partial-birth abortion was hardly an academic exchange. The hospitals he ran in 1997 were already performing large numbers of late-term abortions. In fact, the NARAL report attributed many of the hospitals' second-trimester abortions to the endless delays caused by the HHC bureaucracy, noting that women who sought abortions in the first trimester often had to wait critical weeks to get them. "HHC is often the last resort for women with later abortion needs or complications," the NARAL report concluded. It pointed to HHC's Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx and said it was "relied upon by the city's medical communityby private clinics and every other hospitalfor its physician skill in late-term cases." Doctors at Jacobi train "many current second-trimester providers."
Cristina Page, the NARAL consultant who did the study, told the Voice that HHC "doesn't turn anyone away for anything," adding that, in the Giuliani years, some HHC facilities weren't "even billing or submitting forms" for reimbursement of abortion services. Her report speaks of "very high self-pay rates," meaning that the facility ate the cost in most cases. There were 2,928 "self-pay" abortions at HHC in 1999, compared to a mere 542 at the voluntary hospitals. Dr. Van Dunn, HHC's senior vice president for medical and professional affairs, says that "if someone clearly had insurance," HHC would seek reimbursement, but abortions went un-reimbursed "50 percent of the time." Lilliam Paoli, who ran HHC's Lincoln Hospital under Giuliani, said that it was "abortion on demand," even for those who could pay and didn't, and that "Rudy never changed that policy."