That upbeat message was a marked contrast from the lecture Lederer and her friends heard last fall at the University of Colorado's medical school in downtown Denver. Medical Students for Choice had invited Dr. Warren Hern, a legend in the abortion rights movement, to give them encouragement. He offered none.
None of you will be an abortion provider, he told the students. You don't have it in you.
"Do something else. Fix broken legs," he often advises. "No reasonable person would do this."
Hern, 68, practices in Boulder, Colo., a liberal college town. Still, he's afraid to open his blinds at night for fear of a sniper hidden in the bushes. His clinic is protected by a fence and four layers of bulletproof glass.
Abortion is so stigmatized, Hern said, that his fellow physicians shun him. Even his patients often regard him with disgust: "They've absorbed so much antiabortion rhetoric, they feel a sense of revulsion that they have to come into my office and seek treatment."
Hern specializes in late second- and third-trimester abortions; his patients come to him from around the world, many with late diagnosis of fetal deformity. Though he feels certain he's doing right by the women, Hern still feels conflicted when he steps into his basement surgery.
He once wrote that "the sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current" — and after three decades, he is not inured to that feeling. "We are hard-wired as a species to protect small, young, helpless creatures," he said. "The fetus is not a baby, but it's close. Some are very close. It's difficult."
Lederer does not know how she will handle such emotion; the closest she's come to performing an abortion was suctioning the seeds out of a papaya to learn a first-trimester technique. She may, in the end, restrict her practice to early abortions. But that's not an easy solution to accept. She can't see how she could ever justify taking one woman as a patient while turning away another because her pregnancy is a few weeks more advanced.
She also knows that the few doctors who perform late second- and third-trimester abortions are mostly in their 60s or 70s. "Who's going to do this when they leave? Someone has to," Lederer said. "I feel in my heart of hearts that it's the right thing to do."
Lederer grew up talking women's rights around the dinner table. "I still have a signed Gloria Steinem book that my mom bought me when I was 2," she said.
Her first year in college, she sampled a woman's studies course — and instantly felt at home. "It was like, 'These are my people!' " she said.
Lederer majored in women's studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder, but also took pre-med requirements with the goal of following in the footsteps of her father, a pediatrician. In her junior year, she combined her two interests with an internship at a family planning clinic that offered first-trimester abortions.
"It was an incredible, life-changing experience," she said.
She was surprised that the clinic's patients included women of all income, ages and education levels. Lederer helped out a bit, sterilizing instruments, but spent most of her time observing these women as they ended pregnancies that, for one reason or another, they felt they could not handle.
"This was something tangible you could do for people," she said. "You could make a difference in these women's lives."
She completed the internship determined to perform abortions one day: "It was my mission."
As Lederer soon learned, there's no straightforward career path to an abortion clinic. Most medical schools barely mention the subject and it's rarely included in post-graduate clinical programs, known as residencies. Just half the nation's obstetrics-gynecology residencies — and only 20 out of 400 family practice residencies — integrate abortion into physician training, according to Lois Backus, executive director of Medical Students for Choice. Most residents interested in the field must study on their own, often through after-hours electives in abortion clinics.
"They have to be enormously committed to work it in," Backus said.
Lederer plans to apply for residencies that offer abortion training, but beyond that, she's uncertain how to shape her career.
Does she want to perform abortions full time? She might serve more women that way. But she'd miss the rich variety of women's healthcare — especially delivering babies. Once settled, how public does she take her abortion practice? Her instincts are to speak up, but would it be wiser to keep quiet, to protect her family?
EXTREME violence is always a threat. A Texas man was indicted this month on charges of planting a bomb filled with nails outside an abortion clinic in Austin. The National Abortion Federation is so fearful of attack that officials don't announce the dates of the annual conference, much less the location.
But the violence has subsided greatly since the mid-1990s, when seven doctors and clinic workers in the U.S. and Canada were killed and dozens of clinics were targeted with bombings, arsons and acid attacks. Doctors today are more likely to face pickets and pray-ins.
Lederer encountered such a demonstration recently at the national convention of Medical Students for Choice. A truck covered with grisly photos of fetal parts was parked outside. One demonstrator appeared to be taking pictures of the students' name badges as they walked in and out of the hotel.
Far from being intimidated, Lederer found the protest exhilarating. "Everyone sat up even taller," she said. "The general vibe was very empowering."