The narrator, Rick, is let out of rehab to live with his older brother, Philip, who is a doctor in Detroit. He will work at a mundane job in Philip's lab. The awkwardness of their encounter slowly evaporates and Rick begins to enjoy life with his family, especially his two young nephews. But he is concerned about Philip's weary appearance, so reminiscent of their father.

It emerges, quickly and to Rick's surprise, that Philip runs an abortion clinic. The clinic is subject to constant harassment by a persistent group of religious, "right-to-lifers," who taunt the doctors, the workers, the patients, and their families at home. Rick struggles to control--even avoid--his feelings; and he tries (unsuccessfully) to suppress the desire to befriend patients.

Eventually, he is reconciled to his new task through an unwelcome fixation on one patient. But angry urges to protect her and his brother well up. After weeks of pent-up rage and fear, he hides a gun, loses control, and begins shooting aggressive protestors. The murder is "nothing"; it's "just like killing babies."


A frank and disturbing exploration of the social conflicts surrounding abortion, in which none of the actors emerge as heroes. The protestors are portrayed as intolerant and wantonly violent. The doctor and his family are broken down, his patients frightened and confused; the task, grim and best handled by not thinking too deeply upon it. After alluding to many arguments both for and against, the author's opinion on the ethical matter of abortion is ambiguous, because his character, Rick--admittedly a man with serious social problems--graduates from drug abuse to homicide through his exposure to abortion and its detractors.

Primary Source

After the Plague and Other Stories



Place Published

Harmondsworth, UK



Page Count