Monday, November 30, 2009

open your ears

I, admittedly, have never had an abortion. I am so very grateful for my legal right to choose to have an abortion, but am equally grateful that I have never had to exercise my choice. Because no matter how I feel any given day or no matter what I say about the politics that surround abortion, I can never fully put myself in the shoes of the woman who is getting that abortion and who did exercise her choice. I have never pretended to know what she feels or understand why she made the decisions that she did. And that’s the thing, I don’t need to. It’s not my job to understand or judge. My job is to support, counsel on options, and provide a safe, legal procedure. Her body, her choice.
I have sat across from so many women exercising their choice. They are teens, they are in their 40s. They are already mothers, they are not ready to be mothers. Their boyfriend is abusive, their boyfriend is supportive of the decision. Their birth control didn’t work, even though they used it perfectly. They didn’t have birth control because they were taught abstinence only. They are anti-choice, except when it comes to their own abortion. Last week, they were protesting the clinic, and today they are your patient. Every woman’s story is different. Ask any Abortioneer, and she/he will tell you the same. No one can describe the typical abortion patient, because there is no typical patient.
It’s funny to me when people say abortion hurts women. Do they mean literally? I mean, from what I have seen, some women do complain of intense cramps. If they mean figuratively, I guess I don’t follow. From what I have seen, abortion helps women. No one in the clinic forces a women to have an abortion, she is there of her own free will and choice because, well, she needs help. If people don’t believe that, then they aren’t listening. And I honestly can’t tell you of a more gratifying field of work. In all my medical experiences, patients with a safe, legal option to terminate an unwanted pregnancy are the most grateful and most thankful patients I have ever encountered.
And I am grateful that if I should need to exercise my choice in the future, someone will be there to offer the same counsel and support I provide. I am grateful of these things for you too, reader, no matter what you believe.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

No alarms & no surprises please.

There's a song off a great album, OK Computer by Radiohead, called "No Surprises," which I consider to be my work anthem. I listen to it all the time. It just really sums up for me how I feel about being an Abortioneer sometimes. I thought I'd share it with you all.

A heart that's full up like a landfill,
a job that slowly kills you,
bruises that won't heal.
You look so tired-unhappy,
bring down the government,
they don't, they don't speak for us.
I'll take a quiet life,
a handshake of carbon monoxide,

with no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises,
Silence, silence.

This is my final fit,
my final bellyache,

with no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises please.

Such a pretty house
and such a pretty garden.

No alarms and no surprises (get me outta here),
no alarms and no surprises (get me outta here),
no alarms and no surprises, please.

So yes, kind of a Debbie Downer, but sometimes if I'm having a bad day putting this song on makes me feel better. I love the line, "Bruises that won't heal," because in this line of work that is so applicable to so many different things. I might be in this field for the long haul, but if it turns out that I'm not, I will never forget all the stories I have heard from hundreds of women. I will never forget the pain, the suffering, and the joy and the tears of happiness. Working with these women has definitely changed my life.

The line "You look so tired-unhappy, bring down the government, they don't, they don't speak for us," is especially poignant right now considering all the nonsense with the Stupak amendment and the whole health care thing. Even with Obama in office, the government doesn't speak for us. Sometimes I wonder if anyone really has our back in the end. I know that Obama would never let that thing end up in the final version and that he is pro-choice and blahblahblah but sometimes I just get frustrated with everyone. All I'm trying to do is help women get a legal medical procedure! That's it. STEP. OFF.

The part "no alarms and no surprises" especially sticks with me the most, though, ever since Dr. Tiller was murdered. Working in this field, a "surprise" at work can be a bomb, a death threat, a murder. You never know what is going to happen. Sometimes I don't know what I will do if something happens to another provider. There are too many crazy people out there and sometimes I get worried.

No alarms and no surprises, please.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Today, I'm thankful for...

Some families go around their Thanksgiving table taking turns listing what they're thankful for. Some families aren't all at one table. Recently, a former co-worker of mine commented that every person who passed through the doors of the clinic, whether employee or client, became a part of a family of choice, and those women, wherever they are, are with me. I've made it my personal policy not to tell client's stories on this blog, as much as they touch me, because they are not my stories to tell. But their gratitude and their graciousness is mine to share. In their words:

"Thank you for being here."
"I'm so glad to have my life back."
"I will feel so relieved and so free after this abortion."
"Que dios te bendiga mucho."
"Maybe I'm not selfish for doing this. My son needs me to be there for him."
"Now I can finish school. When the time is right, I'll be able to provide for my baby."
"I've never met so many non-judgmental and supportive people."
"I don't want to be responsible for a child suffering."
"Tu eres una angel."
"I'll never forget you."
"Thank you for being so nice to me. I promise you, I'll never identify as pro-life again."
"You really listen to me."
"Thank you for normalizing this procedure."
"I can't wait to tell people that an abortion clinic helped me KEEP my baby."
"I wish this doctor could be my primary care doctor."
"I like you. You let me know that it's OK to crack a smile today."
"You're doing good work for women."
"God's with me today. He knows what's in my heart."
"I've always preached against this. Now, I've walked in another man's shoes."
"I trust you."
"I'm glad you let me know that it's OK to mourn."
"This experience let me take control of a tiny part of my life."

And thank you, readers for hearing our stories and for letting us know we have allies. Thank you, abortion providers of the world. And thank you, fellow Abortioneers, for being you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Burning Negativity

This weekend I sat in a circle with my sisters and my dad and we had a bonfire. A healing ritual if you will. We burned hurt, anger, fear, abuse, and much more. We laughed and cried. Abuse and disrespect were the catalyst for this circle. We all healed, each of us with different scars some that ran deeper than others, and some so fresh they had not even begun to scab.

I have toyed around in my mind with all sorts of thoughts on what to write. I'm not in the direct line of action these days and truly I'm in need of this hiatus. There were and still are so many other things stirring in my soul that I need this time to work through. While working as an abortioneer for the last 4 years, I had an ovary removed due to a 13 cm cyst, I came out as lesbian, I was raped by a woman, I experienced large scale disaster and temporarily lost my home, and my sanity, I was also robbed at gunpoint and jumped exactly one year later.

Not long before I left my job in abortionland a wonderful supervisor noticed the burnt out nature of many of the employees. We all love helping women get the information and care we need, but its also exhausting as we often share. This boss lady brought us information about Secondary Trauma and Compassion Fatigue. Many of us joked about these very seemingly silly concepts. As I have had a moment to breath a bit a fresh air, I began to think more about the things I learned in abortionland, experiences gained as well as the difficulties. Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder(STSD) is about experiencing symptoms much like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of working with someone else who has experienced trauma. Here is a semi-recent study regarding STSD and working with survivors.

I fear rape more than anything. I always assumed my hypervigilence about men, strangers, night time, being alone, and anything else that might be associated with rape was all because of my own experiences. I've been raped and I was assaulted twice. I've been told its PTSD and I don't doubt it thats part of it. However, the longer I am away from abortionland the more I realize that my fears and hypervigilence is a culmination of PTSD from my own experiences and secondary trauma. For years I heard women's rape stories maybe not everyday, but more than a few times a week for sure. The thousands of woman I talked to are tucked away in the crevices of my memory sometimes I remember a story or one sort of haunts my thoughts when I don't even realize it. I wake up any night I sleep alone in a fright and have to sooth myself back to sleep.

On saturday night we burned abuse and our abusers. I am burning this negativity I carry in my soul, I started on Saturday but I'm finishing.

I grew up in abortionland, I developed passion, love, counseling skills, a connection to thousands of women's lives, a little bit of professionalism, and a lot more. I'm thankful but I'm still figuring out to deal with the trauma that is integral to so many women's experience of their bodies including mine.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sometimes a little reminder

this is how I feel while counseling

For the last several years one of my guiding principles has been that you should do what you're willing to do that others are not. That's one reason I keep doing jobs that sometimes seem inconveniently "controversial", and tasks requiring talents that don't come naturally to me. For example, I'm good with policy and analysis and not as strong in what they call "interpersonal intelligence," so counseling strangers sort of drains me even though I really value it. Sometimes for motivation I have to remind myself that there aren't enough abortioneers in the world for me to slack off.

This weekend I was so tired and couldn't believe I'd signed up for another clinic shift. If only I could sleep in this time. But I went to work and ended up spending half the day with a woman who felt she would understand her counseling session better if she had an interpreter. Her English was not great but it was decent, and her other language was one that I speak but am very self-conscious about; I felt disappointed to have to interpret. But over the next hour she opened up to me about the things she hadn't been able or willing to tell her other counselor.

She and her three children joined her husband in the US less than a year ago. Before moving, she was a foreign-language teacher; now she has to pass an ESL class in order to get certified to teach here, which seems kind of silly. She wasn't happy about having an abortion, but said it was the right thing to do because she's barely able to keep her three kids safe and happy right now; they're pretty young, and she doesn't know anyone in her new town. Have you ever wanted to give a client your phone number and tell her to call you for anything? My husband brought me and the little one here today, we had to leave the two older ones at home alone, and I feel scared about it. A mother shouldn't have to do that, she said. Back home I would never do this abortion -- there's so much family there to help with kids and share hard times. She hopes to have more children when things become more stable, so she had a lot of questions about abortion's effect on her future fertility.

I was really anxious today, but now that I'm talking to you I feel really relieved. I'm so glad you could speak with me. At those words I realized I was going to stay at work until her procedure was finished and her husband was back to take her home. She was stoic during the long wait, the cold pre-op room, the procedure -- her lips pressed together, her fists tight near her chest until I offered my hand -- the final ultrasound check, the cramping recovery. In the recovery room she asked me about medical complications, asked me if abortion is legal here, and told me how her religion accepts abortion in the first 40 days of pregnancy -- Before that, it's not a person, it's only blood. We squeezed hands again before I left the room and she said God bless you, really, God bless you in two languages.

Some people aren't comfortable with what I do -- including my parents, who visited me this weekend and had asked me to get my shift covered so I could spend more time with them. My dad used to ask about twice a year whether I was planning to change fields. He would say, why don't I spend my energy working on contraceptive use instead? Well, having the power and tools to prevent unwanted pregnancy is fantastic, and my job does include contraception services. But I won't consider leaving Abortionland as long as abortion services are still needed and abortioneers remain too few. Being in the right place at the right time to make someone's clinic experience more emotionally bearable is worth the social inconvenience, the missed Saturday sleep, the questions from family. I can't really complain.


Please excuse the ongoing interruption in service. Your regularly-scheduled Monday Abortioneer is currently somewhere unexpected. Namely, on a whole new plane of never-before-seen menstrual pain. Also, in the fetal position (heh!).

And I really wanted to share a story with you today. Bummed about the delay. See you as soon as I can sit upright and finish my post -- check back later tonight.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Human Kindness

Why are so many people afraid of the word abortion?

Even though 1 in 3 women will have an abortion before the age of 45, even though it is one of the safest medical procedures, people still find the need to keep it on the “down low.” Like when people come into the clinic for their appointment and whisper through the glass, “I'm here for my abortion,”…. And I whisper back “So is everyone else” (signaling to the other 50 people in the waiting room)

ABORTION!!! Maybe if it was called…. Noitroba? How do we get rid of the stigma attached to this word? Hmm… what do people like?

Most people would agree with human rights, right? What about the right to a fulfilling and happy life? The right to control your own body?

Abortion=Love, Choice, Relief, Option, Life, Happiness, Respect, Kindness….the list goes on. Abortion means so many positive things to so many different people, and yet it still “sounds bad.”

So maybe it’s just the word. Maybe it’s the tone in which people say it. Maybe everyone should say abortion at least once a day until it is no longer hushed and whispered in conversation. Abortion, abortion, abortion….is human kindness.

This weekend, I participated in a values clarification seminar where I was once again, the “abortion person.” In a room full of like-minded, sex positive women, values were colliding and being challenged. I became aware of the assumptions I carry about how important being “pro-choice” actually is to women, and the role abortion plays in their lives.

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a girl in my class about abortion, and her work as a health educator in schools. She was genuinely interested in hearing about the work I had done in the abortion field and it was such a breath of fresh air to freely talk about what I was most passionate about.

The next day, I saw her in the student cafĂ© area and beamed with excitement, remembering the lengthy conversation we had just had about abortion. I came up to her in front of some of her friends, mentioned something from our talk, and watched as her face dropped and head shifted away. She hurriedly said “uh huh,” and then went on her way. I suddenly remembered, she might have opened up to me the other day because she felt comfortable and safe. She could talk to me in a non-judgmental, respectful and loving space. In a different context, in front of her “other” friends, it was a topic she did not want to openly and publicly discuss.

There are days now that pass where those conversations don’t happen, and when they do, I am reminded of my unconditional support and love for women. Why I constantly fight for safe and accessible abortion services, and why I will never stop fighting. I feel so grateful and comforted that there are other people, just like me out there, who feel there is nothing more than Human rights-which are sexual rights-which include the right to safe, legal and accessible abortion. These people in my life are sprinkled throughout different states and countries, and I often miss them in my everyday life. So thank you blog, and women of the blog, for filling a place in my heart.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Activist Friday!

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with my fellow students about the Stupak/Pitts Amendment. This amendment, which has been with us since the 7th of this month, seems to not been on the radar of many of my colleagues. True-we are all busy, but this is serious! And scary! And affects us as well as our patients.

After our discussions, my peers were appalled and outraged! They were ready to fight this.

This is what we need-this power and energy….especially from those that aren’t normally raising their voices on issues. Let’s harness this energy and use it for good.

So on this Friday, I encourage you all to talk to 3 people about the Stupak/Pitts Amendment and how it can affect our patients and millions of women in this country.

Call your senators and congresspeople about this issue! Encourage them not to support it. (It’s not scary to call-I promise! The person on the other line is usually in their low 20s.)

The Senate’s version of their healthcare bill came out Wednesday night and has milder abortion restrictions than the House bill. But at some point, after the Senate has voted, the House and Senate will have to merge this bill into one. The Stupak/Pitts Amendment must be left out.

Now let’s get to work!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Don't Stop Me Now

Today, I'm gonna have myself an abortioneery time
I feel sad that ladies in this countryyyyyy
Are pregnant in their vag-ees
And they don't want to be, they don't want to
'Cause their birth control failed or they got raped (etc)

I'm an abortioneer defending women's righhhhttts
Like Michael Steele defying the laws of loghahaiiiic
I'm an escort passing by anti protestors
I'm gonna go go go
There's no stopping me

Until Stupak came along Yeah!
Amending bills late at night
That's why they call him anti Women's Rights
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a real Democratic man out of you

Don't stop me now! I'm having such a good time
Enjoying my legal rights - don't stop me now
If you need an abortion, just give us a call!
Don't stop us now ('Cause we're having a good time)
Don't stop us now (Yes we're having a good time)
We don't want to stop at all!

I'm a laminaria dilating your cervix
Oh seaweed is cool
I am a doctor who performs abortions
I am a counselor ready to help
Like a yolk sac about to
Oh oh oh oh oh explode

I'm burning through money Yeah!
Two hundred dollars
That's why you should donate to a local fund
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make an abortioneer out of you

Don't stop me don't stop me don't stop me
Hey hey hey!
Don't stop me don't stop me
Ooh ooh ooh (I like it)
Don't stop me havin legal rights legal rights
Don't stop me don't stop me
Ooh ooh Alright
I'm burning through money Yeah!
Two hundred dollars
That's why you should donate to a local fund
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make an abortioneer out of you

Don't stop me now I'm having such a good time
I'm not having a ball don't stop me now
If you wanna have a good time
Just give me a call
Don't stop me now ('Cause I'm having a good time)
Don't stop me now (Yes I'm having a good time)
I don't wanna stop at all

La la la la laaaa
La la la la
La la laa laa laa laaa
La la laa la la la la la laaa hey!!....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I had always wondered about this, but never really had an appropriate context in which to pose the question. Here goes:

If Catholics are, in the most high-profile way, categorically opposed to abortion, then do other religious antis, including other Christian denominations ever feel isolated or poorly represented in the anti movement?

I think about this frequently. Maybe it's just because Catholics are the first group of people that come to mind when I think "anti". I suppose on the flip side another individual might think of Evangelicals, or simply Repubs. This may also have to do with my past personal experience with some Catholic meanies. I have, however, encountered objective evidence of the monopolization of anti-choice activities by Catholics and its subsequent turn-offing of others. I disclaim that this is a singular incident, and not necessarily generalizable (but probably so!).

As my new pro-choice passion is escorting, I've begun overhearing bits and pieces of anti rhetoric on the sidewalks in front of a local clinic. While I typically ignore the drivel, I couldn't help but pay some attention (albeit little) to a conversation that one of the regulars was having with a city worker. Allow me to set the scene: we escorts are informing patients and passers-by that the loonies on the sidewalks are just there to preach and that it is not necessary to take their handouts, listen to their speeches, or even be polite to them, particularly if they start getting too close for comfort. A woman in a city employee uniform comes around the corner to empty the trash. She is not getting an abortion today.

Anti: Good morning ma'am, yadda yadda.
Me: Just FYI, you don't have to feel obligated to take the information or listen, feel free to ignore if it bothers you.
Woman: Well I can't when I'm on the job, but it doesn't hurt to listen.
Anti (smugly): Well, it's just that these people out here don't realize that Jesus loves them, [insert bible-babble here].
Me: *rolls eyes*

At this point I can't really butt in, I just let them have their conversation and keep my eyes out for other patients. I'm curious to see where this is going though, so I slip in and out.

Woman: Well, you know hearing the word of God never hurt anybody, [other words that indicate that she and the anti have found some common ground].
Anti (peppy): Exactly! Please join us at church some time *hands flyer*. It's a Catholic church on the following intersection: xxxxx & xxxxx
Woman: Oh, it's a Catholic church?
Anti: Something something.
Woman: Something something, but we all worship the same God, something else.
Anti: *tries to recover*
Woman: Something about a unified Christian effort, not necessarily with respect to abortion but generally speaking.
Anti: *flounders*
Woman: *walks away*

What happened?! YOU HAD HER AT "HELLO"!

If nothing else, this is just another example of how sharply divided and generally ineffective this kind of anti action is. Lesson 1: Women who want abortions will get them, and blocking their way on the sidewalks only makes them resent you and not want to be your friends. Lesson 2: Bloody crucifixes, tapestries of the Virgin Mary hung from lampposts, and the "Salve Regina" do not appeal to all folks, even the antis. Even if you can get someone to agree with you on the whole anti thing, why would you scare them off with a "No Protestants Allowed" policy? I notice one regular anti who is clearly not Catholic, and tends to segregate himself from the rest of the bunch. Not that he's unwelcome in their group per se, but let's be honest. He's uncomfortable. Do the antis realize how much that fails? How stupid their tactics are? How simple measures could be monumentally more effective in bringing down abortion?

Let's hope they don't wise up too soon. I rather enjoy choice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Strong Women

I just want to say that I h-e-a-r-t Sonya Renee, a beautiful, strong poetess who does lots of poetry slams. Yes, I love poetry. Yes, I'm a sucker for women who pull themselves up by the bootstraps and tell all the people in their lives trying to yank those boots off, to go fuck themselves. That's why I love Sonya Renee.

It's also why I really love Sonya Renee today. We all have those days we don't feel so hot about ourselves, where things get a little shitty, and we might just need a bit of a reminder that we're better than we actually think we are, right? Well, I was having one of those days until I watched the video below. This lovely poetess/goddess served as a smack right upside my head telling me, "Uh. Hello! You're not all THAT bad! It could totally be LOTS worse! AND, you like yourself more than you THINK you do!" Don't we all need that every once in awhile?

This is the thing: we don't have to put up with sub-par crap. A friend of mine reminded me today, we don't need to wait around for others who are "dicking around" with our lives to get their dicks back into their pants (like Sonya says!); we can tell them to walk right on out that door because (Even if they don't like US enough.)

Sometimes, this means we like ourselves enough to have an abortion because the guy that knocked us up is a complete tosser who isn't going to stick around when the going gets tough. They just would rather keep on dicking around with that little dick of theirs. So, thank you Sonya. And thank you friend.

Oh, and in case you have not ever seen her in all her pro-choice glory, telling everyone where to stick it, you can watch this (we've posted it before, but personally, I don't think you can ever get too much of the beautiful Sonya:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The name of this organization has often conjured images of abortioneers lined like soldiers fighting the war on abortion in my head.

But alas, the National Abortion Federation is a non-profit organization best-known for its annually-updated clinical policy guidelines, and certifiable quality-assurance among independent abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities across the US and Canada.

Furthermore, their national, toll-free, hotline counselors offer compassionate, unbiased, factual information about abortion care.

Looking for a quality abortion clinic? You may choose to start your search here.

You may be surprised to find that Blue Mountain Clinic in Montana was built, staffed, and rebuilt by Missoulans to provide high-quality medical care to women, men and children. As a fully service family medical practice, they treat illnesses and injuries of all types. They provide integrated western medical and complementary alternative therapies including acupuncture, Chinese medicine and mental health counseling.

Or that Curtis Boyd, M.D., P.C. in New Mexico has been providing pregnancy termination services in New Mexico since June 1972, shortly after abortion services were legalized in New Mexico. Dr. Boyd worked closely with Clergy Consultation for Problem Pregnancies, a national organization to provide safe medical abortion and he was one of the first physicians to provide high quality, low cost outpatient procedures in the southwest.

Or that the philosophy of Women's Health Specialists of California is to promote positive images of women and provide their clients with a new perspective on their bodies and health. They give women the tools to evaluate their authentic health care needs - not based on a societal myth, but on women's reality and experience. They put women's health in women's hands.

Or that the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health has been a vital resource for the women of Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia since 1975.

Or that Northland Family Planning Centers just released a special new film, Every Day, Good Women Choose Abortion.

Or that Allentown Women’s Center has a You Tube channel, Warrior’s for Choice.

(Or that they don’t link to the Abortioneers) :(

Or that the Washington Surgi-Clinic is one of the only NAF-certified clinics in the Mid-Atlantic region providing abortion services up to 24 weeks.

Or that you have the right to choose to terminate your pregnancy, safely and legally anywhere in Canada, thanks to the courage and compassion of one man: Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

You will not be surprised that I didn’t even tip the iceberg of comprehensive, compassionate care currently available to women seeking abortion-services in the US and Canada.

We would love for you to share your thoughts.

Reminder: When Daughter of Wands sez: We’d love to hear your thoughts, she does also mean: Your thoughts should not include hints of anti-abortion slander of any kind.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Patient "support persons," and a reader poll!

Allied blog plug: If you aren't reading Every Saturday Morning, you should be! Last month, this post brought me close to tears, tears of anger at the way patients and escorts were subjected to not only simmering tension, creepy or violent threats, and verbal aggression, but also stalking and actual physical violence. Really, I just sat there afterward and felt like my bones were shaking from indignation.

But today I read this post that brought me to tears of gratitude, about a moment when strangers came together to help a woman in need -- not just the band of escorts and certainly not the band of "sidewalk counselors" (anti-abortion protesters and harrassers), but people inside the clinic, friends and drivers of other patients.

Now, I'm not saying I cry at the drop of a hat or anything, but another thing that always does it to me is seeing two patients' respective support people bonding in the waiting room, during the several hours the patient may need to be in the clinic offices -- for example moms sharing the experience of being a parent to a patient, or one offering to run out for some food for both of them or helping to entertain the other's grandchild who had to come along to the clinic.

We hear a lot about the isolation of needing a stigmatized procedure, and I certainly do see lots of women who don't want anyone to know, don't want to sit with "the others," come without a support person even if that means no Vicodin and no sedation, or cross their arms and avoid any eye contact with other patients. But when patients can reach out to each other, and when they have warm and committed support people who reach out to one another or even to other patients -- well, it does happen, and I still get wet eyes every time.

Question for readers! How many of you have been a woman's support-person during her clinic visit? What was it like for you -- were you uncomfortable? Did you make friends? Was the wait really long? Was it easy or hard to be supportive that day?

Or, if you've had an abortion and are comfortable talking about it in comments, did you have a support person, and if so how were they?

I'll post a poll on the right of the home page, if you want to tell us more anonymously, but consider ALSO telling us in your own words, which is always so great to read!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Compassion Challenge

Fetal anomalies are supposed to be the no brainers (uh,no pun intended). They’re supposed to be heartbreaking, but they’re also supposed to be the cases that make the most on-the-fencers say, “Well, who would argue with abortion in a tragic case like that?” When I started working at the clinic, though, those cases were the most difficult ones for me.

When I was seven years old, my sibling was born with birth defects ranging from the cosmetic to the inconvenient to the life-threatening. This was the 1980s, when there wasn’t so much prenatal screening for anomalies, so my parents expected a perfectly healthy baby right up until delivery. And because it was the 1980s, there was also enough technology to help my sibling to survive—not the case if they had been born years earlier.

When I began working at the clinic, I was faced with parents who had very much wanted pregnancies that had been diagnosed with anomalies that lead them to terminate. Some of them had an anencephaly diagnosis, but others “only” had Down Syndrome, and some had the very same birth defects that my sibling had. Forgetting about CHOICE, I slid into wondering why a parent wouldn’t want an imperfect, yet completely wonderful child I felt like I could believe that because my sibling was that child.

The longer I worked at the clinic, the more fetal anomalies I was exposed to, and the more stories I heard. And it was no longer the issue of having a flawless baby with ten fingers and ten toes and 100% functioning organs. I saw that it was about what the parents were capable of and what their support network was and what their resources were. I saw that it was only luck that my parents had good insurance coverage, brilliant doctors, amazing friends, stable jobs and clear mindsets that allowed them to cope with my sibling’s medical issues in such a way that made everything seem so straightforward and simple to me, the other sibling.

A lot of pregnancies I see at work are wanted, even if they aren’t planned, even if the boyfriend is a jerk and the woman is still in school or even on drugs. Some women really want the baby, but it’s the circumstances and the future that they don’t want, and that tells them that they won’t really be able to support this pregnancy. It’s no different for clients who have fetal anomaly diagnoses, I realized. I softened my opinion of these clients, and I’ve even counseled women who bring medical records noting the exact same birth defects that my sibling had. And I wasn’t even tempted to think, “You know, it’s not that bad.” Instead, all I could think was, “How heartbreaking that you had to make this choice, but how fortunate that you have a choice.”

And for the record, my parents and my sibling know where I work and what I do, and they are completely pro-choice, in ALL circumstances.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Speaking and Sharing and Safety and Silence

On the evening of June 1, as we held a vigil for Dr. George Tiller, the first US abortion provider murdered in over ten years and a longtime hero to many of us, there were men with video cameras and microphones recording for the local news. I felt so conflicted. We had chosen a public place in a busy part of town in order to make our presence and feelings known -- it seemed important to gather not just to stand with one another, but also to be there for passerby who felt the same way, and to be visible to passerby who didn't know or didn't care or disagreed, and to ask our leaders to do a better job of protecting providers. If anything, a mention on the local news would help spread those messages. But as the men with microphones and cameras kept scooting into our talking-circle, the attention was the last thing I wanted.

One by one, people were stepping into the center to offer a memory of Dr. Tiller, words of comfort for the rest of us, some sadness or anger or some hope or a call to action -- and inevitably ended up facing into the camera. If someone tried to face the rest of us, or turn elsewhere, the crouching equipment guys would shuffle over to be right in front of the speaker again. And despite our intentions of public sharing, I felt like these newspeople were taking away our brief opportunity to just be with one another. In the end, I didn't say anything at that vigil, uncomfortable with the public-speaking vibe and happy to listen to others say their piece. It was still a good gathering, in whatever sense you can call a death-gathering "good."

Ten days before the murder of Dr. Tiller, a short movie called "Silenced" was screened for the first time at a reception honoring clinic escorts. Between finding this movie and learning about Dr. Tiller's murder and holding the vigil and watching the news afterward, I had a lot of thoughts in those weeks about gathering, speaking with one another, speaking in public, and being silenced. And now sometimes when I write in this blog, I find myself wishing that my words could bypass the broadcasting to all the channel-surfers who don't really care or only see this as a spectacle, and only reach those for whom they would be helpful -- for example, the clinic workers who told us our posts are a form of support that you don't get in your small towns. You're one of us, too, and you keep me writing when I feel frustrated, focused when I feel co-opted. So thank you.

Anyway, here's that movie that I keep thinking about:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fund Spotlight

As we all probably now know, the United States House of Representatives passed their version of health care reform Saturday night. In order to get the bill passed, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi sacrificed women by allowing an amendment banning the purchase of health insurance that has abortion coverage for those using the public option - even when using private money, such as money generated from premiums. Watching the health care reform debate and the frustrating vote of the Stupak Amendment this weekend made me think of the struggles many women face (and that many more could face) with trying to quickly pay for an abortion. We know that with the Hyde Amendment still in force, federal money cannot fund abortions. With this amendment added to the health care reform bill, now even private insurance coverage could now be in jeopardy.

While we know we cannot count on government support of women in some of the most trying and difficult times of their lives, there are people out there that do their best to fill that void. These people run and work for abortion funds - the small local and national groups throughout the country that low-income women can call to get some help with paying for their abortions.

In this blog post, I would like to spotlight the CAIR (Community Abortion Information and Resource) Project. The CAIR Project is based in Seattle and serves women from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. In addition to funding assistance the CAIR Project also has information and resources on getting Medicaid funds (where that's available) as well as finding a provider. Funds like the CAIR Project are struggling to keep up with the demand for their help now, so imagine how hard it could be if the healthcare reform bill, as it stands right now, becomes law. Please help abortion funds like the CAIR Project in any way you can.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Matters of the heart.

I love abortion. ( I said it out loud in class) and had no idea I would get such a response. Even people who I thought were as "liberal" and "pro-choice" as me seemed to be rubbed the wrong way by my positive statement. Later at a wine bar, a girl in my "sex" class asked me, "What exactly did you mean when you said I love abortion?" Hmm....

What do I mean when I say I love abortion? To me, there is absolutely nothing wrong or surprising with the supposed "controversial" statement. I love women, therefore I love abortion. Abortion is a part of women's lives.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

the internal clitoris

for fun and education

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Raping me softly

Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us. -Andrea Dworkin

Oh, rape.
Did you know that I once took an intensive, 12-week course in order to informatively volunteer for a rape crisis-center in my hometown, and after serving one hotline shift, I resigned?! "Rape is hopeless," I explained, before scurrying out of the warm and fuzzy activists' office with my pointy, red tail wedged between my legs.
Rape is common. Rape is so common, in fact, that most rape survivors will file their rape experience right behind their lame blind dates, their bout with bulimia, the time they tripped on the curb in front of fifty cars stuck in rush-hour traffic. What the hell else are they supposed to do? Call the police? Make a public statement? Tell their rapist's mother?
Rape is so common that Abortioneers know to ask if every instance of intercourse leading up to a woman's unintended pregnancy was consensual. It's not always a required question for the medical history paperwork but they know. They learn to recognize the trail in a woman's voice. When they don’t ask, they wish they had later when she occurs to them again. Rape is a haunting thing. It penetrates everything. Rape is more frequent than brushing your teeth.
Rape is so common it's likely that half of the women raped last night will never call it rape. What the hell else are they supposed to do? Make everyone who ever loved them cry? Talk about how they said, NO, but kept getting wet? Talk about how they said, NO, but didn't want to get in a fist fight on their date? Talk about how sex was supposed to lead to love?
Thing about toughening laws and garnering support for survivors and asking survivors to keep their rape babies--it's all ridiculous because rape is ridiculous. Thing about asking women to remain chaste or to stop being like men, thing about rape prevention seminars--it is all a waste. Thing about rape is that rape will stop when men stop being like men--when men stop raping.
Until you find rape so completely ridiculous that you decide to ask to penetrate a woman before doing so because it's just that simple and it only takes two-seconds, you might as well call yourself a common-day rapist because you have yet to stop rape any other way.
And now to bring it back to Life: imagine spending your day away holding bold signs, declaring, Abortion hurts women!, protesting safe clinics. Meanwhile, every three-minutes a woman is raped!
We are very close to death. All women are. And we are very close to rape and we are very close to beating. And we are inside a system of humiliation from which there is no escape for us. We use statistics not to try to quantify the injuries, but to convince the world that those injuries even exist. Those statistics are not abstractions. It is easy to say, Ah, the statistics, somebody writes them up one way and somebody writes them up another way. That’s true. But I hear about the rapes one by one by one by one by one, which is also how they happen. Those statistics are not abstract to me. Every three minutes a woman is being raped. Every eighteen seconds a woman is being beaten. There is nothing abstract about it. It is happening right now as I am speaking. -Andrea Dworkin

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I had a new experience last Saturday. I served as an escort at a highly-targeted Planned Parenthood in my city. It was surreal. It was scary. Not scary like the final scenes from Paranormal Activity, which I had just spent the entire night reliving in terror, but scary in this helpless, pathetic way. Have you ever just watched something bad happen to somebody, and all you could do was...well, nothing. You just watch as if staring out the bus window as you go by, and make a little face, and sigh this sigh that you expect that person to hear, to feel, as a substitute for the genuine compassion and the helping hand that you wish you could offer. You just have to be satisfied that it's enough to get that person through, and that he or she understands on some level that you want to help, you want to be protective, but for so many reasons you just can't.

I didn't have a sign. I didn't have a pamphlet. I didn't have an illustration of an embryo to indicate what would be removed from the uterus. No crucifix, our Lord and savior drenched in blood. No catchy chant, even. I had a bright orange pennie, imprinted with "PRO-CHOICE CLINIC ESCORT". Would anybody even read it, even notice it? What could I give to that young woman, clenching mom's hand, whose eyes darted to and fro to absorb the scenery: dozens of Catholic college students praying for hours on their knees in the drizzle, a vibrant red-head who walked with such a steadiness and spoke with such mild tones you'd think she was offering posies rather than fetal carnage, and an imposing man and wife couple who recited prayers in ancient languages. In the seconds between meeting her on the curb and leaving her at the door, what could I do for her that the antis weren't already doing? Invade her personal space? Talk loudly in her ear? Answer the questions that she never asked? Was it even appropriate for me to do anything? Because her nerves were sufficiently worked, and because her mother was already yelling "Fuck you"s into the crowd, I decided not to pester. I just did what I had been trained to do: I walked.

"Do you guys work for the clinic?"
"No, we're just volunteers."

It was all I could muster, it was all I had time for. But in those few short seconds I saw her expression transform, from quizzical to - was it reassured? She looked back at me for a nanosecond as the security guard buzzed her in. I turned up the corner of my mouth in half smile - half grimmace. It was The Little Face. The face that had to be enough to let her know that I was on her side, that I gave a shit. She came out a few hours later, mom in tow, cigarette in hand. Sweet relief. She walked straight ahead, barely noticing that the crowd had doubled since she'd been in the clinic. No matter. Even mom was tight-lipped, nothing else to say to these people. They walked off "into the sunset", and I watched them go. It was a scene worthy of music (Looks Like We Made It?).

She will never remember me or my Face. She will live to be 100 and all those details will fade. My only hope is that she will remember the fight we put up, outnumbered about 10:1 (at least!). That she will know that some folks are willing to protect her rights and freedoms, not with wordiness, but with steadiness. And that in the lack of actual "things" to do, we can always just stand there in front wearing heinous colors, all for her.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I can’t stop thinking about a patient – I’ll call her Ellie – who came to our clinic for an abortion yesterday. She drove eight hours, some of which was through the snow, and was on time for her 9am appointment. She was 16 weeks pregnant and brought her older sister with her as support. They seemed close, and I found myself smiling as I walked down the hallway, catching a glimpse of them holding hands, talking warmly with another (I have a soft-spot for rock-solid, non-judgmental support people). Ellie was in her early twenties and in university. She and her sister seemed very content and were kind – even witty – to all the staff.

During our counseling session, I learned that Ellie’s pregnancy was a result of rape. As she shared with me how she was raped and what happened, she did not cry. She did not appear victimized. She did not wince. Because she knew the guy that raped her, and because she had used illicit drugs at “the” party, she didn’t go to a hospital after being assaulted. Ellie explained that she’s an avid runner, so her periods are not regular; it was quite normal for her to go three to four months without a period, so when she didn’t have her menstrual cycle after the rape, it didn’t even occur to her that she could be pregnant. Last week, when she realized she could no longer fit her bra, she worried she could be pregnant.

After the positive pregnancy test, she reported the rape; but the detective – a woman, no less! – told her she was a liar and just wanted to “get back” at the man who raped her. This detective then told her she was closing the case and added, “You’re making a big mistake, Ellie. I don’t agree with what you’re doing and you should really think about it.” I couldn’t contain my astonishment and let out a little gasp. Still, Ellie didn’t flinch and seemed just as resolute as before. After I told her I was grateful she at least had her sister with her for support, she confessed to me that she wouldn’t know what to do without her; Ellie shared that her very own mother refused to support her abortion decision and told her she’s committing a “mortal sin” and will go to hell, even though she was raped. Her mother has stopped talking to her altogether and spends most of her time at church, lighting candles. Then Ellie cried.

Honestly, I don’t get it. I just seriously don’t get it. I mean, I “understand” some people think abortion is “wrong.” I just cannot – and never will – however, wrap my head around the extremism of those who still oppose abortion in the case of rape! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I just don’t get it! And what mother could ever turn their back on their own child in such a time of need? Seriously, I think the mother is the one committing a mortal sin. Don’t even get me started on the detective and how wrong that whole situation is!

Anyway. I keep thinking about Ellie. And I hope she’s feeling her sister’s love (times ten million). And I hope she felt our love and compassion. And I hope it will be enough.

Monday, November 2, 2009

future abortion providers

Do you ever wonder how abortion providers get to becoming abortion providers?

Well, in my experience, they come about it one of two ways. Either they (1) realized later in their career that this is an important issue and want to get involved to help meet the serious demand or (2) they seek out training from the very start of their medical career.

I, and many of my colleagues, am the latter. We seek out this training, and in many instances, we demand it. With the help of organizations like Medical Students for Choice, we are able to foster curriculum changes and educate our classmates and community on abortion care. Additionally, we research residencies that train us in abortion. For me personally, I will not apply to a residency program that will not train me.

Why? Because, to me, abortion is another part of comprehensive women’s well care. It would be strange to go into an Ob/Gyn residency that wouldn’t train me in how to do a cesarean. And so it should also be deemed odd that this same residency would not train me in abortion care-a procedure than 1 in 4 women will have in her lifetime, the same procedure to complete a partial miscarriage, the same procedure used to save a woman’s life if needed. So why wouldn’t we demand this training? And why, more importantly, isn’t it offered everywhere in all Ob/Gyn training programs??

There is still a lot of work to be done, but know this: there are many of us who want to be Ob/Gyns and want to be able to provide all services to our patients—and this includes abortions.

Support MSFC! Support Ryan Residency Programs! Many of us are ready to be the next generation of abortion providers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scare Tactics

One of the worst aspects about being an Abortioneer is the scare tactics.

I'm not talking like Freddy Krueger.


Chainsaw-wielding cannibals.

I'm talking about the frightening shit that goes on in our lives, every day of the year.

Umm... Where do I start?

The harrassment? Hanging outside my place of work with pictures of stillborn babies that WEREN'T EVEN ABORTED (whole 'nother blogpost), spewing hatred at everyone with a vagina who walks by? Screaming at women that God hates them and Jesus will send them to H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks? Screaming at me when I am just showing up for work? Getting my license plate information and then showing up at my house? Protesting outside my house in my neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon? Following me home from work because I have a bag that says "PRO CHOICE"? Huh?

What about the shame? Trying to make me feel ashamed for doing my work? Making it hard for me to even bring up the nature of my job because someone might get offended? Worrying that having this on my resume will hurt my graduate school application, or my future job security?

What about the lies? Abortion causes breast cancer? Abortion causes suicide? Abortion fills women with regret? If you go into this abortion clinic we will throw your dead baby in the trash? We will make you push your baby out into a toilet and then leave it there for hours on end? That we will force you to have an abortion? That the abortion will be incredibly painful? That I am a murderer? .......... Wait, what?

And then... then there's the really scary stuff.

The destruction of clinic property.
The death threats to abortioneers.
The death threats to abortioneers' spouses. Their children.
The bomb threats.
Actual bombs and firebombing and arson.
The attempted murders of escorts. Of receptionists. Of nurses. Of doctors.
The actual murders. Of escorts. Of receptionists. Of doctors.
The murders of living, breathing people. IN CHURCH. IN THEIR OWN HOMES.

News flash: Y'all can say and do whatever you want, but when you act out violently, when you reduce something you believe in so much to an act of terrorism,* it brings Abortioneers together. We become more united and more resolute. When you care enough about something to literally risk dying everyday you show up to work, it sorta puts things in perspective, you know? And then there's the people who are middle of the road. Watching the murder coverage on CNN. They see you as a bunch of crazies who go around killing people. "Pro Life" murderers.

I guess my point is that none of us will tolerate your scare tactics. And in the long run they aren't doing anything but creating more negative energy in the world.

*Terrorism (n): the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.