Thursday, July 28, 2011
I start most of my counseling sessions in a similar way. I make a bad joke about how long the woman has been sitting in the waiting room, I compliment her on her outfit or earrings or purse, and then I hedge, "So, how are feeling about all this?" It's an open question...she may just reply that she's starving since she can't eat prior to receiving anesthesia, or she may burst into tears.
A few weeks ago, I sat before a woman clad in skinny jeans, platform wedges, a flowy blouse, and perfectly curled hair. She looked more like she was going to brunch than for an abortion. I asked her my million dollar question and she hesitated. "I feel..." she began, searching for words. "...I mean, I'm not really...I'm not really sad. Is that bad? I'm almost..." she trailed off. "You're not obligated to feel sad," I told her. You might have a lot of complex emotions, but no one expects you to feel any particular way," I continued, omitting the fact that antis certainly do want her to feel a certain way. "Some women even feel happy that they have this option and that they're making a positive choice for their life," I ventured. "Yes! She responded. "I am kind of...happy," she admitted, still hesitant about saying the word. We went on to talk about her job and our favorite restaurants. She was, indeed, planning to go to brunch after her appointment, and by the end of our session, she confided, "Maybe this will kind of be a celebratory brunch." "Dedicate a scone to me," I suggested, knowing that if I had an abortion, I certainly would be one of the happy ones, as well.
Later that day, I talked to a Spanish-speaking woman who had marked in her chart that she was Catholic and that she had no familial support. Anecdotally, this is a common circumstance for Latina immigrants, and when they seek abortions, they aren't inclined to feel great about it. They have grown up hearing how much their faith frowns upon abortion, to put it lightly. They often come to the U.S. without their safety net of a family, and women who have ingrained ideas about abortion and who have no resources for coping afterword have a bit of a perfect storm for a bit of a hard time ahead of them.
So when I asked this woman, "Como te sitentes sobre...todo eso?" ("How do you feel about...all of this?") I sort of expected to hear, "Estoy muy triste. Y culpable. Como una persona mala, pero es lo neceasrio." ("I'm very sad. And guilty. Like a bad person, but this is what's necessary.") But instead, the woman thought for just a second, and replied peacefully, "Me siento feliz y libre." "I feel happy and free."
She went on to tell me candidly, without shame, that although she already had three kids, she didn't always enjoy being a mother. Her partner had abandoned her, but that was his loss, and she refused to suffer any more for it. She didn't have much money, nor resources, but she did what she had to do, and this was simply one of those things.
That day, I left work feeling buoyed by these women. I am also extraordinarily happy that I do the work I do and have the honor of meeting and learning from so many women.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Cool Beans Carhart? Well, he had to move his practice to Germantown, MD because Nebraska won't allow him to practice late-pregnancy abortions anymore. So he FLIES TO MARYLAND EVERY WEEK to serve clients. What a mensch.
Buuuuuut not everyone thinks so.
Can you wait for Summer of Mercy 2.0?!?!?!?! The first Summer of Mercy happened in 1991, when a crowd of antis protested outside Dr. Tiller's clinic for days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days and days just being plain assholes. To hear them tell it, the world watched the entire time on the news with bated breath, awaiting the ultimate victory that was the end of abortion. In reality, a lot of them were arrested and they were a general nuisance to local law enforcement, clinic staff, and bystanders.
Now they are reprising their roles as nutjobs at Dr. Carharts clinic in Maryland. FUUUUUUU! Please send your moral support his way, as his safety and that of his staff, patients, and their companions is severely compromised! If you are an escort based in the DC/MD/VA area and want to help defend the clinic, I recommend lending a hand. "Festivities" begin July 30 and go through August 6. Please keep the loyal and noble Abortioneers of Germantown in mind through what is sure to be a balls out shitshow (emphasis on the "SHIT").
Monday, July 25, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
And, as we know, only 1.5% of abortions are done after 20 weeks, so this is a very small number compared to the total number of women getting abortions.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
We’re happy to take part in the National Women’s Law Center’s blog carnival campaign about the importance of access to contraception for all those who want it. It’s great that the National Women’s Law Center is bringing this important issue to attention, because unfortunately, access to birth control information – and birth control itself – isn’t readily available to all.
There are lots of different views on how to provide birth control counseling and information during the time of abortion. One view is that all women seeking abortions must/should have birth control counseling (whether they want it or not). Under this category, some feel that all women should leave the abortion clinic with some form of contraceptive because if the client ends up returning for an abortion, the providers/society/clinic/counselor somehow “failed” her. Others feel more that it’s a fluid subject and should be one driven by the client herself: she requests the information, the clinic provides it, and the clinic gives the type of method she’s seeking/asking for. Under this view, the clinic staff would not feel they “failed” a client if she came back for an abortion. (Statistically, most women who have abortions have had at least one before.)
One of the things that I always enjoy at work is when a patient – either on the phone or on the day of her abortion – asks lots of questions about birth control. I love being able to share as much information as possible, and letting her come up with what she feels is the best method for her at the time. I feel fortunate to work for an abortion provider that really puts that decision in women’s hands. Though I think it’s imperative that all women – who want it – have access to both birth control and birth control information, I also think it’s totally OK for patients not to receive birth control after their abortions if they don’t want it. I’ve heard comments (that I believe are judgmental) like this to women on the day of their abortions, “Are you sure you want to continue using condoms as your birth control? I mean, that’s what you said you were using this time and look what happened.” I find this cringe worthy, parental, and well, totally not feminist.
I’ve come across quite a bit of judgment/bias on certain types of birth control methods, too. Barrier methods, withdrawal, and “natural family planning” types of BC seem to be frowned upon. It’s true that statistically they’re less effective, but certainly that depends on the individual using them, their knowledge about the method(s), and their knowledge about themselves and their bodies. Just as it’s important for women to have access to as much information they want when considering an IUD versus Implanon, women who are interested in natural family planning/withdrawal/barrier methods deserve to have accurate information on those methods as well. And they deserve to be supported. I’ve been working in RH for many years and I choose not to use a hormonal birth control method. In fact, for over 10 years, I haven’t used any type of “conventional” birth control at all. Not even condoms. (Gasp!) My partner and I use the withdrawal method. Our children were planned and I have not had any unplanned pregnancies. Many people (myself included) combine several methods together (I tend to use withdrawal with some natural family planning and Plan B for back-up when needed). I believe I know when I ovulate. My periods are regular and I experience mittleshmerz. My partner is very – err – disciplined I feel very confident and happy with my BC choice.
Unfortunately, despite my success in preventing unplanned pregnancies and planning some planned ones, I still am given a hard time by my PCP and other physicians who kind of “mock” me that I do not use any birth control. Then they lecture me about it. (Which is super annoying and I always want to say, “It’s OK. If I get pregnant, I can just get an abortion at work!”) The fact is, I DO use birth control. Just not hormonal or device-driven birth control. And I believe I know what the hell I’m doing and – really – no unplanned pregnancies in 10 years is pretty damn good, in my book! I also cannot be the only person out there with a similar experience.
I think our jobs are to trust that women know what’s best for them at the time. Given them the information about the birth control they’re interested in. Answer their questions. Ask them questions. Help provide an environment of critical thinking. Let them decide what method they want. Help them get it. (On a macro level, advocate that all women can access affordable contraception!) And support them in their decision. We trust them to make the decision to have an abortion (which, don't-ever-forget might actually be her form of birth control, too!), we should trust them to make decisions about their overall reproductive health.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Q. Can you give a brief overview of some of the perceived similarities between the animal rights movement and anti abortion movement?
VV: First off, I do want to acknowledge that there exists much diversity within each movement and not everyone uses the same tactics or even has similar philosophies about how to impact change around their issues. However, in regards to the “extreme” members of both movements, in terms of similar tactics I immediately think of the gory images that both groups use. Anti abortion trucks will parade near shopping malls and community events (especially where kids congregate) with alleged fetuses that were aborted plastered across the exterior of their vehicles. These fetuses will be positioned next to dimes for size comparison and they are often portrayed sucking their thumbs or curled up. Animal rights groups often show animals that are mistreated in factory farms and this past year a well-known group, Mercy For Animals, launched a Farm to Fridge tour where they went city to city showcasing the horrors of factory farming.Another similarity that I see is coercion; anti abortion groups will convince pregnant women to keep their babies with the alluring promise of baby clothes, financial support, jobs, or housing. Mercy for Animals was offering money for people to watch their footage of factory farms and often does “feed-ins” where they provide vegan food samples.
A final similarity is violence. Many members of both movements feel violence is justified in order to take down leaders at the top. While those who advocate violence are in the minority, their extreme actions can have a huge impact. Abortion clinic workers are murdered, stalked, injured, harassed, etc, or threatened with these things constantly. CEOS who run animal testing facilities and labs are also stalked and threatened, and a common tactic of arson has done millions of dollars of damage to facilities that partake in animal cruelty. A common tactic used by both movements is picketing outside of homes and distributing fliers to neighbors in order to shame those who support abortion or animal cruelty. Members of both movements are tracked on FBI lists and are often labeled as domestic terrorists. I am currently reading a great new book by Will Potter that outlines the history of “eco terrorists” and there are many mentions to the anti abortion movement and how the government tracks crimes against abortion providers differently than eco crimes (I really recommend this book!).
Q. Do you think that gory images are an effective way or converting people, either to veganism or to anti-choice?
PCG: In general, no. There are exceptions, but I believe that gory images and videos, especially when they're forced upon the public, generally turn people away from both veganism and from the anti-choice movement. Whenever I hear people react to anti-choicers flaunting alleged aborted fetus photos in public, their reactions are always, without exception, angry, annoyed, and all around negative. This holds true for veganism, as well. I believe that one of the worst things that a movement can do for itself is forcing people to look at these kinds of pictures. People just do not react well to it in my experience.
Q. Did gory images or videos influence your decision to become vegan?
PCG: Somewhat. Gory photos and videos would not have given me enough of a push by themselves to convert me to veganism. They were, however, a small part of the big picture. I almost definitely would still be vegan even if I had never seen gory slaughterhouse videos and pictures. The thing is, I didn't need those pictures and videos to know that animals are sentient beings who are very capable of feeling pain. What I needed to push me to choose veganism were facts. For example, for the longest time, I had no idea that there was so much cruelty involved in the dairy industry. I did not know that it was so closely linked to the veal industry. It was facts like that that got me from saying "I could NEVER give up cheese!" to being the vegan I am today.
VV: I went vegetarian without ever seeing a gory picture, but I will admit that a PETA brochure is what pushed me over the edge to become vegan. The images still gross me out when I see them and I choose to look away, but it’s ok for me to look away because I don’t need convincing. I fear that everyone else looks away and just chooses not to think about the processes involved in where their food comes from, so ultimately the animal rights movement could spend their money in better places that won’t be ignored.
Q. Vegan organizations and anti-choice organizations have both been known for using coercive tactics to convert people to their movement, such as putting up fliers in the neighborhoods of people who oppose them, paying people to watch gory videos, etc. How do you feel about this?
PCG: I disagree with coercive tactics being used to convert people. I consider them not only morally wrong, but also highly ineffective. Putting up fliers in the neighborhoods of "higher ups" in order to shame them is a tactic that both groups have used in the past. I find this behavior awful. To me, it's stalking behavior. Anti-choicers have been doing this for ages, in order to shame, stalk, and draw attention to abortion providers and their families, and the pro-choice community knows very well that it incites violence. As for paying people to watch gory videos, while I think this is wrong, I actually don't think this is as bad as just flaunting huge gory pictures outside in public, so that anyone who walks by has no choice but to look. I also don’t see it as an effective way of converting people. Again, gory videos and pictures which are not backed up with facts hardly ever do any good.
VV: I disagree with any group or movement using coercive tactics, specifically money to win people over to their point of view. I also feel it is not a sustainable way to change behavior, because the money will eventually go away and people will go back to their usual ways.
Q. Do you think it's fair to compare the tactics of animal rights groups to the tactics of anti-choice groups?
PCG: I believe that vegans and anti-choicers are coming from two vastly different belief systems. As far as the message behind the movements, I see absolutely no comparison. Vegans fight for the bodily autonomy of sentient beings while anti-choicers do just the opposite. However, vegans and anti-choicers have both resorted to some of the same tactics. As a vegan, I think that it’s intensely important to recognize the problems that reside within veganism and to take action to fix them. Still, despite these similarities, I don’t think that the problems within vegan activism are nearly as prominent as those in the anti-choice movement. For example, when vegans resort to problematic bullying tactics, it’s targeted towards the “higher ups” in animal abuse. When anti-choicers resort to bullying and stalking tactics, it’s targeted towards absolutely anyone who opposes them. Veganism does have its problems which we need to recognize. I just don’t think that these problems are as extreme as the hatred that goes on within the anti-choice movement.
VV: Obviously since I am vegan my natural tendency is to support most tactics used to convince the entire world to GO VEGAN. Although, I realize it is something people need to come to on their own, without coercion or bribes. However, people often need education on this issue since we are really told nothing about where our food comes from, and sometimes a picture of the reality of what animals goes through does hit home. I do not think this is the same as what anti abortion people do; I think their images are falsified and manipulative and taken out of context.
Thank you for reading the second installment of our series Animals and Abortion! You can look forward to more posts soon, including posts on topics such as vegan birth control, vegan sex toys, and more. Also, your feedback and ideas for future posts are more than welcome! We hope that you enjoyed this installment of Animals and Abortion!
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The night I found out my closest sister was pregnant I was on my way home from a lecture by a Planned Parenthood representative. The lecture was about the lack of access to sexual health services in poor communities and communities of color. I was catching a ride home with someone I knew and my cousin, sister, friend called to say "I have something to tell you.....I'm pregnant" We were both 19 years old. I was in my sophomore year of college. She was living in small town, America just trying to make it.
The abstract concept that people, with out money, living in rural areas, or in urban centers, where billboards say "who's your daddy?" and promote cigarettes and liquor consumption, do not have access to accurate information about sexual health and reproduction became extremely concrete. My closest sister was pregnant. As an abortioneer my first reaction was, "ok, ok you have options" After a few hours talking with her mom and calling me she firmly decided to keep the pregnancy. As an abortioneer I was very supportive of my childhood soul mate choosing motherhood.
If my sister had a ride to the nearest planned parenthood nearly an hour away she might have been on birth control. She may have also chosen not to use birth control. The thing is her lack of access to transportation and money meant she also lacked access to birth control. She didn't have the ability or opportunity to make a choice about what birth control method to use, if any.
During the Planned Parenthood lecture I attended earlier in the evening I also learned that the father of gynecology, J. Marion Sims, developed much of the science of gynecology through experiments on enslaved African women and poor Irish immigrants. He did not use anesthesia on these patients because there was a widespread belief that they were less sensitive to pain than wealthy white women. J. Marion Sims owned slaves and it is documented that he did experimental procedures on women that he "owned". He was well known as a plantation physician and treated numerous enslaved Africans.
I was appalled to find out that gynecology was born out of a racist and classist history. In this country social inequality is built into the most basic fibers. The enslavement of Africans, annihilation of natives, and exploitation of poor people is at the very roots of the development of the good ol' U.S. of A. This country was built by people of color and poor people to serve the needs of wealthier white landowners. The science of gynecology is no exception.
The ability to determine one's life is based on one's access to resources. People who are historically disenfranchised do not have the ability to access necessary resources. Maybe that necessary resource is a ride to planned parenthood for birth control or STD testing. Maybe that resource is a safe abortion, or maybe its a condom or an education.
The history of this country cannot be erased. The West African Adinkra symbol Sankofa means "to go back and get it" and is representative of learning from the past. Racism and classism is not ancient history. Access to resources is one very concrete way the history of racism and classism in this country has translated into today. The ability to control one's body and reproduction is the most basic human right. Women need access to birth control and sexual health care in order to gain this very basic human right.
Monday, July 18, 2011
About a month ago, I was catching up with an old pal when my phone rang. I silenced it, and it rang again. And rang again. Three more times. Well, it turned out to be important. A young friend of mine was calling for advice. After all was said and done, my friend agreed to write about that experience for us.
I’ve always felt strongly about the necessity of access to abortion care, but I recently knew someone, for the first time, who was having difficulty getting an abortion. I live in a place where it wouldn’t be uncommon for an 18-year-old girl to be thrown out of the house for seeking abortion, and although I’ve been aware of that reality, it didn’t really resonate with me until I met one who was facing this and needed to pay for and obtain an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.
A girl that I’ve been good friends with for a few years came to me for help. Her friend was trying to get an abortion, she told me, and they’d had an appointment at a clinic, but when they showed up, she had been turned down because the clinic could only provide abortions up to 16 weeks, and she was at 16 weeks and 4 days. She had already had to travel for this appointment, since she lived in a small town, and now not only would she have to travel again, she had to get an overnight dilation, so she would need a place to stay in addition to the procedure costing much more than she had originally expected.
The way this could suddenly become so much more complicated amazed me. All of a sudden she had a week to find a place to stay and a large sum of money and an excuse to tell her parents that she was driving to another town. I was impressed at how committed my good friend was to helping her friend with this, but I still felt so bad that she seemed helpless. I called my friend Placenta Sandwich to see if there was anything I could do to help.
The next day, the girl and I sat down and talked. We called several abortion funds, leaving messages. We found that the clinic that would be the easiest to get funding help for was the one she had already tried. We also talked about finding a place to stay, and my sister tried to find her a host for the night. Before she left, we hadn’t resolved any of these issues, and I had a moment of indecision. I had some money on me, not that significant a percentage of the abortion cost, maybe, but it could help. Maybe it could help with a place to stay or just a small part of the procedure. And I knew $40 was a lot of money to give to someone I barely knew, but I thought about what I would do with it otherwise, and nothing I could think of spending it on seemed to be as important as helping someone with such a small support system.
I gave her the money, she gave me a hug, and she left. Through the following week we kept calling the funds each day, kept working on where she could stay, but come the day of the appointment, we had nothing. She got half of the money from her ex-boyfriend and paid for a hotel with her friend. She thanked me later, saying just knowing she had my support was a great help, and she said she felt fine after the procedure and it all went well, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had failed.
I know that it wasn’t my responsibility, nor was there anything more I could have done, but it made me realize just how difficult obtaining abortion care is. Even if you find a clinic that can help you, you might need to travel for it, which means you need a place to stay, which often requires money, you need to pay for gas, you need to pay for the procedure itself, and sometimes, this is all compounded by having to keep it completely secret. I wanted so badly to be able to help.
I don’t know if I’m going to be an abortioneer. There are some other career paths I am considering, and I’m young. But this experience definitely made me feel like I might be called to do that. For now, I want to leave the area that I live in. But I want to come back and make it a better place for women. I want people to be able to get abortions without having to go to another city. I want girls not to be struggling to figure out how they’re going to pay AND keep it a secret. I want them to feel like they have people looking out for them, whether they live in a big city or the middle of nowhere. So maybe it doesn’t matter so much that I want to live in a city or that I might want a different job; maybe it’s worth some sacrifice.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
The doctor delivers the bystander at Locust County Hospital. Taken home to an apartment set in the bassinet and footsied from the porch smoking cigarettes once more. Bottle-fed and babysat, the bystander sent to school early age four sucks thumb while the others play. Bible school like Catholic school only free always talking about innocent babies over snacks. God songs all day.
Bible school wants the bystander to go back because it is silent there, to find that a father beautifully and wonderfully makes souls. They want to meet their maker there. They hold the protestor’s hand at the pregnant uterus letting go of life behind the cowbell bulletproof door. Can’t help but to watch them kill the doctor.
The bystander goes to church every Sunday, most Wednesdays, sometimes Fridays or Saturdays. Likes to get down on knees and pray. Likes the holy water in the glass bowl entrance to splash it and stick tongue in air for a taste. Likes the making the cross. Knowing the prayers. Sometimes the bystander grows rare tenderloin tears sometimes torn some love’s such sin.
The bystander social butterfly makes church school friends fast. Grows past the naps. Stops sucking thumb but in bed on Saturdays, takes to between legs. Teeth slightly buck still singing guitar songs about unconditional fathers. Bystander’s father shy to talk about the whacking off. Bystander forgets he’s human. Some order from the sky. Some list of commands. Purpose then.
Bystander sent to Bible school early so everyone could go on working and father would drop him off and mother pick him up at the bus stop. Glossy posters of fairy man in robes kneeling on rocks with hands held open. Crosses over every doorway. White tea candles in front of a baby on the lap of a Virgin Mary. Everything under heaven, heaven, heaven.
The bystander social butterfly makes church friends fast. Tells stories about thrones and towers to the sky at his home a bus ride away. Gives orange peanut butter cracker sandwiches away at lunch. The bystander lets others pick toys first. Doesn’t read books. Doesn’t play with blocks. Dances his cracker fingers across white walls. Watches others. The bystander social butterfly first in line at snack time. First in line to bust down doors to recess. To turn around to watch others.
Bible school with always the best playground equipment and blacktop painted with hopscotch, foursquare, map, maze, sports courts. An ark. Wooden boat with a hollow woodchip-floor inside. The bystander would try to get there first alone to piss inside on the chips. Once the boat to float the terrible away with water until the lord giveth land again.
Bible school believes the bystander is past that. Jesus came to earth to save the bystander and the Bible school and those with open hearts to holy, wholly anti-abortion. Jesus nailed to a cross so the bystander can cross into heaven after death. Life not enough. Not sure off in their dollar sign worlds parents are saved. Bible school not always making sense, hard to carry all the way home on the bus.
Home upstairs, bystander goes to room to watch Super Mario Brothers rise from the dead.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
I'm not going to my high school reunion for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:
1. I don't feel up to explaining, "Um, yeah, I did actually go to school with you. I sat next to you in chemistry for a whole semester? No? Uh...I have my diploma someplace. I can prove I was there. Are you listening?"
2. I don't feel up to exclaimining, "Thanks for saying I look great! It's amazing what XX years, a good hair straightener, some self-confidence, and being away from a school full of ass clowns will do for you!"
3. I don't feel up to squinting at 129 iPhone photos of a weird-looking baby and saying, "Aww, she looks just as Winston Churchillesque as every other baby I don't care about!"
4. I don't feel up to hiding behind decorative Doric columns in order to avoid the dude who asked me to the homecoming dance as a joke.
5. And of course, I don't feel up to saying, "I'm doing so well! Since you last saw me at our conservative suburban high school, I've become an Abortioneer! That's right; I work at an abortion clinic! Here's my card*--call me if you have a malfunction!" I mean, I would actually love to say that, but it's not likely that I would.
I never even actually entertained the possibility of going to the reunion, but as I considered the what ifs, I started to imagine a former classmate asking what I do, and answering, "I love my job. I'm fortunate enough to be able to support and care for women of all sorts of backgrounds, to advocate politically, to interpret for and stand up for the immigrant population, to find out all sorts of medical things first-hand, to work with people who really care about their jobs and their co-workers, to counsel clients as I learn about myself, to have a hand in public health studies, to lead and learn, and to empower thousands of women." At that point, I would pause for a sip of my water (In my daydream, I don't need alcohol to be able to talk to those people.), and my former classmate would scratch her leg with the toe of her Louboutin and reply, "That sounds so wonderful! Where do you work?" And I would say, "[Abortion Clinic Name]." And then her head would metaphorically explode because I just made abortion work sound exactly as innocuous and excellent as it really is.
But no, I'm not going to my high school reunion. And anyway, I have to work that weekend, and I wouldn't miss that for the world.
* I don't have a card. But oh, if I did...
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
No, I'm pretty sure they count as Homo sapiens the same as me and - as much as I hate to admit it - you.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
It's pretty funny, and you should read it for yourself, but the general gist is that Planned Parenthood opened a mega-mall style clinic, complete with a lazy river.
It has even spawned its own Yelp page.
Naturally, some people aren't familiar with The Onion, or didn't read the article closely enough to realize it was a joke, which in turn spawned some pretty funny Facebook posts.
Friday, July 8, 2011
“I hope this is the right thing to do,” my patient – let’s call her Nicole – said right off the bat, instantly setting off warning bells. I asked her to elaborate, and her next sentence did nothing to alleviate my concerns: “Well, I’m basically being forced to do this.”
Those two sentences told me all I thought I needed to know, and I was sure that Nicole was not going to be seen today. But I pressed further, asking her all the standard questions to get a better picture of her situation. How had she felt when she first found out she was pregnant? Who had she told? Who was forcing her to be there, and in what way? Had she talked to anyone who was supportive? Had she considered continuing the pregnancy? How did she think she would feel after an abortion?
My role as an abortion counselor has two distinct parts: providing informed consent for abortion procedures, risks, aftercare instructions and contraceptive options; and discussing patients’ decisions to terminate their pregnancies, ensuring that they are confident it is the right choice for them and that they are not being coerced. I have the awe-inspiring right to turn patients away if I feel the latter criteria are unfulfilled, and it is that right that I struggle with when faced with patients like Nicole.
Her story came out in bits and pieces as we continued to talk: like so many of my patients, she had always considered herself to be against abortion and never imagined that she would wind up across from me in this counseling room. She did not think she would cope well after the procedure and she was struggling with whether it was the “right” thing for her to do. At twenty-one, she was a few years removed from legal childhood yet still dependent on her parents, and she said that they were the ones making her terminate the pregnancy. “My parents will kick me out if I have a baby,” she told me. “I’ll be homeless. I won’t have anywhere to go.”
What would you do if your parents were supportive of you either way?
“Honestly,” she said wearily, “I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Nicole was not going to have a procedure that day. I was sure of it. But when I brought up the idea of her leaving, her tune changed.
“No,” she said urgently. “I have to do this.”
You told me you’re being forced. You told me you don’t want to have an abortion. We can’t see you when you’ve told me those things.
“I’m being forced, but I have to do this. I don’t WANT to do this, but I HAVE to. You don’t understand! It’s my decision too. I came here for an abortion, and I have to have an abortion.”
Nicole, what you’ve told me worries me. We find that women cope best after an abortion when they’ve been able to come to terms with it as their decision. Take some more time. The procedure, the cost won’t change between now and next week. Come back next week if you decide this is the right thing for you. We’ll still be here.
“NO!” she exclaimed. “I planned for this today. I can’t come back next week. Nothing’s going to change! You don’t understand, I don’t HAVE a choice. Yeah, I’m going to feel awful afterwards, and yeah, I’ll probably regret it in a way, but it’ll be worse otherwise – I have to have an abortion today!”
I spent a very long time with Nicole gathering the pieces of her story, asking the same questions, asking different questions, offering her resources to be able to continue the pregnancy, alternately trying to convince her to reschedule her appointment and feeling terribly conflicted about whether that was the right thing to do. I had little doubt that she would end up having an abortion, but maybe she could be in a better place with more time to own the decision. Or maybe another week would only create additional obstacles and difficulty, needlessly complicating her life further.
Where does the patient’s constitutional right to choose an abortion intersect with the counselor’s responsibility to screen and refuse service due to perceived ambivalence or coercion? What do ambivalence and coercion mean for women who lack the emotional or financial support to continue a pregnancy they may otherwise have welcomed? I came to feel that Nicole’s claim of being forced to be there was her way of coping with needing an abortion so that she didn’t lose her family and her home. She may have made a different decision if her family supported her either way, but the reality was that they didn’t, and she wanted to keep them in her life more than she wanted to continue the pregnancy. Many women are “forced” to have an abortion by various life circumstances; does it matter whether those circumstances are other people or faceless considerations like financial constraints, age, or health problems?
I’ve turned abortion patients away who have returned a week or two later, grateful for the extra time to think about the decision and better equipped to cope afterwards. I know that sometimes, it truly is better to wait when ambivalence is detected; patients can’t change their mind after the procedure. But I struggle with exercising my right to turn patients away when they protest. How do I know which patients will truly benefit from it? Doesn’t the patient ultimately know what’s best for her? Why should it be my right to deny a patient the service she insists on accessing?
Nicole had her procedure that day. Like many of my patients, I imagine no pregnancy outcome would have been positive for her. Many patients will never feel 100% confident or at peace with the decision to have an abortion. But no one would have subjected her to an assessment of ambivalence or coercion in order to continue the pregnancy, and that’s one thing that makes abortioneering such a uniquely challenging kind of work. In the counseling room, it’s often a delicate balancing act: trusting the patient to know what’s best for her, and stepping in when I judge that she is simply not ready to take the step that day.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
I hear a lot of ring back tones when I call people to remind them of their appointments. I’m convinced that the women out there are sending messages – via the type of songs their phones play – to the guys in their lives. Thing is, I don’t think a lot of guys would actually “get it” that this is what’s going on…that the girls are giving THEM a message, telling them how it is. The reason I’m convinced this is happening is because I hear the same songs over and over. Maybe those songs are just super popular. Or maybe there are a lot of girls super pissed off at the guys they’re having an abortion with. In my experience, the top songs I hear on the abortion client playlist are:
• Love the Way You Lie – Rhianna
• Hate That I Love You – Rhianna (or basically, anything Rhianna)
• Free Fall – Kelly Rowland
• Tell Me a Lie – Kelly Clarkson
• So What – Pink
• Through With You – Maroon 5
Songs I hope I hear one day:
• Not a Pretty Girl – Ani DiFranco
• Pretty Girls – Neko Case
• I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
• King of Anything – Sara Bareilles
• Single – Natasha Beddingfield
• RESPECT – Aretha Franklin
• Miss Independent – Kelly Clarkson
• Beautiful – Christina Aguilera
• You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore
• I Am Woman – Helen Reddy
• A Woman’s Worth – Alicia Keys
• Video – India Arie
• Karma – Alicia Keys
• Single Ladies – Beyonce
• Firework – Katy Perry
• Goodbye Earl – Dixie Chicks
• Just Fine- Mary J Blige
• Superwoman – Alicia Keys
• Stronger – Brittany Spears
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Note: for the purpose of this post I will be using the words liberal/progressive/democrat interchangeably.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be progressive and if the issues that I consider to fall under this umbrella can be compartmentalized? I think we all know people who say they are “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”. But what about the people who say they are socially liberal EXCEPT when it comes to gay rights, or immigration, or interfaith relationships, OR choice? It confuses me. I see the intersections between all these issues and feel that the core of my being just naturally leans left and innately supports the entire liberal portfolio. So, when I meet these people who are extremely fucking diehard yellow-dog-democratic but then say, “well except I am against abortion” it really throws me for a loop. I understand why the religious right is against abortion. I understand why rich white men are against abortion. I can even understand why people who were adopted are against abortion. I do not get why progressives would be against abortion.
Ok, so maybe I do. I mean, on some level I do get it. A handful of these progressive antis are ridiculously privileged and therefore they can spout off their views from a place of “that-will-never-be-me” (until it is of course…). Progressive people are often idealists and so I can understand how they dream of a world without abortion and have some fantasy where it won’t ever need to happen (keep dreaming).
There are even legitimate groups who are anti-choice but would seem otherwise liberal; how could we forget about our good friends Feminists for Life, Democrats for Life, and my old friends PLAGAL (I wrote about them here)?
Overall though, these liberal antis piss me off. Way more than your usual run-of-the-mill anti. Can someone explain? Has anyone run into this unique brand of anti?
p.s. In case you need a refresher on all the other types of antis, anti-anti spells it out nicely in a previous blog post here
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
This music video tells the story of a woman's reaction to rape. The video is not directly related to abortion provision; however, as an abortion provider I often come in contact with women who have been raped and may even be ending a pregnancy that is the result of rape.
At the clinic where I work, we do not allow any male partners to the back with patients. Partners and women often get upset about this policy, but I always try to take the time to explain that we do have women in who have been through many different experiences. One of the first posts I ever shared is about my story of sexual assault and supporting women who are pregnant as a result of rape.
Hip-hop and pop music is often violent, and often condones sexual violence and objectification of women's bodies. I thought it was very powerful that Rihanna approached the subject in her music. So many women have been raped or assaulted, and it's something we cannot afford to ignore.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Happy Independence Day.
Between the 4th of July and the Republican primary campaign and anti-tax posturing in general, "freedom" has gotten a lot of lip service lately.
But I don't know what it means, really. What do they mean when they say it? Freedom for the powerful to do as they please at the expense of everyone else?
Meanwhile, everyone-else is seeing their dreams for their own life recede farther and farther out of reach. Or they don't dream anymore, they just try to make it through each week without a disaster, putting out one little brush-fire after another, choosing between new shoes for their quickly-growing kids or keeping the power on, between $$ they don't have each month for reliable birth control or the odds of $$$$ down the road for an abortion. Meanwhile, I almost hope everyone's abortion lottery-number comes up sooner rather than later, because the possibility of getting a needed abortion a few years from now is looking dimmer and dimmer and dimmer.
We exploded bright beautiful fireworks. Huge ones, the real kind. For one day I didn't think about the $$$ that they cost, which we could have put toward everyone's abortion. Probably I should have.
Certain people talk "freedom" but also want to make abortion impossible. They have never explained: If the law were to abide that our very bodies be subjugated to the demands of another entity -- fetus, man or whoever -- then how could we ever be free? How could the remaining liberties mean anything? And if only some are free, is there such thing as justice?
Here in Abortionland these days, temporary injunctions have become our way of making it through each week narrowly staving off disaster, the blanket on these brush-fires that can't be doused, because actually the powerful were pouring gasoline. My feeling is that this year's long parade of anti-freedom legislation is just a way to distract from the total void where economic redress was promised, and to distract from the ever-yawning divide between the powerful and everyone else. Meanwhile, everyone-else is more and more disempowered, with our freedom, supposedly inalienable, actually increasingly contingent on disaster staying at bay, on the odds landing on some other poor bastard and not us.
Where's our revolutionary spirit when we really need it?
Sunday, July 3, 2011
She can be six weeks, sixteen weeks, or thirty-six weeks pregnant. When you love her, it doesn’t matter.
She lives in any one of the several states where legislatures spend hours from day to day contemplating the width of the cleaning closet at the few abortion clinics that struggle to remain.
As a result, individuals, families, national family and freedom organizations, corporations, collectives, and health care providers spend hours day to day challenging these compulsive and degrading policies. Federal judges spend hours day to day evaluating the constitutionality of these compulsive and degrading policies.
Your mom is pregnant. Your lover is pregnant. You know what this does to her body. They wake her startled in the morning with twenty-five sirens. They take her toilet so she has to pee in the yard. They take her food, her car and/or bike, her phone, her clothes, and her neighbors, but not her five-dollar bill, so she tries to walk barefoot to the market to eat before she vomits. Overnight, they demolished the nearest market. She tries the coffee shop, but they’re out of everything but caffeine.
By the time you find your pregnant mom or your pregnant lover, she is collapsed and weeping in the parking lot behind the Laundromat in the line of the pipe that deposits those fresh-scent carcinogenics into the air (your mother’s/lover’s womb). She’s withering, but they've taken the doctors too.
Same stuff is happening at the state level of most states in this country right now—metaphorically speaking. But every metaphor applies when your mother or your lover is carrying life and resolving that responsibility and you love them.