I wrote an article for Women's eNews this week about how the fat acceptance movement is helping heavier women embrace their bodies, gain confidence and have more fulfilling sex lives. The article hails some recent triumphs in the battle against fatphobia, including the video of a news anchor hitting back at a viewer who dissed her "physical condition," and Lady Gaga's half-naked launch of a so-called "body revolution."
Then comes this on my newsfeed.
A fraternity at Amherst College designed a t-shirt that features a woman with bruises or scratches on her body and an apple in her mouth roasting.on.a.spit.like.a.pig. As Dana Bolger wrote in her post on an Amherst College blog, if you want to know what sexism and misogyny look like in 2012, this is it. The caption? "Roasting Fat Ones Since 1847."
While writing my article last week I wondered if all readers, especially those with, you know, skinny privilege, would understand what "fatphobia" was. Would most people intuitively get the connection between the social messaging that casts fat women as ugly and undesirable and misogyny, which teaches all women that our bodies - fat, skinny, disabled, trans, white, Black, Latina, gorgeous - are objects subject to appraisal and not, ultimately, our own?
In my attempt to come up with a succinct argument for why feminism and fat acceptance are linked, I could not have arrived at a more powerful example than this shirt. Let this disgusting image remind us that all bodies deserve not only acceptance, but freedom from this kind of hate.
An abortion clinic in Brooklyn, New York has reportedly shut down after patients and doctors were driven away by anti-choice protesters. It was a quick headline on the New York Daily News website, a quick tweet I happened to notice, and another clinic is gone.
So while we watch the creep of TRAP laws threatening clinics from Mississippi and Virginia to Utah; while we Republican legislators redefine rape and claim abortion doctors abort fetuses that don’t exist; we have lost another small, quiet battle in the culture wars.
The loss of any clinic is a big deal, even in New York City, where the National Abortion Federation lists more than half a dozen member clinics. The reason that it’s a big deal is that when it comes to abortions, as with any medical procedure sought by people with hectic lives in an unforgiving economic world, convenience.is.key.
Oddly, the clinic closing made me think about Mike Birbiglia, the comedian who chronicles his experience with a sleep disorder in the film “Sleepwalk With Me.” Initially, after crashing through his home breaking things at night, Birgilia recounts in his comedy routine how he considered seeking help.
“I Thought ‘maybe I should see a doctor,’” he recounts. “Then i thought "maybe I'll eat dinner."
Eventually, Birbiglia crashed through a second-story glass window in his sleep and nearly killed himself.
Here comes the biggest repro rights setback to hit Virginia since TRANSVAGINAL ULTRASOUNDS.
The state's board of health has voted to impose hospital-style building standards on abortion clinics, reversing a decision in June that exempted existing clinics from rules governing things like width of hallways and the size.of.the.janitor's.closet.
The move came after strong-arming from the state's anti-abortion attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who refused to certify the initial changes exempting clinics and said the board had exceeded its authority. He sent a letter to board members saying they could not exempt existing clinics and warning them they could be personally liable for legal fees if they were sued after refusing to heed his advice. (This is the same state, by the way, where a member of the House of Delegates recently declared that disabled children are God's revenge on women who terminate their first pregnancies.)
Earlier this year I spoke with Rosemary Codding, Director of Patient Services at Falls Church Healthcare Center in Virginia, which, she noted, had a very nice, well-organized janitor's closet.
They'd had to spend thousands of dollars determining whether the clinic could come into compliance with the architectural requirements -- or whether they'd have to close.
The rules in Virginia are part of a rash of TRAP laws across the country that are silently gutting abortion access in this country, clinic by clinic. I discovered how profoundly these requirements were impacting providers when I called clinics to talk about TRANSVAGINAL ULTRASOUNDS and waiting periods -- which were making headlines -- and found them desperate to talk about the TRAP rules -- which were not making headlines.
I've spent the past two weeks on the road with the independent TV/radio show Democracy Now! covering the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. If you missed DN's extensive coverage of the conventions, it's worth at least checking out this short interview Amy Goodman did with a Missouri GOP delegate and former state legislator who once served alongside the embattled congressmember and Senate candidate Todd Akin (you know, the one who said it's rare for women to get pregnant from "legitimate" rapes because their bodies have a way to "try to shut that whole thing down.") In the interview, Missouri delegate George Engelbach, who bore a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, defended Akin, reiterated Akin's central point, and described the differences between "brutal" rape and rape of "some girl or lady that was sort of inebriated."
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of your senatorial candidate, Todd Akin, and his comments?
GEORGE ENGELBACH: One, I served with them for two years in the Missouri House. I never, ever heard him say anything derogatory or off-color. He has apologized. He’s asked for forgiveness. And since when can we not forgive? I forgive. If there was no forgiveness, we are all in trouble.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the entire leadership here at the Republican convention—Paul Ryan made a personal call to him—Romney—they’ve called for him to step down.
GEORGE ENGELBACH: I don’t know nothing about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, they’ve called publicly for him to step down.
GEORGE ENGELBACH: I don’t pay any attention to what they’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think, if he stepped down, someone else would have a better chance of—
GEORGE ENGELBACH: He’s not going to step down. He’s not going to step down.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about his views on abortion. I notice you have a pin there. What does that pin represent?
GEORGE ENGELBACH: That’s the size of the feet of an eight-week-old fetus.
AMY GOODMAN: So what was wrong with what he said? Do you feel that Congressman Akin was unfairly targeted?
GEORGE ENGELBACH: He said what he said, I feel, in a wrong connotation. It’s documented that there is a relatively low conception rate with highly traumatic rapes, rapes that are just brutal. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Is there another kind of rape?
GEORGE ENGELBACH: Certainly.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s the other kind of rape?
GEORGE ENGELBACH: Well, if you’d, for example, rape some girl or lady that was sort of inebriated, maybe a little bit high on drugs or something like that, that’s going on all the time, "slip a Mickey," as we call it. When I grew up, we called them "slipped somebody a Mickey." And, you know, it’s non—it’s not consensual, and it still happens. And that’s the rape that is really hard to prove, many times, but—
Nothing I could possibly write this week could be more pressing than the letter a woman named Deb Walsh wrote 10 days ago.
Nothing could be more touching. Nothing could more starkly represent the nature of the times we're living in.
Maybe you've never heard of Deb Walsh.
She's the owner of Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee. She wrote this letter when she was on the verge of shuttering the abortion clinic where she'd worked for more than 30 years.
She was forced to close the clinic, she writes, because of a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law, similar to the one that has threatened Mississippi's only remaining abortion clinic. The laws are one of the ways the anti-choice movement is slowing ending access to abortion in this country, clinic by clinic. Deb Walsh explains:
I found out last night that I will have to close Volunteer Women's Medical Clinic in Knoxville TN, effective today. A law that went into effect July 1st 2012 called "The Life Defense Act", made it illegal for our local, Board Certified OB-GYN physician to perform abortions in our fully licensed Ambulatory Surgical Treatment Center. The law requires Drs. who perform abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges. The law applies exclusively to abortion. One of our Drs., Morris Campbell, was actually able to reinstate his privileges a few weeks before the law went into effect. Sadly, he had a stroke and died a few days after receiving the news about his hospital privileges.
I'm 25 years old. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone would feel disassembling the place they'd worked for 30 years. What relics of feminist history were packed into boxes and stacked into the Uhaul shown sitting outside the clinic in a recent photo? What inspirational signs, contraceptive teaching devices, letters from grateful patients...what must if have felt like to pack all that away?
According to its website, the clinic has been caring for women since 1975. That's two years after Roe v. Wade. That's 38 years. Many of the young women who sought abortions there back in the years when it first opened are probably grandmothers now. Deb Walsh remembers them.
The clinic has been open for 38 years and I have worked there for over 30 years. I still remember the name of the first patient I took care of on the day I started, and I remember the answer an eleven year old girl gave when, after days of counseling, I asked her what she wanted to do. She said "I just want to go ride my new bicycle". No kidding baby girl. So many images remain of the strength of women.......the day we looked out the front window and saw an Appalachian woman we'd just discharged pushing an electric blue Corvette Sting Ray fast enough that her husband could pop the clutch and start the engine.......the coal miner's daughter that was full term and about to go into labor but swore it couldn't be true because no one had ever been "up on" her.......the sorority girl that said she got pregnant by trying on her friend's diaphragm that "must have had sperm on it"......the woman I brought back to life when she stopped breathing who later told us she had withheld critical medical history from us because she was afraid we wouldn't let her have an abortion if she told us the truth......all the Catholic women who had abortions over and over again because taking a birth control pill every day added up to more sins than a few abortions a year.
I'm so angry about this, also sad, and I'm grateful for whatever wisdom I possess that keeps me from feeling like a victim.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out with kind words during this nightmare. Now, I've got to get back to packing. Imagine it all working perfectly.
There's a hope resonating through the final words of that letter that took my breath away.
The struggle to maintain abortion access in this country is a mix of bitter, tragic losses and, along the way, some victories.
And lest we end on a totally tragic note, there's success for common sense in Kansas, where a prosecutor has dropped all remaining charges against a local Planned Parenthood, ending what was believed to be the first attempt in the country's history at criminally prosecuting a Planned Parenthood facility. The prosecutor, Phill Kline, is the same one who charged George Tiller with more than 30 misdemeanors. All charges were later thrown out. Three years later, Tiller was murdered.
Some days we win, some days we lose -- irreparably, enormously, senselessly. But there's hope in the movement precisely because of people like Deb Walsh. Precisely because of her courage. Precisely because of her unwillingness to be beaten, even while antis are literally forcing her out the door of her clinic.
Imagine, she says. Imagine it all working perfectly.
In a landmark case, Namibia's high court has ruled in favor of three women who say they were forcibly sterilized at a state hospital between 2005 and 2007. The women claim they were targeted because they were HIV-positive (although the judge apparently rejected that claim).
Accusations of state hospitals targeting HIV-positive mothers for sterilization have reportedly emerged in multiple countries in Africa, including Kenya, Swaziland and South Africa. In Namibia, about 13 percent of adults are HIV positive.
While it's possible to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child, so-called healthcare providers are apparently taking prevention into their own hands in the most inhumane of ways. It seems the focus on preventing HIV transmission to children can imperil and marginalize their mothers, as HIV/AIDS expert Stephen Lewis noted in a powerful speech at the AIDS Conference* last month. Here's what Lewis said about a global plan launched at a United Nations meeting, "To Eliminate New HIV Infections Among Children by 2015 and Keeping Mothers Alive":
"The people on the inside of this plan know—will never admit but know—that the Keeping Mothers Alive part was an eleventh hour insertion because women are always overlooked. As a matter of fact, if you take a look at the UNAIDS website today, it highlights the Global Plan to Eliminate new HIV Infections Among Children by 2015, giving only a subsidiary cut-line at the end for Keeping Mothers Alive.
"This has been one of the scandals of the history of AIDS. Preventing vertical transmission of the virus from mother to child is perhaps the easiest preventive intervention there is, but we marked time between 2000 and 2005, losing five precious years, and it is only latterly that we’ve suddenly begun to emphasize the importance of the mother."
These cases appear to show that some practitioners are not only ignoring HIV-positive mothers, but actively taking away their reproductive agency. Here's an excerpt from the Guardian article explaining the case:
Authorities in major U.S. cities are confiscating condoms from sex workers and using them as evidence at trial, leading sex workers to ask researchers how many condoms they're legally allowed to carry, exactly?
This from Human Rights Watch, which released a report Thursday saying sex workers and transgender women are regularly harassed, threatened and even arrested for carrying condoms. (Transgender women are reportedly targeted by police whether or not they are actually performing sex work because of the assumption that they must, of course, be performing sex work.)
Wait, let me repeat that. Police are arresting people for carrying condoms.
Researchers who interviewed hundreds of people in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco found police are forcing sex workers to throw their best means of protection into the garbage. Literally. This despite cities receiving millions of dollars in funding to help protect those most at risk for HIV/AIDS, like, you know, sex workers. Some sex workers are reportedly having unprotected sex or using plastic bags as substitutes for condoms because they are too afraid to carry them. The four cities included in the study reportedly received 50 million condoms last year. It only takes one condom to protect a sex worker from contracting HIV/AIDS. So how many of those condoms ended up in trash cans or police custody? And how many sex workers got HIV as a result?
In New York City, young African-American and Latino men are targeted for "stop-and-frisk" searches in hugely disproportionate numbers by police ostensibly searching for weapons, but not generally finding them. It appears transgender women are being stopped and profiled by police for condom searches. Guns kill people. Condoms save people. Targeting people for random searches because of their race, gender presentation, ethnicity or clothing doesn't make anybody safer. In fact, it's putting lives at risks.
UPDATE: Thursday, July 12On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan extended his ruling blocking the anti-abortion law in Mississippi from going into effect. That means the clinic stays open -- for now.
Lily wrote a little while back about Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic and how it's been threatened by a new law aimed at ending abortion.
The law requires all the clinic's doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals, which is nearly impossible for many providers, in part because they admit so few patients to the hospital. Similar laws have passed in at least nine other states.
The Jackson Women's Health Organization sued. It was their only shot at survival. And on July 1, the day the law was scheduled to take effect, a judge temporarily blocked it. Their fate now rests on a hearing scheduled to take place this week.
A New York Times reporter described the scene at Jackson Women's Health Organization after the law was temporarily blocked:
"The phones buzzed over and over at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic on Monday. Yes, receptionists told the dozens of young women who called, they could still see a doctor about an unwanted pregnancy. But they would need to come soon…The clinic’s three doctors normally perform about 40 abortions a week, but received more than 100 calls in one day last week from women trying to schedule appointments. Two of the doctors live out of state and will fly in to perform abortions this week, said Diane Derzis, the clinic owner."
Take that, antis. The clinic is performing more abortions because you tried to stop them.
Wait, no, seriously, the fact that patients feel pressured to have an abortion immediately is not a victory for anyone. Here's clinic owner Diane Derzis again: “What women are hearing is, You may not be able to have an abortion soon,” she said. “If you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be, you’re thinking, ‘By God, I’ve got to get in there fast.’”
Now as someone who's been on the other end of that phone line talking to people who are pregnant and don't want to be, I'm trying to imagine how these conversations went down.
Patient: "Hi, I want an abortion, and I'm wondering if the state has shut you down yet?"
Counselor: "Not yet, but they might next week."
I've spoken to patients who were so distraught over their unplanned pregnancies they appeared on the verge of suicide. I've spoken to some who were paralyzed by the weight of the decision. I've talked to others who just knew it just was not time for a kid. Ho-no. Nuh-uh. Done. Let's get this over with.
I still can't imagine having to tell any of them to hurry up. That concept is antithetical to quality abortion counseling, which is about supporting patients, helping them feel safe and ensuring they're ready. Unless someone was 21 weeks pregnant and on the verge of hitting the clinic's gestational limit, one of the most reassuring things I could tell patients was, "You have time."
As it turns out, patients in Mississippi may not have time.
Here’s a reproductive justice issue that came to my attention this week.
Workers at the Louisiana-based crawfish supplier C.J.’s Seafood are accusing their employer of locking them into the plant, forcing them to work 24-hour shifts without overtime pay, and threatening them with beatings to make them work faster. They say their employer threatened violence against their families in Mexico when they contacted authorities.
One worker described the threats:
“If we didn’t finish our production quotas, we were told we couldn’t take breaks and the manager said while blocking the exit that if we didn’t understand that then we would understand ‘with a shovel.’” -Silvia Alfaro, 39
The employees were hired as guest workers under a program that allows U.S. companies to temporarily hire foreign workers if they can show there aren’t enough U.S. workers to fill the jobs. Critics say the H-2B program essentially legalizes low pay and exploitation of migrant workers.
C.J.’s supplies seafood to Wal-Mart. The retail giant has said it’s been “unable to substantiate” workers’ claims. But an activist said no one from the company had bothered to contact the workers who complained.
Wal-Mart is where a lot of women go for birth control, Plan B, infant formula, diapers and a whole range of affordable, reproductive rights-related stuff. It’s also been a site of battles over access to basic health care, with some pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control.
Wal-Mart has also faced accusations of using suppliers that run sweatshops and paying millions of dollars in bribes to Mexican officials for construction permits.
Here’s another fun fact about Wal-Mart: the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune have a collective wealth equivalent to the entire bottom 30 percent of U.S. society.
Have I wandered off the reproductive rights track? Bear with me for a sec.
The Provider Project and Abortion Gang have concluded a series remembering George Tiller on the third anniversary of his murder. Many thanks to everyone who contributed. As we wrap up, I wanted to re-post the comments National Abortion Federation President and CEO Vicki Saporta made about George Tiller on Democracy Now. Her comments about Tiller's willingness to serve patients without charge seem particularly relevant after Chantal's post Wednesday saying abortions should be free. For some of Tiller's patients, they were. You can watch the full video interview here.
Here's how Vicki Saporta remembered George Tiller:
"He was a remarkably generous and compassionate physician, and we heard stories in memorial services all over the country from people who referred patients to him.
"NAF runs a toll-free hotline, and we referred one woman in the winter. She was from a Southern state. She couldn’t afford the care that she needed. And he offered to provide the abortion free of charge if she could get to Wichita. And so she drove there, and he found out she was sleeping in her car without a coat. And he instructed his staff to find her a hotel room, to provide her with a coat, with shoes, with food. And so, not only did he provide his care free of charge, he also provided her with lodging, food, and treated her with the dignity and compassion that she deserved.
"In another case, there was a young rape victim, Annie, who lived in a large Eastern city where she should have been able to receive the care that she needed. Her care was delayed. She couldn’t receive the care in her home state. And when Dr. Tiller heard about her case, he offered to take care of Annie. And when this very young rape survivor went to Wichita with her parents, she was greeted by Dr. Tiller and his entire staff wearing pink T-shirts with purple lettering that said 'Friend of Annie.'
"And these are not isolated stories. We hear story after story about the incredible compassion that people were treated with, the excellent care that they received from Dr. Tiller and his staff. He was a remarkable physician, and we miss him every day."
Tomorrow, May 31, marks the three year anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s murder. In the wake of increasing restrictions on later abortions and mounting violence against abortion clinics, we at the Abortion Gang and The Provider Project want to honor Dr. Tiller’s legacy of compassionate care by hosting a collective blog remembrance in response to this question: How can the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements better support the people who have later abortions and providers who perform them?
Your post can directly answer this question, or use it as a jumping off point to talk about other issues, such as:
Why is it so difficult for our movement to talk about and support later abortions?
Reflecting on Dr. Tiller’s famous quote: ”Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”
In your post, please link back to this blog post so that folks can come here and find links to other reflections on Dr. Tiller.
The Abortion Gang and The Provider Project will post links to pieces written answering this question, starting Thursday, May 31 through the following Thursday, June 7. Please feel free to forward this call for posts to anyone who you think would be interested in honoring Dr. Tiller’s legacy. Send the links to your posts to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet them to @IAmDrTiller and @Provider Project, or leave them in the comments.
If you don't have your own blog but would still like to submit something, please feel free to email it along and we can feature it either here or at the Abortion Gang.
I contacted the Mountain View Women’s Clinic in Salt Lake City because I wanted to hear about Utah’s new 72-hour waiting period for abortion, which went into effect earlier this month.
But Dr. Bill Adams, the clinic’s owner and provider, had other things on his mind. In the months before Utah made history with the longest waiting period in the country, Dr. Adams was thinking about doorknobs.
Rules about doorknobs -- along with bathroom fans, electrical wiring, cleaning supply storage, and a host of other things -- were threatening his survival.
Utah has a new Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) law, adding to similar laws in Virginia and dozens of other states. TRAP laws impose a range of onerous regulations that are silently imperiling abortion clinics.* This year alone, TRAP bills have been introduced in 14 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The new rules went into effect in Utah last month. Adams explains:
“We got about 17 pages in rules and regulations we’re supposed to comply with, a lot of it infrastructure. They wanted our exam rooms to be a certain size; we had to add lighting, fire protection, emergency exits and all this stuff that we never worried about before.”
Adams had to install a bar in the bathroom (“so my 20-year-old patients can pull themselves off the toilet”) and set aside a locked room with a ventilation fan for cleaning supplies. He had to install a separate switch in the bathroom so the fan and light would turn on separately. And he had to switch to a lever-style doorknob on his bathroom door.
This important column in USA Today asks "Where are the doctors?" and urges doctors to stand with their patients against attacks on basic health care rights:
Physicians, both as individuals and as a profession, should stand with their patients. They should make it clear that they will not perform procedures, such as ultrasound examinations, unless they are medically indicated and desired by their patients. And they should refuse to provide inaccurate information about the consequences of abortion, or to follow any other prepared script in counseling their patients, particularly when it involves treating women like children.
Such acts of civil disobedience by individual doctors should be only the starting point. The profession as a whole, as represented by its professional organizations, needs to become involved, so that physicians are not left to fend for themselves.
As Georgia, Arizona and other states have banned abortion at various points in later pregnancy, some pro-choicers have moved to confront medical misinformation embodied in the bans with...well, more medical misinformation.
As was the case with the hubbub over transvaginal ultrasounds in Virginia, some well-intentioned commentators fixated on what may have seemed the most salacious point in the Arizona ban -- that it appeared to define pregnancy as beginning on the first day of a woman's last menstrual period, or about two weeks before fertilization and implantation.
There was only one problem. The medical community generally defines pregnancy based on a woman's last menstrual period, so in a sense all women, in the eyes of their doctor, are two weeks pregnant by the time a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. Health care practitioners use gestational age to measure pregnancy because unlike fertilization and implantation -- which are tough to pinpoint, since they don't necessarily occur on the same date as intercourse -- a woman's last menstrual period marks a fixed point in time when her body is beginning to prepare for a possible future pregnancy. Gestational age, in other words, wasn't invented by Republicans.*
In fact, the laws that use gestational age as a measure of pregnancy (yes, the ones that label you two weeks "pregnant" around the time you ovulate) are more medically accurate than those -- modeled on the Nebraska ban -- that redefine pregnancy as beginning at fertilization. Many fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus but are simply flushed from the body. Reproductive health advocates have noted that attempts to define life as beginning at fertilization could threaten birth control and in vitro fertilization.
The Arizona law is in fact stricter than the Georgia ban. (Interestingly, Marty notes this strictness may have been an accident resulting from medical ignorance, not necessarily an attempt to be the most fetus-loving.) Arizona moved to ban abortion at 20 weeks, as other states had done. But they specified that the ban was for pregnancies after 20 weeks gestational age -- or 18 weeks "postfertilization" -- two weeks earlier than Georgia.
Access to abortion is defined by thousands of teensy decisions made by dunderheaded policymakers. Each one of these decisions is extremely significant and dangerous. Each makes all the difference in how one single person lives.
That’s what I told a friend recently when he questioned whether it makes much difference who wins the presidential race.
Actually, it didn’t quite come out like that.
Here’s what I really said, more or less:
President Obama is the President of the United States. You can’t expect much.
Seemingly small differences can make a big impact on the way people live their daily lives. I know. I was an abortion counselor. This is my story. Dun-dun.
As an abortion counselor, I worked in two different New England states. In the first, a comprehensive state insurance plan paid for abortion as a medical service. In the other, a state law prevented public insurance from covering abortion unless the woman had been the victim of rape or incest. Ironically, the former plan was developed by the Republican candidate for president. But that’s another story.
In the first state, many of the poorest women who came to our clinic seeking abortion did not have to worry about the financial burden of the surgery or medication. They could weigh their options based on long-term factors like support, relationships, future goals, and yes, the long-term financial burden of having a child.
Meanwhile, in the other state, the women on public insurance (most of the low-income patients we saw) were not covered unless they had been raped. Most had not, although as a side note, no documentation was required, so the women could easily have chosen to lie without consequence. As far as I could tell, none did.
Thanks to the National Abortion Federation and other local funds (SERIOUSLY, THANKS), we were able to connect patients with financial aid. But most funds did not cover the entire cost. Much of my time as a phone counselor was spent making calls, begging for money on behalf of women, or having conversations with them along the lines of: “Is there anything you can sell?” and “Are there any family members or friends who can lend you money?”
Women were faced with having to raise anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (depending on how far along they were in their pregnancies) in the span of a few days or weeks in order to pay for their abortions. I spoke to many, many women whose decision-making was entirely consumed with figuring out whether or not they could afford the up-front cost, which is flabbergasting when you consider how much more a child costs. Based on the number of cancelled appointments we had from women who were having trouble raising even a small amount to pay for the procedure ($50? $100?) I knew some continued their pregnancies because they felt forced to do so by their financial circumstances.
As a private clinic struggling to survive, we couldn’t give the services away for free. Many days I wished we could have. In a better world, we will.
To demonstrate why we need stories from abortion care workers in the struggle for reproductive justice, I want to share a little story about an recent legislative mishap you may remember...
A couple months ago, some legislators in Virginia decided to pass a law mandating ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. Their thinking seemed to center on a few monkey-brained assumptions:
Women seeking abortions may not realize they’re pregnant until they have an ultrasound.
After viewing a blurry, black-and-white blob, women will become so overcome with motherly emotions that their financial/logistical/emotional/spiritual reasons for seeking abortion will disappear.
Women can’t make decisions for themselves. Legislators should make decisions for them.
People who know nothing about medicine are qualified to dictate medical policy.
The legislators might have benefited from speaking to someone in abortion care who had a basic grasp of what happens between providers and patients. If they did, they might have realized:
Most women seeking abortion realize they are pregnant.
Ultrasounds are routinely provided as part of abortion care.
The level of detail required in the ultrasound image would mandate a TRANSVAGINAL ULTRASOUND for many women in early pregnancy.
Then something glorious happened. People who had a basic grasp of medical knowledge noticed that the law would require a specific medical procedure that involved putting.something.potentially.unecessary.into.my.vagina. The rage of the feminist community was unleashed upon Virginia. More than a thousand people protested outside the State Capitol and some were arrested. The word “vagina” was EVERYWHERE.
“Transvaginal,” said the TV anchors.
“Vaginal probe,” agreed the newspapers.
“Holy crap!” said those of us unaccustomed to seeing the word “vagina” in such places.
Many decried the bill as state-sponsored rape. Here, the feminist community may also have benefited from the wisdom of abortion care workers, who might have noted that transvaginal ultrasounds are in fact a routine medical practice that clinics often use to accurately diagnose gestational age.
But the debate ignored another key provision of the Virginia law -- one that many in abortion care believed would far more dramatically impact the lives of women seeking abortions. The bill required a waiting period between the ultrasound appointment and the abortion -- you know, so women could get a good hard look at that fuzzy, black-and-white picture. Women who lived within 100 miles of the clinic would need to wait 24 hours. Those who lived more than 100 miles away would need to wait two hours.
It turns out almost all legislatures that have convened so far this year -- and by almost all, I mean 45 out of 46 -- have introduced measures related to reproductive health and rights. About half of those provisions would restrict abortion access. All that in three months.
Here's some seriously depressing highlights:
*Legislators in 11 states have introduced ultrasound requirements.
*Legislators in 11 states introduced restrictions on medication abortions.
*Legislators in 14 states have introduced restrictions on abortions in later pregnancy prior to fetal viability.
*Legislators in five states that mandate contraceptive coverage have introduced measures to expand or create exemptions for employers.
Check out the full report from the Guttmacher Institute here.
Rather than getting totally depressed about the situation, I'm trying to focus on the work of providers and activists who are struggling to block these provisions and continue helping women access health care. It cheered me up to remember the thousands who protested the Virginia law mandating a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion. Here's a photo of a young pro-choicer in Virginia that made me feel a little better.
It can be a scary prospect to call up an abortion clinic and make an appointment for what has become one of our society’s most stigmatized — and yet one of its most common —medical procedures.
Which is probably why some patients don’t immediately admit that’s why they’re calling.
As a former phone counselor at a clinic, I used to hear a lot of: “Um…I wanted to know how much it costs?” and “Hi…I’m looking for some information about…abortion?”
(This last one was spoken as a question, with the word “abortion” issued in a whisper, like a big, bad, ugly secret.)
I sometimes tried to use the word as much as possible when I answered those tentative calls.
“I would be happy to answer any questions you have about ABORTION! What type of ABORTION do you think you might be interested in having?”
Often, these patients weren’t simply calling for information; they knew they wanted an abortion, but they were scared and confused about what the process might entail.
I sometimes felt like women called just to test us out. Maybe they had always believed abortion was murder and they wanted to know whether we would tell them what they were doing was wrong or try to make them feel guilty. Maybe they were wondering whether the women who worked in the Big, Bad Baby-Killing Center were human beings like them. Many were scared they wouldn’t be able to have children in the future, or that we would do something violent and terrible to remove their unwanted pregnancies.
They were certain we would judge them, just as others in their life had judged them. They were wondering whether they could trust us with their stories.
For me, it was the serene-faced mother of a two-year-old who looked toward the ceiling after her abortion and said:
“I am so grateful for this option.”
Each abortion care worker has at least one patient in recent memory who gave us that mushy-gushy feeling in our bellies -- who made the work feel worthwhile.
For Deborah Oyer, the Seattle doctor who owns Aurora Medical Services, one of those patients was a religious 17-year-old who was against abortion...until she ended up in Oyer’s office seeking one.
Now, I would venture to guess that each abortion care worker also has one or two patients who make them want to scream. For some of us, those are the anti-choice patients who, through tightly woven, convoluted and protective mental processes, have decided that they are the only ones who should ever, ever be allowed to have an abortion.
Deborah Oyer summed up the basic argument made by some of these patients:
“Everyone else in your waiting room is a slut, and I have a good reason for having an abortion. I’m against abortion, except I need one.”
I’ve struggled recently with the question of whether abortion needs to be a politically transformative experience. Is it fair for me to secretly wish all patients were as pro-choice as the mother whom I mentioned?
I have been planning a trip to Greece. So as you read this, I am taking a break from my job at an abortion clinic to gaze out on something like this photo.
Don’t hate me.
In addition to researching Greece’s legendary beaches...and history -- and the country’s protests in response to austerity measures -- I decided to research abortion laws there. In part, I wanted to know how open I could be about my work. But I was also curious. As recent and unparalleled legal attacks in this country have shown, abortion laws can be fascinating studies in systemic absurdity. When one belief system (the one that says abortion is murder) hits an irreconcilable belief system (the one that says women are more human than fetuses) the legal results are convoluted and bizarre. Governments try to compromise incompatible perspectives by regulating those procedures that involve slightly larger fetuses, or by making it harder for women to access abortion.
For example, at the end of March, South Dakota adopted a measure (which was blocked after a legal challenge) that would make a woman wait 72 hours for an abortion after her first visit with a doctor and force her to visit a crisis pregnancy center (havens of religiously fueled brainwashing) in the interim. A federal appeals court recently upheld parts of a 2005 law in that state requiring doctors to tell a patient that abortion “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” and inform the woman that she has “an existing relationship with that unborn human being.”