When I counsel women before their abortions, I do it with a sense of humor. It’s my nature to be a little bit silly, but when a client told me that my co-workers and I were the ones who let her know, through our demeanors and our passion, that her abortion did not HAVE to be a sad, traumatic, or morose experience, I knew that it wasn’t a bad thing to laugh about the things that we could. So when I end the counseling session, I tell the woman, “Next, the nurse will call you back to pre-op, where you’ll put a gown on and she’ll start your IV, and then you’ll wait in a different waiting room than before. And I’m not going to lie—sitting in a room full of other women while wearing a gown, with a needle in your arm, is the weirdest part.” And I usually get a laugh out of it.
The reason I’m hyper-aware of that atmosphere, though, is because that’s the subject of “acceptable” criticism in the pro-choice circles. Almost anyone who is “brazen” enough to talk about her abortion experience will allude to a cattle call or an assembly line or something equally dehumanizing, about when she had to wait, scared, and alone. Scared and alone, I get. Dehumanizing, I don’t.
Ann at Feministing recently posted about Neko Case’s abortion commentary, and as a New Pornographers fan and as an abortion fan, I loved that she was willing to talk about the A-word. And then I got to the inevitable:
"Years ago, I went to Planned Parenthood in New York -- for another reason -- and I saw these girls waiting there, and it was just awful. It was cold, they were in gowns that didn't really close, and their boyfriends and parents weren't with them, and they were sitting under these bright lights, and the people were mean."
And I hate it so much. The protestor who yells at me as I walk into work is never a part of my life, and his words mean nothing to me. But women like Case are a part of my movement, and their words come as a blow. My coworkers and I aren’t saints, and we have bad days, but I don’t think we’ve ever been mean to a client. And yes, pre-op IS “the weirdest part,” but because abortion is so stigmatized, there is no way we will ever have enough facilities or doctors or allies or FREEDOM to provide enough clinics to give every woman a completely private and individualized experience.
I want these women who are incensed at having to wait in a tiny, bright room in a tiny, faded gown to be incensed at the bigger picture. I want them to talk back to the ignorant friend who says that abortion is killing a child, to stop seeing the Ob/Gyn who gives referrals to a crisis pregnancy center, to vote for candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood, to donate $5 to the clinic that helped them to safely terminate. Until then, my pre-op humor will suffice because who among us does not laugh so that she doesn’t cry?