Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I am leaving my current job, where I am immersed in Abortionland as we call it. I am pretty ecstatic about this change in my life. As we all share it is quite apparent that this work is draining, hardening and difficult.

I have been immersed in Abortionland for over 4 years. When I started working in the field I didn’t know I was passionate about abortion. Having just come out as gay I really didn’t think it had anything to do with me, but I knew I believed in a woman’s right to choose and I needed a part time gig, and so the saga begins. As I have become immersed in this work I have sifted through the many layers of choice, reproduction, and women’s empowerment and found my passion. This work is also empowering, fulfilling, and meaningful.

Abortion is a part of women’s survival, it’s a part of owning our bodies, lives, and decisions. Helping women obtain abortions is about giving accurate information and entrusting women to make good decisions with that information. When I talk to patients it is clear that lack of access to abortion is not where problems begin but rather one manifestation of larger societal problems. We live in a sex negative culture, from very early in our lives we learn that sex is shameful, dirty, and we should be secretive about it. We do not get clear and accurate information about our bodies or sex, and we lack language to talk about both. Lack of access to abortion and accurate information about abortion is one manifestation of a sex-negative culture.

Information about sex and health is essential to preventing unwanted pregnancies. Yet, when we can’t talk about sex and we are taught that abstinence is the answer then people don’t know how to take precautions against becoming pregnant. Also, it is a lot easier to ignore signs that one is pregnant if you don’t have a language to talk about your body. For me this work is about a larger picture, it’s much bigger than abortion. It’s about unlearning that sex is shameful, secretive and dirty. Sex is a part of life and people need information about how to take care of their selves and enjoy pleasure.

When I think about how I will remain true to my heart as an abortioneer, there is no question in my mind that this work will remain my passion with or without a job in a clinic or fund. I will bring my sisters to the clinic. I will use the counseling skills I have developed to help my sisters make major decisions. I will swipe my credit card or even request a credit line increase without thinking twice because I can, and I know I can help someone else pay for their abortion care. I will donate to a local fund. I will help a child, or anyone, learn how to talk about her body in a positive manner. I will help give people information about how to enjoy sex safely. I will remind a woman that she has the right to be in control of her own life.

After four years I feel really burned out and I’m thrilled make some major changes in my professional life. However, I am clear that my heart is still in this work and that won’t change.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reading snacks, for slow moments at work

Today I mostly want to share some interesting stuff I read over the weekend.

Before I get to that, though, a quick note about the pain in the ass christened "40 Days For Life" by people with nothing better to do. For forty days (starting last Wednesday), antis will gather outside of women's health clinics to harass staff and patients. They show up at abortion clinics, non-abortion clinics, and clinics that aren't open. They shout epithets and videotape clients and write down license plate numbers and say hilariously ridiculous stuff.

What can you do to support women seeking healthcare and the abortioneers who help them?
-You can check out this map of targets, contact the nearest clinic, and offer to be a patient escort, or to volunteer in whatever other way the clinic needs.
-You can counter-protest, if the clinic is open to it (many clinics do not want to risk escalating the situation).
-You can pledge-a-protester here or here or here. I love this idea because it allows every protester to make a difference -- just not the way they think. You can also simply visit your friendly neighborhood clinic and ask about making a donation.
-You can send a note of thanks to Planned Parenthood staff, or do the same for a local non-PP clinic. This is another small gesture that means a ton to your average abortioneer. You have no idea how much it brightens our moods when a passerby goes out of her/his way to offer us a word or a buck in support.

OK, now for the fun reading:

-Women on Waves, the Dutch "abortion boat" that is currently facing a decision to stop operation, is going to be the star of a documentary called Vessel and the documentary has its own blog.

-The wonderful group CPCWatch has posted a story to their blog, sent to them by a woman who says the crisis pregnancy center she visited before her abortion turned a non-traumatic experience into a trauma. They titled the post "Another reason we do what we do" -- I think we all get reminders like that once in a while.

-I just found the blog of The Cherry Hill Women's Center, where Jen has written a great post, "Annoying Misconception #1: Abortion providers think that abortion is always the best decision." All I can say is, heck yes. This is one of the first misconceptions I came up against in my career, and it still surprises me that people's impressions of this field of medicine is so simplistic. (If anything, abortion medicine is less likely to "push a procedure" on a patient than most other specialties -- specialists are notorious for recommending their pet treatments no matter what their specialty, yet abortion providers are extra-careful not to do so.) Stay tuned for their continuing list of "myths and misconceptions" posts.

-Farther afield but not by much, the Service Employees International Union found that eight states and the District of Columbia allow insurers to consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition. Just thought you might want to know.

-Finally, the Cherry Hill blog pointed me to a really good video made by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, whom I've always admired because they truly get what "pro-choice, pro-family" is all about. Here it is (and sorry for the size, it won't scale down!):

Friday, September 25, 2009

Morbid Media Friday

A old friend of mine posted this video on her Facebook profile, with the accompanying comment:

"how could you carry a child, a beautiful angel, for 9 months and carry so much hate for her at the same time?"

A fair question, indeed.

Now, the aforementioned friend was also something of an anti, at least in the past. Didn't like abortion because she loves all babies, has several nieces and nephews she adores, never judged her sisters for being young and unwed when they had their babies. It was always a joyous occasion, never a conundrum or a predicament. I suppose, then, that she also takes for granted that babies are beautiful angels, blessings, God's little miracles.

Well, my friend, Briana's parents certainly didn't think so.

So I pose the following question to all my anti friends, enemies, acquaintances: if Briana's mother had wanted an abortion, would you have supported it? Knowing now what a TRULY unwanted pregnancy can turn into?

Mind boggle!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We KNOW you want one

We are going to open a full-service, abortion day-spa in every county, in every state, and then throughout the whole world. We'll provide the whole peace-loving, life-affirming, shebang that will beautifully honor the love inside each and every individual woman, but before you skip over like you're coming for a fresh ice cream cone to fit into your prom dress, as if it's some kind of birth-control mecca, consider this: unlike the measly population of steadfast and struggling current providers, we won't be compassionately servicing everyone in dire need of this most basic and significant procedure throughout your entire lifespan.

I'm keeping a scarlet list. It exists to preserve the sacrament of motherhood.

The following folks will have to continue to obtain the regular joe from some clinic or hospital, set way out yonder and peppered with it's very own protestor show--assuming they can afford it--as to not cramp the flow of this righteous and sacred occurrence on earth:

Republicans * **

Anti-abortion activists, clergy and empathizers * **

First families (past, present and future) * **

Famous people that talk shit about abortion during interviews * **

Members and affiliates of congress (speak now or forever hold your peace)* **

*No exceptions apply. NONE.

**No need to void where prohibited. We will be everywhere and it will suck! to be you.

Painting: Unwinding by Michael Parkes


Had a brush with some punks. Well, I'm not sure there was more than one. Also, I'm assuming they were punks. The real story is, I don't really know anything. All I know is that someone wanted my iPod. BAD. What can I say, I've got great taste in music.

Whenever I think about petty theft (or breaking and entering, either way), I can't help but give the benefit of the doubt that there was a damn good reason. Granted, I'm still pissed. But having worked with so many poor women in gritty neighborhoods filled with shifty people, and remembering that quite a few of them are on the wrong side of the law (and that's just the ones I know about!), can I really judge? I mean, how do I know this dude or dudette didn't sell my stuff and use the money for an abortion? How do I know that all patients who miraculously pull together that last $200 haven't stolen something or done something terrible? Don't we tell them to do whatever it takes to get their money together? Don't we refuse to help them and speak brusquely, even though our ultimate goal is to help them? Needing money is hard! I've been needy before, and it really sucked. To be so needy as to smash a window and grab what you can in 12 seconds must suck HARD.

While I'd love nothing more that to have my apartment door back in one piece, and while I'm still concerned about how my workouts are going to turn out without my jams, I can only hope that the end result of this horrible experience gets a kid into college, or gets a needy woman an abortion, or feeds a family, or whatever! And if the world is somehow a little bit nicer because of a few 100s worth of electronics, I guess that's a fair trade. I guess.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One of Those Days

Sometimes you have those days at work where mostly good things happen. These days are rare. Especially in Abortionland. We often struggle and fight just to get women access to basic services. I often think to myself, “blood, sweat and tears – quite literally – and it’s only 11am.” Today wasn’t one of those days, though. Today was one of those gleaming good days.

The universe seemed to be aligned – or something – with our sunny little patch of Abortionland. The woman who drove six hours last week to the clinic (only to get turned away because she didn’t have enough money), managed to make it back for her abortion and get the funding she needed just an hour before her procedure today. The 19 year old single mom from out-of-state whose pregnancy was a result of rape, arrived on time, but with her two little toddlers (we don’t allow children in the clinic); yet, surprisingly, after we explained the situation to the hotel, they allowed the client’s driver to check-in with the children six hours early! (Bonus: I got to color with those two children for a while in the waiting room as we were trying to sort out the hotel issue. My stars were a big hit.) Today, our staff shined. Coffee - with real creamer! – was in abundant supply. Smiles abound.

Morning swiftly turned to afternoon and I had the rare occasion to speak with two abortioneers in different parts of the country. This lovely fall day didn’t seem like it could get much better until I got to actually talk with one of our rock stars. One of our celebrity doctors. Oh, how I swooned! Have you seen that commercial where they show the co-inventor of the flash drive walking down an office corridor, people in business attire are falling all over each other and wanting autographs, and they say something like “our rock stars aren’t like your rock stars?” Okay, seriously: it was like that. I felt privileged and honored (I am not someone who gets all worried about titles and stuff) to speak to one of our super heroes: Dr. Carhart. And yes: he’s super nice. Are you jealous?

Today was a good day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

my secret identity

The other day, I was sitting in the “Doctor Room,” the area we all congregate while seeing patients in the clinic. This is where we have conferences, this is where we shove food into our faces when we have a moment, this is where we reconvene after seeing a patient, and this is where we write our notes.

I had been working with the same attending for several days now and had disclosed my interest in becoming an Ob/Gyn and including abortion services in my practice. Well today, this particular provider decided to announce to all 15+ people in the “Doctor Room” that I wanted to be an abortion provider.

Shit, shit, shit. I thought, as I lowered my head. Why did she just make an announcement? My secret identity is out-how would my colleagues respond?

That’s fantastic! We need more providers! Tell me how you got interested in the field!

Woah! All positive comments, all supportive, all encouraging. I was shocked. I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but this kinda blew me away.

I don’t really know why I thought there would be a negative reaction. I think as people in the abortion world, we are taught to watch what you say, be vague, don’t mention what you do (or in my case, what I want to do). If anything, I realized in that moment that most physicians really care about this issue. Even if they are not providers, they think it’s important and they support it. Phew!

I’m not quite ready to totally disclose my aspirations to the world, but perhaps we can all share a bit more about ourselves. By doing so, we can see that people really care about our work and appreciate it, and they can see that we are real people here to support the future of reproductive health.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's Always Sunny

This morning I woke up and it was brilliantly sunny and gorgeous outside. It's Sunday of course. I don't know if i can properly verbalize this, but do you ever associate specific weather conditions with memories? For example, if the sky is really blue and the clouds are a certain way I think of a time when I was little and my dad took me to the park. And if is it cloudy and gray and a bit gloomy during the fall I think of my first day of third grade. Today I realized that brilliantly gorgeous summer Sundays now remind me of when Dr. Tiller was murdered.

And I re-remember that he isn't here to help anymore. And then I get more sad.

I miss Dr. Tiller. :(

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An open letter to drivers

Dear Drivers,

I know not all of you are driving--some of you are riding in taxis, some of you are on public transportation, and some of you are giving me your expired drivers' license, driving the car to our pick-up door, helping your friend into the passenger seat, driving out of our parking lot, and then switching places so that your friend with the Diprivan-haze can drive (yeah, we're on to you). "Driver" is just the catch-all phrase because in an ideal world, everyone who needed it would have reliable transportation, just like in an ideal world, every woman would really be able to choose parenting or abortion. I wish there were a direct translation of the Spanish word acompaƱante, which kind of means "accompanier," but sounds less awkward.

Drivers, I get to know you. You sit in the waiting room all day long, and I kind of like it when you request that I play the Toy Story DVD (when you're clearly by your frat-boy self, no child in sight). When I gave you that hand-out about partners coping with abortion, you joked about getting a tattoo of that illustration of a concerned dude that's right out of the 1950s, and that made my day. Sometimes, I see you covertly wiping your eyes after I call your girlfriend back.

You're not all men, I know. A lot of you are women who are good friends and who might have been our clients in the past, or who might be in the future. Some of you swear up and down that you will NEVER be here again, but you have the good sense not to say that in front of your friend. (Not that I appreciate you saying it to me, either.)

Some of you are siblings. I'll admit that I was annoyed with your bickering with the woman who needed a 24-week abortion, and who didn't need your antics. But when I discovered that you were her little brother, the only person who stepped up to bring her to the clinic, I got over that irritation pretty quickly. Some of you are parents, who might be here because of the law, but some of you are here because you're a parent and that's just what you do. And some of you are even children. No, not ten-year-olds enlisted to present a fake ID to get around the rules, but 18-year-old kids whose mothers trust them enough (or maybe who are desperate enough) to ask for their help now.

The thing is, ALL of you are trusted. Even if she thinks you're generally an asshole, there's something in you that means she can confide in you, trust you not to talk about her medical history with the world, that you're a decent companion, or at least a decent operator of a vehicle. Some of our clients bring entourages with them, but I know that a lot of them would much prefer not to tell a soul about their abortion experiences. And Drivers, that's why, when you whine at me, "How much longer?" or utter the infamous statement, "I don't believe in abortion," or when you say, "I gotta leave to get my oil changed," I don't always react kindly. Someone thinks a lot of you, and what's more, you're not the one in stirrups. Sometimes, you have to get over yourselves, Drivers.

But Drivers, most of you should be proud. Be proud that you're allies to your friends or family members and to choice. Even if you don't have a vagina, you're participating in this event that means so much to so many of us. Thank you for being acompaƱantes.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Too Good To Be True

Operation Rescue, an anti-choice organization based in Wichita, KS, has most recently been in the news lamenting their poor finances in a fundraising appeal to donors. There is speculation they could close, although spokespeople for this douchebag of an org now say that's not true. Too bad I say.

As soon as I heard about this, I thought it was just a fundraising appeal, nothing more. Quite frankly it's too good to be true that these people who have built their lives upon the harassment and in some cases deaths of doctors, counselors, receptionists, ordinary women would find themselves obsolete. Why do people support an organization that is based on harassment, and in the name of life? What a joke, what a sad, sad joke.

While Operation Rescue may or may not be in financial troubles, I do know that the many local abortion funds throughout the country always need more support. As I’ve said before, if you can, if you have any ability to give even $20, please find a local or national fund from the National Network of Abortion Funds website. You can also consider becoming a monthly donor. I do it, and it’s only $15/month, which actually isn’t too big a bite, even out of a paycheck like mine.

[Edit from placenta sandwich: check this out - text of OR's fundraising plea - i found it both incredibly hokey and vaguely threatening...what do you think?]

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In You We Trust

In a world where no one has enough money and survival feels like a burden, financial counseling is monotonous, hardening, and repetitive. As we know, often getting an abortion means coming up with money that most people don’t have. It means selling belongings that you might need, not paying bills, getting evicted, selling food stamps, lying, and borrowing money with no means of paying back. Most women have to piece together money that simply does not exist.

I spend a vast amount of my time running through a long list of ideas about how to exhaust resources that aren’t exactly available. Most times women have to compromise their pride, independence, and sometimes honesty in order to raise money. Every so often, a women needs more than money. Another part of my job is to offer options counseling: I help women think through all of their options regarding the pregnancy.

When someone faces an unintended pregnancy she has three basic options; carry the pregnancy to term and parent a child, carry to term and give that child to someone else to raise, or have an abortion. Most of the women who reach me already know they want an abortion and they just need help figuring out the how. But sometimes I am in the position of helping a patient think through this major decision.

For me, helping women figure out what they want to do is one of the most important aspects of my job. When a woman is unsure about what to do with her pregnancy, first I remind her that no one else can make this choice for her -- not her mom, not her boyfriend, not the staff at an anti-choice pregnancy crisis center, and not me. I let her know that I can help her try and sort out her own thoughts and give her accurate information, but ultimately she needs to figure out what she thinks is right for her life and body. I always tell patients who are teetering on their decision not to have an abortion if they are not sure it’s what they want. I tell them to find out how far into the pregnancy they are and hope time is on their side.

Most women I have spoken to never consider adoption as a real option. When I counsel women they typically weigh two options, parenting or ending the pregnancy. Adoption is not an option for everyone. Most often putting a brown or black child up for adoption means foster care, which may or may not ensure a stable home. On the other hand white women who bear healthy white children are able to set up private adoptions, have medical expenses paid and sometimes other expenses, and choose an open adoption if they want. We live in a society where race defines one’s life options. White people more often have resources and the ability to adopt children, and the demand for white adoptees is much higher than the supply. As transracial adoption becomes more popular this trend could change; however, the mental and emotional health of transracial adoptees is also a very complex issue. In addition to race as a factor, adoption or foster care means that after spending nine months carrying a fetus in her body a woman will not know if that child is safe, cared for, and happy. Most women I talk to immediately shoot down any suggestion of adoption.

When a woman wants help making her decision and for her the options are parenthood or abortion, I ask her if she has a support network, what her goals are, where she sees herself in five years, and how a child might add to her life or hinder her from accomplishing her goals. Most recently, an 18 year old asked me, “I mean is a child really like a burden?” I wanted to say, “um, YES!” However, in the interest of being objective I said, well a child does not have to be a burden, but raising a child means putting someone else’s needs before your own, and that’s a challenge, so if someone is not ready to take on that challenge raising a child may feel burdensome.

The most common emotion after an abortion is relief, particularly when a woman goes into the procedure feeling sure this is what is right for her life and body. When I provide options counseling for women, I want them to know that I trust their ability to make the right choice. I want them to know that whichever choice they make is OK. Options counseling is refreshing when most of my conversations are about nickels and dimes. These conversations with patients remind me why I believe in this work and why pro-choice is synonymous with pro- woman, pro-empowerment, and pro-family.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Saturday gratitudes and gripes

Dorothea Lange: "Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children."

This weekend I was back at the clinic for the first time in a while. I thought I'd ease right back into the routine, but it didn't go that way. The one good thing about having to get back up to speed is that you're doing everything very attentively. Yes, it slows you down, but that also makes you appreciate everything a little more.

"Holly" checked in to get an IUD inserted. While she waited to be called for the exam and insertion, we made small talk about the Mirena and the Paragard. She said she'd had an IUD before, when her husband was still alive, and had "LOVED it!" But when it expired after he died, she didn't get a new one, and eventually became sexually active again -- this time using what she called "the Pull-N-Pray method" -- "...but Praying didn't work so good," she finished. So she scheduled an abortion, and after it was over she wanted to go back to a more effective method (99.3%, to be specific).

Later I heard her in the waiting room, talking with some of the other clients -- about their abortions, about losing her husband, about methods of birth control. It sounded like a discussion group, except it had formed organically, one woman reaching out to another. It never fails to feel warm and fuzzy when I notice something like this.

The effect of Holly's open, good-humored demeanor stayed with me as I tried to help a couple of women in the unfortunate position of not being able to afford their abortions. I'll tell you about "Regina," who had brought the right sum but was farther into her pregnancy than expected, so after the ultrasound she found out her price would be higher. And she lived two hours away from the clinic. Going home to scrounge up more money would mean having to reschedule for another day, find another ride, spend another $60 in gas.

So I talked to her about what she could dig out of the car's cup-holders, or how the friend who drove her might be able to help. We drew charts of how many days were left until she would go up to another fee bracket. We tried to match that up with which days the driver could drive, which days the babysitter could babyit. We divided the number of dollars missing by the number of days left. And the two of us spent a long time on our respective phones, trying to see if outside funding agencies could help out.

When I got a promise of some funding assistance, I found Regina in the waiting room to tell her the good news -- but it wasn't good enough news. "With this added help, you're now only $40 short," I said...but, of course, $40 isn't really "only." She said all she had left in her bag was the $30 she would need to get home -- because the fill-up at home had cost that much, and now they were at the bottom line of the gas meter. And she said something that I realized I hear all the time -- I have three kids already, and if I have another one I won't be able to take care of them the way they deserve. But it's so hard to save up money when you're raising kids, and that's why I couldn't come in to do this four weeks ago like I wanted to.

And it breaks my heart when a woman tells me she knew the price would increase soon but was powerless to have her abortion any earlier, because she's been trying to scrounge up funds for so long. Believe me, I get heartbroken so often.

The end of this story is that Regina did manage to pay the last bit of money after speaking with the friend who drove her. (If she hadn't, we probably would have begged our manager to allow an IOU.) But in a better world, she would not have had to wait hours for treatment while we sorted out money details. In a better world, her kids' quality of life would not have depended on whether her ride could put off his own bills in order to loan her some money.

...And, for the record, in a better world advocates for women would not have to be swearing up and down to the rest of you that expanded health care access will NOT expand abortion access, in a sick fucking trade-off between women's health and, well, women's health. Just saying.

-placenta sandwich

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Abortion is love

Wherever you go, go with all your heart. (Confucius)

I know terrorism well. Evacuated my River Road apartment braless and in pajamas on September 11, 2001. Watched people jump to death. Felt the first tower collapse over me. Then the second. Lost my unshakable faith, my place, my ID temporarily. Hallucinated. Terrified my terrorized room mate. Will never live in a city with tall buildings again.

Ever since, I am convinced that today is the day an airplane will run into something especially when the sky is crystal clear. Sirens conjure a flashing, panicked image of West Side HIghway and dead firemen. I have a distinct sense that I will experience another attack. When I change direction on any given day, I imagine I am making the move that will save me when lightning strikes. Avoid public transportation and mass congestion like The Plague. I dwell in the realms of post-traumatic stress.

And abortion care.

Every time an overtly-Christian stranger friends me on Facebook or blows-up the abortioneer inbox with hate mail, I imagine myself hostage. Every time I walk to the clinic, I imagine today is the day it will explode. Recently, I began getting along with my doctor swimmingly so I'm convinced they'll shoot him any day now.

Who? Well, you know, the terrorists. Around here they also call themselves Pro-life. Imagine that.

In my deepest corners where I am chronically terrorized, I never want to die in a terrorist attack--burning in a plane or jumping from a sky scraper, suffocating to death in a stairwell, smashed by asbestos and godless things--in these wretched places, I wish to find the origin of terrorism and weed it out and give it kisses until its fragile terrified hate is love.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Feeling OK About Ourselves: Feminism, Abortion, "Cosmetic" Genital Surgery and Roots.

Flashback: it's the 70s/80s. Imagine a group of strong, like-minded, bell-bottom wearing women gathering around kitchen tables, sharing jobs they hate, talking about sex and politics, wanting things to change. Imagine a group of women, fired-up about feminism, deciding they're going to do something to make a difference in women's lives, such as fight for equality economically, socially, and physically. Imagine these small groups of women, scattered across different parts of the United States, creating self help groups (see here) which helped women have control over their bodies.

Thankfully, this did happen and from these platform shoe wearing sisters, our feminist abortion providers took root. Many of these self-help groups eventually provided Menstrual Extraction, something very similar to what is now called Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA). It wasn't much of a leap to then establish women run and operated abortion clinics, based in feminist ideals that all women will be trusted and treated with the same dignity, respect, compassion, and non-judgmental way; regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, size, physical ability, socio-economic background, religion, etc. This may sound fluffy, nice, and sweet; but these ideals were real and held onto tightly.

There aren't many feminist abortion clinics in the country, but there is a coalition called the Feminist Abortion Network. The network seems to collaborate and support one another to continue the mission of specializing in abortion care, but from a feminist perspective. Feminist abortion providers trust women to know what's best for themselves. They do not think they already know what the "best decision" is for a client; they simply provide accurate and complete information, and allow her to make her own choices. Without judgment.

Why am I talking about all this? Because I think it's time we go back to our feminist roots. It seems to me that we've taken two steps forwards, ten steps back in many areas. Young women seem not to understand how much their reproductive rights and freedoms are at risk, even though one in three women will have an abortion by the time they're 45. And if you follow anything on sexual health, you'll know that there's a scary trend occurring: women seem to have a lack of knowledge about their bodies, and as a result, there is an increase in female cosmetic genital surgeries, like labiaplasty (where the outter and inner labias are "trimmed"). Rebecca Chalker, author of "The Clitoral Truth" (must read!), recently wrote a brilliant, yet disturbing, article called "The 'Perfect' Porn Vulva: More Women Demanding Cosmetic Genital Surgery."

Women increasingly seem to be worried that their vulvas, especially labias, are deformed, or not quite right, or ugly, or nasty, or whatever; websites like Scarleteen are inundated with questions from young women about their vulvas, expressing disgust with their own bodies.

I am grateful to Rebecca Chalker for highlighting that all the labiaplasty, hymen restorations (sometimes done a "Valentines Day" presents to partners to look like a so-called-virgin), vaginoplasty (tighten the vaginal muscles) fit squarely within the UN's joint definition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In 2008, 10 UN agencies released a 48 page joint declaration to end FGM, so obviously, there are concerns about it all from a global perspective. In the "developed" world, where women are requesting these procedures, the reasons stem from aesthetics and this belief that women's bodies are somehow disgusting and dirty and ugly.

This infuriates me and makes me so sad, too! Women, especially young women, are inundated with negative images of women and their bodies and what they should/shouldn't look like. This doesn't just relate to what shape they should be or what color their hair or eyes should be. They now think their vulvas should look a certain way - like how they look in porn, or how their friends' vulvas look. Recently, I overheard one of our doctors explain to a young woman that everyone's vulva is completely different, after the client - who was being seen for an abortion - asked the doctor why her "parts" didn't look like her friends' "parts." It's always about the "should." And the should = not good enough. As women, we carry this on our shoulders and it's enough already. Seriously.

I say we need to go back to our feminist roots, dig in deeper, and start sharing more info about vulvas. Betty Dodson has drawn some fabulous illustrations to give just a sample of how different and magnificent our bodies really are. And if we can't accept that we're all unique, all special, all amazing (and that every single vulva is completely different from another!), then I don't think we'll ever get rid of these "shoulds" that society/men/ourselves/ourselves/whoever throws upon us...

What does this have to do with abortion? Everything. It has everything to do with feminism and its true tenets: that we're beautiful women. That we're full of potential. That we're able and capable to do anything we set our minds to. That we are perfectly fine just.the.way.we.are. Seriously. That's what feminism is all about. And it's what feminist abortion clinics are all about: You are wonderful. You are powerful. You are capable. You can make any choice, given accurate and complete information. You have opportunities. You are strong.

We're not going to change any of this, though, unless we share more information and feel comfortable demystifying our bodies. Knowledge = power. So, I think we all need to tell our friends/daughters/sisters/cousins/mothers/lovers/whoever about all the information that really IS out there and start turning back the tide. We need to go back to our roots. Give everyone a copy of A New View of a Woman's Body (purchase here), make it required reading, along with Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and Heather Corinna's S.E.X, plus a lot of others. What would you add?

A huge thanks to all you feminist abortion providers and feminist sex ed providers out there who continually try to remind us that: We Are Ok...just.the.way.we.are!

Monday, September 7, 2009


Just finished reading this book. Fascinating! This is exactly the kind of book for everyone who says/believes "Adoption is an Option".

Not that it isn't; adoption is certainly a real and viable pregnancy option. A pregnant woman bears a child with the intention of surrendering it to an agency who then finds a family to care for it. Objectively speaking. But in the pre-Roe era, adoption was not the glowing and glamorous process that many folks have in mind when they think about adoption. What could be more magnanimous than enduring the physical crisis of childbearing for the sole purpose of making a barren couple happy? And nobody dies in the process!

But in the happy-go-lucky 50s, when the nuclear family reigned supreme, teenaged and unwed pregnancies were shameful experiences for which the pregnant women suffered the ultimate consequence; they were sent away to maternity homes for "wayward women" to bear their children in secret and have them ripped away, swearing not to have any further contact. These were typically not glorious places; women were forced into these homes by their humiliated parents and were not informed or counseled about the childbearing process or the feelings they'd endure after surrenduring a child. And the real pisser: many of these women WANTED THEIR BABIES!

Observe the following testimony from a birth mother:

"It's hard to convince others about the depth of [adoption]. You know, a few years after I was married I became pregnant and had an abortion. It was not a wonderful experience, but every time I hear stories or articles or essays about the recurring trauma of abortion, I want to say, "You don't have a clue." I've experienced both and I'd have an abortion any day of the week before I would ever have another adoption - or lose a kid in the woods, which is basically what it is. You know your child is out there somewhere, you just don't know where. It's bad enough as a mother to know he might need you, but to complicate that they make a law that says even if he does need you we're not going to tell him where you are."

The common thread through the accounts of all the birth mothers was the agonizing curiosity about the whereabouts and well-being of their biological children. These mothers had no idea how attached they would become to their children after having given birth and seen and held them. Even those mothers who changed their minds and considered keeping their babies were belittled and convinced that they were unfit to parent children, that they were doing a great disservice to those poor childless couples. Guilt from parents for being sexual and getting pregnant (what would the neighbors think?), guilt from the maternity home and hospital staff for being whiny and clingy (you'll forget all about this in time, just get over it), guilt from oneself not only for giving up a baby, but also for not fighting harder to keep the baby. Yes, pressuring young women into choosing adoption works wonders, does it not?

Support abortion rights, folks.

Labor Day

It’s a vacation day/bbq day/sleep-in day, so I’ll make it short, but sweet.

On this Labor Day, let’s not forget what a group of people can accomplish together. Today, we acknowledge over 100 years of coalitions showing strength in numbers and fighting for the rights of their colleagues.

The reproductive health movement has many parallels to those in the labor movement. We must remain vigilant in the face of fear-mongering and continue to make our voices heard. In this age, politics plays a huge part in our reproductive decisions. Currently, government representatives are battling between what should and should not be covered in the health reform bill-including birth control.

Together, we have the power to change the direction of reproductive health access and abortion services in this country. Together, our voices can rise up as a powerful, unified force. We are not scared and we will continue to fight for reproductive freedom for all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Turn around, bright eyes

Sometimes, I counsel a client who is less certain than others--a lot less certain.  It's the way she shifts her body on the couch and the way she toys with her necklace.  It's the way she focuses on the Exhale poster behind me instead of on me.  It's the way she says, "Let's just get it over with."  That client doesn't want to have a choice.  She doesn't see the beauty in the fact that she has complete freedom to have a baby or have an abortion, and she wants me to tell her she has to have an abortion.  She made it into the clinic and she wants to believe that the people who run the facility want her to give us money and get on the operating table.  

The client might have a partner whose life depends on this abortion--a guy who already has a family, whose family life is falling apart, but they can't have this physical reminder of who's really having sex with whom.  A guy who will pay the clinic's fee and then some--he'll pay the client to have an abortion.   The client might have had an abortion a year ago, her one abortion, the one that she used a Get Out of Jail Free card for.  She probably prayed and mourned and found herself pregnant again, and this time, the decision cannot possibly be hers.  It took too much before.  The client might be thirteen years old, going into eighth grade, looking forward to joining the track team.  She told her mother about the pregnancy, just like a good girl should, and her mother, confusing self  versus daughter, brought the girl to the clinic.  The daughter also looks forward to a baby.  And because the mother-daughter dynamic is all she knows, the only thing she knows for sure right now is that you do what your mama says.  

These women, as beautiful and good as any others I see, sit in front of me on the black vinyl couch, asking me what to do.  I tell them they should do what's in their heart, not what's in his or her or their hearts.  I ask about regret and the future and pros and cons.  I offer worksheets, feeling like the dorky adult assigning homework to a 35-year-old.  One time, I left the room, telling the client to work on the decision-making exercises.  In truth, I left the room to cry because understood what she was going through to a scary degree.  Sometimes, I meet the client during her second counseling session, the one that she has after she's stopped the doctor just before she inserts the speculum.  She says, "Stop," or sometimes simply, "I...don't know about this," and the clinic world stops for her.  We lower the table and help her down and give her her clothes and bring her to a counselor.  The reality is sometimes the only way for a woman to really know what's in her heart.  And I do my best to help her work through everything that's going through her head.  Sometimes, she knows, deep down, what her decision will be, and that decision is abortion.  But she hasn't gotten there yet.  She hasn't gone through the heart-wrenching honesty with herself.  Sometimes, she just needs to come back in 48 hours.  

But sometimes, she doesn't want that.  She doesn't know what she wants.  She sees this day and this day only because life has taught her that thinking ahead is just too hard.  Yet her worksheets score high on regret and she knows she won't be able to forgive herself if she has an abortion.  And in cases like that, it's up to my fellow counselors and me to gently declare, "I don't think today is the day for you to have this procedure.  I know that's not what you want to hear, and I support women in all of their choices, but I don't want you to regret anything.  You can be sad about it, but you must be able to eventually forgive yourself.  You can come back here for the abortion or you can call back for prenatal care referrals.  Please just take care of yourself and give yourself some time."  And the client gets angry.  I probably would, too.  And we refund her money and we give her some phone numbers.  And I know I've helped to empower someone, but without fail, I also spend the rest of the day struggling with the fact that I've had to take the position of authority when it comes to body autonomy--a body that isn't mine.  As feminist and egalitarian as I am, I've taken what's perceived as a position of power.  It's so foreign to me.  I never doubt myself when I turn someone away, but I hope with all my heart that the client knows where I'm coming from.  And when she comes back for an abortion, stating with confidence, "I'm ready.  Thank you for suggesting that I wait," or when she calls back saying, "I don't know if you remember me [I always do], but I was wondering if you can recommend some OB/gyns in the area?" I know that not only does she understand where I'm coming from, but she also understands where she is coming from.  And that's the most empowering of all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Huh, I wonder why some people don't become abortion docs?

Today the Washington Post has a piece called Abortion Stigma Affects Doctors' Training And Choices. For the record, I think it's a lot better than the article they did last fall, A Hard Choice. That one annoyed me: the five-page piece focused on one student , who was active in her school's pro-choice organization but was turned off from providing abortions once she was exposed to an OB/GYN rotation. I wonder if that student felt misrepresented by the Post afterward, because it made her change of heart sound sort of...nonsensical. You don't want to provide abortions because the OB residents were mean? You rethought abortion because of the blood and tissue, but relished your surgical rotation?

Anyway! So today's article is somewhat better. It still addresses the "new generation" of abortion providers, or more specifically whether one will exist -- apparently only half of students who say they plan to provide abortions actually end up doing so. But this time, the focus is on what seems to me like a more plausible reason to not provide abortions when you thought you wanted to: the negative reaction to abortion. In my experience, the social perception that abortion SHOULD be bad constitutes a large portion of what makes it bad, whether you're an abortioneer providing the services or a patient seeking them out.

I have spoken to women who told me they feel terrible after their abortion, not because they are sad about having it, but because they are so alone, either berated and shamed by those who find out or isolated for fear that they will find out. In essence, they end up feeling bad because they're supposed to feel bad. And then there are the women who feel bad that they don't feel bad! They wonder, is something wrong with them for not feeling the guilt that everyone (viz. Kourtney Kardashian) says they will?

When I say "negative reaction to abortion," I don't just mean stigma like people will not hang out with you at the country club, or even stigma like certain relatives will have a hard time looking you in the eye or friends-of-friends you meet at a birthday party will spend the evening giving you a hard time. I also mean that women get beaten up or thrown out of the house by partners and parents, and clinic staff get bomb threats, stalkers, and the occasional motivated shooter. This asshole just got arrested for making threatening phone calls to Dr. Warren Hern, the other high-profile "remaining doctor" after Dr. Tiller's murder, and Hern's wife and child.

And, speaking of Dr. Hern, I also mean weird articles written about you in tones mixing sensationalism and disgust, purporting to give you the hero's profile you deserve but simultaneously perpetuating the denial and distance that already pervade 99% of depictions of abortion providers. (But I guess replacing a person's name with "the abortionist" every time, even if it makes the person eventually sound like a thing instead, is just how you have to write to sound edgy enough for a men's magazine?) If you're interested, the author of the Newsweek article that I mentioned recently also briefly covers some of the problems with the Esquire article. And she includes a response from Dr. Hern which I liked a lot.

This concludes today's abortion media literacy roundup! I know I've done a lot of media response lately, and coverage-of-coverage. But soon I'll get back to telling you more about my clients, in case you've missed them. I know I have.