Monday, May 31, 2010

Thank You Dr. Tiller

It’s hard to believe that one year ago, on May 31st, I received a phone call from a fellow abortioneer around noon. Dr. George Tiller had been murdered in his church by a radical anti-choicer. Not only was the devastation felt in the pro-choice community, but it was felt all around the world. Vigils held in packed churches and city parks represented how far Dr. Tiller’s work and compassion spread. Women and their stories of late-term abortions surfaced on radio stations, newspapers, and tv stations.

It was Dr. Tiller that provided care to these women-women who were carrying a severe fetal anomaly, women whose life and health were at risk, and women who had complicated social issues that prevented them from receiving care earlier in their pregnancy.

We will never forget what profound service Dr. Tiller provided. He truly was an incredible physician and an American hero. As a future provider, I will never forget the legacy he left behind and the service he provided to women all over this country.

On this Memorial Day, we remember him for the man he was. A man who stood up for what he believed in and trusted women.

Thank you Dr. Tiller. You are missed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Any Way

People stand outside of clinics holding signs similar to these.

Screaming that the woman going inside in the clinic is a murderer.

That she will rot in hell.

That she is killing her baby.

And yet, she goes in and has her abortion anyway. Do you honestly believe none of those thoughts had occurred to her already? That she laid awake in bed at night wondering how she would decide? What she would do?

Despite the hatred flowing out of your mouths, they have their abortions anyway. What you say, though it may upset, does not stop them from getting abortions.

It does not stop the doctor from going to the office.

It does not stop the secretary from going to work.

It does not stop the escort who stands outside all day helping women get inside the building because you have way too much free time.

It does not stop me from helping women get abortions.

It does not stop us.

We have our abortions anyway. Despite you. We have our abortions any way. Women will do literally anything to get that out of their bodies. They will travel hundreds of miles. They will stick coat hangers inside themselves, hoping. They will take herbal cocktails, hoping. Hoping beyond hope. That this will stop and it can be over.

This has to be deeply upsetting and unsettling to know, from an anti's perspective. Knowing that women will do it anyway. Grappling with the fact that even though you just showed me a picture with blood and guts and told me I am a terrible person, I'm still going to have my abortion.

I'm still going to have my abortion, anyway and any way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday morning at the movies: praise and pans

Recently I organized a local screening of If These Walls Could Talk. If you've ever seen it or remember its HBO premiere in 1996, you know it's maybe a little hokey but also pretty powerful. Like, in the third vignette, the (married, distant) "man involved" is Coach of Coach, and Dr. Cher tells Anne Heche all about her commitment to providing abortions and sounds just like a hero.* But, you know, what Dr. Cher says is also surprisingly true to life. I wondered if the movie's writers might have had a modern-day abortioneer consultant, and who it was.

"I won't be leaving my wife after all. Here's two hundred bucks; take care of it." 

If These Walls Could Talk centers on the reproductive crisis moments of three different women living in the same house in different decades: a desperate widow in the 1950s, a harried married mother in the 1970s, and an embittered college student in the 1990s. After the movie there was a lot of conversation -- about the time before abortion was made legal, about "what it's like in an abortion clinic," about violence against providers and so forth. I was surprised to learn that about half our little discussion group hadn't heard of Dr. Tiller's murder -- they had gasped when they saw Dr. Cher take off a bulletproof vest to change into scrubs. (For me, that scene was actually a reminder of the doctor -- it might have been Dr. Carhart -- who was quoted saying there was no point wearing a bulletproof vest because the antis aim for the head. How Dr. Tiller was killed.) In any case, it was a good occasion to have a conversation about abortion issues with people who aren't part of the field and don't know a lot of the details.

Here's part of a scene that we discussed a good deal:

Some things I particularly liked (mostly remembering from the final vignette):
-Dr. Cher, as mentioned above. Her words are simple and true and familiar.
-Anne Heche's best friend (Jada Pinkett!), who at first is really shitty to her for even considering an abortion, eventually decides to support her friend and accompanies her to the clinic. It does happen! About A Girl's post about this is still my favorite.
-There's a wide range of protester behaviors in the real world, and the movie did portray a couple of different ones. The protesters in the previous day's scene were less numerous and less rowdy. This giant crowd is more typical of big clinics in the Midwest, say, or of staged "Summer of Mercy" type events, back in the 90s before the FACE Act was passed. Unfortunately, it took a lot of clinic violence to convince Congress to take action, not soon enough.
-It was nice that they showed the role of clinic escorts, who as you know are awesome. This clip doesn't show much of the clinic's single escort, though.
-In an earlier vignette, well, "liked" is a bad word for this scene, but I appreciated how well the interaction between Demi Moore and the pre-Roe illegal abortionist (from whom she requested a kitchen abortion) depicted women's lack of choices in finding safe and dignified care. It was a truly tense scene:

-The women are in different situations and have different decision-making processes, and not all the vignettes end with an abortion decision. (Imagine that!)

Some things that were a little ridiculous:
-Sissy Spacey (the 1970s mom) has a teenage daughter who's the perfect caricature of a feminist activist -- righteous, but a nosy pest; automatically believes that the best option is abortion; acts as though an individual woman's every personal choice is a political statement. She even practices yoga, which I think in the 70s was pretty far-out.

-Anne Heche's best friend, who goes to the clinic with her but is still an anti, ends up having an argument over abortion, with a clinic staff person, at the front desk. I guess you've got to lay out the conflict narrative in a movie, but no way would any of that happen in the environments where I've worked.
-The protester crowd outside Dr. Cher's clinic grew by the hundreds from one day to the next, without much explanation about why that would happen, which might have made it seem implausible. I wish they'd explained that events like "Summer of Mercy" really did overwhelm clinics suddenly and dangerously.

...And then I went home and watched Juno. I promise I don't normally do this! And, although I have always really liked Juno for its silly dialogue and sweet friendships and Kimya Dawson soundtrack (of course), this time I was again thinking about the things that first struck me when I saw it in the theater. The things that would've stuck in my craw had the soundtrack not washed them down.

Unfortunately, this clip is the closest one (chronologically) to the damn clinic scene that I could find!

Most particularly:

The clinic counselor. Of course. What the fuck is up with her?? She seems unqualified, untrained, uninterested, and unnerving. Just plain unprofessional. Over the hamburgerphone, she supposedly asked Juno how long she's been "sexually active" (mostly a device to allow Juno to rant about that phrase), which no one would need to ask just to make an appointment. In the clinic, she's playing a handheld videogame and doesn't make eye contact, has a "withering" expression if I ever saw one, and tells Juno that her "boyfriend's junk smells like pie" when he wears the clinic's boysenberry condoms.

I know it's only supposed to be funny, and she's not even the reason that Juno leaves the clinic (that was because of all the fingernails she noticed, which is also silly but funny), but wow! The friends I went with teased "Hey, that's you!" and I felt sort of sad because yeah, that's probably what some people think. Whereas it couldn't be further from my experiences with abortion work. Sure, you're tired some days or have periods of feeling un-challenged by your work, but even coworkers who are suffering burnout try not to take it out on patients.

Of course, aside from that and how un-scary the single (shy, teenaged) protester is, that's practically the only ridiculous abortion-related thing in that movie...because there's no other discussion of abortion in the movie. Well, except the stepmom asking, "Honey, have you considered..y'know, the alternative?" Man, I love Kimya Dawson, but give me another Obvious Child any day!

Obvious Child from Gillian Robespierre on Vimeo.

*Note: After drafting this post, I realized that Cher directed that vignette! Haha.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Evolution of my choice

For a while, I was "pro-choice." It's the pretty, socially acceptable to say it. When I started working at the clinic, I became "pro-abortion." And the longer I worked at the clinic, the more I became "pro-reproductive justice." It tends to evolve like that. And while I was in a (heterosexual) relationship, I was absolutely in favor of abortion for myself. I've never wanted to have kids and I'm fairly certain that I would go crazy (literally) if I had to carry a pregnancy past 6 weeks, and even that is pushing it. So, we used birth control pills AND condoms and I took monthly pregnancy tests at work just in case. And all the while, I knew, with some wonder and fascination, that if I had wanted to have a child (for some reason), I could. Rather, we could. It wouldn't have been the easiest or most affordable thing in the world, but it sure could have been more difficult. With our powers and incomes and backgrounds combined, we had support and money and resources.

What I did, instead, was abort that relationship (see what I did there?), and now, I'm subsisting on my meager hourly wage, living solo in a tiny apartment, any conception would be immaculate, and I am still certain that I never want to be pregnant. But when it occurred to me that if I got pregnant and wanted to have a child (for some reason), I couldn't anymore. For all intents and purposes, my critical demographics shifted and if I had a baby, I would be a single parent with an income that only supports one, and this weird, hypothetical kid and I would suffer. Don't get it twisted, I don't WANT a kid, but it was a strange, rude awakening to know that my prospects as a parent or not flipped upside down with such a simple life change. In a matter of days, really, abortion became less of a choice and more of a necessity. I would make the same choice as before, of course, but it would be a little bit less just. And if that's the way it is for a white girl with a upper-middle class background, just imagine how it is for some other populations. Actually, I don't even have to imagine it...I wish it were just imaginary.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I'm prochoice but...

I am adamantly pro-choice or pro-abortion rights. I have also struggled with how I personally feel about late term abortion of physically viable pregnancies. At one point I even decided that personally I was against it. I continued to help women obtain late term abortion even though I had personal judgments. The primary role of an abortioneer is to be objective. I didn't feel the need to inhibit women from doing what they decided they needed even if personally it didn't quite sit right with me.

There were times when I would go above and beyond to help a woman obtain a late term abortion because her story was tragic, maybe she was child or an adult who had been traumatized, maybe she just stuck out to me but for whatever reason it seemed more OK in her circumstance. I have come to realize that even when I could not comprehend why a woman waited so long it did not negate the fact that she and only she can make decisions for herself and any point in her pregnancy. I would talk to a woman when she was 8 weeks pregnant and hear back from her when she was 22 weeks pregnant and sometimes I would not understand why she let it go so long. I had to consistently remind myself that I was not living in her shoes. She had to make her life choices on her own time not mine.

Over the years I continued to struggle with my feelings about late term abortion. When a friend of mine had a baby prematurely I thought about what that meant about late term abortions. I realized that it had nothing to do with them because my friend was pregnant with a wanted child, an invited guest into her body and family. This is a completely different situation than an unwanted pregnancy.

I'm sharing these struggles here because over the years I have come to strongly believe in trusting women. Now when I'm in the clinic and a woman is too far along to have a procedure where I work I go above and beyond every time to get her whatever information and resources I might be gate keeping. Abortion is a matter of the heart and matters of the heart are never simplistic. I challenge all abortioneers to identify what judgments you might carry and to constantly be aware of how those judgments may affect the work you do each day. We all have them and if we are going to be completely objective we have to be able to identify where we carry personal judgments.

late post today!

Please excuse our dust. I'm just fighting with Youtube to make a media-heavy post. Expect to see it early afternoonish. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gathering for Love

It is a gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon and I am with my family. I flew home last night, just in time to attend a beautiful outdoor wedding reception. The trees were strung with lights, the night air- warm and inviting. The mood of the garden embraced each guest as they floated around the open space. We were all there for love.
This morning, I had a flashback to one year ago, this exact day in this exact place one week from today. It was a Sunday morning. I was at home. I was with my family. But on that day, the mood was heavy and although it was early morning, I could see no sun in the sky. It was that morning, I found out about Dr. Tiller’s murder. I was in complete and utter shock. My mind could not process the news. My hands and body were shaking so much I could barely read the news, slowly and then steadily appearing online.
I then broke the news to my mom, and as she started to process it, we began to call our loved ones and share in the inability to comprehend what had just happened. How things would never be the same. For women. For us. For his family. We were all struggling with feelings of outrage and anger, grief and sadness.
It was a Sunday. God’s day (some people would say). And dear George Tiller was at church, unarmed and unaware of what was about to happen. I think about him often, totally vulnerable.
Last year, I was at home. There was a ceremony. It was a Sunday. We lit candles in the backyard. Lots and lots of candles, one for every year he supported women in their choice to have an abortion. In their right to a happy and fulfilling life. All our loved ones were there. The mood embraced every person, but this time it was of heartache. Sadness. Disbelief. And yet, we were all there for love.
Today, I want to share his words:
“Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is a matter of the heart. For until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.”
Dr. George Tiller

Friday, May 21, 2010

TGIF? Not for some.

I am rarely dumbfounded. I can usually respond to things that I find troubling.

Then I read this: Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion.

And all I can muster is "WHAT. THE. FUCK."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What to/not to Say During Your Abortioneer's Security Threat

Dear Friend/Lover/Co-worker/Relative/Booty-Call/Partner/Spouse/Whatever of an Abortioneer:

In efforts to help you be better supportive of your Abortioneer when they’re undergoing security threats at work, here are the top 20 worst things to say:
1. Don’t freak out.
2. When are you going to get a new job?
3. Don’t worry about it. It will be fine.
4. There’s not really proof it’s as bad as you think it is, right?
5. Well, isn’t that to be expected?
6. Oh. (Then look away)
7. Don’t you have a security guard or something there?
8. They’re just trying to scare you.
9. They’re just trying to intimidate you.
10. Do you have a gun? No? Oh. You might want to get one.
11. Get a new job. It isn’t worth it.
12. Don’t you guys use the buddy system or something?
13. Why do you put yourself in that situation?
14. I guess you better get used to this. I mean. It’s part of the territory, right?
15. You need to think about your family. You’re putting everyone at risk.
16. Please look for a new job.
17. Are you sure that’s what you saw?
18. You better start changing all your routes and routines. What if someone’s following you?
19. Why do you work there?
20. Don’t freak out. Don’t worry about it. XYZ won’t happen. It’s not that big of a deal. But you should get a new job.
*Abortioneers: you may have more to add!

Are you confused? I’m sure you’ve said some of the above to us before. Don’t get me wrong; I think you’re well-intentioned. You want us to be safe. It’s uncomfortable - maybe worrying - for you that we do this work. You probably have concerns for our safety. What you should probably know: we know you worry. We usually try not to talk to you about the protesters that bug us every clinic day. So as not to worry you more. You see, we want your support. And we worry that if you hear about the regular-everyday nuisances that occur to us - which are part and parcel of our work - you might not be quite as supportive.

A lot of us wait to tell you anything unless something big happens. Like if we get a bomb threats and have to evacuate, or big vandalism occurs, or we get stalked, or we get a very threatening letter in the mail. I may or may not tell my loved ones when law enforcement gets more involved. (Don’t assume we always tell you even when the big stuff happens.)

What’s the big deal about telling us any of the top 20 bad things? It makes us feel worse. It does not help to tell us to get a new job. We’re already scared. Trust me. And when you tell us to get a new job, you belittle our work (which isn’t just “work”) and at the same time, you show us you don’t really know us/who we are. You don’t respect our choices. I mean, most of the time, people don’t question (at least not tons) if someone feels the need to serve our country in some capacity (running for office, getting into law enforcement, joining the military). It might help you to view it that way. We’re not much different. We feel the call to serve our community, too. Our women. Just in a different way. Senators get threats. Police officers are in constant danger, as are our military. Do you tell them to quit their jobs?

Co-abortioneers aren’t always perfect, either. In attempts to make yourself feel less scared/less threatened, be mindful not to diminish the actual incident around co-workers. As Abortioneers, we have to be able to support each other. We’re the only ones that really can understand one another; so if you’re turning around and questioning how serious the security threat was or downplaying it in any way, you could actually cause more harm to your fellow abortioneers who just experienced the same thing. Let’s say you get repeated bomb threats and one of you at work, in efforts to not freak her own self out, acts like she’s brushing it off, like it wasn’t that big of a deal. Your other co-workers may begin to second-guess their own feelings and their own experience of the threat, which could lend itself to additional trauma and stress. I know of abortioneers who were, very sadly, tempted to quit their jobs after a security threat not because of the security threat itself, but because of how their clinic administration or co-workers responded to it.

We need to show our love to our Abortioneers. On to the next list.

Top 20 things TO say to your Abortioneer during security threats:
1. Are you okay?
2. Do what you need to do to stay safe.
3. I’m so sorry.
4. How are you feeling?
5. How can I help? Do you need anything?
6. I wish you didn’t have to go through this.
7. I wish those bastards would just let you do your job in peace. I’m sorry.
8. Are you getting rest? Sleeping?
9. If you need me - really - I mean it - call me.
10. I know you probably can’t talk too much about it, but I’m here for you.
11. I wish I could do more.
12. Thank you for doing the work you do.
13. I’m sorry you have to live in fear for doing a job no one should think twice about doing.
14. I feel for you. If you need a vacation and want to come stay with me, you’re welcome!
15. I’m so sorry this happened to you.
16. You’re safety is most important! Do what you have to do!
17. I’m thinking of you.
18. Is there something extra you can have at this time to give you more peace of mind?
19. Ugh. I’m so sorry.
20. I’m here for you. I’m sorry. Can I help? I’m here. Thank you for doing this important work. Take care of yourself.

I'm grateful to have co-bloggers who would know just exactly what to say.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Why is there virtually NO cross-learning or collaboration among various anti groups?

I've discussed this before in a previous post, but I can't really let it go. Why can't the antis of every color and creed hold hands in a big circle and sing, sing for our salvation and pray to God to end abortion? Why do anti groups dislike each other as much as they dislike abortion?

Different types of anti groups I've encountered:
-Catholic antis
-Evangelical antis
-Born-again (no pun intended) antis
-Hindu antis
-Atheist antis
-Clergy antis
-Lay antis
-Black antis
-Latino antis
-Non-committal antis
-Well-mannered antis
-Grumpy antis
-Antis who have abortions
-Antis with signs
-Antis with literature
-Antis who protest
-Antis who pray
-Antis who stalk
-Antis who murder
-Antis who believe in forgiveness
-Antis who believe we will all fry
-Antis who do not align themselves with those antis, the ones who make a mockery of true anti-ism

Enough already!

Maybe spend some time together feeding the hungry and talking about how pleased God would be that you've reached out to your fellow man. Why do you have to diverge on this issue? I've often thought about how effective the anti movement would be with just a little mutual respect and elbow grease, plus at least one well-educated person in the bunch (perhaps someone who knows marketing?). Then I remember: antis are nuts. They are unable to form healthy and meaningful relationships. They just don't know how! They think that the louder they yell, the more loved women feel. Even within religions, they just can't stand one another. Take this example:

A grumpy anti and a soft-spoken priest are protesting at the same clinic. Priest was youngish, bright-eyed and eager to start doing God's work. Grumpy was a veteran with a gruff voice and quivering jowls. Priest was not amused by his hollering; he only wanted to pray for the women and their dying babies. He inched away slowly at first, then took giant steps towards the other end of the sidewalk, leering at Grumpy all the time. By noon, as Priest prepared to depart, he put his hand on Grumpy's shoulder, made sure he looked him in the eye, and asked, "Do you really think you can help these women by screaming at them?" It was a genuine, reasonable question.

Priest never came back.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guest Post from Desembarazarme's Mom

A Golden Age of Abortion

(written for support of my Abortioneers*)

Sweet youth, the way things used to be;

I tell my daughter now, because comparatively

She is sliding back into the dark ages.

Threatening the lives of women,

And therefore the lives of mankind,

The voices of lawyers and politicians

Think they are listening,

But they are only listening to the Right.

The repercussions are masked.

They say they are saving the unborn

And what is really happening is

Endangering the lives of the born.

We mothers who have entered the barren bliss

Of middle-age

Have probably long forgotten the shared comment by

the girlfriend you knew in college.

The one who, in 1972 said that she’d become pregnant.

The one who mentioned the name of Planned Parenthood ~

A young woman’s haven of solace.

“I just called them and made an appointment.”**

You recall the statement when it’s your turn.

Thirty-eight years later erases the shock and the fears

Which probably overwhelmed your ‘choices’.

It was an easy (I hesitate to add simple) decision to make.

When you’re a twenty year old co-ed

In 1972 there aren’t many choices in your life anyway.

Gentle, supportive boyfriend and friends,

They all sympathize appropriately ~

within the realm of the collective

Mindset of twenty year olds.

Life goes on ~

And sometimes I wonder at

The twist of fate that led me to

Abort when I lacked maturity and resources.

How much drastically different my life would be

If I parented that one . . .

And not the ones who were conceived

And carried to term instead.

I know that if I had had that one,

My choices would have never brought me to

This space and time.

Now I am the mother of a daughter

Whose passion has grown around the

Victims of conception.

These are not the middle-class girls with boyfriends,

The young women who have ultimate resources

Of money and family who will,

When pressed,

Provide a safety net.

The victims of conception are …

Well, listen to the stories of the abortion providers.

Listen to what is RIGHT.

*This is not a story that I needed to tell. I tried my best to convey it for my dearest daughter and her colleagues as a way of communicating this part of history. I am so proud and in awe of all of you.

**I took the historic events blissfully for granted, but the Planned Parenthood that my friend contacted was in Washington, D.C., and she was able to arrange her abortion at a nearby facility. I went to a Planned Parenthood located in New Jersey and was referred to a clinic in NYC. Apparently, in 1972 the states legally performing abortions were evolving. A few years later New Jersey was performing them, too. Both of us were fortunate not to have had to travel far. Regarding the cost … it’s also fuzzy, but it was probably around $250. - $300. A lot for those days, but easily obtained.

Everyone has their versions of their own stories.

Mine seems somewhat jaded.

I am left in awe of wondering

How my life as I know it

Wouldn’t exist if the choice had been made


I wonder at the winds of fate.


What are the statistics of abortions procedures since the legalization of Roe vs. Wade?

Of those tens of thousands (how many more?), I cannot comprehend that any one of those individuals, OR their partners, could consciously be against it now. How many mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers are among us who now claim to be anti?

How dare they!

They took advantage of the privilege of choice. That choice monumentally changed the course of their lives --- for the better? Because it did not unnecessarily burden them with a responsibility they felt unable to accept at that point in their lives.

How can they take a position against choice now that their life’s journey has led them to a comfortable position because of the choice they once had the privilege to make?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In Memoriam

Dear Dr. Tiller,

The one year anniversary of your murder is coming up in about two weeks. May 31, 2009. I can't believe it has already been one year. It's weird that so much time has gone by. It seems like not that long ago I was crying at your vigil. At the same time, it seems like four lifetimes ago. I don't tell people anymore, "Oh, just get to Wichita. Just get to Wichita. Don't worry about anything else." I can't tell anyone that and women have babies now. Dead babies. Severely deformed babies. Moms have died. I have gotten used to that fact. Depressing, right?

I still think about you, almost everyday. It's not the deep, stabbing pain that it once was, but I still cry about you being gone, sometimes. Probably too often. I don't know.

I have a picture of you hanging in my apartment. One of my friends asked me if you were my grandpa, and I smiled and explained who you are. She felt bad for asking but I told her that's why I have it there. So I can remember to remember you. And remember how you made the world a better place and to remind me to keep fighting the good fight.

Speaking of, it's definitely been a tough fight, lately. Lots of people trying to pass laws to take away a woman's right to control her body. Lots of extreme right people disseminating misinformation and generally fucking stuff up for everyone. Dr. Carhart is still kicking ass and taking names (obvi). Other doctors have also stepped up to the plate to help pick up the pieces. I just don't understand why it still feels like there are still a million tiny little pieces, all over the floor. Like when you drop a vase on the floor and no matter how many times you sweep and vacuum, you're still stepping on the glass five years later.

Anyway, the main point of this is that I miss you. You are not forgotten and your legacy continues to live on.

Much Love From Your Fellow Abortioneer,
Mr. Banana Grabber

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Everyday is Mother's Day at the abortion clinic

Overwhelmingly, the inevitable commonality among women obtaining abortions is their fertility,particularly their pregnancy—the amount of occupied uteri hovering about an abortion clinic at any given time, the amount of mothers.

There are many things about abortion—the sickness, the mistake, the solution, the hope, the faith, the fear, relief, regret, sadness, confusion, inspiration, the future, the wisdom, the sacrifice.

Abortion is utmost motherhood—a woman transpiring her valued comfort zone to preserve the destiny of her offspring. Abortion is life and death. A code of honor. A sacred rite.

Abortion is love.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Times They are a-Changing

Last week the Guttmacher Institute released their newest study, "Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008." The study provides an interesting overview of how various abortion rates have changed since 2000.

The statistical percentages in the report are based on women seeking abortion care, not on total women in the U.S. Some stats haven't changed too much. Women 20-24 still have the highest share of abortion procedures at 33.4%, as do women who have never been married at 45%. There has been some shift in race and ethnicity stats. The share of procedures obtained by non-Hispanic, white women decreased from 40.9% to 36.1% while the share for Hispanic women increased from 20.1% to 24.9%. Of all the statistical changes, what stands out most to me is the economic status. The proportion of abortion patients living under the federal poverty line increased from 26.6% to 42.4%.[1]

Almost half of all women obtaining abortion care live under the federal poverty line. I am amazed at this statistic, and I work all the time with women who can't afford their abortion and don't have health insurance. As the economy declines further, we must worry that this number will continue to rise. We should all be worried about what this means for women and their access to safe, affordable health care.

In 2008, 57% of women had to pay out of pocket for their abortions and 13% received "financial assistance" (read: grassroots abortion funds' donations). Amazingly, 20% received abortions paid for by Medicaid and 12% by private insurance.[2] No doubt these numbers could change if the national and state governments get their way. With many politicians pushing spending cuts and a recent national health care bill that isn't too friendly toward abortion care, what does the future hold for these numbers? It seems a real possibility that the women included under Medicaid and private health insurance could be forced into the out-of-pocket and abortion-fund categories. What does this mean for already cash-strapped abortion funds? What does this mean for women?

What will happen is that more women will have to push back their appointments, increasing their prices and complicating their ability to get to their appointments. More women will have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. More women will be forced deeper into poverty.

I wonder if this is just a sign of the current times or is telling of more to come.

[1] Jones RK, Finer LB and Singh S. Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008. New York: Guttmacher Institute, May 2010: 6.

[2] Jones RK, Finer LB and Singh S. Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2008. New York: Guttmacher Institute, May 2010: 10.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Belated Mother's Day

Some may think this is an odd forum for mothers' day wishes. However, I feel strongly that appreciating mother's is a major part of being an abortioneer.

About sixty-one percent of women who get abortions in the U.S. have one or more children. This means that more than half of the women in this country who have abortions are mothers or have at least given birth. When I talk to women in the process of obtaining an abortion I speak to mothers, and lots of them. I also speak to women who would like to be mothers eventually or under different circumstances. So often I hear the question, "Will I still be able to have healthy children in the future?" or, "What are the chances I will be sterilized?" The answer is that women who have safe abortions ARE able to carry healthy pregnancies to term in the future.

In the last week alone I have spoken to multiple patients who were mothers and made a decision to terminate an unintended pregnancy because of their desire to care for their children. One woman came in for a free pregnancy test and, upon hearing she did have a faint positive, broke down crying and exclaimed, "I already have babies, I do not want any more babies right now." Another scheduled her appoinment and as I routinely said, "Please don't bring any children to the clinic," she went into crisis mode because she doesn't have anyone to watch her child. Each day abortioneers everywhere serve mothers.

The very first blog post I ever wrote was titled "A Pro-Family Choice". I said it then and I will say it again, women often choose to have abortion because they want to care for the children they already have. So, as an abortioneer part of what I do every day is celebrate mothers. I remind women that they have the power to make personal decisions about how to care for their bodies, lives, and families. To all of the womyn who identify as mothers or who help care for children, Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Surely I don't need to be writing this post at all. Right?

"It's time to stop treating us as two equal sides in a reasonable debate. Let's get it clear -- they are the perpetrators and we are the victims. Any discussion of how to de-escalate the situation should take place within the anti- abortion community. "We do not have anything to bring to the table," said Convisser. "We are not willing to say it's O.K. to shoot every sixth doctor or woman."

Recently I attended a conference all about abortion. It was pretty awesome. I met providers of abortion care, advocates for abortion access, researchers of abortion medical protocols -- and even some fellow abortion bloggers!

Speakers included lawyers who prepare court cases defending the right to abortion from encroachment by state legislators; counselors whose experience assisting abortion patients stretches back to before Roe v. Wade; and the women of the Chicago Abortion Fund representing their efforts at grassroots advocacy for patients by patients, which was incredibly cool.

You know who else was there? Security guards, lots of them, and police officers with explosives-sniffing dogs. Not because they were called in to investigate something, just, you know, every day of the conference as a routine precaution. There was a panel staffed by First-Amendment lawyers, criminal prosecutors, and law enforcement experts. It was all about how to respond to violence and harassment against abortion clinic staff and patients, and what threats are and aren't actionable. You could tell some of the abortioneers in attendance were relieved by the rare chance to talk about what they were enduring and to be around others who understood.

Curious what sorts of activities have been documented? Or what threats aren't actionable (or whether it depends on a particular judge's mood on a particular day)? You might be surprised. You'd definitely be disgusted. No matter what your political stripe, I'm pretty sure you think of yourself as a decent person who wouldn't stalk people, threaten harm to their families, kill their pets and destroy their homes and workplaces in order to get what you wanted. You might even go so far as to say, "Hey, that sounds like, um...terrorism?"

Or would you?

Does your movement accept someone who firebombs women's clinics? How about someone who bursts into them with a shotgun and murders whoever he sees first? Someone who conceals explosives underneath an overturned flower pot, maiming a nurse and killing the security guard who stops to straighten it?
Someone who burns down a doctor's house and barn, killing horses and a dog and a cat? Someone who shoots a hero in the fucking face in his fucking church?

How about the people who visit clinic builders' neighbors with photoshopped fetus posters or greet nurses by name at the door of their own homes? The people who park outside my friend's apartment building night after night, or the ones who followed my patient as she drove home from her appointment? The ones who line the sidewalks outside of clinics and jeer, insult, shove, and elbow pregnant women and their partners and their mothers and the people helping them get inside the clinic? Who say creepy but just-vague-enough shit to clinic counselors as they walk in to work, on the phone at work, in the mail at work?

Not the same, you say? They're only expressing their concern and compassion for the innocent? Protected free speech? I wonder what you'll say when yet another one of those "sidewalk counselors" is added to the list of those arrested for harming born, life-living women and men.

I hate that I have to choose between talking about this so that everyone will know, or reassuring my parents and siblings and partner and best friend that I'm fine, my clinic is fine, we have police-caliber security staff and bulletproof glass and a relatively quiet neighborhood populated with relatively friendly businesses. But those ARE the options, because quitting this work is not an option.

I'm fine, my clinic is fine. I just need to: take a different route to work each day, live in a walk-up, never be a homeowner, not shop online, marry a police officer, not have kids or pets, never be famous, not write about my school or my neighborhood or anything about my family, not tell people I meet about this wonderful blog for fear they might connect the dots. You want to talk about common ground? I'm doing lots to meet you there. What are you doing to prevent my murder?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Education Sunday.

I decided to post an excerpt from a paper I wrote. In case you didn't know the specifics, now you do.

On March 24, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services (except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment of the woman).[1] This provision continues the ban on federal funding of abortion that was set in place more than 30 years ago by the Hyde Amendment. Proponents of the Hyde Amendment assert that it is their democratic right as policy leaders, to express their opinion and be able to exert their beliefs in the health care debate.
Currently, six million women of reproductive age obtain health care coverage through the Medicaid system.[2] Federal bands on funding for abortion services have severely restricted access to safe abortion care for thousands of low-income women who depend on the government for their health care. Poor women especially, are unable to exercise their constitutional right to choose abortion when public funding is restricted. An estimated 18-35% of Medicaid-eligible women carry their pregnancy to term because they cannot afford an abortion.[3] While Medicaid does not allow federal funding for abortion, it does provide funding for childbirth.[4] Medicaid insures one-fifth of the nation’s children and pays for one-third of all childbirths.[5]
Under current health care policy, the federal government is willing to pay for some of poor women’s reproductive health but not all. In turn, the Hyde Amendment is negatively impacting poor women’s lives on the basis of policy leaders moral and ethical beliefs about abortion. Should Congress members and policy leaders be able to put their moral beliefs above the health and well being of its citizens? Low-income women often face serious hardship when trying to raise funds for abortion services. Many women use money they should have spent on rent, food, bills and clothing for their children. A significant amount of women resort to pawning household items, and some resort to theft and prostitution in a desperate attempt to have a legal, medical procedure.[6] The 1983 AGI study found that Medicaid-eligible women wait on average 2-3 weeks longer than women with economic means to have an abortion. As a woman gets farther along in her pregnancy, the cost of the abortion starts to rise, and it becomes more difficult to raise the necessary funds, creating a vicious cycle.
The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy that targets poor women, who are disproportionately women of color. Women who are not covered under the Nation’s Medicaid system, are either not enrolled in the program, undocumented citizens, or not eligible under the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. Women who can afford to pay for an abortion on their own, ranging from approximately $300-$500 for a first trimester procedure, are mostly unaffected by the Hyde Amendment’s restrictive policy. An estimated 18-35% of Medicaid-eligible women carry their pregnancy to term because they cannot afford an abortion.[7] There is a huge disparity between impoverished women and middle/upper class women. In 1983, AGI researchers found that “nearly 60% of Medicaid recipients said that paying for an abortion caused serious hardship, compared with only 26% of non-Medicaid-eligible women.”[8] Although Roe v Wade gave women the constitutional right to have an abortion, they are unable to exercise this right when access and affordability of services is denied. The Hyde Amendment makes real reproductive “choice” a privilege for those that can afford it, rather than a constitutional right guaranteed by the Supreme Court.[9]

[1] Raising Women’s Voices. (March 30, 2010). Health Reform and Reproductive Health: Positive and Negative Effects. Available:
[2] Boonstra, H., A. Sonfield. “Rights without Access: Revisiting Public Funding of Abortion for Poor Women.” The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy. April 2000: 8-11.
[3] Fried, M. (2007) “Hyde Amendment: The Opening Wedge to Abolish Abortion.” New Politics. 11(2): 82-85.
[4] Annas, G. J. “Abortion Politics and Health Insurance Reform.” The New England Journal of Medicine. December 31, 2009: 2589-2591.
[5] Weil, Alan, "There's Something About Medicaid," Health Affairs (Jan/Feb 2003).
[6] Boonstra, H., A. Sonfield. “Rights without Access: Revisiting Public Funding of Abortion for Poor Women.” The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy. April 2000: 8-11.
[7] Fried, M. (2007) “Hyde Amendment: The Opening Wedge to Abolish Abortion.” New Politics. 11(2): 82-85.
[8] Fried, M. (2007) “Hyde Amendment: The Opening Wedge to Abolish Abortion.” New Politics. 11(2): 82-85.
[9] Boonstra, H., A. Sonfield. “Rights without Access: Revisiting Public Funding of Abortion for Poor Women.” The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy. April 2000: 8-11.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Guest post: Pro-Choice? Pro-Abortion.

Today is a very special Friday, as it marks the first official guest post this blog has hosted! Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a prolific writer and longtime activist for reproductive rights. She's also the author of the really lovely blog Standing In The Shadows, where last week she wrote a post in response to one of our posts (Desembarazarme's, actually), and we've been happily chatting about it since then. Sarah, thank you for letting us reprint that post here today!

I spent some of a cloudy Sunday afternoon walk thinking about whether to write another piece about abortion access, and how I am really, truly PRO-abortion not pro-choice. Earlier this month I participated in the National Network of Abortion FundsBowl-a-thon and Blog-o-thon. I wanted an excuse to give readers the link to donate one more time (my former work was as a reproductive rights organizer so what can I say: will-raise-money-for-important-causes, check).

Then, I read a wonderful post on the Abortioneers’ blog. This group blog talks about the daily work of people providing abortion services. Theirs isn’t always easy daily work, especially in a political and social climate that has essentially turned abortion into a bad word. Remember how then-Senator Hillary Clinton (in 2005) called abortion “very sad and very tragic?” The possibility that abortion might be one of many reproductive choices—take guilt off the table, please, and while you’re at it, unless the entire situation is tragic, take tragedy off the table, too—without such a sense of taboo and secrecy and shame has become quite radical these days. The post was called Utopia.

Here’s an excerpt:
Today’s the kind of nearly-perfect day that makes me think about what would be absolutely perfect: A world where Sunday means nothing but relaxing with a cat and books and tea, no matter how warm it is outside, and also, a world where OF COURSE everyone wants abortion to be included in the new healthcare plan, where woman talk about their (positive) abortion experiences in the same breath as they talk about the frozen yogurt they had last night, where Medicaid pays for all abortions, where birth control is affordable and accessible and side effect-free, where abortion providers are heroes to all, where every child is wanted, where every termination is a blessing, and where no woman has to panic or give up her dignity or feel complete despair because she doesn't have the money or the means to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Oh, and also a world where I am 5'9" and I have chocolate pouring out of my kitchen faucet and I have a unicorn.

Well, I thought to myself; she said it beautifully—and even with a lighthearted touch. So, I did what I often do when I love something I’ve read; I posted it on Facebook. I wrote this: I heart this, the idea that utopia INCLUDES abortion access. I had been mulling a post about how my ideal world includes abortion, but now I don't think I need to write it: thank you Abortioneers!

I didn’t bargain on negative comments, which were along these lines: abortion is not to be defended with zeal. At best, it’s a necessary evil.

I strongly disagree. And here I am, writing.

My utopia isn’t exactly like the one described in the Abortioneers’ post. That’s to say, in my twenties, when I worked in the field, most of my peers were, like me, childless and our support for abortion rights often came personally—we’d had abortions or otherwise had our own reasons for feeling strongly about the option—and we were very much guided by feminism as our shared rallying point. By feminism, in this context, what I mean is that we believed strongly that for women to be equal in society, agency over reproduction—our bodies—to be essential. Punctuate that with a period. Actually, cap it with an exclamation point! It wasn’t an apologetic stance; it was a celebratory one. I think it more closely resembled the wonderful utopia described in the post I'd just read.

Two decades later, I know people whose views about abortion (from support to opposition or strong discomfort) have changed after 1) having a child, 2) losing a pregnancy or a child, 3) struggling with infertility, or 4) adopting a child. That hasn’t been the case for me. My sense of urgency about abortion rights hasn’t faded one bit over time. It has, though, been altered by parenthood.

What’s changed is that I now see all choices—and that’s really to say, our lives—as messier and more chaotic than I once did (I think I harbored some fantasy that when you truly grow up, you figure “stuff” out, something I now know to be just that, fantasy). I realize in a way that I didn’t back then when getting pregnant seemed to be the easy part—and lucky me, in my case, that remained so for all three babies I gave birth to—that so many things are complicated, amongst them getting pregnant or staying pregnant, not to mention the whole huge black hole of potential hardships raising children… I’ve garnered a new and vast appreciation for life’s complexities and how they don’t necessarily get solved.

And given the sheer weight of that responsibility—parenthood—along with the lack of adequate support for it—no paid parental leave, no single payer health care, women making much less than a man’s dollar, and that’s just for starters—in this country, I would never assume that it’s fair or reasonable or respectful of women to foist that awesome (as in, immense) responsibility upon any woman. I feel that is a tragic situation, although in the same breath, I absolutely know that for many individuals, an unexpected pregnancy and child can turn out to be the greatest of blessings. The one does not change the other.

So many years into the wash of pregnancy, infertility, babies, and children, I appreciate that each of us has a lot to carry and it turns out that how we carry our own experiences is a pretty complicated endeavor, too.


My belief given all these givens is that every woman should be very free to make her very own personal choice. Please imagine me, as a potential adoptive mother when Saskia’s birth (or first, or just plain) mother was pregnant with Saskia told me that she considered abortion but couldn’t have pursued it because she didn’t the money. To clarify here: she did not say that’s what she’d have chosen, only that she couldn’t even consider it due to cost. I said (and I cannot make this up): Had I known you, I could have helped you find the money. Why? I knew where money was. I’d worked with—helped to found—the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts and because I knew, too, of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund in Boston. And I meant it, much as I was waiting, and italics can’t adequately convey how fully I was waiting, for that baby, because by then, hers was a pregnancy with an intention and that intention was the baby I love more than I have words to describe.

While I feel, as the mother to Saskia, particularly because the warmth of our open adoption makes our personal story one of the happier ones, exceedingly fortunate, I also know that not all adoptions are so positive. Ours isn’t an easy situation always for all (and our daughter is two; we don’t yet know how she will feel over time about her situation).

No one decides upon placing a child for adoption and goes forth without looking back, as far as I can tell. My friend, Susie Book, wrote on her blog about participating on a panel with other birth mothers. One question was, “How often do you think about your placed child?” Susie wrote: “I think she (the adoptee) got the answer she wanted: Every day. Even the woman who relinquished better than fifty years ago said it immediately: Every day.” The bottom line is this: parenthood is a huge deal. And there are no easy answers.

I believe our best choice is to acknowledge that given the complexity and the responsibility, we must, must envision a world that supports women to make their own choices, without the hubris of shame or the crushing taboos that cast silence atop our most intimate—and sometimes painful--experiences. Now that I am raising a daughter, I want her future to be that much freer than the present. So, I’m going to continue to challenge us all to look beyond what we carry with us—important as those experiences are—to what it means to try to make this choice for another person. I’m not just going to hope for this; I’m going to work hard to try and ensure that you keep your hands off my daughter’s body.

Like it? You can find Sarah writing regularly at Standing In The Shadows.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ipas, You-pas, we all pas for...

I'm going to tell you a secret. OK, I'm not, actually, but I got your attention. But there is a little-known, seldom-advertised device that we Abortioneers know about called the Ipas manual vacuum aspirator. In my completely non-scientific experience, the women who request it are Abortioneers or clinicians or those who are In the Know or women who live or lived abroad where the use is a bit more common.

Without getting into a whole med-school lecture that I am not quite qualified to give, a first trimester abortion involves dilating the cervix to a (small) amount that corresponds with the number of weeks that the pregnancy measures, then inserting a same-sized tube that passes through the cervix and into the uterus. The aspirator then suctions out the contents, and voila, not pregnant. The aspirator is a large but simple machine that takes up room and electricity and hums in a way that isn't entirely unpleasant, but yeah, it hums. And so, the Ipas is the same idea, but it's manual and portable and according to anecdotal evidence, is a bit more gentle (it is generally used when a woman requests local anesthesia rather than full sedation) and more quiet, and therefore, more comfortable for some women. It's not a new device, but I've only seen it used a handful of times at my clinic.

It really ISN'T a closely-guarded secret, and it probably is more time-consuming for physicians who have so many patients to see (If only there were more abortion doctors! If only our field were less controversial and more loved in med schools! But that's another post for another day.), and most women do opt for general anesthesia, anyway, and the Ipas is a bit more expensive, at least at my clinic, since it's less in-demand. But I'm curious what YOUR Ipas experiences are. Have any of our readers had a manual vacuum aspiration? What was the experience like? Were you aware of this option? Does it pique your interest?