Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Barriers: Stigma and Language

In the work we do, we come across barriers to abortion care all the time. I think stigma is actually one of the greatest barriers: it can stop women from seeking support from medical staff; it may inhibit a woman from talking to her best friend about her abortion; she may have to lie to her employer about why she needs a couple days off of work, for fear of judgment. Or unemployment. The list goes on and on.

But....say you're a woman from a developing country where abortion is highly illegal and clandestine. Suppose you now live in America, but don't speak a lick of English and are completely reliant upon strangers, friends, relatives to interpret for you. Assume you're from a country where already an immense amount of stigma (making the US run-of-the-mill stigma look pale in comparison) surrounds abortion. You must risk speaking to a stranger - from your community - to translate that you need an abortion.

...Think about that for a moment. Just let that sink into your heart. How would you feel? How hard would that be for you? How scary would it be to tell a complete stranger your needs and desires? Could you trust this interpreter from your community? Could you trust that person to maintain your privacy and not divulge your information to other community members? Family? Husband? Could you trust this person to do their job and actually tell the healthcare worker your need to have an abortion? Now...imagine how brave and how difficult it must be to put your trust in all these strangers and not have a clue about the outcome. Not know if the abortion will be safe. If you'll survive. If anyone will be compassionate or understanding. Imagine the power these strangers have over you. The power of the interpreter. The power our medical institution has you. The power the stigma so embedded in our own country has over you.

I worry about these women. Often. I worry they don't know their rights: that their lovers don't have to give permission for them to have abortions; that she can access healthcare in a safe way; that abortion is legal; that she will be okay - that she will not die; that abortion providers will do everything they can to ensure she understands her procedure and understands how to access us if needed afterwards.

Yet, how easy would it be for her, really? I've been working with a woman who is from a country where it's difficult to find a pro-choice interpreter. A country where no one talks about abortion. Where women are regarded very little. Where men have all the control. She doesn't speak English. So, through the interpreter, I tell her, to call me if she needs me. The reality is, though, how would she call me if she needed me? How would I understand her? How would I help her? Of course, I'd find an interpreter to translate our conversation. Yet, still then, I wonder if the interpreter is being accurate in the information being translated - let alone kind and compassionate.

I feel for these women. I have compassion. And even some empathy regarding what it's like being a stranger in a new land. Without much help. And it's not fun. It's scary and hard. And. Well. We're thinking of them here in Abortionland.

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