Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Abortion Stigma

God, there’s a lot of stigma around abortion. We certainly get our share of hearing the antis slur words of hate to us that propagates stigma (like in Anti-Antis post Monday); but sometimes, we fight it at work, too.

Yesterday, during a counseling session, a patient folded her arms, looked straight at me and declared, “I am not the same as the other girls in the waiting room. I’m not the same as the rest of them having an abortion.” I’ve heard this sentiment before and asked her to tell me more. She followed with, “I’m married. I have kids. I was using birth control when I got pregnant. I mean, I’m older; and I’m a professional. I’m a responsible person! I’m not the type of person who gets an abortion.” Her statements implied that the other patients were irresponsible, in non-monogamous relationships, unstable, and unprofessional. And who, exactly, is the type of person who gets an abortion?

I’ve learned not to grind my teeth and get offended when women suggest they may be better than other women having abortions because the reality is, they’re just regurgitating all that awful, untrue stigma. I turn experiences – like yesterday’s – into learning opportunities with the women and each time, I hope I don’t sound preachy. I usually handle those conversations by initially putting the focus on her and not the other patients; generally women are worried about being judged and stigmatized for having an abortion (e.g. “I’m not a bad mom. I love children! It’s just we weren’t planning for anymore…it’s such a bad time! My husband just lost his job. The economy is so bad...”). I usually say something along the lines that it sounds as though she’s a good mom who cares very much for her children, and that it must’ve been very frustrating to find out she was pregnant when she did everything she could to prevent an unwanted pregnancy (especially under her present circumstance). Almost always, women uncross their arms, soften their eyes, and take a deep breath; then, I follow-up with the lesson learned: who gets an abortion.

I tell her:

- Most women who have abortions already have at least one child.
- Over half of women who have abortions used some form of birth control the month they got pregnant.
- Most are concerned about the financial implications of having another child and/or the overall well-being of the family unit (perhaps the relationship is rocky already, for example).

Usually they don’t know that. Why would they? Most staff that start working at the clinic don’t even know. (We get trained in it!) My hope is that clients realize they aren’t so different from anyone else having an abortion…and hopefully realize then, that they are not alone. I try to touch on stigma and state the fact that at least three out of 10 women will have an abortion by the time they’re 45, which means they probably know quite a few people who have had an abortion: they probably just don’t know it because of stigma.

I wish there was some solution to this. I don’t know what it is. I wish we could stamp out all the negative connotations about abortion and instead show the truth: someone you love has had an abortion. It’s not uncommon. Regular girls have them. It takes strength, courage, bravery, and determination. There’s nothing irresponsible about it and it’s not a frivolous choice. People who have abortions think about the future. They think about now. They think about others.

I know there are some projects out there tackling stigma...but especially now, it feels like our country is incredibly divisive. It's sad. It's scary. I hate it. And I hope it can change.

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