Tag Archives: abortion providers

Facing a career in abortion provision in a sexist world

20 Nov

A fellow first year medical student was in my bedroom one evening last week. I was sprawled on my bed, she was sitting in my well-loved-by-humans-and-cats orange velour armchair, bought by my grandmother in 1962 at Sears when firey orange was a reasonable color to use to upholster furniture or paint hallways. I love that chair – it sat under my lofted bed in the attic room I shared with my sister during my childhood, and it came with me to college where it was moved from dorm to dorm through four years, residing with me or with friends in almost every New England state over the summers. It’s not pretty, or new, or fashionable, but I love it. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar, it’s me.

That night we were chatting about the upcoming challenges in our lives: balancing medical school with family and friends, the difficulties of finding time to do the other things we love in life, anticipated academic difficulties. We also found ourselves talking about family and the future, and the conversation moved in the direction of babies. Several of our classmates and friends had recently given birth. We talked of their challenges and the similarities and differences of our lives. As often follows, we talked of our own thoughts on having children.

My disinterest in having my own children is often perceived as pathology, something many women experience. But I find that in particular, everyone has an opinion when they find out these two things about me: that I’m interested in specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, and that I don’t plan to have children of my own. In this instance, my fellow first year latched onto my interest in abortion, taking it as a twisted motivation to prevent others from having children. She questioned my ability to be an impartial compassionate health provider to those who make different reproductive decisions than mine, and mused that patients would be able pick up on my silent judgment of them and their choices.

In addition to the personal hurt this conversation brought, it made me think about having an academic interest in medicine as a woman, the persistent sexism we face in medicine, from institutions, classmates and even friends. Medicine is incredibly hierarchical and conservative, with a past (and often a present) rife with abuses, injustice, and paternalism. Speaking up about these problems is a challenge, and I’ve been finding that it is difficult and exhausting to share my academic medical interests. You can bet that if my answer to the question “what specialty are you thinking about?” was ophthalmology, or pediatrics, or internal medicine, I wouldn’t be required to explain why I’m interested, why it’s important, and why it’s worth a lifetime of academic and professional investment.

I’m sure if abortion provision and family planning didn’t interest me, make me think, or inspire me, there would be something else: cardiology, surgery, infectious disease. And I strive to have an open mind to any subject – I’m sure I’ll make space in my learning and my practice for different things. But if my interests that brought me to medicine were different, I would be a different me. I would seek out different opportunities and partners and educational experiences. But this is me – I have an orange velour arm chair, and I have a legitimate, rigorous academic interest in becoming an abortion provider.

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Why YOU Should Be An Abortion Provider

14 Jul

Let’s face it: providing abortions is not the most popular job that a person can choose. Even among the pro-choice medical community, providing abortions is not something that you do; it’s something that you let other people do. I can understand why, too. People don’t generally go to medical school with expectations of being protested, harassed, and threatened when they finish their schooling and get a job. People don’t usually expect to have the simple question of “what is your job?” to sometimes have to be an awkward, nerve wrecking experience. With all of this, some people may wonder why anyone would want to become an abortion provider.

Still, regardless of how many anti-choice laws are passed and how many protests there are, the fact remains that women need abortions. As long as we have pregnancy, we will have abortion. As long as we have abortion, we will need abortion providers in order to keep the abortion process safe. Sadly, the fact is that we don’t have enough abortion providers. In the United States, we have over a million abortions taking place yearly. For all of those patients, we have approximately 1700 abortion providers. Do you see something wrong with this picture? I do.

So how do we solve this problem? Easy! We get more providers! How do we do that? Uh, maybe that’s not so simple. Here’s the truth; it starts with you. To me, one of the basic principles of activism is that, when there’s a problem, you don’t wait for someone else to fix it, or for the problem to fix itself. As activists, we are the repairwomen and the repairmen. We go out and we work our asses off to fix the world’s problems. Providing abortions does not have to be the necessary job that you let other people do. It can be the job that you go out and do yourself.

Obviously, abortion care is not the right career path for all people. However, I believe that one of the main reasons we have so few abortion providers is because so few people ever even consider abortion work as a career path. I don’t blame them. Becoming an abortion provider can seem to be like an “out of the way” kind of thought for most people. My mission today is not to get you to change your major or your career path. My mission today is simply to get people to think about something they may have never considered before: abortion care. A few years ago, every career looked undesireable to me. I had no idea where I was going in life. Then, I considered abortion care, and I found my calling. I decided that I am going to become an abortion provider. Who knows? Maybe this is your calling, too.

Long story short: we don’t just need abortion providers. We need YOU. No one is going to shame you if you decide that providing abortions is not for you; this does not make you a less valuable activist. However, maybe you have it in your heart to become an abortion provider. Maybe it’s simply something you have never considered. If you are one of those people, and particularly if you want to go into medicine, then this might be something to explore. I found my calling; have you found yours?

The Right Uses the State to Harass Abortion Providers

28 Jun

A guest post by Peg Johnston, an independent abortion provider in New York State and member of the Abortion Care Network.

It’s official, the antis have found a way to use public funds to wage their campaign against abortion providers. (Or ANOTHER way, I should say, since funding for their propaganda centers and abstinence education is sizeable, but this is more direct.) Their first target, ironically, is Whole Woman’s Health, arguably one of the best clinics in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the state they have manipulated is Texas, one of the worst states in which to offer women abortion services. Says Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, “I feel like I live in another country where abortion is illegal.”

Here’s how it works: the anti-abortion folks make complaints to various state agencies, anonymously of course, triggering an inspection –many inspections. If you work in a hospital or nursing home or any medical setting you know that a 100% perfect inspection is a rarity. There are always little nitpicky things that you could get caught on, none of which have anything to do with quality patient care. But a spontaneous inspection is its own form of harassment. And in these times more importantly, the state of Texas is nearly bankrupt; the taxpayers should be fighting mad about state agencies wasting time and money on an anti-abortion fool’s errand. But of course, this is Texas we’re talking about.

So, when this story comes to your attention, don’t for a minute think that the abortion clinic is doing something shady. They are not. In the light of the hideous conditions revealed by the investigation of Philadelphia based Dr. Kermit Gosnell, you might understandably be suspicious. The difference there is that the state of Pennsylvania failed to inspect. Had they kept up with regular scheduled inspections women might have been protected from Gosnell’s illegal and substandard practices.

The weight of state scrutiny is considerable but in places like Texas it can also be capricious. Not only is it burdensome, but when the state suddenly shows up it can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong—particularly when anti abortion websites try to make something over a labeling error or other non-patient care issue.

Always remember that the anti-abortion extremists are trying to stigmatize abortion providers. Don’t assume abortion providers are doing bad things. And if this state sponsored harassment of abortion providers comes to your state, call your representative to protest the waste of state funds. Abortion providers are all for inspections—exactly what any medical facility can expect, and not more. But the taxpayers should not be paying for the state to do the bidding of the anti-abortion movement.

Ralph Lang, Attempted Anti-Choice Terrorist

28 May

Thank God, or Lady Luck, or whomever you like: yesterday reports went out of a man arrested BEFORE he murdered a law-abiding doctor, instead of after.

The quick details: Ralph Lang, 63, drove up to Madison with a gun with the clear intention of murdering at least one abortion-providing doctor, and possibly other nurses and employees. His handgun discharged while he was at a motel, and the police were called. Upon hearing his plans, he was taken into custody.

I’m so thankful that Lang’s gun went off in his motel room. I’m also thankful he wasn’t “100 percent in sync with God” when he was in Madison last week and didn’t kill anyone. I’m thankful that he didn’t get to go to the clinic, “line [the employees] up all in a row, get a machine gun, and mow them all down” as he said he wished he could.

The other information you should know: Ralph Lang is not a “lone wolf” or a “fringe member” of the antichoice “pro-life” community. He is a sidewalk counselor (read: harasser) and was arrested previously in 2007 outside of a Planned Parenthood. He was part of a Catholic prayer vigil (read: more sidewalk harassment) in 2006, at which time he said, “it’s nice to be a part of a movement like this.” I’m sure as we learn more details we will see more connections between Ralph Lang and well known anti-choice groups.

Of course, Lang’s language is gleamed from common anti-choice propaganda. He planned “to lay out abortionists because they are killing babies”- words used by many so-called peaceful anti-choicers. These ‘peaceful’ antis claim they don’t actually want anyone hurt, yet continue to repeat these phrases until they’ve convinced someone- like Ralph Lang, or Scott Roeder- to do the dirty work for them. When they call doctors murderers over and over and over again, they set the kindling and strike the match for others to take those words and follow through with them.

It’s long past time for antichoicers to stop their violent rhetoric. It was long past time two years ago, when Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church. It was long past time in 1998 when Dr. Slepian and a security guard were killed, in 1994 when two clinic receptionists, Dr Britton and an escort were killed, in 1993 when Dr. Gunn was murdered. It’s been nearly 20 years of murders- when will anti-choicers actually take a prolife stance and stop the violence?

Pre-Abortion Provider Stigma

11 May

For those of you who don’t already know me, I’m a pre-med student working towards getting into the health care field as an abortion provider. In high school, I shocked all of my friends and family (and still am shocking them) by announcing that I chose not to be a music major and am going into health care instead. After getting over that initial shock, it seemed that everyone was outspoken about their opinion of what I should do with my life except for me. My dad wanted me to be an ultrasound technician. My mom wanted me to go back to music. My private violin teacher wanted me to be a cardiac surgeon. One of my professors even tried to convince me to become a plastic surgeon. Is someone’s voice missing from this conversation? Uh, yeah: MINE!

With so many strong opinions out there about what I should do with my life and with so much stigma surrounding my future profession, it’s sometimes difficult to get my voice out there and “come out” as a future abortion provider. I admit, sometimes I toy with the idea of going back to music; no one heckles you for saying “I am a violinist”. It’s never intimidating for me to tell someone that I play the violin. No violinists have been stalked or murdered just for being violinists. Abortion providers, sadly, do have to deal with these things. A lot of abortion providers have a hard time “coming out”, even to their family and friends, for fear of the stigma surrounding abortion care and being treated badly for their work. Even though I’m not an abortion provider yet, I have experienced some of the same things. I live in an area that is plagued by anti-choicers, so I am somewhat alone in my passion for women’s rights. When I “come out” to someone as a future abortion provider, I have no idea what kind of reaction I’ll get. Usually people just avoid me after I tell them (hey, I’m okay with that. Who wants to be friends with an anti, anyway?) I’ve gotten people who try to start arguments with me. I had one friend who responded by saying “Oh my god, really? That’s so awesome!” The wide range of reactions can be intimidating; you never know what you’re going to get when you tell someone of your plans for your life when those plans involve providing abortion.

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How to Better Fund A Pro-Choice Movement

3 May

A guest post by Sarah Erdreich and Rachel Joy Larris.

Several weeks ago, two of the major organizations devoted to protecting women’s reproductive rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, along with a host of other civil rights organizations, brought thousands of people to Capitol Hill to lobby Senators and Congressmen on reproductive rights. (There was also a rally, featuring speeches from senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, and celebrities like Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.)

NARAL’s supporters were given a packet of information on HR. 3 and the bill to defund Planned Parenthood. However, they were not directed to lobby Republicans, or given information about where to find Republican lawmakers; instead, supporters—many of whom came from across the country—were told if they wanted to talk to Republican lawmakers that was up to them, but NARAL wasn’t going to send them into the “lion’s den.”

As for the Democratic representatives, even the offices of ardent pro-choice supporters like Ohio’s Betty Sutton and Virginia’s Jim Moran had no idea it was a pro-choice lobby day. Other offices were aware of this, and had appointments with constituents who traveled from far away. But supporters were not directed to Harry Reid’s office, and were not told to specifically mention the issue of Medicaid coverage of abortions in the District of Columbia. This was an issue that DC’s Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton knew might become a bargaining chip in the federal budget standoff, even if Harry Reid said he was standing firm for Planned Parenthood’s funding.

How much the actual lobby day and rally influenced the eventual outcome is unclear, though it was obvious that the supporters brought a great deal of energy and passion to the day. But as we reflect on our own experiences of the lobbying and the rally, it’s hard not to feel a bit disillusioned, both with the Democratic Party and the current strategies used by the major national pro-choice organizations. Too often, Democratic politicians sacrifice their pro-choice constituents’ interests—but this outcome is made possible because the current strategy of growing pro-choice political power isn’t working. While the majority of the country does not want abortion to become illegal, anti-choice politicians feel more allegiance to their constituency than pro-choice politicians. This is not simply a fault of individual politicians. It is an artifact of how the pro-choice political community does its organizing work: from the top down.

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On Justice and Scott Roeder’s Trial.

2 Apr

I learned about Dr. Tiller’s murder via twitter. I remember exactly where I was on May 31, 2009 — sitting on my couch, casually browsing the new internet phenomenon, not yet convinced that it was a worthwhile pursuit for me. I saw a friend’s tweet, “wtf Dr Tiller dead?!?” and at first it didn’t register. I looked around. Outside, the wind was blowing through the trees. My beagle was sleeping, snoring next to me. Dr. Tiller was dead. What?!

At the time, I worked at an abortion clinic. We referred our patients to Dr. Tiller if we couldn’t see them due to a later stage in pregnancy or a severe fetal abnormality. He was a hero in my mind, a kind of Abortion God who stood for justice, peace, and compassion. I aspired to live and work by his high standards, his well-known mantras.

I scoured the internet to read anything I could about the circumstances of his murder. I called my supervisor in a panic, afraid for my clinic, my patients, my co-workers. I was glued to my computer as the details unfolded, not taking calls from anyone who didn’t work in abortionland, my heart drenched in despair and anxiety.
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