The Last Abortion Clinic

We have been enjoying a great clinic escort blog. It is written by the clinic escorts at Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Mississippi. It is titled “The Last Abortion Clinic” and tells the daily stories of supporting clients in the presence of not only local protesters, but some sent by Operation Rescue. Some of us are hoping to meet these escorts in person at their rally on August 17. The people in Mississippi are fighting back!

The States of Refuge Campaign* started January 2012 by Operation Rescue targeted five states with only one abortion clinic. (Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) Their goal is to have a state with no abortion clinics. They are close to their goal in Mississippi by convincing legislators to pass a TRAP law concerning admitting privileges for the physicians who perform abortions. There is a court order blocking the enforcement of the law, but the Jackson clinic is due in court again soon.

Every day we seem to read about proposed legislation to restrict abortion; pending closings of health clinics that don’t even perform abortions as collateral damage from laws written to “make women safe.”  Two clinics closed in Virginia this month.. The current laws in Texas have a prediction of 37 out of 42 clinics closing if the courts uphold them. The last abortion clinic in Green Bay, WI closed this month. This list could be a long list if I included everything from this year.

What happens when abortion restrictions make it difficult for people to end a pregnancy? Dr. John J. Sciarra offers this opinion in the Chicago Tribune:

  • “No law that has ever been passed and no law that ever will be passed can prevent a determined woman from trying to end an unwanted pregnancy. Society and hospitals must accept their role in keeping women safe in that process.

Where can these determined women turn when they seek abortion help? What do minors do who live in a state without easy access to abortion and difficult judicial by-pass laws? When the cost of an abortion is out of reach for so many, how will they be able to add transportation to another state, lodging, time off work, and childcare to the amounts they were already struggling to find?

They are already turning to unsafe purchases of abortion medications from online sources or flea market vendors, because “Only people with money go to clinics.” Do it yourself abortions will be more common, with the dangers of permanent injury or death Dr. Jen Gunter spells out graphically in her article “Anatomy of a Coat Hanger Abortion.”

Are we going to have to devise our own counseling services network to transport clients from state to state to get clients to the closest open abortion clinic; working like the Jane Network but focusing on transportation to a safe, legal abortionist? In 2008, one-third of US patients had to travel more than 25 miles for abortion services. Now they have to travel further and 87% of US counties do not have an abortion provider. How many miles is to the nearest abortion clinic if the one near you closed?

I fear as women become more desperate to end a pregnancy in the face of rising restrictions and obstacles, they will  turn to self-administered drugs without understanding their instructions or the risks,  like what happened in IN this month. Worse, they may turn to an illegal abortionist because they are less expensive, closer and accessible.

The way it was before Roe vs Wade has been romanticized in books and movies, like “Dirty Dancing” and “Cider House Rules.” There was nothing heart-warming about that time. It was a scary time for an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy. Women had their plans for their future derailed, died or were permanently injured and they will be again if this trend isn’t reversed.

We can never go back.

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*All links to anti-abortion websites have been omitted purposely. Please use Google or message us separately if you would like a citation for sources.

I Stand with Wendy on the Sidewalk ~ by Skeletor

Were you watching Tuesday night? The Texas Tribune ran a live online video feed of the Texas Senate chamber that nearly 200,000 people all over the nation tuned in to watch (while CNN talked about muffins). Twitter was abuzz with #IStandWithWendy and #SB5.

And then the clock ran out. No vote had been taken. Yet there was an attempt to ramrod a vote through by supporters of the law, a law that would close all but five clinics in Texas.

Problem is, the people were watching. We stood with Wendy from our homes all over the USA while one woman stood in defiance of the zealots, on behalf of the health of women.

When I stand on the sidewalk in my orange vest, I am standing with the women who have made careful consideration of all their options and have chosen abortion. I do not know their whys or wherefores, and it is none of my business. Neither is it the business of the antis who hurl their vitriol during the clients’ walk into the clinic.

Often the antis will shout, “Come next door where you can learn about ALL your choices,” or “The only choice here is death!” or “You were herded in here like cattle!” It never occurs to them, apparently, that these women have already considered all their choices; that they made a rational, well-reasoned decision, and it happens not to be the decision that the antis would have made. To my mind, the antis portray women as thoughtless automatons.

Wendy stood for twelve and a half hours, speaking the entire time. I think I can stand on the Louisville sidewalk for an hour and a half in silence. The way I see it, we are both standing up to the bullies who would denigrate our personhood.

The legislative battles over reproductive rights are far from done, but it was encouraging to see the actions of Sen. Wendy Davis. It was encouraging to hear the chorus of voices raised throughout the Texas capitol in support of Sen. Davis and her efforts. It was encouraging to follow it, moment by moment, on Twitter.

Thrilling though it was, it could have ended very differently. Governor Rick Perry has already called another special session of the Texas legislature to begin on Monday in an effort to push a similar bill through. We must continue to #StandWithWendy in our own states, keeping abreast of legislative actions being taken to restrict the rights of women to live as full, autonomous citizens.

A Study in Sidewalk Counseling

Before I started escorting, I always viewed the word “counseling” in a positive light. The advice of a knowledgeable expert to assist in coping with life events is positive. Counseling to me implies an impartial, truthful examination of facts from someone with training to help.

Now, I always have a negative reaction as soon as I hear the word “counseling” because I think of the antis and their sidewalk counseling. Like so many terms, they were purposeful in their choice to describe their actions. They have taken a positive word and changed its meaning, like “choice” was made to mean something negative when they use the word. Instead of a positive outcome for the clients and companions “counseled” by the antis on the sidewalk, there is a heaping on of incorrect information, shame, blame and judgment. If any of the clients do not take their advice, the antis turn from gentle words to ones meant to hurt.

Sometimes escorts just watch and listen. We are able to pick up a lot of details without interfering with a client’s actions or decision. There are times it is hard to stand by passively, but when action would only add to the chaos surrounding a client, we wait for a signal they need our assistance. We do not interfere when clients or companions want to talk to the antis. Firm belief in every person’s right to make their own decisions helps us to be witnesses instead of participants.

There was a morning last month escorts were witnesses. The sidewalk drama played out before us for almost 30 minutes. It was a study in how “sidewalk counselors” work.

This story started with the client and a companion pulling to the curb around 715a. We approached and said our normal statements about going to the abortion clinic and explained our orange vests. The reaction from the companion was not friendly, but they listened and decided to park in the $3 parking lot. We let them know we would come get them when the doors opened.

Around 730a a companion parked in the AWC lot. An escort asked if this young man was looking for someone going to the EMW clinic. He answered yes and stopped to talk to the four AWC staff in their parking lot to greet him. An escort overheard part of their conversation and apparently the client and he were in AWC until 5p the day before. He hurried to the entrance of EMW saying, “She’s in there.” All four of the AWC staff followed him.

At the same time, escorts were walking the client and her companion to the door of the clinic. They met at the door. The young man grabbed the client’s arm and tried to hold her back from entering. The companion who had come with the client, pulled her other arm and got her into the clinic door. The young man followed them into the sign-in area. The entire time the four AWC staff were standing at the property line saying, “You don’t have to go in there. Your mother can’t make you do this. Come out and talk to us.”

After a short time, the young man came back to the AWC staff standing at the property line. All four of them were talking to him. “Pull her out of there. What they are doing is illegal. It is illegal to coerce someone into killing their baby. Go tell her they are breaking the law.” He went back into the clinic.

This was repeated four times with variations in the words, but the meaning was the same. The escorts watching were treated to “You say you are pro-choice, but you are only pro-death,” comments when they were waiting for him to come back out.  The last time he came back out, the clients had already gone back for counseling by the EMW staff. During all of this, the EMW staff allowed him to talk to the client and escorts didn’t interfere with his entrances and exits from the building.

The staff of AWC know, or should know, the trained staff of EMW counsels each individual client to make sure they aren’t being forced into their decision. They will turn clients away if they are not sure or if there are questions about coercion.

This morning will always be engraved by two snapshots in my mind of the people involved. The first is of the client pulling away from the young man, tears in her eyes and repeating, “No. I want to do this.” The second is of the young man, head down and shoulders slumped, facing the sidewalk counselors as they walked away from him saying, “You didn’t try hard enough.”

We need to call them something other than “counselors.”

Honoring Dr. Tiller ~ by fml and Servalbear

Abortion Gang and The Provider Project have a blog project in progress to honor Dr. George Tiller. They have asked contributors to their collective blog to respond to this question:

How can the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements better support the people who have later abortions and providers who perform them?

Here’s the short answer ~ the correct answer:

Make Your Voice Heard by Speaking Up.

  1. Voice your support to access abortion at any time for any reason. We don’t know what a family is facing with a pregnancy and shouldn’t guess. They will make the decision that is best for them.
  2. When you hear a misrepresentation about common reasons for later abortion, counter with the correct information.
  3. Write about the facts of later abortion in a public forum.
  4. Be prepared to answer questions from clients with facts.

Vote

  1. Vote for pro-access candidates in every election.
  2. Be familiar with the law in your state and who has voted for bills restricting abortion access.

Thank Later Abortion Providers.

  1. Donations to help with anti-abortion protest-related expenses
  2. Donations to national or local abortion fund organizations, such as National Abortion Federation, to help patients needing more expensive later abortions.
  3. Volunteer to escort at the clinic of a later abortion provider.
  4. Write a letter to the provider to express your gratitude they are there

Servalbear wrote that ~ in fact, she asked me {fml} to collaborate on this one and then ended up writing the whole article without any input from me until now ~ 10:00 Friday night before we post.  

Confession ~ I’ve been avoiding doing it.  I don’t want to write about later abortions.  I have some ambivalence here.  Some emotional discomfort.  

I think I shouldn’t feel that way.  I think I’m wrong to feel that way.

But it is was as if the stigma had stained my perceptions here.  I vaguely imagined the things that antis say might be true about late term abortions.  

However.  Ten o’clock Friday night, I really can’t put it off any longer.  So I read Servalbear’s information, the facts she presents.  

What is a later abortion? Quite simply, it is an abortion performed after the 20th week of pregnancy. This is incorrectly called a “partial-birth abortion.”

NPR explains in an article from 2006.

  • But “partial-birth” is not a medical term. It’s a political one, and a highly confusing one at that, with both sides disagreeing even on how many procedures take place, at what point in pregnancy, and exactly which procedures the law actually bans.  …
  • The term was first coined by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in 1995 to describe a recently introduced medical procedure to remove fetuses from the womb. 
  • In 1995, Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL) included the term as part of a bill he proposed that would make it a federal crime to perform a “partial-birth” abortion.

How common are later abortions? According to the Guttmacher Institute, later abortions are not common at all. 88% of all abortions performed in the US occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only 1.5% of all abortions in the US occur at 21 weeks or more. That’s a very small percentage.

Where can a client access a later abortion? The short answer is only in a few places. Many states have passed legislation to ban abortion past 20 weeks.

 Guttmacher Institute states, “Only 11% of all abortion providers offer abortions at 24 weeks.”

Why would clients choose a later abortion?

There are a variety of reasons, but the most common is due to life-threatening conditions for the woman or the fetus. Many fetal anomalies are not identified until an ultrasound is performed at 21-23 weeks. There isn’t much time between the time of these tests to accurately diagnose problems that will take the fetus’ life before, or within minutes, of birth and the 24 weeks most states restrict for later abortions.

The myths about why clients would choose a later abortion almost always translate to the client being in denial of the pregnancy or being irresponsible and delaying too long. This isn’t the typical case. Later abortions are usually a wanted pregnancy that turns to anguish.

Orlando Women’s Center publishes this statement on their website which spells out the difficulty of these decisions.

  • Patients end pregnancies early for several reasons:
  1. Prevent pain and suffering of a sick, unborn baby
  2. Stop the pain and suffering for family members, friends and you
  3. To bring closure and start the healing process (guilt, depression, anger, and acceptance) required for members of your family and you to go through
  • We recognize the grief, sorrow, and suffering that this health care has caused you and your family. Most families or individuals have never faced a catastrophe of this magnitude.
  • At our Women’s Centers, numerous patients and loved ones we see are confronted with these complex issues where they were prepared to have a healthy child and suddenly they are faced with the prospect of terminating the pregnancy.
  • There are people who believe that fetal abnormalities are part of life and God’s plan even if lethal to the fetus. They feel that some way and somehow couples are to accept the process of bringing a child into the world and carry the Psychological and perhaps physical scars forever of having a baby with severe abnormalities that are incompatible with life. Dr. Pendergraft, other Physicians, and the medical staff who work in the Women’s Centers believe the decision to carry a pregnancy to term with severe complications is a personal matter and should be a decision that is made between the patient and her Physician. 

As I read the facts, the myths in my mind fade away.  Instead, I think about my grandmother.  My grandmother had experienced a stillbirth.  

Many years later, she told my mother, “I knew the baby was dead.  I could tell it quit moving.  Your father (my grandfather) was so upset and angry, he blamed the doctors.  But I knew long before that.”

After reading Servalbear’s facts, I thought about the times that a fetus will die in utero and not be expelled right away.  I think of the anguish of carrying a child one knows is dead.  And the stigma fades away too.

Why do later abortion providers need our support? These physicians are dedicated to providing the health care patients need. The level of commitment includes working with daily threats of violence and even death. Why wouldn’t we support them?

Jody Jacobsen wrote an article published June 2, 2009 in Reality Check, titled “Late-Term Abortions: Facts, Stories and Ways to Help.”

  • Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors providing late-term abortions to people in need in part because he was a committed, ethical, moral medical professional who took seriously his oath to serve the best interests of his patients, and because he was dedicated to supporting women’s rights even at the risk of his own life and even under unimaginable daily pressure and threat.

Another later abortion provider is Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He has continued providing later abortions despite enormous obstacles placed in his way by anti-choice legislation and protesters.

This is from an article written by Lena H. Sun published July 24, 2011, in the Washington Post

  • As one of the few doctors in the nation who openly acknowledge performing abortions late in a pregnancy, and because he wants to expand his services, Carhart is the top focus of antiabortion groups. He took on that role after Kansas doctor George Tiller, his friend and mentor, was fatally shot by an abortion opponent in 2009.

Which brings us back to the original question:

How can the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements better support the people who have later abortions and providers who perform them?

~  Make Your Voice Heard by Speaking Up.

~  Vote

~  Thank Later Abortion Providers

What other ways can you think of that would be helpful?

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Additional references:
State Policies on Later Abortions, Guttmacher Institute.
Bans on “Partial-Birth” Abortion, Guttmacher Institute