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This weekend at the clinic, there was a protester talking to a couple who were pulling into the parking garage. She had her hands and sometimes her head in their window, so I walked over to make sure she wasn’t doing anything that would impede their ability to drive away when they wanted to. Talking to her is just fine. Talking to her because they can’t drive away without hurting her is something else entirely.
When I got there, she had all her body comfortably outside the vehicle. They didn’t look distressed, and they didn’t make eye contact with me, so I held back to keep an eye on the situation. After another minute or so, they drove on into the garage.
I turned around to walk back to my spot and my coffee cup. That was when the protester said behind me, “She’s keeping the baby!”
The vitriol isn’t particularly new or disturbing. In their minds, we’re there to disrupt God’s bidding, and that slips out from time to time. Usually, I’m a liar. Sometimes I’m a baby-killer. They’re not terribly creative.
The idea that I’m set on every pregnant who comes to the clinic having an abortion isn’t new either. It’s absurd, particularly given that I’m volunteering for a clinic that offers prenatal care, but the idea is fixed. It isn’t going to evaporate any time soon.
So in the interest of educating people who probably won’t read this anyway, let me talk about what I do actually want that puts me in front of the clinic most Saturday mornings. What am I pro?
I know. I know. I just said I wasn’t hoping to see all pregnancies at the clinic terminated. However, something doesn’t have to be universally good to be good, and abortion is undeniably good.
Abortion is good the way a airbag is good. The vast majority of time, it won’t matter that it exists. It won’t matter that it’s in the proper position to catch you. You will probably even forget that it’s there or take it for granted. But when you need it–well, it’s going to hurt but not nearly as much as it would hurt to keep going.
Abortion is freedom, which we normally value for the people we haven’t decided should breed for us. Abortion, for me, has been the freedom to invest in my education and my career, because I didn’t have to worry that my life would be derailed by an unwanted pregnancy. It has been the freedom to prioritize my own health, because I could make the choices that were good for me without worrying whether they’d be good for a hypothetical fetus.
Abortion has also been the freedom to make all sorts of glorious mistakes (and not mistakes) in the process of figuring out my own sexual and romantic desires. It allowed me to make choices about who I wanted to have sex with without having to worry that I would be tied to those people by a child or be forced to abandon a child to escape. Looking back at some of the men in my life, this has been a very good thing indeed. And abortion has allowed me that without my ever having had one.
In fact, every one of those things is an unalloyed good. Abortion is a good thing. Abortion is a necessary thing. Abortion is an inevitable thing. I am pro-abortion, even though I don’t think it’s my place to decide who should have one when.
The protesters like to claim that they’re there to educate. This would be more believable if the information they were trying to spread were true. If you look at the flyers from our local crew (pdf), you can find lies and misleading information about fetal development, side effects of abortion, abortion drugs, and late-term abortions.
Then there’s the promotion of ignorance. It’s no accident that “prolife” sites promote abstinence-only education, that people there bristle at the very idea of teenagers hearing about common sexual acts. Nor is it any accident that “prolife” hospitals keep their patients in the dark about recommended treatments. This goes far beyond people promoting their own beliefs.
I, on the other hand, support education. I want good information on the table for everyone. That includes options like abstinence, along with its attendant failure rate, because it remains an option. Yes, people may decide that a different option works better for them if they have a broader education, but I believe people shouldn’t be denied knowledge of better options on that basis.
I’m in favor of giving the best information possible every time we talk about abortion–and talking about it frequently–because the lies and misdirection receive a constant boost. Given the prominent place that sex and reproduction have in our society and in many of our lives, I want us to formalize that education, to make sure no one is dependent on the people who will protect their positions with lies and silence.
I also want to see us commit to educating broadly on the ethical issues of abortion rather than leaving it up to churches to claim divine authority as the only voice on the matter. To the extent that people do regret having abortions, the notion of having sinned against the divine plays no small part. I want people to know that’s not the only way of looking at the matter.
Education is a critical part of making good decisions. Early education makes it possible to consider options while not under pressure. I’m very much pro-education.
One of the reasons protesters are as able to harass people as they are is because we’ve limited the number of places where most people can get an abortion. Clinics are closing in response to threats and to the legal runaround that are TRAP laws. We’re not training nearly enough doctors to perform abortions beyond medication abortions, and legislators are working to restrict even those highly safe abortions in time and space.
None of these restrictions improve the quality of health care. None of these restrictions make abortion safer. All that any of them do is delay abortion and make patients accessible to the protesters who harass them. Both of those put patients more at risk, not less.
Then there’s the access that keeps abortions from being necessary. I support access to education, to basic reproductive health care, to birth control, to sterilization without coercion, to living-wage jobs and other programs that provide financial independence, to resources for escaping coercive relationships, to evidence-based substance abuse help, to programs that help young people envision a future full of possibilities, to careful and respectful adoption programs, to resources and education for parents that don’t require religious affirmations.
All these things make life better, whether abortion ends up on the agenda or not. I’m pro-access to all the resources that help people determine the course of their own lives.
“Are they allowed to act like that?”, one patient asked me as we left the protesters behind and headed toward the elevators. “They’re like vultures”, said another.
I don’t know whether those patients were there for abortions or for prenatal care. Neither do the protesters, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to get between the patients and abortion. Hell, it doesn’t stop them from trying to get between me and an abortion.
“Come out and talk to us!” As though they been conversing rather than preaching. “They can’t make you go through with it!” As though the clinic had initiated the appointment and demanded the patient show up. “You need to see your ultrasound!” As though Minnesota had an ultrasound requirement for abortion. “You need to think about this!” As though they hadn’t already been through Minnesota’s mandated counseling. “We can help you!” As though the patient wanted anything but the abortion they’re trying to stop. “You’ll always regret your abortion!” As though they can see, not only into the patient’s mind, but into their future.
The thing I hate the most about all of this is that, sometimes, a patient feels they have to explain why they’re having an abortion in order to defend themselves. Simply because people yell at them on the street or sidewalk, they feel compelled to open their lives and their consciences to strangers. To vultures. To people who don’t even see them as people but as walking incubators subject to sin.
I’ve never had to defend the choices I’ve made with my doctor. I’ve never had to justify a prescription. I’ve never had to justify a surgery. I’ve never had to justify a test or a consultation. Though some people do, I’ve never even had to justify any of those things to an insurance company, which has some small interest in them. I’ve been allowed to have and keep my privacy.*
That privacy is a good thing. It allows me and other patients space to consider our priorities and our decisions. If my decision could affect someone else, it allows me space to consult my own conscience. That should be allowed to every patient. I am pro-privacy, whatever the procedure.
This is what the protesters don’t see when they insist I’m there to make as many abortions happen as possible. I wear a vest that says, “Pro-Choice Clinic Escort”. This is what that means. All of it.
I want people to be able to make choices. I want those decisions to be as free as possible, supported on either side, whichever side of a choice they fall on. I can’t know what goes into those decisions, so in the end, I decide to do what the protesters can’t or won’t and trust the people to whom those choices belong.
I am decidedly pro-choice.
* There was that surgeon in pre-HIPAA days who announced to my mother and boyfriend while I was still under anesthesia that I had a strong potential to have fraternal twins, but neither of them thought they were entitled to the information. He was just an ass.
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