Archive | October, 2010

A Day in the Life

14 Oct

One of the main reasons I love my job is because I love stories. Working on the phones, I get to hear the first, often uncensored version of a woman’s abortion story. So many women think they don’t want to talk about it, especially not with a stranger, but then some unexpected trigger makes it all come tumbling out. I assure them they don’t have to tell me anything, or justify anything, but some of them just need to.

Certain patterns have emerged. Women who are older than 35 tend to try to laugh it off; they think they are old enough to know better, silly to have to tell their medical information to a girl as young as I am. But they always open up over the phone, without prompting, more than any other age group. This one already has four children. That one was on the waiting list for a tubal when THIS happened. This one’s husband had a vasectomy that didn’t take. They have practical reasons, pragmatic reasons. They have balanced things out. Women younger than me (I’m 26) often have very different stories: they are struggling to get out of abusive relationships, they have tried three different methods of birth control and nothing works, they thought he used a condom; their stories are fraught with drama. They are having a hard time deciding; they like babies, they know they are expected to have them, but it’s not the right time, he’s not the right guy, there’s not enough money. Some of them laugh, but uneasily.

In the middle of that age range there are the most interesting stories: lives that are almost settled, real careers just getting started, decisions that have not yet been made about how many children, how much time and energy there is to invest. These women know about the big city, they know their rights; they are the ones who want to know why they can’t have their abortion sooner, why the clinic isn’t closer to them. They are sometimes combative. They have no time for nonsense. Their stories are not told explicitly, not by them: I like to fill in the space and guess what’s going on by the tone of their voices, by their names and accents and neighbourhoods.

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My Path to Abortion Provision

13 Oct

I have been pro-choice since I was old enough to understand what it means.  When I was in high school I had a pin on my backpack with the picture of a coat hanger with a big red slash over it, but I had no idea what kind of craziness the topic of abortion inspired until my first year of college.  I was looking for an internship or volunteer opportunity, and made use of my college’s career services center.  There was an internship advertised to counsel young women on pregnancy options.  It sounded like a good idea to me, and I was optimistic until I heard a horrible-sounding video playing in the waiting room while I was waiting in the director’s office.  I still didn’t totally understand what was going on, though, until I began to speak with the man who ran the office.  Within a few minutes it was clear that he had an anti-abortion agenda, and was trying to convince me with some ridiculous claims about increased cancer, depression, and car accidents in women who had abortions.  I got out of there quickly, and later realized that I had experienced a full-fledged “crisis pregnancy center,” and that the video I had heard was an anti-abortion classic full of misrepresentations known as “The Silent Scream.”

For some reason I didn’t act on my anger at that situation at the time.  I attribute it to my lack of ability to care strongly about anything other than keeping up with my pre-med classes and my less emotionally fraught volunteer activities with children.  I put the whole incident out of my mind, but the issue of choice showed up again when I started medical school.

Medical schools have a woeful lack of education about reproductive health issues affecting men and women alike.  Although we would spend hours learning about a rare disease few of us would ever see, we spent about one hour learning about contraceptive methods and no time at all learning about abortion.  Our Medical Students for Choice chapter tried to bring in someone from outside the school to discuss early abortion methods, only to find our efforts quashed by higher level administrators.  We tried to incorporate an options counseling session into a student-run class on adoption but the course advisors left that session out of the syllabus.  Our only success had nothing to do with our medical education (and everything to do with our well-being): we finally convinced the student health insurance provider to cover contraception.

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We Are Not Afraid to Speak Out About The A Word – Will You Join Us?

12 Oct

A guest post from Education for Choice.

Many pro-choice Americans think we in the UK have it all: free abortion on the National Health Service (NHS), providers who don’t have to wear bulletproof vests to work, and the general acceptance amongst society that abortion is a medical procedure that women should be able to access whenever they need it.  Growing up in the Midwestern U.S., I thought these same things. Because women have free access to abortion on the NHS, even a heck of a lot of Brits think that there is no work to be done here, but I’ve been working at EFC since January 2010 and I’ve learned that there’s no room for complacency. People here are always surprised to hear that anti-choice organisations are using American-style tactics to spread lies and misinformation in schools and at crisis pregnancy centres across the UK every day.

In the U.S. there are numerous inspiring and active pro-choice activist organisations, groups and advocates, but in the UK Education For Choice (EFC) is the only educational charity dedicated to enabling young people to make and act on informed choices about pregnancy and abortion. We at EFC are here to say out loud that abortion is not a dirty word and that our abortion rights should not be taken for granted.

This month, the new Government is having a Spending Review which promises drastic public sector cuts and the strong chance that some key public health strategies will not be renewed. EFC will no longer be able to rely on funding from the Government so we are looking at alternative sources of support. We met with a professional fundraiser recently. Her first suggestion was that we should leave the word abortion out of our organisational description. She described it as ‘the A word’ and explained that ‘it puts people off’.

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Fear, Loathing and Dancing Genitalia

11 Oct

A guest post by JustJane.

I’m older than most of the Abortion Gang and happy to be in solidarity with all of you as an (aging) guest blogger. I’ve been in the field for about twenty five years now. Longer if you include my confusion when my grade three teacher gave us a pamphlet about fetal development that I was finding fascinating until I reached week twelve, at which point it said, “Today my mother killed me.” Yes, I went to Catholic school. But even at eight years old, I knew there was something fundamentally screwed up about this pamphlet and the teacher who had given it to me. It would be years before I dared to articulate my feelings because I was afraid. Figuring out what I was afraid of was a big part of breaking free of that community and being able to think for myself. Little did I know I’d have to go through that same process again at forty-eight when once again, I noticed myself avoiding speaking out.

Back in the days when I was eight, my fear was of God and the Church, not the anti-choice folks that claimed to speak for them. Their tactics were pretty mild back then and involved showing colorized images of the fetus in the womb, with some thumb-sucking thrown in for good measure.  These images appealed to the idea of women as nurturers and portrayed the fetus as already human and in need of protection. They were meant to make pro-choice people feel guilt, not fear.

But in recent years, the images employed by the anti-choice have changed drastically. A particularly heinous group of anti-choicers has taken up the assault on reason in my neck of the woods. They’ve been setting up campaigns called the “Genocide Awareness Project,” “Show the Truth,” or other propagandist titles through “campus pro-life” groups, which as far as I can tell, are just a campus front for the people, money and churches that are really behind the display. And as if this weren’t bad enough, the advertising maxim, “Any media is good media,” seems to be working for them. They’ve been getting a lot of press, mostly because their displays offend community standards. Even bad media seems to encourage them. So they have become increasingly bold and visible. They often drive a truck around with their awful pictures plastered on the side and hold random street protests. You probably have something like this near you.

These images are not meant to appeal to women as nurturers or to make pro-choice people feel merely guilty. These images are bloody and horrific. The alleged dismembered fetuses plastered on trucks and held up by street protesters assault unsuspecting drivers and passersby like a perverted flasher in a school playground. People who have seen the display report that it can be several minutes before they understand what the images are supposed to be. One friend told me that the first time she saw the truck, she thought it was the worst advertising for barbeque she had ever seen. Then she got it. And she got angry. She said she felt like she had been mugged.

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The Irony of Abortion

8 Oct

Over the last several months, since I really got into writing and working in the pro-choice movement, Twitter has become a staple of my life. Though I don’t Tweet too frequently, I used my account (@MaxKaminCross) to follow other pro-choice bloggers. Twitter has become a vital tool for activists; it lets me see what’s going on with multiple campaigns and political races around the country, all in one place. That being said, Twitter has also become a place for others to spread their anti-choice agenda.

I recently received a Tweet that stated “@MaxKaminCross you background is disgustingly ironic.” As a rule I choose not to respond to comments like that via Twitter because of the 140 character limit, but this did get me thinking about what he meant by that. When I first made my Twitter I looked online for a while, trying to find the perfect picture that encompassed my thoughts on abortion and settled on this one. It states “Abortion is a personal decision, not a legal debate.” I really liked it because it demonstrates that abortion is a decision that a woman has to make for herself, and the government should not be stopping her. Woman’s choices are not something that should be limited by laws enforced by the government. Overall I thought it was a pretty good picture to use, so I couldn’t understand what this person was talking about.

To try and figure it out, I looked up what “irony” means just to be sure we were both thinking about the same definition. Irony (root word of ironic): Noun- the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. So what’s ironic about the image I use for my background? Could it maybe be the fact that abortion is a personal decision? That doesn’t make sense though… I don’t think anything be more personal than a decision of what to do with your body. So if it’s not that, the ironic part must be the fact that abortion isn’t a legal debate. Though this has come true over the past few years, I still don’t see the irony.

Overall I’m confused about what anti-choice people see as ironic about a picture promoting a woman’s right to choose, one that no one should be allowed to take away. Sadly it seems more and more politicians running for office are seeing abortion through this misguided light too; people such as Carly Fiorina (R-CA) run on anti-choice platforms. If these politicians are elected on November 2, I fear that this sense of a woman’s right to choose being “disgustingly ironic” will spread. With only days left most states to register to vote, please do so here so that these vital human rights stay intact.

My Last Name and Your Abortion are Connected

7 Oct

recently wrote about the notion in feminist circles that a woman who takes her husband’s last name is submitting to the patriarchy. I’ve received some criticisms that I didn’t necessarily expect. A few comments have said that by writing on this issue, I’m “fussing” with something unimportant. First off, my blog deals with feminism in general and the name thing is certainly apart of that. Second, I think they are totally wrong. Things like abortion, domestic violence, and victim blaming may be the big topics in feminism, but it isn’t always the best plan of attack to tackle such issues head on.

There was an episode of How I Met Your Mother where the characters began pointing out annoying habits each other had. When it was pointed out that the character Lily was a loud chewer, it was all you ever noticed. Often times we see things in our society and because they seem normal (i.e. they’ve always been that way), and we never challenge them. Once people are given the tools to understand why something is wrong, they begin to open their eyes. As a result, opening people’s eyes to the problem with the assumption that a woman takes her husband’s name opens their eyes to so much more. Abortion is a volatile subject and most people have very strong opinions. As we know, many people are anti-choice because their parents are and that was how they were raised; they never question why it might be wrong to force a woman through an unwanted pregnancy. For some of them, experiencing their own unwanted pregnancy opens their eyes. For others, by talking about ‘small’ things like surnames, the patriarchy is challenged on an issue that isn’t divisive. Challenging the assumption in North American society that women take their husband’s last name confronts the patriarchy and if people begin noticing all the areas that are ruled by the patriarchy, we can loosen its grasp on society.

When somebody tells me I am “fussing” with topics like surnames, I get a little irritated. The issue of surnames may, in the grand scheme, be unimportant, but it can create a domino effect. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the patriarchy isn’t going to fall in a day. Just like the game Jenga, we have to pull the bricks out one by one. We need to challenge victim blaming, street harassment, definitions of masculinity and femininity, and assumptions surrounding traditional gender roles. The fact that women still receive flak for keeping their maiden name tells me that this is in fact a problem worth tackling. When abortion is easily accessible for all women I would bet the farm that women will no longer face criticism for keeping their maiden name. Maybe when society stops assuming a woman will take her husband’s name, society will stop assuming all women view pregnancy as a blessing and that all women want to be pregnant. These topics are intertwined. Feminism is not just ‘one’ thing and we will not be able to solve just ‘one’ thing. Someday, soon I hope, the entire structure the patriarchy will collapse. So I am going to pull out the surname brick from the support beams and hope that that one brick will be enough to trigger its collapse. If it isn’t, I’ll pull another brick, and another, and another, because my surname is connected to your abortion.

Abortion in Literature: Short Stories by Dorothy Parker

6 Oct

Every so often, abortion bubbles to the pop-cultural surface of American society.  When it does, it feels a bit like tossing a quarter and watching it whirl in the air for a second: Hold your breath.  It’s either heads or tails.

Both outcomes occasion critical analysis on the interweb, of course.  We hung our heads in 2007 when Juno dodged the issue in favor of adoption, abortion’s popular and well-behaved sister.  We try to unpack the woefully-scripted pitfalls of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.  We look for glimmers of pro-choice hope in True Blood’s bizarre pregnancy storyline, during which an anti-choice woman attempts to abort via Wiccan ritual and discovers that evil fetuses aren’t so easily expelled.  And we cheer triumphantly when television series like Six Feet Under, Mad Men, and Friday Night Lights portray abortion realistically and unapologetically.

The hullaballoo over TV abortion always strikes me as darkly ironic.  After all, one-third of women in the United States will have had an abortion by age 45…and no one talks about it.  In real life, abortion is prevalent and hushed.  In the world of pop culture, it’s rare and deafening.

Maybe it’s this double-edged view of contemporary portrayals of abortion that draws me to Dorothy Parker and her endearingly irreverent prose from another time.  I studied English literature in college, and I looked for abortion in the stories I read for class just as I looked for abortion in the stories I watched on television.  Even in works of fiction, abortion storylines aren’t especially common.

Then I met Dorothy, a woman who had the ovaries to say this about her abortion(s) long before our legal institutions had her back:

“It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”

Admittedly, this quote is self-deprecating and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense biologically.  As a poet, writer, and serial wisecracker, Dorothy Parker was clearly more concerned with cheekily transforming proverbs than she was with scientific accuracy.  After all, Parker was one of the founding members of the famed Algonquin Round Table, a lunch-hour ritual of select New York literati from 1919 to 1927.  But she spoke candidly about abortion during an era when the procedure was illegal and highly taboo.  For this, I love her.

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That’s So Abortion!

5 Oct

It seems like every decade has its non-PC, misused term to indicate failure.  The ’90s had “gay” and the ’00s had “retarded” and now it seems that ’10 is starting off this decade with “abortion,” as in “that movie was an abortion” or “you’re a failed abortion.”  While “retarded” meant something that does not work before it was used to describe the mentally handicapped, and “gay” referred to being happy before it was used to describe a sexual orientation, “abortion” has always meant ending a pregnancy – and it is the only word for it.

Sure, there are hazy euphemisms and oblique references like “taking care of a problem” and arch terms like “intentional miscarriage” or “termination of pregnancy,” an abortion is an abortion – period, which means that every time someone refers to a bad driver as a “failed abortion” they push abortion – and every reproductive justice activist, woman who has had an abortion, doctor who performs these procedures, and pro-choice politicians  further out of the realm of mainstream acceptance.  We don’t need the word “abortion” to become more used unless it is used to describe a procedure to end a pregnancy.  I would rather the term “abortion” remain spoken out loud only in the safe haven that clinics and select OB/GYN offices have become than be bastardized by those ignorant individuals prone to outrageous overstatement and exaggeration.  And yes, that is what you sound like when you use words like “gay” and “retarded” and “abortion” to describe what you don’t like – ignorant and ridiculous.

People know hundreds, maybe thousands of words to describe how they feel about their day, their week, their friends, family, the television shows they watch, the music they hear and the world they interact with, from the time that we are mere toddlers.  So why resort to using inaccurate terms that make you sound like an idiot, and stigmatize an important component of reproductive justice?

The Bridge: On Privilege, Reproductive Justice, and Art

4 Oct

A guest post by Megan Smith, a phone counselor at the Women’s Medical Fund and author of the play Waiting Room.

I have worked at an abortion fund for two years. Like many young, white, college-educated feminists, I’ve struggled with how my identity impacts my work in reproductive health. I’ve had to reconcile my privilege with its effects.

I have come to acknowledge the differences (and similarities) between my clients and myself.  More than that, I have come to embrace my opportunities and to utilize them to help other women.

That’s not to say that I’m completely comfortable with my advantages.

I became more aware of the distance between my clients and myself when I started to develop my play. I wrote Waiting Room as a fundraiser for the abortion fund where I work. I wanted to help my organization, but more than that, I wanted to tell unheard stories and educate an audience.

Since working as a phone counselor, I’ve heard women speak the same words over and over and over again. They can’t tell anyone that they’re pregnant. Their families won’t understand why they don’t want to continue the pregnancy. They don’t have a way to pay for the abortion and they have no one willing to help them.

What has been more surprising is that these women aren’t aware of each other. While I have an overwhelming sense of the depth and multitude of these stories, my clients often feel isolated and alone.

I wanted to give these women a chance to tell their stories.

I began writing, but the more I wrote, the more questions started to arise. What right do I have to tell these stories? Will they mean as much coming from me instead of coming directly from the mouths of my clients?

Then I stumbled upon the play Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith.  The play is a series of monologues transcribed from interviews about the Crown Heights riots. In her introduction, Smith discusses her beliefs in the transformative power of theater. She writes:

“Who has the right to see what? Who has the right to say what? These questions have plagued the contemporary theater…If only a man can speak for a man, a woman for a woman, a Black person for all Black people, then we, once again, inhibit the spirit of theater, which lives in the bridge that makes all likely aspects seem connected. The bridge doesn’t make them the same, it merely displays how two unlikely aspects are related. These relationships of the unlikely, these connections of things that don’t fit together are crucial to the American theater and culture if theater and culture plan to help us to assemble our obvious differences.”

After reading this, I came to realize that my play is made up of my words as much as my clients’ words. This is what Smith calls “the bridge.” It means that I am connected to my clients and they are connected to me, though there is a distance between us. The bridge is complicated, long, and twisted. But without it, these stories would not have been told.

I, like Smith, believe in the transformative power of theater to engage with an audience in a visceral, personal way. By telling the stories of my clients, I hope to extend the bridge to more people, so that after they see the performances, they will then carry these stories with them. They will, in turn, tell the stories to more people. The bridge will be extended. And although it will be a long walk from one end to the other, we will be more connected than before.

Megan J. Smith is the author of Waiting Room. Waiting Room tells the stories of five women, each faced with an unwanted pregnancy but unable to afford an abortion. It first premiered at Bryn Mawr College in March 2010. Its second performance, directed by Christopher Melohn, will be on October 23rd at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and will benefit the Women In Need Fund. For more information, visit the Waiting Room on Facebook or

Thank you, Guttmacher Institute!

1 Oct

“New study finds abortion DOES NOT cause mental health problems among adolescents.” The first thing I want to say is, I love you Guttmacher Institute. Thank you for providing comprehensive and factual information about abortion.

A summary of the report that was published last week on the Guttmacher website stated that teens who have abortions are no more likely to become depressed or have low self-esteem than their peers whose pregnancies do not end in abortion. This information comes from a piece written by Jocelyn T. Warren of Oregon State University called, “Do Depression and Low Self-Esteem Follow Abortion Among Adolescents? Evidence from a National Study”. The article will appear in the December issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and is currently available online.

I am ecstatic to read another study that confirms my beliefs and inherently helps the pro-choice movement, but I know that the antis will continue to lie and disseminate false information. I know that crisis pregnancy centers will still attempt to coerce young women who walk in the door to “choose life” by telling them that abortion causes breast cancer (another statement that is completely false). But I am not going to talk about the antis and their lies. I’m going to focus on the positive: this information supports pro-choice beliefs.