I have two jobs – for half the week I work in intake and admitting at an abortion clinic, and for the other half I work in admin for a national nonprofit whose mission, while lefty and social justice-based, is not directly related to reproductive rights. I don’t really talk about either workplace at the other one, so I don’t know how my coworkers at the nonprofit feel about abortion (although I would guess mostly pro-choice – but you never can be sure!).
The other day at the nonprofit, my other job came up in conversation with a coworker, J. When she asked where I work, I told her the Morgentaler Clinic. She knew right away what it was (most people don’t know, and I have to explain that it’s an abortion clinic). She asked if we get any protesters, and I explained that at our clinic we have an injunction that prevents protesters from coming within a certain distance, so they don’t bother with us. I still wasn’t sure which side she fell on, and she is an American which I find can often be an indicator of conservatism (or at least more of it than you’ll find in Canadians). Our conversation was cut short by some work that came up, and I returned to my desk.
Later J, who is 29, came over and started talking about when she was growing up in upstate New York, and how she was one of the few people she knew at her high school who had access to a car. The nearest abortion clinic was four or five hours away, in another state, and so she used to drive people there. “I must have driven twenty or thirty girls to that clinic,” she told me. “We would have to skip school and time it for days when I had extracurriculars, so my parents wouldn’t expect me home until later.”
I’m so used to people, when I say I work in abortion care, opening up to me about their own abortions. J’s story was a new one for me. She told it nonchalantly, an experience she had with abortion that she could bring to the conversation; she did not boast. I had a hard time explaining to her what a teenage superhero she had been, and what a difference she must have made for those young women.
I know the old pro-choice line about all the people you know who have probably had abortions; certainly when I started working in abortion care they started coming out of the woodwork. But something they don’t tell you is how many people you probably know who are abortion heroes: the people in your life who have been clinic escorts, or who have gone with a friend or a sister to a clinic when she couldn’t ask anyone else; or who have risked punishment ferrying women over state or provincial borders to access abortions. The older generations are particularly full of abortion heroes who have sought out illegal abortions for friends, the nurses and doctors who treated women with septic shock or have risked their jobs and freedom performing illegal but safe abortions on the sly, and some who have sat and held other women helplessly as they bled to death.
We live in strange times, where the stigma of abortion is just beginning to lift. I am certain I would never have heard J’s story if I hadn’t told her where I work. But these are the stories that need to be shared if we are ever going to progress towards a place where abortion will be acceptable. We need to acknowledge how bad it has been, so we can make it better.