Tag Archives: abortion

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.

Book Review: ‘One Kind Word: Women Share Their Abortion Stories’

22 Aug

I was so happy and excited to receonekindwordive a copy of One Kind Word in the mail. I had not heard much about it so was doubly excited to see the faces (and stories) of a few people I knew included in the collection. How lovely to see my wonderful friends’ choices validated – celebrated! – in such a beautiful collection.

One Kind Word is the product of arts4choice, an artistic project by Martha Solomon and Kathryn Palmateer in response to a 2007 Ottawa Citizen article about abortion wait times. The goal is to collect stories of people who access abortion in Canada as part of the ongoing efforts to share stories and in so doing, to combat stigma and normalize abortion as a healthcare choice.

Canada is viewed by much of the world as a progressive haven in regards to abortion access, because we do not have a law governing it and so are therefore seen as having ‘no limits’ on abortion. However, the reality is more complicated: healthcare is provincially mandated, so services are determined more by the political bent of the provincial government than by the lack of federal law. Added to the economic disparity of the provinces are additional barriers that limit access: regional disparity in services, long wait times, long travel times, and systemic inequality and indifference to issues of reproductive health. Canadians are subject to the same stigma and alienation around abortion as are Americans and others around the world; the work of making abortion accessible – and contextualizing it as healthcare – is still important here.

Arts4choice approached the project in an artistic way, illustrating each of the 30+ people’s stories with a black and white photograph of the story teller. The result is a bold, brave, unapologetic presentation similar to the attitude behind imnotsorry.net. Each story teller has different feelings and ideas about her abortion, but even those with ambivalence look straight into the camera as if to say, I am not ashamed of this.

Palmateer’s photography is gorgeous, challenging, and definitely the highlight of the book and what sets it apart from other compilations of this nature. I believe this project would be a compelling visual art exhibit as well, which would perhaps make it accessible to a different demographic. Meanwhile, many of the portraits (and stories) are available to be viewed at arts4choice.com.

In the right context, abortion story-telling can be a powerful tool for activism. This book provides a space for that in a beautiful and stylish way that I greatly appreciated – and will be a great conversation starter on your coffee table!

You can buy the book from Three O’Clock Press.

Reclaiming a Crisis: Backline is Working to Open the First All Options Pregnancy Center

20 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

If you dare utter the initials CPC in a room full of pro-choicers in a positive light, you better be prepared for some backlash. Talking about crisis pregnancy centers as a positive institution among reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and reproductive health advocates elicits a room full of negative reactions.

CPCs manipulate women at a vulnerable time in their lives.

CPCs don’t educate people about all their options.

CPCs hurt women.

So imagine my surprise when I was talking to Parker Dockray, Executive Director of Backline, about how she wants to emulate the crisis pregnancy center model.

“The model that CPCs have developed is valuable,” said Dockray, “but pregnancy  centers should not be deceptive.”

Dockray and the board and staff at Backline have decided to embark on an unparalleled mission, to create the first all options crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are some of the most available institutions out there for women who are unsure about their pregnancy. Indiana has over 80, and they are one of 34 states that funnel money directly to crisis pregnancy centers. But they are full of misinformation and missing information.

However, as Dockray told me, CPCs often appear to meet the needs of women, even when they clearly don’t. Backline wants to reclaim the CPC model and create a brick and mortar place for the people of Indiana to turn to for support and community.

For the last 10 years, Backline has been answering the phone and offering support to people looking for options and judgment free counseling surrounding pregnancy. The Backline Talkline answers hundreds of questions each month about pregnancy options, parenting, abortion, adoption, pregnancy loss, miscarriage and other reproductive health topics. While the phone offers confidentiality, a new model could provide women with tangible support.

“The prochoice movement is not always great about visibly supporting parents,” said Dockray. Dockray hopes Backline’s new initiative will become a tangible place to demonstrate support for women across all options. Backline wants to create a place for women and their partners to receive counseling on abortion, adoption, and carrying their pregnancy to term as well as carrying diapers and other items for people to support their partners.

Opening the center in Indiana strikes a cord in a new way. The center will find its home in the middle of a red state, in a college town, surrounded by fields and conservative ideals. Reproductive rights, health and justice organizations are too siloed from each other, with each sticking to their own areas without much overlap or conversation. Backline’s All Options Pregnancy Center would bring these together under one roof, without agenda or pretense. Instead of being siloed, they are setting up shop amidst the silos in America’s Midwest heartland.

Bloomington is a town divided, one side of town is home to Hannah House Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the other is home to Planned Parenthood of Bloomington. Backline would create a middle ground, a place for women and their partners to go for real information. At a time when the middle ground seems like an impossibility in American politics, the Backline All Options Pregnancy Center will be an oasis. An oasis of information, moderatism, and choice, at a time and in a place where that hasn’t existed in a long time.

Welcome to the Midwest, Backline. If you want to help Backline build some walls, knock down some silos, and give people a place do go; click here if you’d like to donate, and click here if you live in Indiana and would like to join in.

The Ties that Bind: It’s Time to End Shackling

4 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

They’ve been saying that love has made its way to PA this week. They’ve been saying that equality for all has worked its way down the winding East Coast and is on the brink of the South and Midwest. Love. Equality.

But what has gotten washed away in the seas of good tidings for the state of Virtue, Liberty, and Independence, is a woman tripping and falling face first onto her pregnant belly because of shackles around her legs and waist. She could not protect herself or her fetus because her hands were cuffed behind her back.

What has gotten lost amid tales of happy couples finally getting to share their love is a woman in labor, her ankles shackled to her hospital bed rubbing her skin raw until scars are left, her legs unable to fully open so she can birth her child. Lost is the story of her child being born into a set of shackles, years after the state has banned the practice of shackling.

Shackling is the act of restraining pregnant incarcerated women by chains that link their wrists, ankles, and their bellies. These shackles are used in correctional facilities across the US throughout pregnancy, including during trips to and from the doctor, during labor and delivery, and postpartum.

For a while there, Pennsylvania seemed like a model of the anti-shackling and reproductive justice movement. In 2008, Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla prohibited the widespread practice of shackling women during labor. And, in 2010, the Healthy Birth Act was passed in Pennsylvania that prohibited the use of shackles on pregnant incarcerated women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during prenatal visits, labor, delivery, and postpartum.

But, the law isn’t being followed. The state of Pennsylvania has continued to illegally shackle incarcerated women during their second and third trimester of pregnancy stripping them of any of the mores Pennsylvania so proudly scrawls across bumper stickers and state quarters. The ACLU of PA estimates that 820 women a year are restrained while pregnant. Facilities in Pennsylvania filed only 109 incidents of restraint for 15 women in 2012-2013.

Four years later, prenatal clinics are unfamiliar with the law. Four years later, doctors didn’t know they could ask a correctional officer to remove the restraints. Most clinicians had never spoken to a correctional about security concerns, and many believed that using restraints was only for the correctional officer to decide and not medical personnel.

Only twenty states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women with a statute. But, if what is happening in Pennsylvania is happening with a law in place, what is happening across the rest of the country?

I have never given birth. Honestly, I don’t even know if giving birth is in the cards for me. I imagine it hurts, an unbearable amount. I also imagine that there is nothing more joyful and loving than holding that bright red screaming baby after that hurt. I imagine it’s like no feeling I can imagine.

I have never been arrested. Never felt that cool steel around my wrists or ankles or pregnant stomach. Never felt that gut dropping feeling of uncertainty about the rest of my life.

The idea of facing these two forces, this incomparable pain and joy, the horror of detainment and arrest is unimaginable to me. Yet, every day women across the United States face this. They face it while they are in labor and delivery and while they hold their screaming red baby for the first time.

The reasons we imprison women in this country are complex, the reasons we shackle them are historic and myriad. But it does not make them right. Like many historic institutions in this country, it is time for shackling pregnant incarcerated women to come to an end. It is time to bring love and dignity to Pennsylvania.

For reproductive justice oriented organizing and mobilizing in PA check out New Voices Pittsburgh

Positives in miscarriage, abortion, and the continuity of reproductive experiences

27 May

[Trigger warning for abuse/abusive relationships and miscarriage experiences.]

I got out of an abusive relationship just in time to realize I was pregnant. Like over a month pregnant, with a fetus of a man who had slammed me against walls, told me I wouldn’t achieve my dreams, and belittled me until I was a shadow of who I’d been when I moved in with him.

I hated him for so many reasons, but the pregnancy was number 1. We slept together after I moved out; he finished and drove me to the airport. I cried the entire cross country plane ride.

I found out I was pregnant about five weeks later when I returned to our shared city. From the moment the Doctor told me I couldn’t stop throwing up–not from morning sickness, but from hate. I could not believe he would be my first pregnancy after he’d already taken so many firsts from me. I rocked myself in my apartment. I didn’t sleep until I was so exhausted from crying that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. The world made no sense.

And then, a little more than two weeks later, I miscarried. I miscarried alone, laying on the stupid floor of my stupid studio.

I drank too much that summer to forget the images of my empty uterus, and the ultrasound tech saying my body had done a “very good job” expelling the fetus. I took pills to black out my impregnator’s face. I numbed myself with anything I could find in order to ignore what I knew he would have said if I told him: You are not even good enough to carry a baby.

The abusive relationship and miscarriage ruined me. I spent time with people who actively did not like me. I dropped out of school. I lost 30 pounds. I moved home. Looking in the mirror was impossible. I couldn’t stand myself; I believed so deeply in his degraded image of me.

Fast forward through rehab and therapy, and I was unintentionally pregnant again. I scheduled my abortion the day after I peed on a stick. I did not doubt myself or even think twice. My second pregnancy did not ruin me, but instead was a stark reminder of how far I’d come in loving myself. Choosing abortion meant I believed in my future as a Doctor. Choosing abortion meant I’d uninvested in my abuser’s degraded image of myself, which placed my highest achievements at being a wife and mother.

I do not for one minute “like” that either of the fetuses came into my life, but I am thankful for both the pregnancy experiences none the less. I am thankful for the miscarriage because I believe that out of a place of self hate, I would have chosen to keep the fetus. And I believe being a single mother of an abuser’s child would not have been conducive to my personal or professional success. I am also thankful for the miscarriage–in which I had no choice–because it was in part what allowed me to feel empowered by the ability to choose my abortion.

My experiences illustrates the perils of abusive relationships on reproductive health, and the heart break of a miscarriage. But they also illuminate the positives sometimes found in miscarriages, and the can-be positive impact of the continuity of reproductive events. I am stronger on the other end of these experiences, and though I would not wish abuse, miscarriage, or unwanted pregnancy on any one, I am so proud to be the person I am today, in part, because of them.

I think we sometime separate reproductive experiences into bad or good. But these experiences, for me, were a healthy mix of both. In accepting that reality, I am better able to accept myself, and the extreme complexity of reproductive health.

Choice and Childbirth: The Birthing Center of Buffalo

2 Apr

On February 14th, the Birthing Center of Buffalo opened, making it the first combination birthing center and abortion clinic in the country. Buffalo Womenservices & The Birthing Center of Buffalo are located within the same building, have the same waiting room and the same provider. As a licensed and accredited free standing birth center, The Birthing Center of Buffalo offers certified midwifery and OB care. Buffalo Womenservices has a staff consisting of RNs, LPNs, social workers, counselors and physicians who offers abortions up to 22 weeks, and additional reproductive health care services including contraception.

Dr. Morrison opened the center after working with Eileen Steward, a homebirth midwife. During that time, she “realized that the women coming to her for abortions were being treated much better than women having in-hospital birth,” and Dr. Morrison wanted to change that. With that in mind, Dr. Morrison started the very long process of opening a birth center, a feat that is really hard to accomplish in New York and one that requires a lot of hard work, dedication and money.

Since opening, the feedback from patients has been extremely supportive. There has long been a desire for better maternity care in Western New York, and the birthing center offers an alternative for those who want a different birth experience. While not all Birthing Center patients are pro-choice, they continue to come to the Center because they see the importance of offering birth options. And even though there are protestors at Buffalo Womenservices, patients haven’t been deterred by them.

While there has been a lot of support and encouragement from around the Country, there remains ambivalence and mixed reactions from others. The Buffalo medical community and media have been mostly silent. Insurance coverage also remains a significant challenge, as most insurance companies have been resistant to covering the facility fee even though birthing center births are more affordable and have greater positive health outcomes when compared to hospital births. Since making services affordable and accessible is a priority for The Birthing Center, identifying ways to increase insurance coverage, like supporting New York to sign on to the ACA provision that requires coverage of birth centers, is a top priority of the Center.

The opening of The Birthing Center of Buffalo is an exciting and much needed addition to the healthcare landscape. Apart from providing important accessible care to those in Western New York, it is an example of integrative and holistic reproductive health care that addresses the whole patient and their life span. The Center represents that individuals who choose to have abortions and those who choose to give birth are not separate people. In fact, many individuals will experience both over their lifetime as 60% of those seeking abortions are already mothers and one in three women will have an abortion during their lifetime. But too often we treat these decisions as separate ideas when really we need to acknowledge that the reproductive choices one makes are intertwined. Abortion shouldn’t be stigmatized and treated as a siloed type of healthcare, because even if someone chooses to have an abortion, it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to also want to learn about breastfeeding, VBACs or birth options in the future.

The Birthing Center of Buffalo also reminds us that choice extends to all our reproductive decisions. When asked about the parallels between abortion care and birth options, Dr. Morrison mentioned how her background in abortion care helped her place on emphasis on a person’s ability to make decisions best for them, which includes the chance to choose different birth options. This is an example of the type of reproductive care we need more of. Where healthcare providers provide options, and honor that individuals are the experts on their bodies and experience. Because whether it’s getting an abortion, an IUD, or choosing a homebirth, excellent reproductive health is about respecting an individual’s choice in those decisions and supporting in their capacity to do so.

Ohio: Home of the Poisonous Nut

31 Mar

By: Catrina Otonoga

Ohio has been fighting a quiet battle for our lives. Across the state, clinics struggle to find partnerships with private hospitals in order to remain open, the Board of Health is in disarray after the resignation of the Director amid rumors he was not closing clinics quickly enough, and Ohio Right to Life is in the ears and offices of our highest state officials.

It’s not an uncommon refrain these days in America. Michigan is fighting back against a ban on including abortion in insurance policies. And, who hasn’t heard about Texas – with Wonder Woman Wendy at the helm of, perhaps, the greatest reproductive rights uprising in United States history?

But, in the Buckeye state we are under attack, and we haven’t had much of a rallying cry.

Here in Ohio, the heart of it all, we have another heartbeat bill on the table. A bill that contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and would make performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected a felony. That’s as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Clinics are closing across the state. Women in the Toledo area are traveling to Michigan because their rights are being chipped away in their own backyard. Abortion is legal in Ohio, but restrictions are becoming so onerous that clinics can no longer operate, and women cannot access services without crossing the state or state lines.

And, at the helm of it all is Governor John Kasich. Behind the seemingly moderate exterior that got him elected, is a politician who has enacted some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the United States. Do a search for “Kasich, Abortion” and the articles that pop up are from the last time Ohio wasn’t under a blanket of snow – last summer, when he signed the budget into law, and with it, a host of laws that have led to massive consequences for women’s health in Ohio. Aside from a few quotes put out by advocates for abortion rights in the state, Kasich has remained clean of a lot of the backlash.

The upcoming Gubernatorial race in Ohio promises to focus on abortion issues, but many political experts agree that people who make abortion a priority during an election have already sorted themselves onto the Democratic side.

Like Virginia in their Gubernatorial, it’s time for Ohio to rally, to take ourselves off the defensive, and to stop letting extremists run our state and control our bodies under the guise of moderate politics.

To take action and check out these great organizations in Ohio: OhioNow, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio , Women Have Options

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Amazing & inspiring art courtesy of the Repeal Hyde Art Project