I am an abortion provider. I am, of course, a lot of other things, too — a woman, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, a mother. But being an abortion provider continues to shape my life and its trajectory, because I believe it is the most important thing that I will ever do. I came to this work rather deliberately. I attended college knowing that I wanted to become a doctor. I went to medical school knowing that I wanted to help women. I became an obstetrician-gynaecologist knowing that providing abortions was an integral part of the care that women require and deserve. I was also raised in a Christian home in Lexington, SC. My family went to church regularly, said prayers before meals, and I was taught from childhood that it was my duty to help people in need and leave the world a better place than I found it. The patients I see every day are so clearly people in need — and the medical care I provide them is both life-changing and, in many circumstances, life-saving. The compassion and empathy I learned from my Christian faith are fundamental to my work. Too often, women who choose to have an abortion face significant stigma and shame — I see it every day. Patients have to walk by protestors screaming “murderer” and much worse just to get inside my clinic. One patient, a mother of four, couldn’t stop telling me why she was getting an abortion, clearly feeling as though she needed to explain herself to me after walking by the protestors. She kept telling me that she already had a large family, she was struggling with money, her pregnancies were high-risk, and her partner agreed with her — anything she could think of to make sure I understood her life and situation. Even to her abortion provider, she felt obligated to justify her decision, a task no one should ever have to do. Sadly, this is all too common. My heart goes out to every woman who asks me if I think she is a bad person for seeking medically or personally necessary, legal care. But my faith teaches me to withhold judgment and to extend acceptance to all, and although she may not be ready to hear it at that moment, I always provide her with the reassurance that she needs. Good, moral women have abortions every day, and it’s my obligation as a physician and a person of faith to provide at least one counterpoint to the shameful feelings a woman has and the misinformation she hears that cause her so much pain.
My faith teaches me to withhold judgment and to extend acceptance to all.
This is especially important when stigma and shame force women into isolation. A woman’s decision to pick a path that is right for her and her family too often leads to judgment and estrangement from her community, church, and support networks. One young woman I saw recently was in the clinic by herself — no family, no friends. She had come from Mississippi, almost two hours away. She told me that she didn’t have anyone in her life who was supporting her choice, and that many instead had tried to convince her to keep the pregnancy. My patient explained that she wanted to finish college and hoped to be a mother someday but knew that she just wasn’t ready right now. Because she didn’t have anyone to take her to the clinic, she had to have the abortion with only local anaesthesia. She did well during the procedure, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her afterwards and how she would do with the long drive home, alone, with only her thoughts and the radio for company. Although not the same, being an abortion provider brings its own stigma, and we are often reluctant or afraid to talk about our work. Too many of my colleagues have been harassed or received death threats. Some were even murdered. This vicious cycle of violence and silence leaves the public with no positive images of abortion providers or the value in the work that we do, a challenge so extreme that I have even felt estranged from my colleagues in medicine because of their fear of association with a procedure that is “unpleasant” for many to think about or discuss. During my training, one of my mentors, whom I deeply respected, asked me unkindly why I was wasting my time providing abortions when I could be doing more important work.
This vicious cycle of violence and silence leaves the public with no positive images of abortion providers or the value in the work that we do.
I also now feel uncomfortable in my own faith community — a pillar in my life — because of a lack of acceptance for my work, and I have distanced myself from what was once a strong support system for me. Then there are the legislative attacks on women and abortion providers — attacks whose sole goal is clearly to make this work more difficult. I am subject to increased scrutiny of my medical practice with state legislation that preys on this stigma. Legislators, regardless of the fact that they have no medical knowledge or experience, create laws that interfere with the medical care I provide, because they do not like the work that I do. For example, in Tennessee, where I currently practice, I am required to have admitting privileges in a local hospital and work in an ambulatory surgical centre, regardless of the fact that abortion has an enviable record, with a 99% safety rate and a less than 1% serious complication rate. (In fact, women are more likely to have complications while getting their wisdom teeth extracted than while getting an abortion, according to a study published in 2015.) I am required to provide my patients with state-mandated information that is misleading and designed deliberately to discourage women from making an informed decision to have an abortion. My patients are forced to make two in-person visits to the health centre at least 48 hours apart to receive the medical care they desire. These laws do nothing to keep my patients safe, and research has shown that many of these laws, in fact, harm the same women they’re supposedly intended to help. The Supreme Court’s recent decision on state abortion laws, which struck down regulations that “severely” limited access to “safe and legal procedures,” provides me with some hope that things will get better — for abortion providers, but more importantly, for the women for whom we care. The Court, relying on scientific evidence and testimony from medical professionals, set a critical precedent that will help women and providers in states across the country where laws similar to the horrific one in Texas are being legislated. While I celebrate the outcome of the case, I remain deeply concerned about the stigma and barriers that my patients face. I chose to be a provider, whereas no one chooses to have to face the decision to have an abortion. Many of my patients also have strong faith, and I hope that they can find the same comfort, acceptance, and understanding in their own lives as I have. For my part, I will continue to do what I can to make sure that they do.