Tag Archives: Guttmacher Institute

Terrible Tragedy in Texas

The past month has been a whirlwind here in Texas, with severe, unnecessary and unconstitutional abortion restrictions being shoved down the people’s throat in the SECOND special session of the Texas legislature, to the tune of $800,000, called by our brainless leader Rick Perry. This post is the first in what will be a series describing my personal experiences in fighting for Reproductive Justice in Texas. 

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HB-1 and SB-2 have been signed into law already. They have four parts that combined make abortion almost completely inaccessible for the women who need them most. The first three parts, barring judicial action, will go into effect 90 days after Perry signed them. The fourth will go into effect in September 2014.

The 20-week “fetal pain” ban has been touted as “reasonable” by some but the current science does not show that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, rather it does show that with very few exceptions, a fetus is not viable outside the womb until roughly 24 weeks. And in a disgusting play of politics Texas legislators refused to consider exceptions for victims of rape or incest or women dealing with “severe mental health issues.” The only exceptions legislators conceded were if the woman’s life was in immediate physical danger (and to be clear, the author of AB-1 doesn’t believe a woman threatening to kill herself qualifies as immediate physical danger,) or if the fetus had such a severe abnormality that it would die within hours or days of being born. This language excludes parents from terminating a pregnancy where the baby would die within a week of being born, of course with the guise of the “health and safety of women” as their house-of-mirrors reasoning.  

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This new law also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility where they would be practicing. This portion of the law is a blatant attempt to restrict how doctors practice medicine with regard to abortion. To earn admitting privileges a doctor must perform a requisite number of surgeries every year which result in a patient being admitted to the hospital for care afterwards. For abortion providers this requirement means they must be working outside the abortion spectrum because abortion has one of the lowest complication rates of any surgery. And the decision of whether to grant admitting privileges to a doctor or not lies solely with the hospital. The doctor has no recourse if s/he is being discriminated against for the type of medicine s/he practices.

Additionally, doctors must now follow the outdated FDA protocol for administering the medications Mifeprex and Misoprostol to induce a medical abortion. As it stood many providers followed protocol approved by the National Abortion Federation, which calls for the patient to receive one pill of Mifeprex in the doctor’s office and then be sent home with four pills of Misoprostol which she would insert buccally (between the lip and gums) 24-48 hours after the Mifeprex. FDA protocol requires a patient to take three Mifeprex in the office and return two days later to insert two Misoprostol vaginally (a practice with higher incidences of infection) before going home to pass the pregnancy. Both protocols require the doctor to urge the patient to return for a follow up exam in roughly two weeks. The differences may not sound severe but FDA protocol would make this process nearly three times more expensive, and with Texas’ mandatory 24 hour waiting period after an ultrasound, would make for four separate days a woman would need to find childcare, take time off work, and drive or be driven to the Ambulatory Surgical Center.

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That’s right, the fourth prong of this law would require that even the administration of medications that induce abortions be performed in an Ambulatory Surgical Center. Don’t look for a logical reason behind that one, it absolutely doesn’t exist. In fact, there’s nothing logical or reasonable about anything in this legislation. The physical requirements for an office to be considered an Ambulatory Surgical Center include things like, having both men’s and women’s locker rooms, sterile ventilation systems, back-up generators, painted cement floors and hallways wide enough to spin a gurney. All of which are completely unnecessary to providing safe abortion care. Abortion is already at minimum 10 times safer than childbirth, and women are “allowed” to do that in their own living rooms. This provision alone is likely to cause 37 of the state’s 42 abortion providers to close their doors. And, combined with requiring admitting privileges, has the possibility of shutting down nearly all of Texas’ abortion providers, leaving our vast state with one destination for women who need to terminate, much like Mississippi or North Dakota. The glaring difference, obviously, is the huge size of the state and the overwhelming population of women of reproductive age in Texas.

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Here are some basic facts on abortion in the United States, just in case you were wondering what about this procedure that more than one-third of all American women experience by age 45 is so scary.

  • Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended
  • 42% of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level
  • 27% have incomes between 100-199% of the federal poverty level
  • 1/3 of all women seeking abortions travel more than 25 miles to access services
  • 54% of women who have abortions were using contraception when they became pregnant
  • 61% of women who have abortions are already mothers with at least one child at home
  • 88% of abortions occur before 12 weeks in the pregnancy
  • Nearly 60% of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money
  • Fewer than 0.3% of abortions result in the patient being hospitalized for complications  
  • In 2006, publicly funded family planning services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions.  

In my next post I’ll get into my experiences at the Capitol. Be good to yourselves, dear readers, and love one another. 

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Pro-Choice is the Real Pro-Life

Why am I pro-choice? I thought you’d never ask.

bfcd-2013Today is NARAL Pro-Choice America‘s 8th Annual Blog for Choice Day! And since they asked so nicely I thought I’d throw in my two cents on this year’s topic: Why are you pro-choice?

I am an abortion counselor. I talk to women who have made (and some who are in the process of making) one of the hardest decisions they will ever face. My job is to make sure they understand the procedure and what to expect, that all the consent forms are signed and in compliance with (ridiculous) Texas laws, that all of the patients’ questions are answered, but most importantly, it’s my job to ensure that each patient I talk to is confident that she is making the right choice for herself.

For some women the decision is easy, or they feel like it’s the only option they have. Indeed many, many women couldn’t pay for their abortion if not for some kind of private charity. They have two (or three or six) kids at home and know that there is no way they can afford another child and feel that they would be taking away (both financially and emotionally) from their “living” or “existing” children, as they often say. In reality, according to Guttmacher Institute statistics, at least 60% of women seeking abortion already have one or more children at home. They are already mothers and know how much hard work, sacrifice and dedication it takes to do the toughest and most important job in the world.

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In all fairness to my patients I’d say around 75% were using contraception when they got pregnant.

For some women the decision is excruciating and causes them a terrible amount of stress and heartache because they genuinely want a child but feel that they could not give it the life it deserves right now. These women’s feelings of guilt, selfishness and grief are exacerbated by “sidewalk counselors,” protesters who shout horrible, demeaning things at perfect strangers and who think their religious beliefs should dictate the morals of the lives of women they have never met. Ricky Perry and the legislators who decided Texas women need 24 hours to think over the mandatory vaginal ultrasound they are required to have before being legally eligible for an abortion take shaming women to a whole new level. What these zealots don’t understand is that abortion is very often a decision made out of love.

What most women feel after an abortion is relief. I’ve been thanked on countless occasions for helping provide this lifesaving service by women, both heartbroken and happy, who are grateful they still have a choice.

Sometimes abortion is a life changing decision, it allows a teen to graduate high school and go to the Olympics for pole vaulting, or it wakes a married woman up to the fact that she does not want to stay in her abusive relationship any longer. And sometimes abortion is mundane. For women who come in for their third or seventh, their familiarity with the process causes them more guilt than the choice itself. They have been able to shake off the stigma that women coming in for their first (and usually only) abortion may never overcome. The reality though is that no one wants to have an abortion: what every woman who comes to me wants is to not have gotten pregnant in the first place.

No one knows you, dear reader, and your life better than you do. So why, especially with something as intimate and private as procreation, would anyone else think they know what’s best for me?

That is the reason I am pro-choice.

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I am pro-choice for all of the patients I have ever encountered, from the woman whose husband was battling cancer to the teenager I sent away twice because she didn’t want an abortion even though her parents thought it was best for her. I am pro-choice for the patient who needs an abortion but because of her medical condition has to have it done in a hospital and thus literally needs an act of Congress to have it done because the hospitals in her town are religious. I am pro-choice for Savita Halappanavar, and because I never again want to mourn a woman’s life lost because she did not have access to a safe abortion.

I am pro-choice because it’s my body and I have the human right to choose if, when, and how to procreate or not. Why are you pro-choice?

 


40 Days of Hate and Hypocrisy

 

My recent move back to the United States has brought me full circle and I’m working again for the same abortion provider I was when I left the US three years ago. Counseling women in a time of need, helping women navigate the personal and political ramifications of abortion, and standing up for reproductive health and human rights is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. Abortion rights are under vicious attack now in the United States and anyone who cares about personal liberty has a responsibility to vote out the conservative radicals this November. Al Jazeera takes an interesting look into the world of abortion protesters here.

Conservative, religious radicals are out in force across the nation and even liberal cities like Austin, Texas aren’t immune to the invasion of privacy and emotional blackmail of anti-choice protesters. At least in Austin Crisis Pregnancy Centers or CPCs are required by law to clearly state that they are not medically licensed and will not provide abortion care. Unfortunately their offers of free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling still lure in patients seeking abortion… and their lies and manipulation do a lot of harm in delaying or even preventing women from exercising their choices. This past Wednesday, September 26th, a group called Austin Coalition for Life began their 40 Days for Life “prayer vigil” outside Austin abortion clinics, getting good-hearted church-goers to sign up for one-hour shifts to stand outside our office and intimidate our patients.

This action, by this group, though peaceful, has already and will cause even more unnecessary stress, fear and heartache for women making one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. The hypocrisy is overwhelming. Even some patients who identify as being religious tell us “I don’t believe in abortion,” and yet there they sit. A few protesters a few times a week is normal for us but multiple protesters everyday for 40 days (until November 4th!) is exhausting. Having to warn patients that their decisions, their bodily autonomy and their health are going to be disrespected by people who feel entirely justified in forcefeeding their faith to others makes me wince. Hearing angry fathers threaten violence against protesters for upsetting their daughters makes me nervous. Seeing posters that try to coerce vulnerable young women into becoming ill-prepared parents makes me nauseated. Reading about the “And Then There Were None” project to syphon abortion clinic employees into religious CPCs makes me dizzy. Imagine the additional trauma these “people of god” are causing to already scared, hormonally volatile women–women who are confident in their choice that this is not the right time for them to bring life into this world through their own bodies.

Some patients get angry and do verbal battle with protesters, asking if they’ll come to their home at 2 AM to feed and change the new baby. Others come into the office crying after being harassed by a protester yelling, “Mommy don’t kill me! Your baby loves you!” Sometimes patients talk to them, listen to their gospel, accept their literature and still have abortions. A few laugh them off and ask us who has the time. Most patients just ignore them, which is what all of us who work there must do. But for me, as an atheist, someone telling me they are praying for me to have a change of heart just makes me shake my head. Who are you to judge my patients and tell anyone what to believe?

What this group in particular and all other “religious and peaceful” anti-choice protesters do not understand is that their silent prayers, sidewalk counseling and general anti-choice stance lead the way for and justify the beliefs and actions of those anti-choice activists who feel that violence is the answer. In the same way that telling (or not speaking out against) a rape joke perpetuates rape culture and allows any rapist who might overhear it to feel that his actions are normal and acceptable, a violent anti-choice activist is bolstered in his beliefs when he sees dozens of protesters outside an abortion clinic who he feels are on his side. Dr. George Tiller of Kansas was murdered by one such extremist who felt that god wanted him to kill this doctor to prevent abortions.

According to the Guttmacher Institute in 2008 there were only 1,793 abortion providers in the entire United States, a drastic drop from 2,908 in 1982, largely due to threats of violence and absurd political restrictions. A bomb was planted at the office where I work a year before I started there. Everyone who worked there at the time returned the next day. Because of extremist anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue I fear for my life everyday when I go to work. Yet every day I go to work I am confident that I am doing the right thing by helping my patients access safe abortions. Roe v. Wade wasn’t the start of women in the US having abortions, it was the end of women dying from them.

I’m helping provide a medical service to women, one that is unremarkable in some places but is demonized and dehumanized in the US. The political climate in America now is so disgustingly misogynistic that a medical procedure that a full third of all women undergo by age 45 is barely ever discussed openly between friends, let alone honestly and on a personal level in public. The secrecy surrounding abortion and the fear many women live in is directly related to the guilt and shame being piled on by the religious right–the same people who want to restrict access to birth control, discontinue Welfare and Medicaid, and teach abstinence only! Protesters both peaceful and violent alike are given confidence when they hear prominent Republican politicians spewing phrases like “legitimate rape” and threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade and “get rid of” Planned Parenthood.

Infuriatingly, the politicians who are trying their damnedest to eliminate access to abortion “have never thought about” why a woman might consider it. In the same vein, most Americans who claim to want abortion to be illegal have no answer when asked how women who obtain abortions illegally should be punished. These people are playing politics with people’s lives and shaming them for making the best choices for themselves AND THEY’VE NEVER EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES!!!

My co-workers and I have 37 more days of “life” to get through but networking events like this week’s Jane’s Due Process appreciation mixer, and the upcoming NARAL Pro-Choice Texas 26th Annual Celebration of Choice event definitely make it easier on us. Want to help change the reality of abortion politics in the US? Donate to NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned ParenthoodClick here to tell your representatives that women won’t go back to back alley abortions! Register to vote and then VOTE like your lady parts depend on it… because they do!

 


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