Compassionate Care, Passionate People: Visiting an Abortion Care Provider
By Adrienne Zaya, Legal and Policy Intern
Mounted on the back wall of one of the rooms at AbortionClinics.org in Bethesda, Maryland is a cork board littered with cards and letters from former patients. Some commented on the amazing care they received, some praised the clinic for creating a judgment-free healthcare space, and others left messages of support for Dr. Carhart, his wife, and all the staff working both inside and outside the clinic. No matter what was written, it was the overwhelming thanks and appreciation for Dr. Carhart and the staff that stuck with me the most.
Before moving to the DC area, I had never stepped foot inside of an abortion clinic, so I was not sure what to expect when visiting with NARAL Maryland. Walking through the facilities in Bethesda and Whole Woman’s Health of Baltimore, it was easy to see why those writing such letters would feel that way. The clinics and Bethesda and Baltimore create a space where those seeking an abortion, and other reproductive healthcare, are treated with kindness, empathy, and understanding. This is often lacking in the national discussion on abortion. When I first walked inside the clinics, I noticed how calm and comfortable the spaces were, from the waiting and examination rooms to the offices and recovery areas. The staff functioned just as any other medical staff would; however, what was different was how they went about their work. The nurses, administrative staff, volunteers, and doctors all provided care that was personalized and patient-centered, something I have not always received in my own healthcare experiences. In speaking to Whole Women’s Health’s Medical Director, I learned that the staff wears many hats — educator, advocate, counselor, and medical professional. They take the time to explain and explore various abortion and family planning options with their patients, counsel and help to build safety strategies for individuals who may be in abusive environments, and spend time advocating, educating, and breaking down stigmas on abortion. These abortion clinics provide compassionate care from passionate people, and I walked away in awe and excitement at the amazing services and education the practitioners provided for those seeking abortion care.
But the treatment provided within the clinic is vastly different from the treatment found outside. Just feet from Dr. Carhart’s office in Bethesda is a sea of posters and signs, some saying “Babies Killed Here,” some using Dr. Carhart’s photograph, and others depicting graphic imagery of fake dead fetuses. Every Monday morning, anti-abortion activists station themselves on the sidewalk and roadway outside the building while clinic escorts wait outside to usher patients in safely. Across the street from Whole Woman’s Health of Baltimore sits a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC). CPCs are often nonprofit, nonmedical, religiously or anti-abortion affiliated agencies which seek to discourage pregnant women from having an abortion using deceptive means and providing false information. You can read NARAL Maryland’s report on CPCs here. The stigmatization around abortion is deeply ingrained into American society and has grown louder in the last few years. Looking at these outside entities, I was stuck wondering how many people chose not to seek an abortion and care as a result. The confirmation of Brett Kavanagh, the growth of burdensome regulations aimed at abortion providers, and the emboldened behaviors of anti-abortion activists only serve to further bury the reality of what the procedure is like, what
abortion clinics do, and who these clinics serve. Maryland, a seemingly progressive state, is no exception.
In an age when federal, state, and local authorities look to limit or end abortion (and reproductive) care for women, clinics like these may become the last line of care for many. Supporting AbortionClinics.org and Whole Woman’s Health of Baltimore, therefore, becomes important. What is essential, however, is working to educate policymakers and the public on abortion not only as a right but as a safe and legal medical procedure. Maybe then, the next time I visit the Bethesda clinic I will find a wall of letters.