By Amita Chatterjee
On Wednesday, August 12th, I visited an abortion and family planning clinic as part of my internship experience with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.
Prior to my visit, I knew there are some misconceptions over how abortion clinics actually look. Many people are under the impression that clinics will be rundown, dirty, or even scary because of how the conversation around abortion is stigmatized as a highly controversial issue. Abortion clinics are not shown accurately in TV shows or other media, nor are they portrayed like hospitals and doctors’ offices.
In Showtime’s hit series Shameless, Fiona Gallagher (Emmy Rossum) gets an abortion and is satisfied with her decision. The way the abortion was portrayed in Shameless was medically accurate, but the clinic itself looked dark and ominous.
Personally, I did not have any strong expectations going into the trip besides thinking the clinic might look like my dentist office — a waiting room, a few operatories, and some lab space. However, I was immediately surprised by how big the clinic was. There were two floors, a waiting room, multiple procedure rooms, a lab, offices, a recovery room, and much more.
The clinic felt amazing in all aspects. All the rooms were well-lit, there was colorful artwork on the walls, and the furniture was new and comfortable. The space was more aesthetically pleasing and relaxing than my doctor’s or dentist’s office because of the light color scheme and bright art. This contrasts with how abortion clinics are shown on TV, where they are usually ill-lit and depressing.
The staff were all very friendly, welcoming, and clearly care about what they do. Though I was only there for a tour, if I had been there seeking care, I would have felt that I was in good hands.
The staff member giving the tour, Allison, provided so much great information and answered all of our questions.
Rather than being alarmed by anything in the clinic itself, I was surprised by what I saw on my way there. In the 25 minute drive, I passed two churches advertising a crisis pregnancy hotline. Both churches had the same sign that read “Pregnant? Need help?” and translated into Spanish, “¿Embarazada? ¿Necesitas ayuda?”
It was unclear whether they actually had anti-choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) inside, but signage like that only has negative connotations. Perhaps calling that number would direct someone to a CPC or give a pregnant person false information on abortion.
I asked Allison if the clinic gets a lot of patients who have also been to CPCs. She said that they do get some, and when a patient has been to a CPC it’s easy to tell. These patients have been given false information on abortion, such as they are likely to get cancer or die from the procedure, and have been given an incorrect image of what their embryo or fetus looks like.
Allison told us despite receiving this alarming misinformation, patients are still willing to take these risks in order to get their abortion. The staff always corrects those misconceptions and assures the patients that abortion is a low-risk procedure.
The facility is tucked away in the back of their complex, so it’s not obvious there’s an abortion clinic there. This made me wonder if anti-choicers still found ways to protest or harass people going into the clinic. Allison told me that they only get a few protesters on Saturdays, and since it’s private property, they are not permitted to stand directly outside the clinic.
The clinic has stayed open throughout the whole COVID-19 pandemic because abortion is an essential procedure. They continue to see patients from nearby and out-of-state. Allison says that in addition to Marylanders, the clinic sees a lot of patients from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
This visit was amazing because it gave me my first real visual of a family planning center. There is no reason for abortion clinics to be portrayed any differently from a doctor’s or dentist’s office. Seeing an abortion clinic in person and meeting the staff was a great way to finish out my summer internship and understand how our advocacy work benefits real people.