I Visited Three Abortion Clinics and All I Got Was An Increased Respect for Abortion Providers and an Overall Feeling of Support

Joanna Morganelli

I never thought I would walk into a doctor’s office and see a painting of Frida Kahlo, or paintings of fat women celebrating their bodies, or quotes from feminist thinkers. This is exactly what I was greeted with when I visited three abortion clinics in Maryland. Not only was I greeted with a more comforting doctor’s office, I was also greeted with a more comforting experience. I left each clinic with a renewed sense of self worth and of support. Every office, with or without meaning to, left me with a feeling of complete respect and adoration for the staff and the work they do.

These abortion providers have helped countless individuals obtain a sense of full autonomy over their bodies, but they are some of the most humble individuals I have encountered.

At all three private abortion clinics visited, ACO — Bethesda, Whole Women’s Health in Baltimore, and Potomac Family Planning in Rockville, my fellow interns and I were welcomed with the nicest and warmest medical staff I have ever met. The plain and simple truth is that these abortion clinics are what we want out of our everyday medical care. The staff all care so much and are so passionate about their jobs it made me want to switch my major to pre-med just so I would be able to work alongside them. These abortion providers have helped countless individuals obtain a sense of full autonomy over their bodies, but they are some of the most humble individuals I have encountered.

The main commonality among the three clinics was how much the staff cared about each patient that walked through their doors. Every employee I talked to said the main priority of their clinic is the safety of their patient. They want to not only provide abortion care, but safe abortion care. Every medical professional wants to ensure the safety of their patient, but for abortion providers it goes deeper than public safety. Abortion clinic employees, in addition to being licensed doctors or nurses, often act as a patient’s therapist, confidant, and friend. They know that each patient deserves to experience a supportive environment once they walk out of their clinic doors. If a patient’s home life isn’t supportive of their choice, the patient advocates provide suggestions on what to say to s parent or partner about missing time from home or why they need to rest. Abortion care goes so much deeper than the actual procedure; it can encompass a full spectrum of emotions experienced by the patient, may trigger past trauma, or require a heightened level of trust to follow through on the pregnancy-decision, that is often not necessary between a patient and their doctor in other forms of medical care that are not stigmatized. Abortion providers are able to give their patients the best quality of care while helping them overcome any emotional pain related to the how the pregnancy was conceived and/or the decision to terminate the pregnancy. They also know that setting the right environment within the clinic will promote positive feelings of self-actualization and empowerment.

The providers make sure that every person seeking an abortion is aware of what will happen and what the procedure will entail.

On the tours of the clinics each provider talked us through the procedures they perform. Afterwards, we went into a room where patients are required to sit through a step-by-step session as to what is exactly going to happen during the procedure. This way, the patient is more aware of what is going to happen, and they are able to ask any pressing questions they may have. The providers make sure that every person seeking an abortion is aware of what will happen and what the procedure will entail. There was a clear difference between an abortion provider detailing the procedures for a later abortion and an orthodontic surgeon describing a wisdom teeth procedure. Because this medical decision was about one’s bodily autonomy, the experience made me feel as if I were in charge, despite being a visitor and not a patient. As clinic staff walked us through the procedure as an example of an pre-procedure information session between provider and patient, there was no doubt that the patient held the power in the room. A patient is able to interrupt and express any questions or concerns during the entire process. Through this procedural explanation, a patient is given even more autonomy over their body. The nurse practitioner made it clear that the patient is able to leave if they so choose, come back another day, or to carry the pregnancy to term. Abortion providers want to ensure that the patient is given accurate information that will help shape their decision.

Safety is an important part of abortion care, not only for the patient, but for the providers, too. Even in Maryland, a very pro-choice state, there are still safety fears felt among the providers. The three clinics I visited are surrounded by large areas of private property, so if protesters attempt to demonstrate directly outside the entrances, they will be trespassing. However, for clinics located closer to public property, it can be a completely different experience. Although Maryland is considered a blue, pro-choice state, staff and patients are constantly under the watchful eye of anti-choice groups that are demonstrating on nearby public land, adjacent or across the street from the clinic sites. Nevertheless, Maryland clinics are strict with security measures. In two of the clinics, you have to be buzzed into the front door as the receptionist identifies you from the various security cameras on the property. In addition, clinics that provide later abortion care require that all bags are checked and left behind the receptionist desk. There was also a rule across that board that prohibited the use of cellphones in the waiting area to respect everyone’s privacy and eliminate concerns of the use of tracking aps.

In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, a later abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, was shot and killed by an anti-choice extremist on the steps of the doctor’s church. Abortion providers have been taking extreme measures to ensure their staff safety and the safety of their patients even before Dr. Tiller was murdered. Since anti-choice activists often focus their energy on harassing and stalking later abortion providers, many states have law banning later abortion care, and due to the lack of support in training for later abortion, there are so few doctors provide later abortion care in our country. Dr. Lee Carhart of ACO Bethesda flies more than 1,200 miles every week from Nebraska to provide safe abortion care to patients seeking services. Especially with later abortion providers, it is important to ensure their safety so they can continue to provide the health care people need.

The abortion staffers make it possible for an individual to have full autonomy over their own body. They also give their patients a feeling of comfort and support that is rarely found in any other field.

Written by

The political leader of the pro-choice movement in Maryland.

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