Julia Bryne, Policy Research Intern
One in every three women will get an abortion in their lifetimes, and yet the procedure is subject to a truly staggering amount of stigma. This is an obvious statement, but knowing it and seeing it are two very different things.
On June 30th, I had the chance to visit two abortion clinics in Montgomery County, AbortionClinics.org in Bethesda and the Potomac Family Planning Clinic in (unsurprisingly) Potomac.
Diana Phillip, director of NARAL Maryland, was generously giving me a ride. We first stopped at AbortionClinics.org to check in with the staff. There had recently been calls to our office reporting anti-choice protestors outside the new clinic, but I was still only half expecting to see them when we pulled up. After all, this was an area that was in the 95th percentile for Clinton in the 2016 election, a bluer enclave in a blue state. The idea that bad things can’t happen in a liberal area is a fantasy, but it is a persistent one. No one wants to believe that bad things can happen in their own backyard.
But sure enough, protestors were gathered outside the clinic with their technicolor banners featuring fake dead fetuses. They were all white middle-aged men, which seemed almost cliche. Even scarier were the large posters of the clinic’s medical director, Doctor LeRoy Carhart, and his wife. The implied threat behind the posters was clear.
As soon as we were inside, I let out a breath I didn’t even know I had been holding. As if in contrast to the protesters outside, the staff was overwhelmingly women, diverse in age and background. There was a determined feeling in the air — people weren’t afraid at all, they knew they were on the right side of history. It felt overwhelming just being in the same room with them.
The Potomac Family Planning Clinic didn’t have any protesters outside, although the staff told us later that they came by on Saturdays. The lobby had comfortable chairs, a small bucket full of pens with fake flowers taped to them, and an impressive selection of magazines. It was quiet, so we had a chance to tour the clinic.
There is no shortage of horror stories about abortion clinics. Anti-choice advocates often make them out to be grimy, profit-driven, or even satanic. I realized halfway through the tour that I was surprised at how normal it seemed. I had been expecting it to be different somehow.
It’s hard to not absorb the stigma around abortion, even in a liberal area, which is why addressing the stigma around abortion is so important, which is why NARAL is currently working to provide tours of abortion clinics to elected officials in Maryland. People need to learn that abortion isn’t something mysterious or dangerous — it’s a medical procedure that hundreds of people have, and access to it must be protected.