Today is a good day to thank an abortion provider. In 1996, March 10th was declared National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. It’s one day, during Women’s History Month, for those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion to give thanks to those make that choice a safe one. From my time at Planned Parenthood to my current work on the board of an abortion fund, I can safely say that without abortion providers we do not have safe abortions. Considering the current climate surrounding abortion, these doctors are under assault both as supporters of abortion rights and as professionals.
One of the recent trends in anti-choice legislation is to require that doctors have admitting privileges to a hospital. Much like other seemingly benign legislation, commonly referred to as TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), having admitting privileges has nothing to do with a doctor’s competence or a woman’s safety. Except that denial of such privileges can put a doctor out of business, which can make it harder for a woman to obtain a safe abortion, which jeopardizes her safety.
Getting admitting privileges isn’t just about being board certified, or competent. Often times it carries requirements that the physicians perform a minimum number of surgeries at that hospital each year. Considering that abortion is one of the safest procedures a woman can have, there is very little risk of having to go to a hospital.
But that’s just one form of professional harassment. Some states require that a woman have an ultrasound performed, be required to see it, and have it explained to her by her doctor. (To be clear, if a woman wants to see the ultrasound, or has questions about it, she can currently do so.) Other states require that certain information be provided, information that is often erroneous or misleading. Still others have laws that mandate things like the size of doorways and janitor’s closets. Again, nothing that actually protects women. These regulations are all about second-guessing doctors and making it harder to provide abortion care.
When you add the anti-choice activist threats to the governmental harassment, it almost makes you wonder how these doctors can do it. These trained medical professionals often have to wear bullet-proof vests to work. Their colleagues have literally been murdered for doing their jobs. As if the threat of death weren’t enough, they also endure stalking, being routinely called murderers, and even secondary persecution. The daughter of the landlord who rents space to Dr. Carhart, a late-term provider in the pro-choice state of Maryland, was the subject of a protest. Not Dr. Carhart. Not his landlord. The child of the landlord, at her school. Anti-choice protesters will picket your homes as well as your clinic. They will harass the person who does your dry cleaning. They will call your mother. It’s no wonder some carry a pistol and have extensive home security systems in place.
Doctors in Texas, where a number of clinics have closed because the restrictions became too burdensome, are reporting women doing drastic things to try to self induce. They say it’s like pre-Roe v. Wade. Anti-choice forces have successfully rolled back the clock all the way to 1972 and before. And just like in 1972, women are getting desperate. They are inserting whatever they think might work into their vaginas, douching with Coke and Lysol, and asking their partners to punch them in the stomach.
We have trained medical professionals who can and will perform safe abortions, but we aren’t letting them. Instead, we’re shaming them, and we’re shaming women. Never mind that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Never mind that it’s safer than childbirth. Never mind that there is nothing actually wrong with having an abortion. You still cannot get one in most places. Eighty-nine percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider – a number that has risen in recent years and continues to do so.
Like any profession, abortion doctors are not homogeneously perfect. But the doctors I have met and worked with are all competent, and compassionate. They take pride in their work, and why not? They are performing a much-needed service to women and girls in need, and under incredibly trying circumstances. They deserve more than just a day of thanks, really. They deserve to be treated like the medical professionals they are. Like all doctors, they need to be able to practice to the best of their ability, with support from their peers and without unjustified interference, from the government or anywhere else.
Crinion is a progressive activist and board member of the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF). She earned her M.A. in Sociology from American University, focusing on gender, family, sexuality and the media. She has been published in The Huffington Post, Virginian Pilot, Ms. Magazine, Fem 2pt0, and Spike the Water Cooler. As a DCAF board member and former Planned Parenthood employee, she writes primarily about women’s issues and reproductive justice. Originally from Michigan, she currently resides in Washington, DC. Colleen tweets at@colleeneliza.