Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Voices From an Abortion Clinic

In view of the fact that the New York Times has supported abortion rights (always a questionable term) without qualification for many years, the major front-page feature story on Sunday, September 18, offers some surprises. Here are some excerpts from the story.

Under Din of Abortion Debate, an Experience Shared Quietly

By John Leland

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - At Little Rock Family Planning Services, the women filed in without making eye contact, a demographic that remains unrecognized.

Leah works in a clothing boutique. Alicia is in high school. Tammy pulls espresso. Regina is a sergeant in the Army, recently home from Iraq. An 18-year-old college student carrying twins waits to be taken into the operating room for an abortion... More than one in five pregnancies end in abortion, and it is still one of the most common surgical procedures for women in the United States, with about a million taking place each year. Though the abortion rate has been declining for years, it is still highest among black women.

Far from Washington and the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge John G. Roberts Jr., here in Little Rock on an August weekend, 26 women from as far away as Oklahoma joined the more than one million American women who will probably have abortions this year. Their experiences, at one of only two clinics in the state, offer a ground-level view of abortion in 2005....

Alexia, who wore a cross pendant, prayed all through the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Delta State University in Mississippi. At 23, she was having her third abortion. "My religion is against it," she said, adding that she is a Baptist. "In a way I feel I'm doing wrong, but you can be forgiven. I blame myself. I feel I shouldn't have sex at all."

Venetia Grunder, 21, viewed an ultrasound image of the fetus in her womb. She was 12 weeks pregnant, though she had taken birth control pills as directed. "I feel pretty messed up," she said after seeing the image. "It's different, just knowing. My husband told me not to look. This changes my feelings, but I'm sticking by it. Damn it, $650, I'm sticking by it."

...Abortion remains one of the most common surgical procedures for women in America. More than one in five pregnancies end in abortion...

While public conversation about abortion is dominated by advocates with all-or-nothing positions - treating the fetus as a complete person, with full rights, or as a nonentity, with none - most patients at the clinic, like most Americans, found themselves on rockier ground, weighing religious, ethical, practical, sentimental and financial imperatives that were often in conflict....

Regina [age 28] cried on the operating table....

Kori, 26, who was having her third abortion, asked to watch the procedure on the ultrasound monitor. "I wanted to see what it was like," she said. "It was O.K. to watch. Once you had your mind made up to do it, you just suck it up and go with it."

..."M," a high school teacher who agreed to be identified only by her middle initial [was interviewed]. She wore a miniskirt and T-shirt, her blond hair pulled back from her forehead. She said she had never discussed abortion with relatives or colleagues. Only two friends knew she was here. "I'd lose my job," she said. "My family's reputation would be ruined. It makes me nervous even being in the waiting room. You don't want to know who's here, you don't want to be recognized, and you don't want to see them ever again. Because in society's eyes, you share the same dirty secret."

....The New York Times agreed to anonymity to encourage candor and to get a representative sample of women. (Those who volunteer their full names are by nature an unrepresentative minority.)

On this August weekend, the women entering the Little Rock clinic resembled those who have abortions nationwide. They were mainly in their 20's, more likely to be poor and African-American than the area population. Most were already mothers, many single. They arrived as a result of failure of one sort or another: a poor sexual decision, a broken relationship, a birth control method that just did not work. More than half of all women who have abortions say they used a contraceptive method in the month they conceived...

While abortion rates have been falling generally since 1990, the decline has been steepest among teenagers, and rates are lowest among educated, financially secure women. Researchers attribute the drop in teenage abortion to reduced rates of pregnancy, as a result of better access to contraception - including the three-month Depo-Provera injections - and abstinence.

Conversely, for poor and low-income women, rates increased during the 1990's, possibly in response to the 1996 welfare overhaul, which reduced support systems for women who carry their fetuses to term. At every income level studied by the Guttmacher Institute, African-American women were more likely to terminate their pregnancies than white women.

Leah, 26, said money was a factor in her decision to have an abortion. A former college track athlete, she works in a clothing boutique, a job that she said did not pay enough to support a child.

Like many women at the clinic, Leah had conflicted feelings about what she was doing. "I always said I would never, ever have an abortion," she said. "I probably will regret it. I'm pro-choice for cases of incest or rape, but if it's your own fault, you should accept responsibility. And it's my own fault."

In Arkansas, as in many states, abortion providers are required to offer women their ultrasound images before an abortion. Because Leah was just five weeks pregnant, her image showed a formless mass. "If I saw an actual fetal baby on the ultrasound, I wouldn't have been able to go through with it," she said. She said she felt selfish, "but hopefully this will set me on a straighter path...."

Karen and her boyfriend have an unstable relationship plagued by money problems, and they lived with a relative after being evicted from their home. She did not come in earlier in the pregnancy, she said, because she did not have the money. In the end, because she was so far along, her abortion took two days and cost $1,375, nearly three times what it would have cost if she had come in at 12 weeks.

"For many women at the clinic, their desire to end their pregnancy clashed with their religious beliefs. Tammy, a Muslim, had her first abortion a year ago, after having three children. She is married and works in a coffee shop in Tennessee. She became pregnant this time after erratically taking her birth control pills.

"I know it's against God," she said of her abortion. "But you have three kids, you want to raise them good. My friends and sister-in-law say, 'You care about money problems but don't care about what God will do.' I believe it's wrong. I pray to God to forgive me. This will be the last one. Never, never again."

....In a pre-operation holding room, Alicia, 17, awaited an abortion for which her parents were not asked permission. Under Arkansas law, as in 33 of the 34 states that require parental consent or notification, juveniles can bypass their parents if they persuade a judge that they are mature enough to make the decision themselves, or that it might be in their best interest.

Alicia, who was 17 or 18 weeks pregnant, said she did not have the abortion earlier because she was afraid to confront her parents. When she finally told her parents she was pregnant, she said, her mother threw a stool at her and kicked her out of the house.

"But I can't give a baby a life it should have financially," she said. "My boyfriend didn't want me to go through with it, but he realized he couldn't support a baby either...."

Threats against abortion clinics are on the decline, in part because of sterner laws to protect clinics. But picketing has remained steady, at 80 percent of clinics. Dr. Edwards and Ms. Osborne [who operate the Little Rock clinic] said they felt isolated from the local medical community and the community at large. Even the patients often have a negative view of abortion. "I very often hear, 'I don't believe in this, but my situation is different,' " Ms. Osborne said.

..."I've done this once and swore I wouldn't do it again," Regina [age 28] said. "Every woman has second thoughts, especially because I'm Catholic." She went to confession and met with her priest, she added. "The priest didn't hound me. He said, 'People make mistakes.' "

In the operating room, a team of nurses gave her injections to relieve anxiety and pain. Dr. Edwards inserted a speculum and maneuvered a plastic suction device around her uterus. "Don't leave," she entreated Ms. Osborne. The procedure lasted about five minutes.

As she lay on the table, Regina wept and put an arm around Ms. Osborne, asking how things looked "in there."

"I'm not a baby, that's what's so sad," Regina said. "Thank you, ladies, for being here for me. I'm too old to make these mistakes."

She said the experience was emotional because she had expected more of the father.

She spoke to Dr. Edwards. "Thank you, sir," she said.

Ebony, 28, an operating room supervisor, rinsed the blood off the aborted tissues for Dr. Edwards to examine. Ebony, too, had a story. When she was 15, her aunt and grandmother had made her carry her pregnancy to term. Later, she had an abortion. As a Baptist, she still considered abortion a sin - but so are a lot of things we all do, she said. She squeezed Regina's hand.

"No problem, sweetie," Ebony said. "We've all been there."

Abortion is not on the top of my list of issues to pursue, but this article impressed me with its depiction of the emotional trauma involved in having an abortion and with the clear impression that it leaves that men are almost entirely missing from these scenes. Men come away with a maximum of personal gratification and a minimum of consequences.

Link to complete article: