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ParentsApril 27, 2017

How working in an abortion clinic changed my mind about terminations

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For a long time I believed abortion was the easy way out. Then my midwifery studies brought me to an abortion clinic.

Author’s note: This piece was first published in 2017 when the author was a young student midwife. Since then their views have evolved. To read a more recent and nuanced discussion on abortion rights by the author, please find their follow up article here.

Every single day of my work and study involves seeing new life, and celebrating new life with families. My studies, my degree, my career, and my purpose in this world is to facilitate the creation and growth of new life, from conception to birth to postpartum.

I was also raised with a Catholic education (though my parents were passively non religious). My version of “sex education” at high school was having to listen to a man tell me and my peers that if we so much as looked at or kissed a boy, we were cheating on our future husbands and committing adultery. When I was 13 I sat in an assembly hall while we were taught about the sin of premarital sex. We were made to hold tiny plastic fetuses and reflect on what it would mean to be a murderer if we ever chose to abort. As a 12-year-old I was told that bearing children is not a right, nor a choice; it was a gift from God that we got no say in. Even if that so called “gift” was a result of rape, who were we as mere mortals to give up a gift from his holiness above?

It would make sense then, that I would be “pro-life”, given my education, both religious and academic. For a long time I described myself as “pro-life, pro-choice.” Meaning that I believed any woman or pregnant person who thinks they may be capable of caring for a child should make every effort to do so. For a long time I believed termination was the easy way out.

In my second year of studying midwifery I had a brief placement in a New Zealand abortion clinic. It was my choice: I was told what it involved, that I did not have to go and that I could leave at any time. I chose to go because I knew I could handle it. I’m good at my work because I have a stomach of steel, an ability to disconnect from what’s in front of me and I work well with adrenaline coursing through me.

I held the tension of my Catholic upbringing, my love of new life, my “pro-life/pro-choice” stance, and my steely stomach present as I entered the clinic. I am so grateful to the many selfless families who allowed me to sit in on their counselling sessions, their education sessions, their consent appointments, and pre- and post procedure physicals. On my second day at the clinic, I was consented to prepare a woman for her procedure and go through to the procedure room with her. As I stood there in my scrubs and watched this woman lay down on the table and the doctors begin the procedure, I felt my glasses steam up. I watched the suction unit so closely I felt my gaze falter. My stomach dropped as I witnessed the uterine tisssue filter down into the suction unit along with the blood. My skin became clammy, I felt light headed, I stood incredibly still. I took a moment to look up and saw the woman lying on the table, her hands shaking. She was alone; friends and family weren’t allowed in the procedure room. I noticed a pool of tears collecting on the draw sheet beneath her.

A doctor yelled at me to be careful of the sterile field as I wandered closer to the procedure table, knelt down on the floor and held her hands so tightly my fingers went numb. Afterwards I was asked to take her blood pressure. The nurse handed me a sphygmometer, a stethoscope and a box of tissues with the words “she’s a crier”. I asked to leave immediately afterwards.

For the first time ever, my stomach of steel and heart of stone had failed me.

While it may have seemed like I had become well and truly pro-life in that moment, the opposite had occurred. I had just witnessed somebody make the most awful, difficult and courageous decision for herself, her partner, and her future children.

While at the unit I met and grew to understand that those who are accessing abortion can’t be stereotyped or placed in a box: people whose partners had just been laid off work, those who already had three children, women who had lost their jobs, families whose houses had been destroyed by fire, women who had been diagnosed with cancer, whose partners had been diagnosed with cancer, pregnant people who had been victims of domestic violence, or who had severe mental illness, and those who were homeless. Every single person and family I met there was hurting, heartbroken, and making the hardest and bravest decision of their lives – all the while knowing that if anybody found out, they may be condemned for it.

I learnt that procedural abortions (the procedures I described above) were far less painful and much quicker than “medical” abortions (where the pregnant person takes a pill to end the pregnancy). Sometimes people are encouraged by their partners and family to have medical abortions as they see it as less invasive. But medical abortions are equally unpleasant: they involve a lot of discomfort and much more bleeding than a surgical abortion.

I birth babies, I support families to grow and birth new life. I love my studies and my job. And I am pro-choice. Because some of those very preterm babies I have seen at 21/22 weeks gestational age who only take one breath before they pass away – their rights do not outweigh the health and sanity of their parent. I truly believe that until a fetus has been grown for 24 weeks, and can survive outside its mother’s body, it is not a completely separate life. It is a human soul tethered to its mother’s body, and she has the right to choose how she proceeds with this part of her life and her body.

Late term abortions (post 20 weeks) are only ever performed for serious medical reasons. Pregnant people who are having late term abortions are only doing so if their baby will not have any quality of life outside the womb. I cannot fathom how any politician can believe that they understand more about a person’s health, and survival, than the doctor caring for them.

The idea that people with uteruses are incompetent and unable to make sound medical and life decisions is as barbaric as beheading peasants for stealing a bowl of stew. The idea that a person who chooses to terminate their pregnancy is a failure, or made a mistake, is completely ignorant. And the idea that you, as an irrelevant third party to this person’s life, gets to have a say on what is morally or medically right for them and their family, is just plain arrogant.

I am yet to meet a person who sees their termination as the easy way out, I am yet to meet a person who wants to have to make this choice. The thing about being “pro-life” is that you are promoting the rights of an unborn fetus you know nothing about, and diminishing the autonomy of a live, grown human being who you also know nothing about. The thing about “pro-choice” is that you are stepping back and admitting that actually, you have no say in this situation.

This is not your life.

This is not your pregnancy.

This is not your experience.

You do not get an opinion.

Until you have lived this, made this decision, held the tension of two difficult fates and had the courage to make a choice that will alter the course of your life, you do not get to judge a person or decide what is best for them. And even then, if it’s not your body – it’s none of your business

Your personal religious beliefs have nothing to do with the rights of pregnant people you know nothing about.

Pro-life strips a human and a family of all respect and dignity. Pro-choice hands dignity and respect to that human being, and grants them the power to make their own decisions. I do not for the life of me understand how something so personal, heartbreaking, and medical ever became a point of political and religious discussion. I do know that it is time for this to change.


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