I was nervous before my abortion. Even though I was confident in my decision to end my pregnancy, and even though I knew I would receive excellent care, I found myself shaking as I climbed onto the exam table.
My doctor and nurse weren't in the room yet, but a patient advocate was. Her name was Katie, she told me warmly, promising to hold my hand until the procedure was over. Katie, who spends her days supporting patients during their abortion procedures, had developed a special talent for sensing if a patient needed a quiet reassurance, distraction, or a few gentle jokes to lighten the mood; in her presence, the groups of intimidating protesters shouting and bearing graphic signs right outside the clinic seemed far removed. Though I spent less than 15 minutes with Katie, I've never forgotten her. Today, as I observe National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, I think about all she did for me, about the immense gratitude we owe to the women and men who help women obtain safe and legal abortions.
"I appreciate the providers that helped me get my abortions because they saved my life so I could go on. Without those two doctors, I would have died." - Rachel Barnes
Abortion providers face sustained harassment and threats of violence for merely trying to help women. National Abortion Provider Appreciation Anniversary commemorates the murder of one such provider, Dr. David Gunn, who was killed by an anti-abortion extremist on March 10, 1993. Dr. Gunn, a father of two, survived a childhood bout of polio; he became a doctor because he wanted to help people in need. He was deeply committed to his community, and dedicated the beginning of his career to fighting infant mortality in rural Alabama. ("He told me he came to Alabama because it had the highest infant-mortality rate in the nation, and he wanted to try to turn that around," his son told the New York Times after his death.) A lifelong proponent of reproductive freedom, Dr. Gunn decided to become an abortion provider when the area's last remaining provider became too ill to work. Before his murder, he had been the target of anti-abortion threats for several years.
"To the clinical staff who understood my relief after my procedure was over - thank you for providing me that moment. It's changed my life." - Daniela Diaz, We Testify Abortion Storyteller
Unfortunately, the violent rhetoric and political tension that led to Dr. Gunn's murder continue to plague abortion providers today. Lawmakers around the United States are passing abortion restrictions with a frightening efficiency, and much of the legislation these politicians are championing is more extreme, hurtful, and dangerous than ever before. More than 250 anti-abortion laws have passed since 2010, and another 210 new restrictions were introduced during the first two weeks of 2017. Outspoken opponents of abortion, capitalizing on the extreme political climate, have been engaging in increasingly violent, racist, and inflammatory hate speech targeted at abortion providers. As a result, US abortion clinics are facing record levels of violence—barely 18 months ago, a man opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, killing three and wounding nine.
Despite these threats and despite the everyday stigma, thousands of doctors, nurses, medical assistants, sonographers, counselors, and security guards leave their homes and their families every day to help us get basic healthcare.
The majority of abortions in the United States are provided by independent providers, standalone facilities that are unable to afford a defense shield—security, lawyers, and additional insurance coverage—to protect themselves from harassment and attacks. Independent providers, like the members of the Abortion Care Network, continue to operate out of dedication to their communities and a passion for human rights. These clinics are often staffed by small, tight-knit teams who lean on one another for support, encouragement, and safety.
Abortion providers don't just serve our communities—they are our communities.
Like Dr. Gunn, many abortion providers feel a deep commitment to their communities: They chose to do they work they do because they want to help others. Clinic workers around the country spend their workdays supporting their patients, and enjoy full, enriching lives when their shift ends. Abortion providers don't just serve our communities—they are our communities. All too often, however, our communities turn away from abortion providers without acknowledging that these people are our family members, neighbors, and our friends.
"To the nurse who held my hand and laughed at my jokes, thank you for recognizing that as my coping mechanism and making it okay." – Anise Simon, We Testify Abortion Storyteller
Abortion stigma doesn't just impact people who have abortions; abortion providers can feel it, too. Clinic workers might not feel comfortable sharing information about their jobs or lives with others to avoid a negative reaction or harassment. Small talk at an annual neighborhood barbeque or family conversations around the dinner table might be much trickier for someone who doesn't feel safe talking about their work. Recently, Kansas further ostracized abortion clinic employees from their community by banning them from volunteering at schools. Can you imagine legally not being able to volunteer at your child's school events simply because someone held a negative opinion of your job? Even though abortion providers perform an incredibly important service for their communities, this stigma can prevent them from being proud of their work. This isn't the way to create more understanding and just communities.
"I remember being buzzed through what looked like a bombproof door and a closed circuit camera at an independent clinic. I was nervous knowing anti-abortion activists might hurt me for getting healthcare. But when I went inside, everyone was so kind and generous. The Orthodox Jewish nurse wearing a long skirt and beret, held my hand as I was sedated, and then sat by my side when I woke up in the recovery room. I think about her compassion often." - Renee Bracey Sherman, Senior Public Affairs Manager, National Network of Abortion Funds
On National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, and every day, we should try and take a moment to ensure our local abortion providers feel safe, supported, and welcome in our communities. Speak up if you hear or see something that could put providers at risk or make them feel isolated. Use your voice to push back against legislation that targets abortion providers. Abortion providers can't escape the nonstop the hateful, violent rhetoric from abortion opponents. Today, for once, we want our providers to hear that they are treasured, loved, and appreciated by those whose lives they've touched—including mine.
Find your local abortion provider at AbortionCareNetwork.org and send them a thank you postcard.