When I hung up the phone after scheduling my abortion, I felt relieved. I knew I had set in motion the necessary steps that would allow me to make the right decision for myself, my future, my body and my (at the time) partner. I knew I was going to have access to an abortion in a relatively safe environment, administered by trained medical healthcare professionals and in a clean, sterile room. My hand was still holding my phone when I let out a large sigh, confident in my decision and thankful for my ability to make it.
But as my hand slid my phone onto the counter so I could continue to go about my day, I felt the very real chill of panic. While I knew where I was going to have my abortion and how my abortion would be administered, I had no idea what an abortion clinic actually looked like. I had never been inside one before, so my only frame of reference was Hollywood representations and manipulated pro-life paraphernalia. Before I knew it, my mind was bombarded with terrifying images of cold operating rooms and intimidating instruments. I felt like I was going into surgery, that I’d be entering a room that was medical and impersonal and nothing short of terrifying.
If only I had known then what I know now. The moments I spent nervous and uneasy, pacing in my living room with a sense of unnecessary anxiety should have been moments of relaxed confidence. An abortion clinic is not a terrifying place of death, like many pro-life advocates would want women to believe. Shouldn’t an abortion clinic be, not an operating room or even a doctor’s office, but a safe, comfortable and welcoming place that makes women feel at ease with their medical decisions and medical procedures?
Carafem, a clinic that provides abortions in Washington, D.C., believes so, and is taking a new approach to abortion services by offering women a calm, soothing and safe abortion experience. Like most other medical procedures, the patient’s comfort level is taken into consideration on every level -- from the moment the patient enters the clinic until well after she leaves. This makes Carafem a clinic of a different color; that doesn't shy away from advertising not only the services it provides women, but the extra steps they take to endure that women feel comfortable and at ease.
These efforts, made by clinics across the country, are stifled by pro-life advocates. In an attempt to shame women for their decisions and the choices they make with their bodies, pro-life advocates insist that having an abortion shouldn’t be a comfortable experience. No, instead a woman should be afraid and in pain and, essentially, punished (physically, emotionally and mentally) for her decision. Not only is this cruel and unusual, it is vindictive and everything abortion clinics and women’s healthcare clinics work tirelessly to combat and avoid.
Fear and a lack of knowledge are the two unbelievably powerful tools that the anti-choice movement has learned to use almost impeccably. Shielding women from factual information or creating false information to further a particular agenda has continued to perpetuate shame, fear and the kind of anxiety that had me pacing back and forth in my living room after scheduling my appointment.
In fact, even the term “abortion clinic” is an attempt to scare and manipulate women. If you go to a physician to have your gall bladder removed, do you call it a “gall bladder clinic”? For a pap smear, do we go to “pap smear clinics”? Anti-choice advocates have used the description “abortion clinic” as a pejorative, deliberately attempting to use language to subtly tarnish or stigmatize the completely legal medical service, and the providers who offer it.
So, in the spirit of factual transparency and open discourse, I took an inside look at a Carafem clinic and documented what it really is like inside this clinic, that provides not only abortions but contraception information and numerous forms of affordable birth control. With permission of the clinic and while there were no visiting patients, I went through the same steps a woman would go through when visiting the clinic, experiencing everything she would experience (except the at-home medication abortion).
I first walked into a relatively small space that felt less like a waiting room and more like a quiet staging area. There were a grand total of three chairs in the waiting room, and I quickly realized how much I would have appreciated that if I was sitting in one of them, waiting to meet with a healthcare professional and start the process of getting an abortion. The patients don’t feel like a number in a long line and they’re given the space to ensure their privacy is protected.
When sitting in one of the chairs, I looked to my left and noticed small cards that were left behind by women who had sat exactly where I was sitting. I read a few of them and became both emotional and (slightly) jealous. I was emotional because it was such a beautiful gift to give a woman, the knowledge that others have been where she is now and the confidence that she made the right decision for her. I was jealous because I didn’t receive such a gift when I had my own abortion, and it would have done wonders for my mental and emotional health if I had known that I wasn’t alone.
I was then taken into a small room and given a tutorial of sorts, about the abortion pill, what to expect, what to look out for, what kind of birth control options were available to me and what kind of birth control I would be the most successful using. The slide show was given on a large screen, so I could see everything that was being told to me on a screen, while simultaneously looking through pamphlets that highlighted the exact same information. I realized that the clinic and its staff were making sure to present their information in a way that would cover all possible learning styles: visual, auditory, verbal, physical and logical.
I felt respected in my ability to obtain knowledge, I felt acutely listened to and acknowledged and I felt like if I was sitting in that chair, about to get an abortion, I would feel like my choice was being treated like nothing more than a legal medical procedure. Because, after all, that is exactly what it is.
Walking out of that clinic I was both hopeful and sad. I was sad because all I could think about was that scared 22-year-old girl, pacing back and forth in her living room, unsure of what kind of environment she was going to be walking into. I’m sad that I spent so much time afraid and anxious, when I didn’t need to be. I’m sad that I wasn’t privy to the kind of information I have today, and that inability perpetuated an unnecessary fear. I’m sad that there are many women who feel the exact same way -- today, right now -- because they haven’t been able to find the necessary information to feel completely confidence in what they know to be necessary. I’m sad that as I type, there is undoubtably a woman pacing back and forth in her living room, nervous about walking into a clinic that provides abortions, not because she is unsure of her decision, but because she is unsure of what that clinic looks like.
I was hopeful because there is an undeniable and notable cultural shift occurring and information is more available than ever before. I’m hopeful because with knowledge is power, and women are feeling more and more empowered to take unapologetic control of their bodies and the choices they make with them.
And I’m still hopeful that, one day, women will not be asked to feel shame and pain and suffering because they had an abortion, but will be treated with respect, and given more and more options -- and safe, secure and comfortable places -- to make their own reproductive choices.