Reproductive Care in the Face of North Dakota’s Anti-Choice Legislation: Two Full-Spectrum Doulas Explore Fargo’s Reproductive Justice Scene
This post is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of SQUAT Birth Journal.
By BADP volunteer, Vanessa Norton and SFGH Options' Patient Counseler, Lucy Yanow.
North Dakota has been prominently in the news since March 2013, when Governor Jack Dalrymple signed three anti-abortion bills into law, including a fetal heartbeat law, which would effectively ban all abortions performed in the state. My interest piques at any public debate on abortion, and North Dakota, with only one clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic (RRWC), sounded like a fraught conversation. So, I decided to travel to Fargo to find out exactly what the situation was.
To my surprise, it was immediately clear that the Red River Women’s Clinic isn’t going anywhere. Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker feels supported by her community, both at home in Fargo and across the country. The support felt palpable in the downtown neighborhood where the clinic is located. Tammi works tirelessly to oppose the bills, but is also that particular brand of firecracker who works tirelessly on everything. The ideal clinic director, her staff and her neighbors are her community and she cares for them all. Following Tammi around the clinic, you are just as likely to overhear her counseling staff members through relationship issues as you are the work that she has to do for legal defense, or managing patient care.
Knowing that the story was broader than the politics of being enmeshed in abortion care in a state where access is on the defense, I turned to speaking to people involved in the full spectrum of reproductive care. As a pro-choice doula, I see reproductive justice as a spectrum. Choosing whether or not to parent is exactly that: a choice. Some people are able to make that choice when they are good and ready, but not everyone can navigate their reproductive life-cycle without unplanned detours. Full spectrum doulas recognize that people experiencing unplanned pregnancy have three choices: birth, abortion or adoption, and all three are right.
My focus in Fargo shifted to asking doulas, midwives, and clinic supporters how the recent legislations has affected where they locate themselves within (or without) the spectrum of reproductive care. We also wondered if their care would change if abortion became illegal in North Dakota, ie: would they assist people seeking to end their pregnancies?
Turns out, when faced with anti-choice legislation, people who are already serving in a reproductive justice capacity create contingency plans. Heather Jackson is a doula in Grand Forks, ND and even with a full plate of raising a 12 year old as well as studying for an advanced degree, started mapping out routes to clinics in Minnesota when faced with the idea of the RRWC closing. Heather lives about 90 miles north of Fargo, has done clinic defense for the RRWC and helped organize a pro-choice rally last March, when the three anti-abortion bills were brought before the Governor. Over 150 people attended the rally, “huge for Grand Forks.” Heather is openly pro-choice, queer-friendly and single-mom friendly on her doula website.
Lysa Ringquest commented that after 25 years in the operating room, she could probably perform abortions herself and would do so if necessary. With one of the operating rooms named after her, Lysa is famous at RRWC as a highly-gifted patient educator, operating room assistant, and hand holder. Lysa has since moved from Fargo for personal reasons, but her legacy is indicative of the highly developed clinic culture at RRWC. Speaking to Lysa, we were privileged to again experience the intensely honest and intensely spiritual conversations shared by birth workers. It was clear why Lysa had been honored with a plaque. She spoke of “holding space,” of “looking into the woman’s eyes, breathing with her...keeping the patient in a state of calm and in her strength.” She also said, “I felt I was a doula.”
Unlike Heather and Lysa, others in the midwifery and doula community haven’t paid much attention to the legislation. Crystal Wolf has always been “out” as pro choice, but is busy as an apprentice midwife, an acupuncture student, a doula and a mother to a 4-year-old daughter. When we met at a park in Moorhead, she was also 38-weeks pregnant with her second baby. She works within the Fargo doula community, and is very outspoken about her political leanings via Motherwise, a facebook page described as: “devoted to evidence-based, gentle, healthy, and intuitive parenting choices”.
Crystal, who has supported friends seeking to “make their periods come,” said she would certainly do so again if she was asked. Offering herbal information, acupressure, comfort measures and emotional support are within the realms of doula support, and extending that to women trying to terminate pregnancies at home seemed like a normal extension of her work. Interestingly, she didn’t even know about the Red River Women’s Clinic until access to abortion came under attack.
For one of the doulas that we spoke with, the legislation has been a bit of a revelation. Janelle Brandon has been taken to task for being pro-choice, but never by a fellow doula. After she publicly attended a rally to support the Red River Women’s Clinic, a former client confronted her. Janelle recalled, “she couldn’t believe that I had been there on the most important day of her life [the birth of her child], and that I was a ‘baby killer.’”
Janelle loves the idea of a full spectrum doula. “That’s what I am,” she says “I just didn’t know it”. She feels that she may need to be more “out” as being pro-choice, but doesn’t think that that will change her ability to work in the community. However, being out is something that she has avoided until now. Although she is open to supporting clients through abortion, it isn’t something that clients have asked her to do thus far.