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Entries in Abortion Clinics (3)


September Salon Series Summary: An Evening with Abortion Care Provider Dr. Shelley Sella

By: Lauren MacDonald

The snapshot of our last Salon Series: a living room full of learners looking up to and engaged with Dr. Shelley Sella’s humble and thorough accounts of her journey working with people in need of reproductive health services, specifically abortion.

Dr. Sella is an honored, awaited guest speaker to the Salon Series. She is one of the four late term abortion care providers working today in the United States.  She works at Southwestern Women’s Options Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offering first, second and third trimester abortions.

Dr. Sella reports she has been interested in abortion work since even before her medical school journey began. After school and several years of practice as an OBGYN she went to work alongside Dr. Tiller in 2009. She was featured in, After Tiller, a documentary that follows the four remaining late term abortion providers in the United States.

The first question that she offered to explore with us was “Why does someone wait so long to have an abortion?” When answering that question, she differentiated between patients with fetal indications, those who are ending the pregnancy because there is something very wrong with their baby, and patients with maternal indications, those ending the pregnancy to preserve their own life and health.

Dr. Sella painted a realistic view of a clinic day in which three third trimester abortion patients were laboring.  One was an 18 year old victim of date rape, another, a 23 year old mother of three in an abusive relationship who left after being hit in the abdomen, and finally, a 12 year old victim of incest.

The outpatient center where Dr. Sella works serves an international cohort of people seeking reproductive health services including first, second and third trimester abortions. The stand out description of the services provided was the incorporation of counseling and supportive services with medical services.

Dr. Sella briefly described what an abortion looks like clinically, for each trimester. She emphasized the well roundedness of their program. She explained that counseling happens with a person during their first intake. The first visit with the doctor is always with the patient clothed. There is low lighting, calm music, continuity of care with counselor from intake to post procedure, a small staff and quiet interactions between staff, pain management support, and peer support groups.

With the hard and complex work that she does we inquired how Dr. Sella takes care of herself. She reports that the clinic staff is so supportive and they incorporate processing of cases into their weekly meetings. She also gave gratitude to her international abortion care community and providers as well as her home and personal friends and family including her wife, Julie who joined us at the salon.

Thank you Dr. Sella for the information you shared with us and the wisdom you imparted about your journey and the work you are doing.


Full-Spectrum Reproductive Health Care in the Making: An Interview with Sally Heron of Buffalo Womenservices/The Birthing Center of Buffalo

By: Vanessa Norton, BADP Volunteer

What incredible news to hear that Buffalo, NY, the city where I was born and raised, would be home to the country's first combination birth center/abortion clinic. Buffalo Womenservices, the abortion clinic, has been operating for several years, performing abortions through 22 weeks of pregnancy. The Birthing Center of Buffalo is set to open in February 2013, as an extension of the practice of OB/GYN Dr. Kathleen Morrison (owner of Buffalo Womenservices) and CNM Eileen Stewart.   

While home for the holidays, I visited Buffalo Womenservices/Birthing Center of Buffalo and spoke with Sally Heron, Services Coordinator of the birth center, Intake Coordinator and former Counselor at the abortion clinic.

Vanessa: How did the idea of combining non-medicalized birth and abortion care in the same facility materialize?

Sally: For myself and Dr. Morrison, the combination really comes from a commitment to reproductive justice. People have been working to open this center for 30 years...NY State has very restrictive laws when it comes to birth centers and we wouldn't have been able to open if we didn't already have the abortion clinic.

Vanessa: Why's that? 

Sally: We had to establish that there was a specific need to expand the business of Womenservices. that's the only way we could get the birth center opened.

Vanessa: So, in a sense, the state bureaucracy helped create this unique place?

Sally: It happened because Dr. Katherine Morrison fought for it and put everything into it.

Vanessa: How was the news of opening the Birthing Center of Buffalo as part of the same practice as Buffalo Womenservices received in Buffalo?

Sally: Buffalo is a conservative, Catholic town, so it's been mixed...People have said things like, 'what if a woman walks into the wrong room and accidentally gets an abortion.' [laughs.] Having said that, The Buffalo News wrote an article that described what we do. We offer real birth options that pregnant people can not get in a hospital.

Vanessa: Tell me about these options.

Sally: We give group classes using the Centering model of prenatal care. We offer a jacuzzi and large shower for labor and birth. Our patients are able to eat and drink and birth in whatever position suits them. We don't use epidurals, pain medication or continuous fetal monitoring, and all our patients are required to use a doula and be committed to breastfeeding. We also have a VBAC support group.

Vanessa: Wonderful. All patients are required to use a doula?

Sally: Doulas are critical for support and confidence. I think a lot of the people who don't initially want a doula think the doctor will be a doula.

Vanessa: How have your options affected the local discourse on birth?

Sally: The birth rate in Erie county has dropped in recent years, so there has been a battle over the pregnant population. Hospitals have tried to attract patients by offering Sabres blankets and flatscreen tvs in the rooms. Since we've announced the opening of the birth center, Women and Children's Hospital is now claiming to be a great place for waterbirth. Our presence is changing the conversation of what real birth options are. 

Vanessa: There is no parallel organization in Buffalo like ACCESS/BADP. Would such an organization be useful here?

Sally: Definitely, I think that in Buffalo we could do a lot to raise the visibility of abortion. I have friends who I know would put someone up for the night or offer a ride, but no organization exists to facilitate this. Although I think our counseling services cover the need for abortion doulas, I don't know what goes on at the other clinics. We don't offer counseling services for medication abortions, so there's a need there.

Vanessa: How do you feel about the term “full-spectrum doula?

Sally: It makes so much sense. I first heard that with the NYC doula collective and in the radical doula blog. We have a lot of queer patients, a lot of trans patients and I see their care as related as well. There are options people don't have and they should.

Vanessa: Do you think this practice would use the term “full-spectrum?”

Sally: I think that makes a lot of sense for us.

Vanessa: Do you foresee an organization that supports full-spectrum doulas in Buffalo?

Sally: I hope so. I would like to see “Birthworks,” the local doula collective, be that.

Vanessa: Why in Buffalo and why now?

Sally: Our opening now has more to do with the national movement for more birth options. 

Vanessa: How do you feel coming to work?

Sally: It's the best job I've ever had.


Keep Politics 25-Feet Away from My Health Care

by Renee Bracey Sherman

On April 18th, I stood in City Hall and said something that the dozens of speakers before me hadn’t said. “I had an abortion”. I was speaking during the public comments portion of the committee hearing for Supervisor David Campos’ proposed 25-foot Buffer Zone around San Francisco’s reproductive health care clinics. At the hearing, people spoke “for women” and what they needed, on the infringement of first amendment rights, and the nuisance that the protestors create in the Mission neighborhood outside the Valencia Street Planned Parenthood. But no one was speaking about what I was feeling: the experience and emotions of walking into an abortion clinic.

When I was 19, I became pregnant, and my partner and I decided that an abortion was the best option for us. A few days later, I found myself ringing the doorbell to a small private clinic, waiting to be buzzed in. As I walked through the bombproof door, I realized that while I felt that I was going in for a legal medical procedure that I needed, one that I wanted, others would rather wish me harm than give me health care. That scared me.

Years later, I still feel that chill as I walk past anti-abortion protestors. They hand me papers about abortion, and even when I refuse them politely and continue walking, they try to hand them to me and yell at me. “You’re a killer.” I’m afraid the situation could escalate if they find out that I indeed had an abortion. This isn’t what health care is supposed to be like. 

Eleven states, including California, and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting the obstruction of a reproductive health care clinic. Currently, three states – Colorado, Massachusetts, and Montana – have an 8-foot ‘bubble zone’ around patients as they enter a clinic, which begins anywhere from 35 feet to 100 feet from the clinic’s door. These are similar to San Francisco’s current ordinance, which the full board of supervisors will vote to increase to 25-feet on May 7th.

As they stand, the current laws are not protecting patients. One hearing’s of the anti-abortion protestors said that she only provides sidewalk counseling, and that a greater distance would just encourage protestors to yell louder at the patients. Take it from me – an abortion can be a tough decision, and having a crowd of people yell at you at the top of their lungs doesn’t make it any easier.

At the San Francisco hearing on Supervisor Campos' proposed 25 foot Buffer Zone to protect patients accessing healthcare services.What those of us choosing abortion need is support and compassion – not yelling. What we need is peace. We need to be trusted. Part of our first amendment and civil rights is to be able to exercise a health care decision that we have made for ourselves. I did the research. I talked to my partner. You may not believe that my decision was the right one, but it was mine to make. And I don’t deserve to be yelled at right before I go in for a surgical procedure. Twenty-five feet is a start to creating a peaceful space around my health care.

Renee Bracey Sherman, an abortion doula with the Bay Area Doula Project, speaks publicly about her abortion experience and the need to end abortion stigma.