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Entries in abortion stigma (4)


My experience with a BADP doula

This blog post is written by a guest author, Teresa. 

Hi! My name's Teresa, I had an at-home (or in my case, in-hotel room) medical abortion in July with the help of BADP doula Christine. My experience was wonderful and I've been meaning to send in a testimonial of sorts since then. I've been kinda furiously memoing to myself since then about the emotions that came up for me, plus all the surrounding political influences around abortion. All my thoughts go back to feeling uber grateful I had the opportunity to meet Christine and share such an intimate experience with her.

My thoughts:
I found out I was pregnant when I was in Austria, daunted by the glaring "schwanger" confirmation on the two German-language pregnancy tests I took. I felt unnerved, though still in control of my experience. I had comprehensive medical insurance to cover costs and I calculated that I was at about 5 weeks, thus would have adequate time to procure a medical abortion upon my arrival home in the States. I knew immediately that I would request a doula from BADP, and I began picturing what I thought was the ideal abortion environment and experience. I wanted to be outside in nature as I began bleeding, and feel one with all womb-carrying people that had procured abortions before me! Although I had lofty goals of having the most idyllic and spiritually attuned abortion experience possible, I knew the most important element would be my accompaniment.

When I finally procured the Mifepristone and Misoprostol prescriptions, I wasn't apprehensive about my abortion, merely looking forward to no longer being pregnant. Even so, I had begun feeling the hormonal rumblings of my changing, 7-week pregnant body, and I felt as if I was at a crossroads. I ended up having my abortion experience in a hotel room, as my living situation would not have been a hospitable environment. Christine was an angelic presence. She brought snacks, which immediately endeared her to my heart. I was overwhelmed by a great deal of pain for the hours preceding the placental expulsion, and Christine always knew exactly what to say and do to comfort me. She massaged my arms and lower back, reminded me to vocalize and take deep, regular breaths, helped me move around, and engaged in pleasant conversation in between the cramp surges. I had wanted to journal and hold some kind of ceremonial space during my abortion, but it turned out that I was too focused on the physical sensations to think about anything else. And it was Christine who held space for me and encouraged me to step into my strength. My medical provider had given me prescription pain medication but had offered nothing in the way of emotional support. Having a professional, supportive presence to accompany me was infinitely more useful than hydrocodone.

Christine both supported my choice and understood the physical aspects of having an abortion; this intimate support was an incredible blessing. I believe all pregnant people should have access to doulas, regardless of what the outcome of their pregnancy is. My experience with Christine only corroborated this belief, and I extend the deepest, most heartfelt gratitude to both Christine and all of BADP.


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. 

Abortion doulas and abortion stigma: finding the link

By Poonam Dreyfus-Pai, BADP Co-Director

Attending the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference in Amherst, MA is something of a rite of passage for young abortion activists. For years, when I lived in New York, it was described to me as a mecca for those interested in talking about abortion care, provision, and support – a pilgrimage that many of my colleagues made every year.

‚ÄčEarlier this month, I attended for the first time. It was also my first time presenting. The annual conference, “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is hosted by Hampshire College, a liberal arts school with a decidedly progressive bent (for example, the bathrooms were labeled “self-identified men” and “self-identified women”). For 27 years, the conference has brought together researchers, advocates, clinicians, non-profit staff, community organizers,students, and community members to discuss and create strategies for achieving reproductive justice. For my part, I was there to discuss my experiences working as a full-spectrum doula with the Bay Area Doula Project and researching abortion stigma with ANSIRHInterestingly, these two ideas – abortion doulas and abortion stigma –were continuously linked in numerous presentations.

Why such a salient link? I’ve been an abortion doula for four years, and I would argue that the abortion doula movement arose directly as a response to abortion stigma. I wanted to research abortion stigma because I saw it in front of me constantly: stigma that not only prevented people from reaching out to their families and partners for support, but also reinforced the perception that they were somehow bad, and deserving of pain and unhappiness. I was interested in how to conceptualize stigma, and how to create an evidence base that would allow for services to reduce it.

Abortion stigma perpetuates the idea that people who have abortions have something to be ashamed of, which makes people less likely to seek out social support. Studies have shown that abortion stigma – not the abortion itself – negatively impacts a person’s emotional wellbeing and their relationships. It also serves to divorce a person’s experience of an abortion from the full continuum of their reproductive experiences. For example, we know that one in three women will have an abortion during the course of her reproductive life. We also know that most women who have abortions are also mothersBut because people worry about what their health care providers may think or say, people may not divulge that they’ve had past abortions or unintended pregnancies, which can pose various health risks.

Abortion doulas are individuals who provide compassionate, continuous presence before, during, and after an abortion experience, and employ many of the same pain management and comfort techniques used by traditional birth doulas. Those that began the “full-spectrum doula” movement believed that people who have abortions deserved the same kind of compassionate support that traditional doulas offer to people in labor. This work explicitly acknowledges that abortion stigma – the inferior status of and prejudicial attitudes faced by people associated with abortion – has made it difficult for people to believe they deserve compassion, let alone focused, free support throughout their entire abortion experience. By listening to people, providing empathy, massage, and breathing techniques, abortion doulas can normalize their experiencesbroaden social support for these individuals, and hopefully reduce some of that sense of inferiorityIn so doing, we are fostering a culture of support, and expanding the quality of care that people should come to expect when pregnant, regardless of the outcome.

The CLPP audience was, excitingly, already sold on the value of full-spectrum doulas in combatting abortion stigma, as evidenced by the sheer number of individuals who identified as abortion doulas, full-spectrum doulas, radical doulas. At a time when new anti-abortion legislation is introduced every day, it can be challenging to think about new ways to combat rampant abortion stigma. But what we know is this: the lived experiences of people matter, and the more that we can bear witness to their abortion experiences and support them, the more we are breaking down the structures that keep abortion stigma in place.


Understanding abortion stigma

By Sarah Whedon

Webinar image by Anders Abrahamsson week I attended a webinar on Understanding and addressing abortion stigma hosted by ANSIRH and  Ipas. 

Leila Hessini, MA, MPH and Kristen M. Shellenberg, PhD, MPH presented an agenda which included

  • discussing a conceptual model of stigma
  • describing scales for measuring stigma
  • explaining current research on institutional and structural stigma
  • and a Q & A.

The researchers described stigma as a social process and defined abortion stigma specifically as:  

"A negative attribute, ascribed to women who seek to terminate a pregnancy, that 'marks' them as inferior to ideals of womanhood." 

They identified this stigma as resulting from perceived transgression of three global archetypes:
  • sex is solely for procreation, 
  • motherhood is inevitable, 
  • and women instinctively nurture the vulnerable.

The consequences of abortion stigma can be devastating, ranging from feelings of shame to death:

Abortion Stigma <-> Secrecy, silence, denial, shame, guilt <-> Delays, untrained providers, self-induction <-> Poor quality, high cost, abuse, complications, suicide, death

The research on these processes uses a questionnaire which was developed in several steps. They are using this questionnaire to explore institutional and structural abortion stigma at service delivery sites in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, and India. They want to understand the processes of stigma so that they can develop and implement stigma reduction interventions at the health facility and community levels.

The Q & A included a lot of really juicy questions, including excellent ones about beliefs and values from our friend Darcy and about gender diversity from our own volunteer Renee.

If this work intrigues you, there's a chance to learn more. On second Tuesdays each month through June ANSIRH and Ipas will be hosting webinars on HIV, sexual, and abortion stigma research.