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.

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