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.