This year marks the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States, thanks to Roe v. Wade. In honor of this landmark decision, two abortion clinic workers took to Reddit with an IAmA ("I am a") AMA ("ask me anything"), inviting people to ask them any questions they had about their experiences. The women describe their background as working at "two different Midwestern, independent (non-Planned Parenthood) feminist clinics, both in strongly antichoice states." They gave some insightful answers about what it's like working in a clinic and what abortion is like in modern America. See some of their most intriguing responses below:
Why do most people you encounter decide to get abortions?
A lot of reasons, really — I don't think there's a typical story. Many of them are already mothers, struggling to care for their existing children. Others are very young and not at all ready to begin a family. Some have been raped; some are in abusive relationships. Really, it's all sorts of things.
What's the most common misconception about abortions?
That clinics are dirty and that we hate babies. Neither is true.
Is there any situation in which you would counsel a woman to not get an abortion?
Sure. If she doesn't want to have an abortion, if someone is pressuring her and she really wants to continue the pregnancy, anything like that. My job really is just to be someone to listen to her and support her decisions.
What do [antiabortion protesters] yell?
Keep reading to find out the answer to this question and more.
You would not believe some of the sh*t I hear on a regular basis. They call me demon, witch, dyke, slut, whore, murderer, Nazi, Auschwitz guard, baby killer, baby eater, on and on. Two weeks ago, a woman told me that I was worse than the guy who shot all those kids at Sandy Hook.
Some things they yell at patients/partners: "Name your baby before you throw it away." "Be a real man and don't let her kill your baby." "She's a pretty girl, if you have the baby, it could be a model, and you can make a lot of money off of it." "If you kill your baby, God will give you cancer." "Don't go in there, they'll sacrifice your baby to Satan." And of course, the old standbys of "you're going to hell," "you're a whore," "you're a murderer," etc.
General yelling: "They sell the babies to Pepsi and they make Pepsi with baby kidneys." "Did you know they have a cookbook and they eat the babies after they kill them?" A priest once told me that he could see the "devil's tentacles in [my] soul," and it was everything I could do not to tell him that I was unaware I was in a Japanese animated porno.
I treat them like they're ghosts. And I'm not scared of ghosts.
How exactly does an abortion work? Is it different if the women are in different stages of pregnancy?
It is different depending on what point in the pregnancy it happens at. At my clinic, we do procedures until around 22 weeks, so I'll try to give a breakdown of the basics.
Medication abortion: different states have different laws, but the basics are a woman early in pregnancy (under nine weeks in some places, under seven weeks in others) can take a combination of medications that cause her body to pass the pregnancy.
Surgical abortion: It's really a very simple procedure. It starts out like a Pap smear, speculum, and all that, then the cervix is gently stretched open, and then the pregnancy* is removed. In my experience, under about 15 to 16 weeks, the pregnancy can fairly easily be removed with only suction; past that, forceps are generally necessary. Dilation is done with metal dilators, which come in varying sizes, though women who are past 17 weeks in the pregnancy typically need to have dilators called laminaria inserted some time before the procedure so their cervices can dilate gently. That's the basics.
*Note, I say "pregnancy" because I mean the whole deal, gestational sac, and all, not just fetus.
Does it hurt? How much does an early abortion cost?
Strong cramps, back to back. Some women describe it as similar to Braxton-Hicks contractions. And I think the nationwide average cost of a first-trimester procedure is around $470, likely a bit higher if you're sedated.
Have you ever had any emotional reactions to your work or a particular patient?
Constantly. The women who are rape or abuse victims are hard; the really young ones are harder. I had a 12-year-old patient once — I went home and bawled. I've seen mentally retarded women who were raped. The women who were so excited to have a baby only to find out that their fetus is anencephalic, or that their fetus has died in utero, are pretty tough, too.
Is there a demographic that has a higher than average rate of abortions that totally surprised you when you started doing this?
I'm surprised by very little anymore, but I was at first very struck by the number of openly religious women who have abortions.
How difficult is it to leave what you do at work actually at work? I mean, do people accost you on your personal time for where you work?
It can be really difficult — no matter what I do, I'm pretty much always the abortion lady, but I'm OK with that. What is really hard is that some seemingly ordinary conversations you probably have in your day-to-day life become really awkward and difficult for me. You ever have someone you don't know well at all ask you where you work or what you do for a living as part of casual conversation? Yeah, deciding how to respond to that is real difficult.
Why can't abortions be done in hospitals so the nutters have no clue who is getting what procedure?
That'd be super, wouldn't it? But the vast majority of hospitals won't allow abortions to be performed there regularly, exactly because of those people.