I live in the northeast, a small suburb north of Philadelphia, with my parents, brother, and dog. Our house has three bedrooms and one a half baths. My mother works at a non profit foundation, and my father works at a grocery store. We are upper middle class, with enough to live on and enjoy privileges, but not enough to go on fancy vacations annually. We are a standard suburban Pennsylvania family. Because of laws dictating waiting periods and mandatory counseling before getting an abortion, I, like others close to New Jersey, chose to drive across the river to New Jersey, to a women’s clinic there.
On the day of my first appointment, there were only two protestors, an older couple trying to hand out pamphlets. “Come over here!” they called to me as I got out of my car. “We can help you.” I waved and thanked them. They weren’t being degrading at all, and didn’t even have a sign. I wasn’t bothered by the protestors, not even on the day of my follow-up appointment, when there were five men, holding large signs with phrases like “Jesus loves your unborn baby.” They looked more like the people I expected to be protesting a women’s health clinic – all white men, somewhat scraggly, some wearing denim vests, others in camouflage. Inside the clinic, I was one of the only white women. Most others were African-American, although there was also a young Indian woman, shaking and holding her husband’s hand. Most were older than my twenty years, although one girl, there with both of her parents, couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen. She looked scared, and her parents looked more tired and sad than anything else. Most women were there with their boyfriends, although there were a few there with their friends, and at least one other girl there with her mother, as I was. There were only a few women there by themselves, in part due to the fact that you had to have a companion if you were having a surgical abortion, as you aren’t allowed to drive after the anesthesia. I got to know the looks of some of these women and their partners very well, as we were in the waiting room together all day.
My appointment was at 9:30. When 10:00 had come and gone without speaking to anyone, I began to get anxious. Finally, an hour after my scheduled appointment time, my name was called. I felt ill. Could I really have an abortion that I didn’t want to have? This was happening. I wasn’t going to be a mother any more.
False alarm. It was really just the first of many stages of having my name called, only to talk to someone for less than five minutes and then be returned to the waiting room. Over the course of the day, my name was called to get an ultrasound, have my blood tested, be billed, talk to a nurse, and talk to a counselor, all of which I saw for less than five minutes. Then, I would be delivered back to the waiting room to shake my head at my mom, who was sitting on the edge of her seat with nervousness. She had brought some work reading to do, but wasn’t able to do anything but sit and wait.
Finally, I was called in for the last time. The nurse asked me to get undressed and put on the gown, and she would be back in in a moment. Forty-five minutes of sitting naked in a cold room later, she came back with the doctor. The doctor made some small talk with me, asked where I went to school, and was surprised at hearing the name of my prestigious liberal arts college. He told me that I was making a good decision, that I could do a lot in life. Besides the security guard at the door and the boyfriends in the waiting room, he was the only man that I had seen all day. The entire rest of the clinic staff, nurses, receptionists, counselor, and accountants, had all been female. By the time I swallowed my first abortion pill, I had been in the clinic for seven hours, only to talk to individuals for maybe half an hour, total. Somehow, no one had asked me if I wanted to get an abortion, because if they heard my honest reply, I doubt they would have let me go through with everything.
The real problem with abortion, then, is not that abortions happen. It’s how abortions happen. Many of these women were most likely low income, and they and their partners took a day off from their minimum-wage jobs to pay $500 to wait for seven hours. They paid $500 because they couldn’t afford birth control in the first place. They paid $500 to be treated as a tedious clog in the machine, another patient that the overcrowded clinic had to get through that day. They paid $500 for a doctor to tell them that they were making a “good decision,” for a tired counselor to ask them to sign their statement saying why they got an abortion.
I am not blaming the women’s clinic that I went to for my experience, nor am I blaming my friends and family. It was clear that the clinic was doing the best that they could with the resources it was given. Everyone there was nice and smiled at me, but they were also tired. Day in and day out, they processed forty or fifty women, women who did not have the time to be real patients to them. Why does society think that it’s acceptable to treat women this way? There was one woman who stood up, said “I can’t do this,” and walked out of the clinic, sometime around noon. The women getting surgeries had not been allowed to eat beforehand, and some of them were surely there in the recovery room until five or six in the evening. They were hungry, tired, and scared. On a day that contained such a difficult procedure, one that is scarring not only physically, but emotionally, women should be afforded a much higher level of care.
It shocks me to think that we, the women sitting in the abortion clinic, are the lucky ones. We have a clinic in our area. This one was only a bit over an hour’s drive for me, and there were others that I also had an option to go to within driving distance. Somehow, we were able to all get a Thursday off of our jobs, get a ride to the clinic, and wait for seven hours. We all were able to communicate with the staff, because we all spoke English. Some of us most likely had insurance that covered our procedure, although I did not. We were able to find the money, somewhere, to swallow a pill and induce a miscarriage, or to have a male doctor end our pregnancies. This was an option for us. And, in the United States, it is a legal option. If we begin to compare ourselves to other countries around the world, we begin to recognize our privilege even further.
I don’t know how to wrap up these musings. I wish that I had some overwhelming call to action, a solution for women to stop being marginalized and treated as unimportant before they’re about to have invasive surgery. I just know that I am surprised, angry, upset, and confused by my experience, and I wanted to share my story with the hope that others would feel the same.