Q: Would there be a point where you would see somebody being so unsure of whether they were doing the right thing that you'd say "Wait, I want you to stop and think about (having an abortion)"?
A: Uh huh. People that have some difficulty after an abortion, emotionally, fall into two categories. This is generalizing, but basically it's the kind of a woman who comes in and says "I don't want to talk to anybody. I don't want to discuss this. I know what I want. Just let me have it and get it over with." Or the woman who feels she's been forced, who says, "My boyfriend says he'll leave me if I carry this pregnancy" or "My husband says absolutely not." But she --
Q: She wants the baby.
A: She wants it. Those sort of people sometimes have some difficulty afterward and so we try and screen for that, if we feel it's someone having some real, true reservations about the decision or refuses to talk about it -- that's a red flag for us. . . . I've seen people following abortions come in saying, "I feel as though I made a mistake."
Q: What can you say to somebody who says they've made a mistake like that?
A: You just let them talk. You say, "Can you tell me what you mean by that? How do you think you would have done things differently? What do you wish would have happened?" Then start to separate that and deal with it individually. "If you had not had the abortion you would be six months pregnant now," for instance. "How do you think that would be? What do you think you'd be doing?" Trying to help people be as clear as they possibly can about that. Because a lot of fantasizing goes on.
Q: People talk themselves into being guilty?
A: Oh, a lot of people do. It's easy to do because culturally we're conditioned to think that abortion is a bad thing, a last resort. Your culture tells you that, but it's a choice that you've made. If you throw into that pot maybe a religious background or a mate who was against your decision or some other kind of complicating factors -- it can make someone feel quilty.
Q: The critics of legalized abortion, I think one of their complaints is that abortions are not becoming a last resort, but a back-up birth control method. Do you see a lot of just sheer carelessness?
A: That's a real value judgment. There are just so many reasons that individual women have for choosing abortion. For some women I think there may be so mething behind the choosing of an abortion as a form of birth control. (A) woman might be hurting herself. But that's a pathology and those are are. There may be someone who says, "I don't feel okay about this" but does continue to have abortions. You don't see very much of that either. What we do see is a woman like myself, 32 years odl, started contracepting when I was 16. I've used everything. And I've been very lucky. I've never been pregnant. I've been lucky: Someone like myself could have had the same sort of contraceptive pattern that I've had and had three unplanned pregnancies and three abortions.
Q: I would have, I think, a very hard time seeing a woman who said straight out, "This is my method of birth control" and not wanting to say, "Look, this is not fun and games. This ought to be a last resort. This is -- I don't know whether it's a human life or not, but it's at least a potential human life."
A: And those are your values. That's what you believe.
Q: I know, but isn't -- I mean -- it's very easy to escape responsibility by saying well, that's a value judgment, but --
A: It is.
Q: But there are just some values that ought to be universal and that there shouldn't be that much debate about. I mean, we can debate the extremes. But it seems to be that I would have a hard time just saying, we-l, that's your choice, that's okay.
A: But what good -- put yourself in a counseling position. What good would it do you or me to say to that person, "You know this is really bad news what you're doing." I mean I really think this is a mistake . . .
It really is cultural for us. In other countries abortion is an accepted method of birth control as is the pill here or a diaphragm or anything else. We don't live in other cultures. We live here. So people have to deal with the kinds of feelings you have about abortion. I deal with those feelings also. But in the role of a counselor it isn't appropriate. You're not doing your job if you say to that woman, "How could you do this? This is outrageous. What's wrong with you?" That's not your job as a counselor. Now, as a friend it might be your job. Or as a partner. Or a parent. Then that's appropriate. In abortion counseling that's not appropriate. The idea is to give that person what she's asking you for as much as possible. If she's needing support, then we try to provide that. If she needs clarification, we provide that. Information, we provide that. To meet her pretty much where she is and what her needs are.
Q: But you can't give an answer.
A: Oh, no. If I knew of someone who was trying to do that for someone, I would take them out of a counseling situation and we'd do some training and work a little bit around that. Or maybe we'd think about another job.
Q: Isn't there an urge to do that, though?
A: Oh, sure. All of us have it because we're all making judgments and we're all saying, "Oh my God how could this be? How could this woman live like this?"
Q:How do you stop yourself?
A: There's not like a little switch or something. There is, in a sort of symbolic sense. You were asking about seeing someone who's so very different from you, upbringing-wise, race, age, educational background, everything, culture maybe sometimes. You keep reminding yourself. This is me and this is her. Or this is him.
Q: What would you say is the hardest case that you've counseled?
A: My very most difficult, for me personally, was a young couple who came in, not in this clinic, someplace else where I was working. White couple. They had had a large-scale argument. She had gone out and had intercourse with a black male and was now pregnant. They weren't sure whether it was from that interaction or whether it was the two of them. They were as verbally racist as anyone I had ever heard in my life. Something I have a great deal of difficulty dealing with. It was rough. I was, like, needing to talk to someone after that for . . . I must have talked a good hour, following it, it was so hard on me.
A: Why was that so hard for you?
A: Because they were, they were wanting the abortion because this child would be mixed.
A: Yes, exactly, potentially.
Q: That was the only reason?
A: That was the only reason. And just such horrible things were said, for me, I mean -- they were horrible and that, it just -- everything about them was so awful for me that it hurt. I mean, telling it now hurts. It was that awful.
Q: You really felt angry?
A: I was furious. I was just livid. And I suspect I did not do the kind of job I could do.
Q: What did they eventually do?
A: Oh, she had an abortion. I mean, there was no doubt about it. Except they had questions, Like -- the man -- her partner -- was just ghastly. I mean, "Is there any chance this child could be all white, I mean, is there any chance that there would be, if --"
A: It was like that. Any chance at all? And, you know, my having to say, "No. I mean the youngster could be very light-skinned, but the chances really are that there would be some mixture." You naturally, and he just -- he was very cruel to her in the session and used it to punish her for this behavior -- choosing someone of a different race. I mean it was . . .
Q:10 2 And she had clearly gone out and done that just to get at him.
A: Uh-huh. That was the other part of it. I mean, she'd used this other man to do this and oh, it was just grim. I was exhausted.
Q: You can listen to people talking and let them go ahead and make choices that you think are wrong?
A: Sure. I do philosophically believe that people make the best choice for themselves. In my heart I believe that. That you might be choosing to do something that I think is just off the wall. "She's making the best decision given what she's got to work with and where she is." That helps me a lot. I use that. That woman who's got the five kids and has got one (she is) carrying in her arms and she's pregnant again. I think this is bad. It's hard on her body, it's hard on her health, it's hard on her emotional well-being . . . In my heart I still go back to that. And that keeps it okay.
Q: What is it that makes you think that people make the right choices?
A: I think if I didn't, it would hurt too much or I'd get too involved. Because I am real sensitive and I care a lot. If I didn't think, I guess, that people make the right decisions and live their lives the best they can, it would hurt too much. I'd just probably go around just like this hurting.
Q: How about on the personal side. Your own feelings about abortion. It's such an incredibly emotional issue. Pictures of dead fetuses and things like that. How do you feel about the moral side of the issue?
A: You'd think it (would be) an old question for someone who's been working like I've been working. But it changes depending on what's going on in your own life. Whether you want babies or don't want them. Whether you're wanting to be pregnant and can't be. But under all of that, for me, the woman sitting in reception matters to me the most. Their lives matter more to me than that potential life. The thought of an unwanted child is one of the things that hurts me most. When I see kids who look like they're not cared for or hear about kids who aren't cared for it hurts me more than just about anything. If you're not given this choice to control and regulate your own productivity it might mean that you'll have a child that you don't want or that you can't care for or that you don't feel that you can love. That's horrible to me. That takes precedence over any of the other issues about when life begins or any of that. I don't know when it begins. I've seen developing fetuses. I know what it looks like. I know about parts. I know all of that stuff. It can be a very emotional, traumatic sort of experience. But it's still the person who's here matters most for me.
Q: But how do you answer the people who say that this is taking a human life?
A: That's what they believe, that it's taking a human life. And I don't believe that. I believe it is a potential life in amny cases. In other cases it could have been a natural abortion or something else could happen. We make assumptions that it will go full term. It's potential for me. And I feel all right about that. It's not a human life for me yet. It just simply isn't. I respect that it is for someone else. Definitely, I really respect that. But for me it isn't. And I've been with too many women with too many problems around a pregnancy to not be sensitive to their issues. It's like these people are sensitive to this potential life or what they think is an existing human life. I'm saying my sensitivity is to this woman and this man perhaps. And their life. It's a different emphasis.
Q: Did it take a while to learn to protect yourself (emotionally)?
A: The emotional side of it comes up. I have dreams about abortion. It's in my subconscious. It's an emotional issue. It's part of my life that's inside man there and I don't put it away. I think the danger for anyone doing work that has a real high sort of an emotional level -- there's a danger of putting them away, those feelings. That's when you start to see some callousness. Classic social-service stuff. You can tell the person who's burned out because they have no expression in their voice or in their face or any thing. It's gone. I think a lot of that happens because you turn yourself off. You shut it out instead of saying, sure it's hard. Sure there are days when I just feel like this hurts. Or I get teary. Or I have a bad dream. It's mixed in with my own life. You can't separate it. I have my personal life and where I am and my decisions to have a family and how I feel about that. It's all mixed together.
A: You're trying to decide within your own life right now whether to have children?
A: Uh, huh.
Q: You said something about that changing your feelings toward abortion.
A: No, it doesn't. That's not right at all. It doesn't change my feelings toward abortion. Not at all. It sensitizes me in a different way. That's all. It's hard to be definitive about it. You want something more definitive and I can't provide you with that. It's just my mood.
Q: How does that sensitize you? You look at it in a little bit of a different way than you did, say, three years ago?
A: No, not at all. It's not that clear. It just hasn't changed over the years either. You're asking for something I can't give you. It's not definitive. It's like some days you feel good and other days you don't feel so good. I'm up and down a lot. Some of us are more level than others. But it never changed my mind about how I feel about abortion. I think if you talk to individual people here who have -- all of us -- very different home lives and family situations. People who have children. People who don't. People who want to be pregnant. People who don't. We're just like the rest of the world. We're no different. We just work someplace where we do abortions. What's happening in our private lives just affects our feelings, that's all. This is maybe a good example. I see a client who, maybe she's about my age and things sound alike and I'm thinking, "No, this is too much like me." When someone gets close to you like that and you're hearing your own story sometimes, it's hard. When I said teary, it's an internal thing for me. Some days it makes you a little sad. You relate to that person more than you might other days. Maybe that's it.
Q: How late do you do abortions?
A: Twelve weeks. Just first trimester, we don't do seconds. The difference between 12 weeks and 13 or 14 is minimal. But the difference between 12 and 19, 20 is considerable. That's a good size difference. It takes longer and it's generally harder on the woman, sometimes harder on the Doctor. We did a workshop on second trimester. (For) nurses who attend them (it) is a very traumatic experience in nearly every case. It's induced labor. Many, many nurses -- most -- have not been in any way prepared to do that kind of work. They're prepared to help people. To save lives. They might have just been on a floor in a room with a woman who miscarried, who has been trying to get pregnant for months and months and months. And then they go into another room with a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant and is choosing to abort. What it does to (the nurse) can be Just wrenching. It'd be different if we were mechanics. Fixing people's cars. We could go out in the world and say we fix people's cars for a living. For some people it's difficult to say I work in an abortion clinic
Q: Washington judges everybody by where they work.
A: That's true. (In) the workshop we do a neat exercise with examples of "your're at a cocktail party and somebody says, 'How can you work someplace where they kill babies?' What do you do?"
Q: Do you avoid coming out and saying, "I work at an abortion clinic"?
A: I don't avoid it. But I don't volunteer it, generally. But I didn't volunteer it when I worked at the YWC either. I'm real proud of where I work.