In the early 1990’s, I joined the staff of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, an organization that represented the interests of independent abortion clinics across the country. Since I was going to represent them in some way, I felt it was important to visit a sampling of the clinics to see how they operate, to get a feel for the work they were doing and the women they served.
One of my first stops was at a clinic in Little Rock, Arkansas. I spent the first few minutes with the doctor, who after getting comfortable with me actually offered me a joint. I deferred. Then, the administrator of the clinic took me on a tour of the building. As I was touring, there were about 20 patients in the waiting room, presumably there for abortions. It hit me that it would be helpful to talk to some of them, if they were willing. I asked the administrator and she immediately said: “You gotta talk to Sylvia.”
Sylvia was there for her sixth abortion at the clinic. Yep, her sixth. I was horrified – and the administrator could tell by my very judgmental reaction. But then she said “If you’re gonna represent us in Washington, D.C., you need to be ready to defend women like Sylvia.” I gulped and said okay. Within 30 minutes, I was in a room alone with Sylvia.
I explained to her who I was and said “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I need to know where you are coming from. The anti-abortion people always talk about women using abortion as birth control, so I need to know why you keep coming back here.”
She was very cool, with a beehive hair due, dark red lipstick, constantly chewing gum. A real “sassy broad,” as my father might have said.
“Okay,” she started, “the first time I got pregnant the condom broke. The second time, my boyfriend said that he’d kill me if I made him use a condom. The third time, I was totally drunk, had no idea what was going on. Finally, I got on birth control pills but there was one month there when I couldn’t afford the pills and, wham, I’m pregnant again. The fifth time, well, I just don’t remember. And this time I was just relying on Lady’s Luck.”
“What is Lady’s Luck,” I asked.
“That’s just when you hope you get lucky and not get pregnant. Pretty stupid, huh?”
As you can probably tell, she was not an educated woman. She worked in a local convenience store, had two kids already, one autistic. She lived for the weekend. You get the picture.
I tried to get mad at her. After all, she was my worst public relations nightmare. But ultimately I decided I simply had to accept what she was saying. I mean, this was her life and she had made a lot of mistakes. Sure, I wish she didn’t have to have six abortions but I came out of that meeting thinking “Who am I to judge?”
Later, I accompanied her into the surgery room and, during the procedure, she started to sob a little. The nurse, who was holding her hand, asked her if she wanted to stop the abortion. She stiffened up and said “No, I am not the kind of person who should be having any more kids.”