We need to teach young people of all genders about abortion. Here are three ways teachers, parents, and health-care providers can do that.

We need to position abortion as part of the larger reproductive health-care conversation, then equip young people of all genders with accurate information, and give them the skills to talk about this and other aspects of sexuality with a partner.
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As a health educator who works with teens and college students, I regularly find myself addressing a range of complicated issues in the classroom. Probably the most difficult, however, is abortion, something that can feel so political and emotional to so many people. It is also something adults—like teachers, parents, and health-care providers—often present to young people through a gendered lens that positions this procedure as a “women’s health” issue.

The result of this lens is concerning. For one thing, it can silo information. For another, it can reinforce the idea that abortion isn’t a concern for boys. Conversely, it can legitimize the belief that allowing pregnant people to make personal decisions about abortion is unfair to men. Plus, it can alienate trans, non-binary, and intersex youth whose unique experiences are regularly overlooked in these discussions.

To avoid those outcomes, we need to teach about abortion early, and we need to equip young people of all genders with accurate information about abortion, pregnancy prevention, and sexual decision-making.

Here are three ways teachers, parents, and health-care providers can help do that.

When it comes to sex, no one—not sex educators, medical doctors, psychologists, religious leaders, or parents—can agree on what is, or is not, age-appropriate. As a result, the default often omits a range of topics from the conversation. We know this approach can be particularly harmful for LGBTQ youth and for young survivors of sexual violence. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the failure to discuss abortion can allow confusion and misinformation to proliferate. For example, polls have found that people tend to underestimate how common abortion is and to overestimate risks related to the procedure, when in fact abortion is incredibly common and very safe.

We all want to reach young people in developmentally appropriate ways, but as abstinence-only education has shown us, avoiding a comprehensive discussion of sexuality is dangerous. In my experience—and according to numerous experts as well—what tends to be most effective is to provide a broad picture of sexuality to younger kids, and then to add information and detail as they get older. With abortion, this ideally means starting the conversation at the same time you start to talk about pregnancy.

Of course, this is something that may be easier for parents to do than for educators, who may have rules about what they can discuss in the classroom. (Just consider a recently introduced Ohio bill that would require a public school curriculum about the “humanity of the unborn child,” with the stated goal of reaching an “abortion-free society,” and which would prevent teachers from discussing most aspects of abortion.)

For those who have permission to have these conversations, one strategy can be to help younger children learn that many pregnancies end in a baby—but that some end before that, either through a miscarriage or via an induced abortion, and that others are prevented from occurring in the first place by the use of contraception. In their teen years, we can teach in more detail about different types of birth control and about abortion procedures, abortion access, and differing views on the matter. Having a nuanced conversation destigmatizes abortion, helps children avoid black-and-white thinking, and prepares them for a world that doesn’t always follow one script.

2. Teach teens to talk about abortion with a partner before they have sex.

Teens and young people often wonder how they will know when they are ready to have sex. I always say that a good way to figure this out is to start by asking questions. For example, do you want to be in a serious relationship before having sex? Are you comfortable telling your partner your likes and dislikes, and setting and respecting limits? Do you know how to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, and do you have access to condoms? If you have sex with someone where pregnancy is possible, do you know how to prevent this from happening? If you were faced with an unplanned pregnancy, do you know what you would want to do? And, do you know what your partner would want to do in that situation?

People of all ages are often unsure about the answer to that last question. But discussing one’s personal views on unplanned pregnancy and abortion before having sex, as opposed to only doing so after experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, is an important part of demonstrating sexual responsibility.

There are lots of reasons that someone might choose not to have sex with another person, and teens should know that having a different view than a partner about how to address an unplanned pregnancy is a perfectly good one.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to express sexuality without having penile/vaginal sex at all, and that can help avoid the possibility of pregnancy altogether. But a lot of young people don’t get that message, since when they do learn about sex, it is often in a heteronormative context that positions vaginal sex as the “gold standard,” or it is during a formal discussion of reproduction. Such narratives may inadvertently be sending the message that the natural progression of intimacy is a culminating act of vaginal intercourse. That can actually propel young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities into vaginal sex rather than a potentially safer and preferred alternative.

3. Teach young people about their birth control options and help them access it when needed.

Young people of all genders need to have accurate information about birth control. Teens who don’t get comprehensive sexuality education at school may not even know about their contraceptive options or that pregnancy does not have to be the inevitable outcome of sex. So parents and health-care providers should fill in the gaps by ensuring teens are aware of prescription methods of birth control like hormonal contraception or intrauterine devices, as well as condoms, which are available over the counter. Teens should also know about emergency contraception, which can be used up to five days after sex to help prevent pregnancy; since it does not end a pregnancy, it is not the same as the abortion pill. It is available over the counter to anyone regardless of age or gender.

Parents may also need to help teens access birth control by setting up health-care appointments, filling prescriptions, or even just driving them to the drug store.

***

When I first started teaching sex education 15 years ago, it was still common to separate boys and girls for topics like puberty and reproduction. For people who teach comprehensive sex education, this practice has become increasingly less common. But outside of such classrooms, the messages young people hear about a range of sexual and reproductive health issues can remain incredibly gendered and divided.

What we need to do is position abortion as part of the larger reproductive health-care conversation, then equip young people of all genders with accurate information, and give them the skills to talk about this and other aspects of sexuality with a partner. Doing this will help young people avoid a lot of the potential problems and confusion that so often arise when adults aren’t proactive about having these conversations.

Source: https://rewire.news/article/2019/07/12/how-to-talk-to-young-people-about-abortion/

Representative Jay Livingstone spoke during the 2019 Elected for Choice ceremony in June. (NATHAN KLIMA FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

“We need you guys” might not be a top-selling T-shirt at the next Women’s March, but it’s a message that women’s rights advocates are increasingly comfortable sending in a national climate growing hostile to reproductive rights. And it’s one that men in leadership positions — like 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg — have been amplifying.

After Alabama took steps to ban abortion recently, Booker, a US senator from New Jersey, wrote an open letter in GQ to all men, urging them to action. “Women should not have to face this fight alone,” he wrote, adding that “all people deserve to control their own bodies.”


In Massachusetts, abortion rights advocates who are countering the national trend by trying to expand abortion access actively sought a male ally to sponsor legislation on Beacon Hill.

“We felt strongly that as one of our co-leads, we needed a man,” NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts’ executive director, Rebecca Hart Holder, recently told supporters.

Not in a white-knight way, but because women’s issues can be relegated to second-class status unless they are framed as a matter of economic equality and racial justice, she noted.

“Men have to have skin in the game just as much as women do on reproductive freedom issues,” she said. “And honestly, there are quite a few men in the Legislature who really understood.”

On Beacon Hill, men are lead sponsors of numerous issues once regarded as female concerns. Representative Jack Patrick Lewis, a Framingham Democrat, teamed up with Representative Natalie Higgins, a Leominster Democrat, to sponsor a bill that aims to end sexual violence by teaching students about sexual consent, starting in kindergarten.

A few weeks ago, Lewis testified about the bill in the State House with his own kindergartner, Rafael, on his lap. “I’m doing what many of us who are parents do,” he told those assembled at the hearing. “We try to juggle. We try to balance.”


“As the parent of three boys, our family puts a great focus on the need to respect other people’s bodies,” Lewis said. “What our families need though is a Commonwealth that has that same respect codified into law. Which is why I am so committed to passing legislation that requires that sex education be scientifically accurate and inclusive of units on consent . . . along with state laws that truly respect a woman’s right to her own health care decisions.”

Lewis is also one of many cosponsors of the abortion access bill, known as the Roe Act. A lead sponsor — the guy who took up NARAL’s charge — is state Representative Jay Livingstone, a Back Bay Democrat honored by NARAL last month with an “Elected for Choice” award.

His bill would codify abortion rights into state law, eliminate a parental consent requirement for minors, and allow a woman carrying a fetus diagnosed with a fatal anomaly to have an abortion after 24 weeks.

Currently in Massachusetts, later abortions are allowed only to save a woman’s life or safeguard her health. A woman carrying a fetus with a fatal anomaly must either continue the pregnancy — anticipating that the baby will die soon after birth, if not before — or travel to another state where the late procedure is legal, often Colorado.

State Representative Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat who had a constituent in just such a situation, sees it as a matter of economic justice to accommodate families like hers facing agonizing medical decisions.


“It shouldn’t only be the people with the resources to fly to Colorado who have access,” Vitolo said.

But opponents fear that if later abortions are permitted in those circumstances, they will ultimately be permitted in any circumstances. And like President Trump, they continue to claim falsely that later abortions will lead to fetuses somehow surviving abortion attempts and being left to die in clinics.

So, on the day he received accolades from NARAL, Livingstone was pilloried by the Massachusetts Republican Party, which blasted him in Facebook ads as the sponsor of “the infanticide act.”

Livingstone — just in case this must be said — is not an advocate of infanticide. (He brought his wife, toddler, and baby to accept the NARAL award.) He wants women who get horrible news about their pregnancies to be able to get treatment from their own doctors here in Massachusetts.

“We have the best health care in the United States,” Livingstone told the NARAL crowd.

Livingstone urged abortion rights activists to thank other legislators who are standing up for women’s rights and are being “personally attacked with the worst, most outrageous rhetoric.”

Vitolo, for one, said it’s a matter of principle.

“For me, it’s a values vote. I believe that all women should have autonomy over their bodies,” Vitolo said.

Then, he added thoughtfully: “Men, too.”

Source: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/07/10/beacon-hill-and-beyond-women-seeking-male-allies/MprDbDv6Pv27ZcNUiEshcJ/story.html

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the nation’s strictest abortion ban into law in May, 2019

A UN official blasted the policy of outlawing abortionin some US states as “torture” and said there was a coordinated effort to attack women’s rights.

“We have not called it out in the same way we have other forms of extremist hate, but this is gender-based violence against women, no question,” United Nations deputy high commissioner for human rights, Kate Gilmore, told The Gaurdian.

“It’s clear it’s torture – it’s a deprivation of a right to health.”

Gilmore said that a UN committee has declared that absolute prohibition of abortion is against human right.

“This is a crisis. It’s a crisis directed at women,” she said, adding that the recent laws in Missouri and Alabama that seek to outlaw or curtail most abortions are “deeply distressing.”

The World Health Organization found that 30 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions in wealthy countries. But in poorer countries the number rose to 220 while it soars to 520 in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We have to stand with the evidence and facts and in solidarity with women, and in particular young women and minority women who are really under the gun,” Gilmore told the paper.

“This doesn’t affect well-off women in the same way as women with no resources, or able-bodied women the way it affects disabled women, and urban women the way it affects rural women,”

The American Medical Association is suing North Dakota to block two abortion-related laws, the latest signal the doctors’ group is shifting to a more aggressive stance as the Donald Trump administration and state conservatives ratchet up efforts to eliminate legal abortion.

The group, which represents all types of physicians in the U.S., has tended to stay on the sidelines of many controversial social issues, which, until recently, included abortion and contraception. Instead, it has focused on legislation affecting the practice and finances of large swaths of its membership.

But, says AMA President Patrice Harris, the organization feels that, in light of new state laws in the U.S. that would force doctors who perform abortions to lie to patients—put “physicians in a place where we are required by law to commit an ethical violation”—it has no choice but to take a stand. One of these laws, set to take effect Aug. 1, requires physicians in North Dakota to tell patients that medication abortions—a procedure involving two drugs taken at different times—can be reversed. The AMA said that is “a patently false and unproven claim unsupported by scientific evidence.” North Dakota is one of several states to pass such a measure.

The AMA, along with the last remaining abortion clinic in North Dakota, is also challenging an existing state law requiring doctors to tell pregnant women that an abortion terminates “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The AMA argues in a statement on the lawsuit that law “unconstitutionally forces physicians to act as the mouthpiece of the state.”

It’s the second time this year the AMA has taken legal action on an abortion-related issue. In March, the group filed a lawsuit in Oregon in response to the Trump administration’s new rules for the federal family planning program. Those rules would, among other things, ban doctors and other health professionals from referring pregnant patients for abortions.

“The Administration is putting physicians in an untenable situation, prohibiting us from having open, frank conversations with our patients about all their health care options—a violation of patients’ rights under the [AMA’s] Code of Medical Ethics,” wrote then-AMA President Barbara McAneny.

It’s an unusually assertive stance for a group that has taken multiple positions on abortion-related issues over the years.

Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University who has written several books about abortion, says the AMA’s history on abortion is complicated. In general, she says, the AMA “didn’t want to get into the issue because of the political fallout and because historically there have been doctors in the AMA on both sides of the issue.”

In its earliest days, the AMA led the fight to outlaw abortion in the late 1800s, as doctors wanted to assert their professionalism and clear the field of “untrained” practitioners like midwives.

Abortion was not an issue for the group in the first half of the 20th century. The AMA became best known for successful fights to fend off national health insurance. Leading up to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, the AMA reentered the fray, and appeared to soften its opposition. In 1970, the AMA board called for abortion decisions to be between “a woman and her doctor.”

But the organization declined to submit a friend-of-the-court brief to the high court during its consideration of Roe. Then, in 1997, in a surprise move, the AMA endorsed a GOP-backed measure to ban what opponents called “partial-birth abortions,” a little-used procedure that anti-abortion forces likened to infanticide.

In recent years, the AMA has taken mostly a back seat on abortion issues, even ones that directly addressed physician autonomy, leaving the policy lead to specialty groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has consistently defended doctors’ rights to practice medicine as they see fit when it comes to abortion issues.

Ziegler said it is not entirely clear why the AMA has suddenly become more outspoken on women’s reproductive issues. One reason could be that the organization’s membership is skewing younger and less conservative. This year, for the first time, the AMA’s top elected officials are all women.

One reason the organization may be moving on the issue now could be shifting public opinion on abortion. In 1997, the abortion procedure ban that the AMA endorsed “polled well and allowed abortion opponents to paint the other side as extremist,” Ziegler says.

Exactly the opposite is true today, she says: most public opinion polls show a majority of Americans want abortion to remain legal in many or most cases.

“As abortion opponents take more extreme positions”—as states pass abortion bans more sweeping than those seen at any time since Roe v. Wade— “the AMA is probably a little more comfortable intervening,” Ziegler says.

Molly Duane, a lawyer from the abortion-rights legal advocacy group Center for Reproductive Rights, who is arguing the case for the AMA and North Dakota’s sole remaining abortion clinic, says the laws they’re challenging are “something all doctors should be alarmed by.… This is an unprecedented act of invading the physician-patient relationship and forcing words into the mouths of physicians.”

Leana S. Wen is an emergency physician and the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The turkey sandwich I always had for lunch tasted different. My colleague’s perfume was suddenly overpowering. I could hardly keep awake; when I slept, I had leg cramps and vivid dreams.

I knew before I took the test: I was pregnant.

I was thrilled. My husband and I had been trying for months. We wanted another child, a sibling for our son, Eli, now almost 2. I’m 36; my husband is 44; we didn’t want to wait much longer. Though I worried about how I would do my demanding job with two small children, I also believed that fulfilling my deep desire to expand our family would send a strong message for the organization I represent: We support all people in their decisions when and whether to become parents.

We got more and more excited as we planned for Baby No. 2. If it was a girl, we had a name picked out; if it was a boy, we’d have to go through the baby-name books again. We measured the spare room to turn it into a nursery. We started teaching Eli to be more gentle. I began to plan my maternity leave.

Then, just as suddenly as they’d come on, my nausea, exhaustion and other symptoms went away. I knew even before I went to my doctor that I’d had a pregnancy loss.

When the test results confirmed it, I felt numb. Then I felt the guilt. I knew this was not rational — as many as 1 in 5 pregnancies result in miscarriage, with unsurvivable genetic issues as a major cause of early pregnancy loss. In the emergency room, I’ve counseled many patients who suffered miscarriages. I told myself what I’ve told dozens of women and families, that no one knows what caused the miscarriage, and there’s nothing that could have been done differently. Yet, I couldn’t stop the self-blame: Was it all the travel? Was it the late nights? What if I’d had less stress?

A few days later, I was on a work trip when I started having heavy bleeding and cramping. At the same time I was going through my miscarriage, I was being asked to respond to the breaking story of 27-year-old Marshae Jones facing manslaughter charges (later dropped) for undergoing the same bodily process. Someone shot her in the belly, resulting in her miscarriage, and — incredibly — she was the one accused of a crime. As I spoke, it was hard for me to hold back my tears. How would I have felt if I were Jones — suffering severe bodily harm and mourning the loss of a potential life, while at the same time facing the prospect of imprisonment?

Over the past several months, I’d been on the front lines of the fight against dozens of extreme legislative efforts to ban abortion care. Now, I pictured myself as a woman having a miscarriage in Alabama, Missouri and Georgia. Not only have these states passed bans on abortion early in pregnancy, before many women even know that they’re pregnant, but their new laws also would allow the investigation of women who have had miscarriages to determine whether they, in fact, had an abortion. To be enforceable, any laws that criminalize doctors in this way would require that women be investigated. What cruelty would that be, to compound the trauma of my miscarriage with the indignity of a government investigation into my personal medical records?

Already, in recent years in Tennessee, Wisconsin, Alabama and numerous other states, women have been arrested for endangering their pregnancies by using addictive substances, or falling down the stairs, or taking medications legally prescribed by their doctors. In 2012 in Pennsylvania, Jennifer Whalen brought her 16-year-old daughter to the ER because she was having bleeding and cramping. In the hospital, Whalen admitted that she helped her daughter obtain an abortion by purchasing pills on the Internet. Eventually, she was arrested, convicted and received a jail sentence of nine to 18 months.

If pregnant people are too terrified to seek medical care, they will be forced to make impossible trade-offs, at the cost of their health and lives. I once treated a woman in her late 20s who had a miscarriage complication. If she’d received care early, she could have had a simple outpatient procedure. But by the time she came to the ER, she had such a severe infection that she had to have a hysterectomy and was in the ICU for weeks. My patient suffered serious injury and almost died because she didn’t have health insurance — a situation no one should face — just as no one should have to decide how close to death she needs to be to risk imprisonment for health care.

I was able to return home and visit my regular doctor to receive follow-up care. As I recover over the Fourth of July weekend with my family, I decided to write about my experience because I want to break the silence and shame that often come with pregnancy loss. I also write because my miscarriage has made my commitment to women’s health even stronger. If we truly care about the health of women, children and families, we must commit to policies that provide pregnant women with the care, humanity and dignity that all people deserve.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/leana-wen-my-miscarriage-has-made-my-commitment-to-womens-health-even-stronger/2019/07/05/43962668-9f3f-11e9-b27f-ed2942f73d70_story.html?fbclid=IwAR2GndwWOJWT4q5i4E5C4YzPbhOSdLnIfD3BJ2iOoPNc_RWOZnHlV45Bl-g&utm_term=.a96c0ec14fce

We’ve marched, we’ve tweeted, we’ve asked nicely but now we want to take the government to court over abortion rights in Northern Ireland, writes Cara Sanquest

Living in London for the past few years, I’ve found that two facts often surprise people here. First, that Northern Ireland is part of the UK; second, that abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland.

Three years ago, I co-founded a campaign group, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. We have marched, we have protested. We have written to our MPs, we have tweeted, we have chanted. Women have spoken out about their personal stories, women’s homes in Northern Ireland have been raided by police looking for abortion pills. And nothing has changed. We’ve been ignored by the UK government. We’ve been told that it’s a devolved matter. We’ve been told now is not the right time. We’ve been told to wait.

But we know that ‘waiting’ really means continuing the denial of basic healthcare, risking our lives and our health, sacrificing our autonomy, and keeping quiet while politicians wring their hands. I’m from the Republic of Ireland, and was part of an army of women who fought to repeal the total ban on abortion. We know what happens when change comes too late. I will never forget waking up to the news, in 2012 , that Savita Halappanavar had died in an Irish hospital because doctors would not give her a potentially life saving abortion after being told ‘This is a Catholic country’. In that moment something inside me changed – we were all culpable.

In 2010, Enda Kenny, our then Taoiseach said abortion was ‘not of priority’ when the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Ireland because the total ban forced a woman to travel to England for an abortion while having chemotherapy. In 2014, even after Savita Halappanavar died, the horrors of the Eighth Amendment came thick and fast. Miss Y, an asylum-seeker who had been raped, was turned back from an English port while travelling for an abortion. She went on hunger strike, became suicidal, and underwent a forced C-section. In the same year, a pregnant woman who was clinically dead was kept alive against her family’s wishes.It was called ‘experimental medicine’ and deemed unlawful.

It’s hard to fathom now how the Irish political establishment could claim that calling a referendum was not a priority sooner. Over 35 years, approximately 200,000 women and girls travelled from Ireland to England for abortion. Now, we are seeing the same intransigence in Westminster. How long will this government put its deal with the DUP ahead of providing healthcare to women and girls in Northern Ireland? How long will the government pledge to protect the ‘precious union’ of the UK, but treat women and girls in Northern Ireland as second class citizens? A prominent DUP MP, Sammy Wilson, was ‘not embarrassed’ about Northern Ireland’s abortion laws and said that without them children would be ‘discarded and put in a bin before they were ever born’. How long will the government hide behind devolution to defend its inaction on one of the harshest abortion laws in the world?

On November 18th, the mother of a 15-year-old girl (pregnant as a result of statutory rape) will stand trial in Northern Ireland for getting abortion pills for her daughter who was in an abusive relationship. The police were supplied with the daughter’s confidential GP records without her knowledge.These are the same pills that are available in England. On the NHS. And have been for the past 50 years.

Abortion in Northern Ireland is punishable by up to life in prison. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, or where the foetus will not survive after birth. The United Nations has called the abortion law in Northern Ireland “tantamount to torture”, the UK Supreme Court has “radical reconsideration’  is required and that the law ‘treats women like vehicles’. The UN is clear that devolution is no excuse, but the government continues to use this to justify inaction.

In 2017, an amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy, with wide cross-party support, forced the government agreed to waive the fees for women from Northern Ireland to England for abortion. In October last year, a further amendment tabled by Creasy and Conor McGinn passed by a huge majority. This time, it sought to hold Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland accountable for the human rights violations associated with denial of abortion care and equal marriage rights. But Bradley and the government have continued to pass the buck to Stormont.

But Stormont has not sat for over two and a half years, and next week the government will kick the can farther down the road by postponing elections for another five months. Next week, Creasy will again table a series of amendments to compel the government to take responsibility for its human rights obligations on abortion in Northern Ireland.

Human rights rest on the accountability of governments, but this government seems content with using women and girls human rights as a bargaining chip to stay in power. On Friday, we began legal proceedings against the government, and launched a crowdfund to fund our case. We are a volunteer, grassroots campaign and we are worried about the costs of taking the government to court, but this is happening on our watch, and we are ready to push for change through every route. We might not win our case, but we will keep going. The North doesn’t need to be next. It needs to be now.

Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/northern-ireland-abortion_uk_5d23047ae4b0f3125686a6d2?fbclid=IwAR3XVuuyZ8DhykhqdMrNBook3krp4UPnUJqlBj2f6fWTA_Xl7OSMUjTg2T0&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZmFjZWJvb2suY29tLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAIHtUKG4w8bBx-ugF7zfXdkj20GF0kEdOXLRpncXcuxOwnIaYBlm-vXeETR73G1K2NO9_Ln8O-7BNdLEyGefDUFlsJsnS5Aj-IOuzGG7z8c6IfckbNp9nLCSdktMklHEWhpzcAxeelctGUw9regAD8wdTx2dw2BG_Hp1YN6hJAXM

“Thank you for helping save my life by allowing me to choose,” one woman wrote to an abortion fund that helps pay for women to have abortions they couldn’t otherwise afford.

A worker from the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund walks using an umbrella loaned to her by the clinic escorts at Little Rock Family Planning Services to shield herself from anti-abortion protesters.

Karen Musick wears comfortable shoes and holds a large rainbow umbrella, not to protect herself from the sun or rain but to shield women entering and leaving the clinic from the gaze or comments of the anti-abortion protesters outside.

Musick has been volunteering outside the Little Rock Family Planning Services abortion clinic for nearly five years, she told BuzzFeed News. She began as a volunteer clinic escort in 2013, during the annual 40 Days for Life campaign in which anti-abortion protesters gather outside the clinic, and others around the world, in larger numbers than usual for 40 days, typically in the fall, often proselytizing and holding up signs as women come in and out. But over time it became clear, she said, that they were needed more than just those 40 days every year. As abortion has increasingly become a hotly contested issue in Arkansas — which recently passed a ban on abortion after 18 weeks — and around the country, clinic escorting has become a year-round job for Musick and other volunteers.

After about a year and a half of escorting, Musick and two other volunteers decided to start the Arkansas Abortion Support Network (AASN), an abortion fund that helps Arkansas women pay for the procedure and helps get them to the clinic.

Abortion funds exist all over the US, working with local abortion clinics to help provide financial and practical support for women facing barriers to getting abortions. Some, like the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, provide any form of help they can, including helping women pay their bills or transporting them across state lines. AASN, however, is relatively young and only helps women within the state. But that’s still a lot of women.

Clinic escorts use large umbrellas to shield patients from anti-abortion demonstrators at the Reproductive Health Services center in Montgomery, Alabama, on May 24.

“In the three years we’ve existed, we’ve helped well over 200 women from Arkansas [with] in excess of $40,000 [in funding],” Musick told BuzzFeed News, standing outside the clinic and keeping one eye on the entrance in case someone was coming in who needed her help.

AASN helps supplement the cost of the abortion procedure or sometimes pays for it entirely. The network’s volunteers transport women seeking abortions who live within a 50-mile radius of the clinic and sometimes help arrange rides outside of that range. They also help women find lodging in the area if they don’t live in Little Rock and need to stay overnight for a two-day appointment, or if it’s more convenient for the women to stay in the area during Arkansas’s mandatory 48-hour waiting period between a consultation for an abortion and the actual procedure. Women can’t take children into the clinic with them during the procedure, so AASN will often help look after the kids during that time.

One day earlier this month, as Musick was standing outside the clinic, a staff member came outside for a smoke and a chat and handed Musick a manila envelope.

“There’s some good ones today,” she told Musick, smiling.

In the envelope were about a dozen anonymous letters to AASN that women had handwritten that day in that very clinic. While Musick was outside, the women were waiting to have their abortions in the clinic and writing the messages, thanking AASN for its help.

“These are always so powerful,” she said.

At BuzzFeed News’ request, Musick opened the envelope and began reading the letters aloud, standing in the shade outside the clinic door.

Toward the end of the letters, tears came to her eyes.

One woman wrote:

I struggle with a somewhat abusive, unstable relationship in which we already have one kid. He means the world to me, but I didn’t want to bring another kid into this world with the chance of his father not supporting adoption or abusing me about putting it up for adoption.

Early trimester abortion helped put me back on track with my life goals, and that was only possible thanks to the Arkansas Abortion Support Network and [the National Abortion Fund]. It helped a lot because I didn’t have the money and didn’t know how I would be able to take care of two kids with no help, thanks a lot I really appreciate the help and support.

Another woman wrote:

I’m 37 years old, I have two children ages 12 and 1. My 12-year-old was diagnosed with a serious disease at the age of 1, my 1-year-old has been having trouble talking and I’m concerned she has autism. Daycare for her is $600 a month, she gets sick so much from daycare I ended up losing my job as a result. Now I have no source of income and I’m facing being evicted.

A third letter read:

Thank you so much for your help. I am doing this procedure because I am battling with financial issues and I have a child that has a medical condition, so I’m doing this alone. I’m 28 and separated. I’m also a full-time grad student.

The father of my children got involved in federal drug trafficking, he has since changed his life but he faces a very lengthy prison sentence in a few weeks. Due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed by Congress, he’ll be in prison at least 10 years. That leaves me to raise two kids, and one completely alone. Having another child would be financial suicide. Things are going to be hard enough as it is.

Thank you for helping save my life by allowing me to choose.

Listen to the letters from women waiting to get abortions

Abortion fund volunteer Karen Musick reads letters women wrote while waiting outside the Little Rock Family Planning Services abortion clinic to get their abortions.

This was an exercise AASN started a few years ago. The clinic workers ask women the fund has helped if they want to write their stories down while they await the procedure. The vast majority say yes, Musick said.

The Little Rock clinic’s director, Lori Williams, told BuzzFeed News that the work that AASN and other abortion funds are doing is critical for their patients.

“The funds have been extraordinarily helpful in getting our patients the care they need, essential in some cases,” Williams said. “We talk to every patient about their ability to access funding and programs that are available if they qualify.

“Travel is the biggest barrier patients face, and having to do multiple visits. As patients have more need and need to travel more with the loss of clinics, these funds have become more and more essential,” Williams said. “That’s been the most dramatic effect — not so much changes in the laws in gestation, but closure of clinics that push more patients from out of state into needing to come here.”

After five years of doing this nearly every week — and almost every day since she retired about a year ago — Musick knows everyone at the clinic. Throughout the day, clinic workers will come up to her to chat, sometimes offering her food and asking how the protesters outside are behaving.

There were only three that day, standing outside the gate. A middle-aged couple stood silently wearing sun hats and holding signs with Bible verses written on them. Another man stood near them, preaching through a bullhorn.

“Mind your own business!!” one of the medical assistants stood up from the bench and yelled at the protesters. “I’ll shove that bullhorn up your ass,” she added more quietly. Her colleagues laughed.

Andrea Morales for BuzzFeed News

A painted rock with an illustration of a hanger crossed out is part of a display outside Little Rock Family Planning Services.

The clinic workers and escorts know most of the protesters by their first names and say the protesters know them by theirs. It’s usually the same people out there every day, the workers said. Some are quiet and just stand there, mostly not bothering anyone unless they are spoken to, but some of them yell all day at the patients and anyone else coming into the clinic.

“One day the protesters started showing up in our vests, in the same color, with umbrellas and clipboards, looking like us,” Musick told BuzzFeed News. The escorts cycled through several different vest colors to try to differentiate themselves, but the protesters would soon show up with the same ones and they had to start all over again. Eventually the clinic escorts decided to wear rainbow colors, thinking wearing the symbol of LGBTQ pride would finally dissuade the protesters from imitating them. But it didn’t.

“Thank you for helping save my life by allowing me to choose.”

This is a newer method used by anti-abortion activists who find the more traditional methods of clinic protesters — fear tactics and shaming, for example — crass and ineffective. Instead, the “sidewalk advocates,” as they refer to themselves, attempt to blend in with the clinic escorts and approach the women to ask them if they really want to have an abortion, and refer them to the anti-abortion clinic that is usually nearby.

“We’re used to it being crazy out here sometimes,” another clinic worker told BuzzFeed News, puffing on a cigarette. “Look at where we are and what we do; you gotta grow a thick skin.”

A medical assistant standing nearby chimed in, saying she’s worked at the clinic for seven years.

“I can’t be out and proud about where I work. I can’t tell people where I work, but I love fighting the good fight, I really do, and I’m gonna continue to fight the fight.” she told BuzzFeed News.

“You know, I gave my first baby up for adoption and that wasn’t for me, just like abortion isn’t for everybody. Doing that killed me,” she added. “We deserve to have a right, to have a choice; that’s all it is.”

Source: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emaoconnor/abortion-fund-women-letters-arkansas?fbclid=IwAR3nWMTFdL24en9-DstTi-hL3fjH3UbEeaVgezejlvrBF_3iZDEhMb4JaeQ