Patient post-J.R.’s Abortion Story

This is the first in a series of posts we will be doing featuring the words of patients, friends and family members who have had experiences at JWHO. For obvious reasons many women want to remain anonymous when they share their stories. J.R. had her procedure at JWHO in 2006 she reports she received excellent, caring care at the clinic. This is her story in her words

“I attended my first abortion rally when the Abortion Rights Freedom Riders came through Mississippi in August of 2013. I used to lean towards Pro-Life as a young adult but also leaned towards the belief that when it came down to it, it was a woman’s choice. My story has experienced both sides of the coin. As a young 21 year old I became pregnant. I lived at home with my parents and the guy I was dating was a good guy, but it wasn’t working. He was in love with someone else. He tried to make it work, but around my 7th month it all pretty much fell apart.

I struggled with the idea of being a single mom, how would I make it, what man will want me with a kid, all the preconceived notions that a young person has and all the fear that comes with it. I already felt so ashamed for my family who were and are your typical loving church going Christians. They loved and supported me but we didn’t “flaunt” the fact that I was pregnant. I had no baby shower, there was no “happiness” in this situation.

I worked two jobs to pay off the debt I had at the time and prepared for my life changing event. We discovered my baby had deformities, she would be ok but she was going to need surgeries. This was disheartening but we were all ok. I wept for her, I wept for me, I wept for the burden I felt we would be on my family. During a weekly dr’s visit, 2 weeks away from my due date, to listen for her heartbeat-they could not find the heartbeat. The dr took me into his office and began to tell me what I couldn’t believe I was hearing. He wanted me to come back the next day and they would do one more ultrasound to try to find the heartbeat and if it wasn’t there I would be admitted into the hospital to induce labor.

I got into my mother’s car and broke down. I was heartbroken that all of a sudden, this baby that was unexpected that was going to need so much care, that was going to change my life forever was dead. All of a sudden all the “worries” that I had had over being a single mom were gone and I was left being a mom in grief. How could I not want something so bad and be so sad over it when I was terrified of what was to come? I called the father of the baby, he came to me just as upset. He stayed with me that night. Then went with me the next day to not hear the heart beat.

We went to the hospital and they prepared me to give birth to my dead daughter. I held her, I loved her, I buried her. I mourned a long time for her. I blamed myself for so many things. Things I could have done differently, things I could not go back and change. I promised her I would make something out of my life and make her proud.

Fast forward 8 years, I was now 29 living on my own with a good job. Everything was going pretty well for me except my love life. I was dating a guy and we had been together for a couple years but my heart wasn’t in it. I was about to end it at any moment, I had just not worked up the nerve to do it. Then one day it happened, I found out that I was pregnant.

No! Not again! How could I have let this happen again?! I felt anger at myself because I should have known better. Did I not learn everything I needed to know through my tragic experience? I did not want to spend the rest of my life with this person and I could not put my family though another unexpected unwanted pregnancy. I just said over and over and over to myself….I can’t do this….I can’t do this. I was racked with anger, guilt, grief, remorse and sadness because obviously I had not lived up to the promise I had made to my daughter. I was barely making it pay check to pay check. I could not do it. The time wasn’t right. The man wasn’t right. I couldn’t go through another possible difficult pregnancy, not with someone I wasn’t in love with. I just couldn’t.

So I made my decision. I went to the clinic and I made arrangements to have my abortion. I told no one but one friend that went with me. I walked inside those doors alone. I sat in the waiting room alone. I went home after it was over alone. I punished myself with my own guilt. It was not an easy choice to make but it was my choice to make. Contrary to what the anti’s like to think we do not make these choices lightly. We do not use abortions as birth control or an excuse to be a loose woman. We struggle. We hope. We believe. We choose. Now I am married to the love of my life, I could not be any happier and as far as kids…..well, we’ll see where our love takes us.”

We thank her for having the courage to share her story!

I don’t regret helping my daughter get an abortion

by Laurie Bertram Roberts

“It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them”- Alfred Adler

It was a day I never thought would happen. I thought I had done everything to guard against it. Yet several months ago there I was hearing that my 15 year old daughter was pregnant.

It all seemed so surreal. How could this have happened to us? As I stood listening to her tell me  the test was positive I struggled with the strong desire to scream and cry. In my mind my daughter knew better. She is the homeschooled daughter of the president of the state chapter of a national feminist organization. The first time she ever spoke at the capitol was at a joint Senate and House hearing on teen pregnancy. She was 13 and spoke about the need for comprehensive sex education. She and I along with her sister are clinic escorts. She knows all about birth control, condoms, and Plan B. She has always had knowledge about and access to contraception as well as being encouraged to wait until she is older to have sex.

This was one of those moments in life when I was faced with living my beliefs. I had always said if one of my daughters got pregnant as a teen I wouldn’t flip out and judge her like so many parents do. I would love her, respect her, and let her choose how to handle it. I would support her no matter what. Yet my mind immediately did judge and I wanted to shake her.

I took a deep breath put my arm around her and said “everything will be ok”. Then we traveled down the short hall to the counseling room at the clinic we escort at. I kept telling myself “stay calm, breathe, she needs to know you love her”. As we sat down all she kept saying was “I don’t know how this happened” over and over. The truth was in that moment she couldn’t remember having sex the one time with the young man she was seeing. She isn’t alone this happens to grown women all the time who find themselves faced with unplanned pregnancy. The clinic ultrasound tech peaked in with a soft smile and offered to take her back to see how far along she was.

Left alone with two staff members I broke down in tears saying “she knew better” and “I warned her”. It’s funny how all the rational things you know about teen sex and pregnancy go out the window in a crisis. The truth is my daughter was using condoms. Guess what sometimes they fail. Especially, when children who aren’t educated in their use like my child is are the ones placing them on their penis.

So there we were sitting, waiting. The clinic counselor said I was the calmest parent she had ever seen- so I guess there’s that. Even with that comment I couldn’t help feeling awful. Like I failed.

Like I suspected my daughter returned and said she was 5 weeks pregnant. I told her calmly and plainly she had three options she could parent, she could choose adoption or she could have an abortion. I also told her she had time to decide since she was so early in her pregnancy.

Let me tell you my daughter and I both LOVE babies! She loves kids. She is a great babysitter. She and her sister have a babysitting business. She wants to be a mom. She also helps me as a doula. Yet none of this means she is ready to be a mother at 15.

The clinic was closed the next week so we had over a week to be home with her being incredibly morning sick , unable to eat and asking questions about what it was like to be a teen mom. I was honest with her. I wouldn’t trade my children for anything but it was hard VERY hard. It is nothing like the fairy tale that anti choicers sell  to girls. Yes you can get benefits but you have to tell the state all your business to get them.  I had to work two and three jobs at a time often missing majors parts of my children’s lives. I wouldn’t have made it without my mother helping me every step of the way.

I made plans in my head for each options, if she chose to parent I thought it would be hard but we could do it. I’m a doula who works with teen moms I know the ropes. I tried not to tell her what to do and just gave her simple honest answers to her questions. It was about a day before we addressed the huge issue looming-the fact that my daughter has a illness that is managed by medication that is not compatible with pregnancy. The option for her would be to go off her medication and risk her health severely deteriorating during the pregnancy to the point of hospitalization.  Those are a lot of factors to lay at the feet of a 15 y/o girl but this was not my pregnancy or my choice it was hers alone. She spent hours curled up like a baby as I stroked her hair and after days of quiet reflection SHE settled on abortion as her choice.

So I made sure she received religious counseling pre procedure from Faith Aloud. She read the stories of other women online on the I had an abortion FB page.  I wanted her to know even there was no shame in what she was choosing to do she was walking a road many had walked before her. I wanted her to understand she had control. This was HER decision and she would have to be a parent, she would be the one relinquishing if she chose adoption and only she would be having an abortion, not me. I told her she could change her mind.  She said nope she knew what she wanted to do.

Doing the work I do I already knew the extra hoops parents are required to go through to obtain an abortion for their daughter if she is under 16. Let me tell you that knowing something and living something are two different things. In Mississippi a girl under 16 has to have parental permission from BOTH parents, a picture ID, and her birth certificate (which is redundant if she has a state ID since it was used to get the ID but whatever). It is the first time I was ever happy that Kayla’s father is not on her birth certificate because tracking him down wasn’t going to happen, we barely speak.

I had never even thought about having to go through the hoops of getting my daughter a state ID. We like many families in poverty who have moved often couldn’t find her birth certificate so I had to send off to her state of birth for that, priority mail. Then there was actually securing the ID. Our vehicle which like many low income families runs when it feels like it decided to break down when we were driving around to get the ID. Thankfully we have friends who could help us not everyone does. We also live in the city were we can get all this done . We didn’t have to drive 30 minutes or more away like many women.

We are fortunate that when my daughter and I couldn’t get through on the NAF hotline for abortion fund help (medicaid only pays for abortion in very rare cases my daughter’s wasn’t one her pregnancy was not a result of rape or sexual assault and she wasn’t about to die), I was give a person to call to get her intake completed. We were fortunate that we are surrounded by pro choice friends who were able to pitch in and help us with the cost of her procedure and take the day off to support her, unlike many of the families we see at the clinic.  Not only was I there on that day but a close friend who is a therapist was there in case she wanted to talk, had feelings to deal with, or just changed her mind and wanted to go home and come up with a different plan.

The day of her procedure she insisted on volunteering as an escort.  Which actually worked out well because when procedure time rolled around the protesters didn’t even notice her.  They were too busy harassing the other women coming and going to notice a regular fixture especially since we had several camera crews on site and they were showing off for them. In fact we were in a group of patients whose feet were filmed receiving the state mandated pre procedure counseling.

Since she is a minor she had the option to have me in the room for her procedure but she wanted to go alone.My daughter received excellent care. The doctor who performed my daughters procedure was caring and polite not only to my daughter but to me.   He asked her again before they started if she wanted to do it and talked to her through the whole procedure (I’ll let her tell her story in her own post).  Her procedure was quick and without complications.

She went home and rested. I felt relieved, she felt relieved. I was happy that she had choices and wouldn’t have to postpone or give up the chances like I did. Happy that she wasn’t being forced to risk her health to give birth. Within a few days she decided she wanted to go back to the clinic and volunteer to escort.  I thought she might want a break that the insults of the anti choice harassers might bother her. Nope, in fact her resolve was greater than ever. I don’t think she ever thought it would be her at the clinic. She says she just wants to help and she does just that.

For me the hardest thing about this whole journey has been living up to the principles I say I live by. It is easy to say we are “pro-choice” or “reproductive justice activists” those are  just words and titles if not put into action. It is hard to live them and let the people we love have autonomy, choice, and honor their decisions as their own regardless of what we think and feel they should do.

I know there are people who want to know if I regret helping my daughter with her abortion NO I DON’T! Frankly if she or one of her sisters were pregnant and asked me tomorrow I would do it again. Why? Their bodies, their reproductive futures are THEIR OWN not mine! They are my children-I do not own them. I guide them, I help them, I love them. That is my job. I am their mother NOT their owner.

I am proud of my daughter for deciding what was right for her and being willing to share her story with others and confront abortion stigma. There are plenty of people who wish to make her be ashamed and remain silent. She is rejecting that. She is refusing to be shamed by those who wrap their shaming in a guise of Christian love too (if she wants your prayer or thinks she needs forgiveness she’ll call you). As a mother and woman of color I will continue to strive to make sure no one ever has the right to tell my children or anyone else when, how, and if they procreate. As a people we have already been there done that and it didn’t work out well.

Below is a copy of the speech my daughter wrote and gave at the rally on 8/17/13. In case anyone asks I advised her against going public with her story but she said and I quote “I want girls like me to know it’s ok and they will be ok”.  Since she has went public the libelous slurs against my daughter and our family have already started. Kayla says she doesn’t care she wants other girls to know all their options and that they don’t have to be ashamed.  That is what she tells girls when they come to her for help. We then refer them where they need to go including if they need a doctor and a doula for their birth. That’s the thing about supporting women’s reproductive health and well being you have to support a range of decisions not just what you would choose.

“Hello my name is Kayla, I am 15 years old and I had an abortion. The day I found out I was pregnant I was scared and ashamed because I was 15 and pregnant. I had a big choice to make-should I stay pregnant, chose adoption, or have an abortion.
I cried because I want to be a mom one day but I was not ready for such a huge step at such a young age. So I chose to have an abortion. I was scared but I knew I was doing the right thing.
Did I feel sad? Yes. Do I regret it? No! Because I know that the spirit I named Mariah will go on to a woman who is ready for her. I love my mom for being so supportive of my choice- I love her for that.
For all the young ladies that might have been or will be in this situation- you are not alone. There are people who support you-always. Even when you don’t know it. Abortion is not a bad thing, it’s a lifesaver! I can now be who I need to be and I know God still loves me! Thank you.”

young fems

Delivering speech at the rally supported by her younger sister and myself-public speaking is scary

Kayla Roberts
JWHO Clinic Escort, Young Feminist

I support my choice

Kayla at rally with a sign she made

 

It’s easy to be pro-life until…..

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

The sun was beating down through the car window, my mouth was dry and my legs felt like lead.  I was trying to figure out how I ended up here. In my mind I knew how- I was a bad girl I was stupid and careless. I kept telling myself all those things. How did I let this happen?  I couldn’t be pregnant now. So there I was 22 years old mother of 5 about to do something I thought I would never do. Have an abortion. See I wasn’t like those other women, you know the ones, the irresponsible ones who didn’t “own their life choices”. The reason I had 5 kids is I owned my “mistakes”.

Abortion had never even been an option for me when I found out I was pregnant at 16. In fact the first place I called to go for a pregnancy test wasn’t Planned Parenthood it was Birthright a anti choice organization that offered services much like a Crisis Pregnancy Center. I couldn’t go to Planned Parenthood when I was 16 because everything in my upbringing had told me they were evil and I had believed them.

As a little girl sitting in the dark stained wooden pews of our fundamentalist Baptist church I often had questions. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear pants when I was younger and then when we switched churches God magically changed his mind and I could. Only I still had to always wear skirts to church ALWAYS! That always made me wonder what would happen if I didn’t would God come down and smite me? I mean I was only one little girl in Wisconsin -I always figured God had better things to do. I often wondered why women couldn’t be church leaders or speak in church except during “women’s events”. I was always full of questions. It was never ok to question the good book and the teachings of God. So even though I was a questioning type I never really thought twice about my church’s stance on abortion or all the things I learned as a child and adolescent about abortion and sex. I did mention I was raised fundamentalist evangelical Baptist, right? Think Jerry Falwell,  (except oddly my grandmother strongly disliked him) John Hagee and Pat Robinson kinds of ideas.  There were lots of rules about life, especially sex and well women we don’t get a say.

Rule one-was sex is BAAAADDDD I mean it bad! It was dirty and bad, until it magically became good when you found the right God fearing (same race) man and got married. Then sex and babies were great- actually required.  In fact if you couldn’t have babies you weren’t suppose to be too shocked if your husband wanted a woman who could provide him children. (that is a whole other post) Rule two- If you were a girl who was dumb enough to get raped or slutty and tempted some good man to have sex with you or weak enough to let some bad man tempt you and you got knocked up- tough cookies for you. Abortion was NEVER an option. Not for rape, not for incest, and especially not for slutty girls who should have heeded God’s will and kept their lady parts to themselves (By the way NO masturbation either y’all if you’re horny just PRAY). Hormonal birth control is abortion and abortion is murder. I am a child of the 80s. Anti abortion rhetoric was very popular in my church then. I heard often about the holocaust being committed against the unborn. How I should be proud as the mulatto child of a single mom that she owned up to her sin and had me. I really couldn’t thank people enough for calling me a black bastard baby on the sly. I was 12 when my mother experienced a stillbirth it was one more reason to demonize women who get abortions. How dare they throw away the chance she would give anything to have back. What ungrateful people they must be. I heard over and over how only selfish women chose to destroy the life God had blessed them with. This was usually paired with the story of some good Christian family who was just waiting to adopt but couldn’t. Of course it was because of abortion they couldn’t adopt. More than anything I heard how Planned Parenthood injured, maimed, and killed women. That they didn’t provide real health care and were only out to make money. The accusation that always stuck with me was that they would give you an abortion even if you weren’t pregnant.

I grew up hearing those things until I was 14 and they were still with me as my friend and I walked past protesters who called me a murderer, told me to “be responsible” and they would “help me love my baby”  and yelled at me not to “kill my baby”. They didn’t know or understand that I had 5 babies at home to care for-one under a year old-and a doctor who had warned me not to get pregnant for at least two years or it could kill me.  I didn’t want to be there but I NEEDED to be there.  I hadn’t wanted to go through the state mandated 24 hour waiting period, the informed consent lecture by phone, the stupid video of what an abortion is. Not because any of it made me feel guilty it all just seem like an insult to my intellect. It just drew out the inevitable rather. I knew what I was there for.

So I sat in the waiting room looking around at the other women thinking “I wonder what her story is”. They all looked different some were calm, some scared, some tired, none of us looked like we wanted to be there.  Some of them may have been “good girls” who would go back to church on Sunday and act like abortion is evil. I held my friend’s hand and I waited. They finally called me back for my ultrasound. The technician, who had been chatting with me, got strangely quiet and then called the doctor in. The doctor introduced himself and said “Ms. Roberts there is no heartbeat and it seem the embryo stopped progressing several weeks ago- you are going to have a miscarriage. You should go home and contact your regular doctor especially if you don’t start bleeding in a few days. If you don’t have a regular doctor you can follow up with us. We will refund your money on your way out” He smiled at me gently and patted my hand. My mind was blown! They were suppose to be giving me a back alley abortion procedure right then and there according to everything I was ever taught. I had already began to question my views but this meant I had been lied to flat out for years! The morning I got up to go and get an abortion I still considered myself pro-life. I was one of those people that said I would never have an abortion but what you do is your business. That was a big step for me from abortion is always murder and those women are going to hell. Still for me I was not one of them. Those women were irresponsible I had a medical reason that made me different, right?

The truth is, it was that day that I realized I wasn’t different than those women and although I was sent home that day I am no better or worse than the 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion in their lifetime. Had they not sent me home I would have had that abortion and several days later when my body spontaneously aborted I was relieved to no longer be pregnant. I will never apologize for not wanting to be pregnant or willing to take the medical risk at that time to have another child.

I learned far from being crazed money hungry boogie bears abortion providers are compassionate health care providers (not saying there are never bad ones there are bad docs EVERYWHERE).  Planned Parenthood took good care of me. They were kind and patient. The exact same things I see every week at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. They also called and followed up with me everyday until I miscarried. They didn’t have to do that. I wasn’t really their problem anymore. After I had almost died during a miscarriage from lack of care at a Catholic hospital this level of care and concern was refreshing and shocking.

The biggest lesson I learned is it’s easy to be pro life (anti choice) until you are the one who needs or wants an abortion. It’s easy to tell other people what to do when you can never get pregnant. It is easy to project your feelings of wanting a child or having lost a child onto another woman’s pregnancy experience (as I did when my mother experienced a stillbirth) when it’s not you who needs one.  At the end of the day none of that matters for the lives and choices of individual women and families.

Families just like mine.

I’m 16 and I’m a Clinic Defender

By Sarah Roberts

I’m Sarah, I’m 16 and I am a escort/clinic defender at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. I first started escorting after my mom, Laurie, told me about how women were harassed while trying to come in and out of the clinic. At first, I just wanted to see if it was really true and how bad it was. When I saw it for myself, I knew I had to stay and help.

My mom actually didn’t want me to escort because of the possibility of violence and the aggressiveness of protesters. My sister and I said if you go, WE GO. We also reminded her that she had always taught us about the role of children in the civil rights movement. If children could march, get beaten and sprayed with hoses for our rights why can’t we help women and defend our rights now? My sister and I are also the young feminist committee co-chairs for Mississippi NOW. So I guess if my mother didn’t want us to have opinions and strong voices, she raised us wrong.sarah at clinic

Most people don’t realize how ugly most protesters treat patients. I have heard antis yell things at women like “you’ve partied, now party time is over and you have to pay for your sins”. I didn’t know being pregnant was a punishment. One women got sick and vomited coming out of the clinic, they yelled at her husband “see this is your wife’s punishment for coming to this horrible place”. They didn’t know her story or if she even had a procedure.

 

Most of the pro-birthers-because they aren’t “pro-life”-don’t care about the women’s stories. They just want to shove their religion in their face, slut shame them, and tell them they are going to hell. If you let them tell it, they are helping. Regardless, women have a right to access the clinic without being harassed.

They aren’t just cruel to patients. They harass the escorts as well. On my first day, a older white female protester walked up to my sister Kayla and I and said:

“You should wonder everyday which one of you that your mother wanted to abort. You know that article where your mother talked about the 6 of you? (Um, there’s 7 of us) You should put it on your mirror so you can look at it everyday and wonder which one of you your mother wanted to abort.”

The spokeswoman of Pro-Life Mississippi called my sister and I “little Jezebels” who had “demons” in us. She also asked me if I had “5 or 6 abortions” and if that’s the reason I “hate women so much”. Roy McMillan has told my sister and I to “do the honorable thing and commit suicide”. I’ve also heard I should be scared my mom is going to rip me from limb from limb any minute–they are really sick people. I think they need therapy. There are the times protesters push me http://or stand in my personal space. I am harassed and questioned about whether or not I am really home-schooled. The head of Pro-Life Mississippi also said I’m abused because my mother lets me escort and threatened to call child protection on her.

My all time favs are that I am helping “kill black babies”, “committing black genocide” or that I’m “helping white people kill babies”. This all comes from old white people, by the way, and I’m black! They haven’t gotten the memo that the days when white people get to tell black women what to do about having babies ended a long time ago. Doesn’t that sound like Christian love?

What the protesters don’t understand is their insults don’t make me want to leave-they make me want to stay. Young women my age-who look like me-access this clinic. As long as we are needed, I will be there. Rain or shine. I’ll still be young, gifted and black. So I guess they will have to figure out insults around that!

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*Photo credit to Jackson Free Press published with the article “Amazing Teens” on 4/24/13 (L-SarahRoberts  R-Kayla Roberts)

Five Lessons of a Clinic Escort

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

Most people know that the 22nd of January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade and, as such, the clinic-and really Jackson as a whole-was under siege by an anti-choice “activist” group named Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. I write activist in quotations because they need to be classified as a terrorist organization. Many incidences of clinic violence in this country have links to their members. Several people who hang out with them are also linked to or members of an extremist group known as The Army of God.

These past few months have marked the first time I have worked as a volunteer clinic escort at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson Mississippi. JWHO is Mississippi’s ONLY abortion provider in the state. This makes them the target of constant harassment from anti choice groups not only local but national. In this time as a clinic escort I have learned some lessons that I will carry with me for life. I have become the keeper of women’s abortion stories and literally used my body as the shield between people who shame and intimidate women when they access legal medical care in a country that guarantees freedom and privacy. These are the five lessons I want to share.

1) Clinic harassment is worse than you think-
When most of people have the occasion to drive past a clinic they may see people standing outside possibly with big bloody signs. Perhaps they notice people praying or singing while holding pamphlets out to patients. To most they seem awkward, maybe obnoxious, even righteous, annoying but not menacing, certainly benign. Yet if you take the time to sit outside the clinic for even a moment you would see a different scene. You would get to see protesters taking pictures of patients and staff going in and out of the clinic. You would see anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, stopping their cars in the street, following them and yelling into their ears as they walk. Calling them murderers telling them they will NEVER be the same, that the clinic wants to kill them and their baby. You would see grown men stalk women all the way to their vehicles after being asked to leave them alone. You would see protesters scream as if they are being stabbed to supposedly mimic the screams of babies. There is the non-stop preaching and singing on most days. They tell women constantly they can help them get forgiveness only AFTER they admit what they have done. Then claim they aren’t shaming them. You would hear anti-choice extremists harass workers and clinic escorts by saying “you will one day be tried for war crimes”, “you have blood on your hands”, “your work caused the school shootings”, and asking “if they wished their mother aborted them” and “aren’t you glad your mother didn’t know you were short she would have aborted you”. There is a protester at the clinic I escort at that routinely tells my teenage daughters and I to commit suicide and to play in the traffic. It never stops rain, shine, heat or freezing cold they are there to shame and demean women whose only offense is accessing LEGAL medical care in America.

2) Anti choicers/Pro lifers use racially biased messaging-
Awhile back in New York City a billboard popped up with the picture of a young African American child on it with the tagline “the most dangerous place for a African American is in the womb”. The billboard funded by a white anti-choice group that found some black spokespeople put it up during Black History Month. This type of racialized conversation around abortion isn’t new. Groups have also placed billboards around Atlanta saying black children are an endangered species. (although I didn’t know we were another species). This messaging doesn’t stop at billboards it is alive and well at clinics EVERYDAY. I know in Jackson we hear it. While white women hear the standard “don’t kill your baby” or are much more likely to hear “choose adoption, let us help you” black women get barraged with “you are HELPING WHITE PEOPLE KILL BLACK BABIES” “DO YOU KNOW 80% OF THE BABIES KILLED HERE ARE BLACK” “do you know abortion is a plot by Margaret Sanger to exterminate black people”. They even have a handout especially for black women citing a study (incorrectly) claiming that the higher incidence of abortion among black women causes infertility. They hurl racial arguments at the black women who work and volunteer at the clinic too. Even though most will openly tell you they don’t support ANY of the programs that help the disproportionate number of poor women of color in Mississippi.

3) There is no such thing as “elective abortion”-
This is a term I have heard for years it is even a term I myself use to use. However, I am here to say I no longer use it and don’t believe in the existence of such an occurrence Each patient I see enter the clinic has a very real, very critical reason to be there. On that day at that time she needs this medical procedure to carry on with her life. Whether it’s because she is too sick, too young, just not ready, can’t provide for another child, or has a non progressing pregnancy on that day she needs this form of medical care. It may seem “elective” to others but it is critical to HER life at that time. She doesn’t owe anyone or any group an explanation. Regardless of what someone may believe about their God, she is not beholden to another person’s belief system or their interpretation of Christian teachings. What she does have to do is what is right for HER family and HER life.

4) Clinic workers are not evil or greedy
Growing up as a fundamentalist Christian I always heard that people who worked at and owned abortion clinics are greedy, mean, and evil. They would perform abortions on women who aren’t even pregnant. They hated children. They didn’t care if women had problems afterwards they wouldn’t talk to them. They just took their money and tossed them aside. The women and men at Jackson Womens Health Organization are nothing like that. I have watched staff talk women through being scared after losing their paperwork post op. I have heard our counselor on the phone with patients who had procedures weeks ago answering questions and making referrals. Unlike crisis Pregnancy Centers that call and call women to see what they decide, if women chose not to have a procedure the clinic wishes them the best and gives them referrals for resources. They don’t badger them to change their mind. I know clinic staff have come together to help women who are $30 or $40 short for their procedure so they don’t have to resort to some unsafe way of termination. Most are mothers, fathers, loving aunts and uncles so they don’t hate children they love children. Rather than mean, greedy ,evil people I have seen compassionate, caring, ethical people.

5) There is no compromising with anti choice protesters
When people see clinic protesters they often think these people must be the radical fringe of the movement. However, they are not. At the clinic I volunteer at many of our protesters are leaders in not only the pro life movement but the Mississippi Tea Party and the Republican party. This is important because they are also people with whom compromise is impossible. They truly believe that abortion is murder and have told me that I am an accessory to the American holocaust (I always want to ask why they think abortion is just a US problem). For them there is only one way to save ourselves and that is to stop legal abortion and of course to worship the Christian God in the same way they do. When you are dealing with religious zealots reason, logic, and science are all useless.

I find my volunteer work extremely rewarding. I get the privilege of helping women during a scary and emotional time. I get to hear their stories offer them a smile or a laugh, sometimes a hand to hold. I often have patients and their families ask me why I would volunteer to be harassed by strangers. My answer is simple. If I can take some of the harassment so patients don’t have to then that is fine with me. I remember what it was like to walk through protesters to access a clinic. Those people knew nothing of my life but felt qualified to condemn me. No one deserves that. What they do doesn’t bring women closer to God in fact it drives them away. Patients just want to be left alone. They have prayed, cried, chanted, meditated or whatever it is that works FOR THEM before coming that day. They aren’t stupid and don’t need saving.

Lastly, I think whether you believe abortion is right or wrong we should all be able to agree harassing, shaming, and intimidating women accessing LEGAL medical care is not right. It is not a symbol of God’s love and it shouldn’t be allowed in a free country.

The Singing. Oh My God, The Singing.

Cal Zastrow was a fixture at the clinic when I first began escorting. From what I know of him (little FB research and other stuff) he is a traveling “preacher” who brings his children around the country to “preach” in front of abortion clinics. He was there almost every single morning at the JWHO this late winter/spring–he and his children. His children dress very modestly and we affectionately refer to some of the rest of his “crowd” as the “Children of the Corn”. Mainly because they all wear those creepy wide-brimmed straw hats. We could get a little more creative but that came out one day and stuck.

Cal uses a microphone to “street preach”. But really, the worst part is when he starts to sing hymns over the personal PA system. We have to turn on the music you hear in the background to drown him out. We’ve been told we could get him on a noise ordinance, but because of the music that we have to play in order to drown him out, we’d get in trouble as well. So, it begets a vicious circle of chaotic sound that surround a patient from the time they leave their car until they are called into the back of the clinic (you can still hear all of this in the waiting room). Another reason we all wear earbuds. The first time I showed my husband some footage of the sound level on a regular morning he was incredulous. As well we should all be. I think most of us get used to it really quickly.

There is one table and chairs outside on the patio for escorts and patients to rest or smoke–depending on their mood. This video was taken as I was sitting at the table and Cal started to sing. I walked along the fence and put my camera around the gate. You will notice the gate in the pictures is covered with tarps and signs (they lovingly refer to this gate as “The Gate To Hell”). We do this to protect the patients. But, because of regulations, these tarps and signs go up every morning and come down every night. We spend approximately forty-five minutes of every morning threading signs back through iron railings and using tie-downs to get the others in place. James Parker, our FABULOUS male escort, even tried to devise a system of white placards on boards to place along the fence line to block out the ability of antis to scream over it, but we were ultimately told they couldn’t be used. The signs and tarps are the best thing we’ve found yet. And, as totally low tech as it is, that radio saves us from listening to THIS all day long. One thing I would like for everyone to notice is the fact that everyone films every other person ALL DAY LONG. They film so they can PR the heck out of any slight they receive and it can be put out as them being “persecuted Christians”. If they get arrested for actually breaking a law, they will tape their arrest, post it to pro-life websites and state it wasn’t justified (Basil was taping Laurie with his phone in the “Aggravating Women for at Least Fifty Years” post. He was attempting to trap her into stating it was an “anti-Christian organization”) We tape everything due to very real fear of assault. But, one thing we always know, we are being filmed.

(sorry about the white earbud string in the video. But, once again, EAR BUDS! We should get stock in them)

Who’s Moral Now?

Laurie_Bertram_Roberts_TB_2012_t180by Laurie Bertram  Roberts

In my last column, I wrote about the importance of Medicaid expansion to our state–and specifically to me. Sometimes we pay a price for publicly sharing a story; my price was being told that I have no right to health care from complete strangers on social media. I have been told repeatedly if I am too poor, too stupid and too fat to be healthy, that is my fault–and if I die then that’s just too bad.

These people are echoing the private and public statements of many lawmakers. It is strange to be attacked by the same people who claim to be moral standard bearers for everything from guns to my uterus in Mississippi. Most will tell me they stand on the side of the Christian God, yet, when it comes to policies affecting their fellow citizens’ health, they seem to have traded Jesus for Ayn Rand.

One bright spot has been watching video of events in North Carolina, which has a lot in common with Mississippi, politically. It has a GOP-controlled House, Senate and governor’s mansion, just like us. North Carolina’s Republican elected officials are absolutely against expanding Medicaid, and they rail against Obamacare.

The difference in North Carolina, though, is that every Monday since April, faith leaders and community members have held protests against these policies. They’re calling the days Moral Mondays, directly challenging the GOP’s assertion that it is the party of Christian values and morality.

To Moral Monday protesters, it is immoral to disregard the condition of your fellow citizen. Instead, they believe the Christian God directs us to care for the least among us.

For those Mississippians who believe that the GOP lawmakers in control don’t speak for them, it is time to speak up. Let Republicans know they aren’t the only voice for morality in this state. Lots of us–from theistic and non-theistic beliefs–believe it is immoral to let working Mississippians go without health care. If you believe that these policies are wrong, write letters, make phone calls and start organizing. It’s time to put boots on the ground.

There is an old saying, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Lawmakers can’t hear what we do not say. When we don’t have money or a lobbyist, our power is our bodies and our voices. It’s time we use them, Mississippi.

 

*original published in the Jackson Free Press.