By Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
In the days following the senseless murder of Dr. Tiller, we were all stunned, heartbroken, and angry. In speaking with providers in the days and weeks following, we expressed our gratitude for their work, especially for persevering during such a difficult time. As one of the providers I spoke with said in response, “we are just trying to do what Dr. Tiller would want us to do: help women.” That sums it all up.
My dad doesn’t believe in Father’s Day or Mother’s Day because he believes that every day should be Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. The same is true for today: every day should be National Day of Appreciation of Abortion Providers. Because every day, abortion providers around the country perform services that many will not; they do so in the face of adversity and violence (or potential violence); and they do so with compassion. Without their courage, commitment, and skill, the legal right to abortion in this country would be meaningless. So in addition to thanking abortion providers today, we should thank them every day.
Below are a series of reflections from my colleagues in honor of the men and women throughout the country who are the true torchbearers of liberty.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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In a Family Way
By Lorraine Kenny, Public Education Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
I never thanked the doctor who performed my abortion more than 16 years ago. I didn’t even know his name. I was too overwhelmed by the fact that I was pregnant and not ready to have a child. This was not a planned pregnancy. I was a graduate student with years of work ahead of me, including field research that would leave me without a real home for a time; I was unemployed and in a relationship that was far from mature enough to handle parenting. But leaving all that aside, I now know that even if I had thanked my provider at the time, I would not have really known what I was thanking him for. Now I do.
I would have thanked him for giving me the chance to have my family.
I am now the mother of two beautiful girls, 7 and 12. They are healthy, happy, thriving children who are truly loved by me, their father, and a whole slew of aunts, uncles, cousins, a grandmother, an Abulita, and close friends. I know what my abortion provider gave me 16 years ago when I watch my husband help our daughters do their homework, practice violin, or make all of us a heart-shaped pink biscuit on Valentine’s Day morning; when I watch my 85-year-old mother’s face light up when one of my daughters plays in a concert or writes a story about visiting grandma or remembering grandpa; when I watch my daughters learn to swim, make each other giggle, or even when I watch them drive each other crazy or come home utterly defeated when one of them didn’t get into the school talent show or messed up in a concert despite hours of practicing.
I am grateful that today I have the opportunity to thank my abortion provider for my children and my family. I do not take these blessings for granted, nor do I take for granted the role he played in giving my family life.
My Name is Hayley Smith and I Work for Reproductive Freedom
By Hayley Smith, Assistant, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
I don’t always come right out and say what I do for a living. Sometimes, I don’t want to invite public scrutiny, anger, or judgment. Sometimes, I see abortion as a personal rather than a political decision. And sometimes, I have to admit that I just don’t want to get into the debate. So when asked what I do, I often say, “I work for the ACLU,” or more generically, “I work on women’s rights.”
Today, though, I think it’s important that we all go public. For the providers who endure the public scrutiny so that their patients don’t have to; who bear the brunt of others’ anger and judgment; who testify in courtrooms and legislatures to protect their patients’ rights and privacy. And for those who open their clinic doors every day to ensure that their patients can lead the lives they choose. The best way that I know how to thank you, providers, is to share in some of that responsibility.
By Dahlia Ward, State Strategist, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
I don’t remember when my mother first told me that she had had an abortion before my sister and I were born. It’s just something that I’ve always known. I do remember talking to my parents about going on birth control when I was just 16. I remember the look of worry that flashed across my mother’s face before she said “of course, I’ll make the doctor’s appointment for you.” And I remember my father telling me that if I ever got “in trouble,” that they would take me to the very best doctor so that I could “get it taken care of safely.”
I grew up in a world of possibilities. Where the only question was what I wanted for my life and what path I would take. That I could decide to have an abortion, if I needed one, was never a question. And therefore, something I could take for granted.
So when asked to articulate what I would say to the men and women who work day in and out to make sure that I and so many other women have the ability to determine our own life courses, I turned to my mother (who else?) and asked her what she would say to the doctor who performed her abortion. She didn’t hesitate, “I would thank him. He gave me the ability to go on living the life I wanted. I didn’t have to take a detour that I wasn’t prepared for. It gave me and your father the time we needed to decide to have a family when we were ready. I can’t imagine my life any other way.”
Neither can I. So thank you for being there for my mother when she needed you. And thank you for continuing to be there for me, in case I need you. And thank you for being there for women like me and my mom so that we can lead the lives we envision for ourselves and our families.
No, Thank You.
By Diana Kasdan, Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Often when I talk to abortion providers, or clinic managers or counselors, I’m calling them at home, or on their private cell, or in between appointments to ask if they could please, please, spare some of their free time (that they really don’t have). I’m usually asking them to help out in a case that we are litigating, often to serve — very publicly — as an expert witness. And while any other type of health care provider might not return these calls, or politely say, “I’m very, very busy; I can’t help with this,” or “My hourly rate as an expert is $500,” the folks I call say, “I’m happy to help,” and then, often, embarrassingly, they thank me. They thank me for “fighting” to protect women’s access to abortion. And that’s when I feel silly. At that moment, usually all I can muster up to say is “No, thank you.”
Today, stopping to reflect, and hoping to say it better, I’m no less stumped in finding words that fully express my constant amazement and gratitude–for your work, your generosity, your spirit, and most of all for your absolute dedication — often against unbelievable odds — to providing women the care they need. So, as I’ve been privileged to personally say to a few of you, but certainly not all of you, or enough of you — Thank you; no really, thank you.
A Sense of Safety
By Anastasia Taketomo, Assistant, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
At 25, I am relatively young in the spectrum of individuals who make up this movement. When I began my work in the Reproductive Freedom Project, it shocked me how often I was asked if I did this work because I had had an abortion. As my answer is no, the follow up question is always the same: then why do you? Early on, my answer was vague and uninformed. I would speak of friends of mine, or women I had met, or heard of second hand, who had benefited from abortion services. I would speak of feminism and equality in the abstract. The truth of the matter was that I did not have a true answer, although I was sure the work was crucial.
Perhaps I have the providers to thank for the innocence that caused my inability to answer such a seemingly simple question. Their endless work, extraordinary dedication, and unfaltering bravery have given women of my generation a sense of safety and a true understanding of choice. Because these individuals have been willing to come to work every day, despite the endless obstacles they face both professionally and personally, I have not lived a day in my 25 years without the security of knowing that I have the freedom to choose the best decisions for my body and for my life.
Working in this movement for the past 19 months has opened my eyes to the enormous challenges providers face: laws that derail and demonize the very core of their essential work, propaganda that threatens to sway public support, and the real threats and acts of violence they face. I can say now, with certainty, why I do this work. I do it because I am grateful that I have never faced the challenges I now know women and families face every day; I do this work because I want to ensure that future women and families have as much security and as many choices as possible; and, most of all, I do this work as a means to say “thank you” to the providers who put their own lives on the line to ensure that women like me stay safe and free.
By Louise Melling, Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
I keep by my desk a picture of one of my first clients as a lawyer. Every day, she reminds me how important abortion providers are for women and their families.
When I first met Linda*, she was 18, newly married, and pregnant. She and her husband were excited about starting a family. And then they got difficult news. Their baby had open spina bifida. If they continued the pregnancy, their baby would need immediate surgery, would likely be paralyzed from the waist down (including organs), and would likely face infections and surgeries. Linda and her husband talked to the doctor. They talked to people with children with disabilities. They talked to one another. They took the time they needed. Linda then called to tell me they didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy. As she said, they were too young, their marriage too new. Linda needed help paying for the procedure; when legal avenues failed, to help we raised the funds to make her abortion possible. Linda got the abortion she needed. She had love and support from her family. And she had a funeral service for her son, whose place in her life she marks every year.
More than 16 years have passed. No year has gone by without my talking to Linda. She sends me pictures of the children she went on to have. I’ve met her family. We celebrated her 30 birthday together, joined by one of the nurses from her abortion.
We have this connection because it mattered, deeply, to Linda and her husband that they were able to make that decision. And it mattered that there was a doctor and a staff and a hospital willing to provide her care and compassion. And it mattered that she was supported, not judged. It mattered for reasons of love — of wanting, desperately, to be able to provide the home and support and love she wanted to give her child. Thank you, to providers everywhere, for making this possible, and giving Linda, and all of us, a chance at life.
Here Let Me Help You with That
By Jennifer Dalven, Deputy Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
I’ll never forget the one time I was privileged enough to meet Dr. Tiller. It was an unlikely meeting place for an abortion provider and an abortion rights advocate — an airport gate, waiting for a severely delayed plane.
I had, of course, heard about him for years. He was one of the luminaries of our field. Everyone knew he was courageous – besieged and attacked — he refused to stop caring for women. And I had heard tell of his compassion. I remember being on a panel and afterward a woman approached me and did, in this day and age, a most unusual thing. This woman, a stranger, introduced herself and told me about her abortion. She told me that at the end of her second trimester of a wanted pregnancy her fetus was diagnosed with a severe anomaly. She told me that even though she lived in a major city and was well connected to medical circles, she could not find anyone who was willing to perform an abortion for her. She told me about how desperate she was. She told me how she flew to Witchita. She told me about the individualized and compassionate treatment she received from Dr. Tiller and his staff. And she told me how grateful she was not only to have received the care, but for the support and the kindness with which it was provided.
So when I saw Dr. Tiller at the airport I gathered up my nerve to introduce myself. At the time, he had already been shot once. He was being persecuted and prosecuted by an anti-choice district attorney. I wanted to tell him how much I respected him and how grateful I was for what he did. I wanted to tell him about the conversation I had had with the stranger. But, we didn’t talk much about abortion that day. To my chagrin, my infant son decided to show how displeased he was about having to wait for a delayed plane by repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) throwing his pacifier on the waiting area floor. We didn’t talk about abortion that day, because Dr. Tiller, this hero of our field, was too busy running back and forth to the bathroom to wash off my son’s pacifier.
Securing the Future of Abortion Care
By Sondra Goldschein, Director of State Advocacy, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Medical students are a very busy bunch. (I should know; I married one.) And that is why the members of Medical Students for Choice are so inspiring. Each year at their national meeting, I provide the political lay of the land — explaining where we’ve fought legislation that bans abortion care; bills specifically designed to make it too expensive to open a clinic; and acts requiring health care professionals to make statements that they don’t believe or have no basis in medical fact. It’s a scary laundry list of different ways the state legislatures across this country try to interfere with a woman’s most personal, private medical decisions and her trusted relationship with her doctor.
But without fail, every year, medical students raise their hands and ask, “What can we do to help?” or “I’m going into anesthesiology, can I still fight back?” Despite their busy schedules, medical students have volunteered in South Dakota, where we successfully defeated a ballot initiative that would have banned nearly all abortion care. They’ve participated in lobby days at their state legislatures and in Congress. They are the future abortion providers and the medical community in which those providers will practice. I want to sincerely thank them for including political activism in their education. I have no idea how they find the time.
Thank You for Safeguarding Women’s Dreams
By Talcott Camp, Deputy Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
I thank abortion providers for saving women’s lives, and safeguarding women’s dreams. Many of us — not all of us, but many of us — cannot live out our dreams without the ability to determine whether and when to have a baby. Those dreams may include focusing on school for a certain number of years; waiting until we are with a life partner before starting a family; caring for our existing children in a way we can manage given our individual family; holding down a job because it is fulfilling and/or because we need to support our families; and caring for our aging parents. If we didn’t have contraception and abortion as a back-stop to end an unwanted pregnancy, our dreams would remain notions, and our lives would not be of our own making. It’s that simple: we may be able to live someone else’s dream, but we cannot live ours without the heroes who provide abortion care. Even if we never need an abortion, we construct our lives knowing that these doctors are there if ever we do. Our lives are not possible without them, and we could not possibly thank them enough.
Legislative Front Lines
By Autumn Katz, State Strategies Attorney Fellow, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Dr. Tiller’s murder was a sober reminder of the constant intimidation and harassment that abortion providers endure. In addition to threats of violence from individuals like Scott Roeder, abortion providers, their staff, and their patients are harassed by picketers and protestors on a daily basis.
In my work as a legislative fellow with the Reproductive Freedom Project, I’ve seen that abortion providers also face discrimination at the hands of politicians, who pass laws and regulations to limit a woman’s access to reproductive health care and to deter doctors from providing such care. These laws do nothing to protect the health and safety of women. Instead, they make it more difficult for women to obtain the care they need and for doctors to provide such care. Indeed, 86 percent of the counties in the U.S. currently have no abortion providers.
The doctors who do provide abortion care in spite of all these obstacles deserve our utmost respect; they put their own lives on the line every day by providing women the health care they need. I hope that my work at the ACLU to defeat laws and policies that jeopardize women’s health and limit access to comprehensive reproductive health care in some small way honors the courage and dedication of abortion providers.