Blog for Choice Day: Trusting Women, Working for Access

My relationship to abortion has changed since Dr. Tiller’s assassination. And so has my relationship to Dr. Tiller’s words, “Trust Women,” the theme of this year’s Blog for Choice Day.
Dr. Tiller’s death shifted my focus to the people who are doing the direct service aspect of work for abortion access. I had been involved in movement building and policy work, but my organizing wasn’t very connected to the lived experience of abortion and the day-to-day work of making sure individual women can access the procedure.
At a candlelight vigil I met local clinic escorts and was given information about joining them. I went to a training and started escorting. Shortly after, I started working at a hotline that fields calls from folks seeking information and resources related to abortion. In both these positions I help individual women access abortions, which has given me a much more personal relationship to the phrase, “Trust Women.”
The antis outside the clinic are a stark example of what it means to not trust women. They don’t think women can and should be able to make decisions about their own health and bodies, and they use false information and cruel and sensationalistic words and images to try to keep patients from obtaining medical care. As an escort my role is not to preach at patients or tell them what the right choice is, but to defuse the situation outside the clinic as much as possible so women can act on their own decisions about their own medical care.
On the hotline I speak with women who are being told what they should do by people in their lives and feeling pulled in one direction or another. Often I am the only person they speak with who tells them their own thoughts and feelings are the most important, that nothing they are thinking or feeling regarding their own experiences and medical care is “wrong,” and that they can be trusted with decisions about their own abortions. It’s crucial that I’m non-judgmental – women don’t need to talk with someone else who’s even thinking that their actions or decisions are right or wrong. They need someone who will trust them enough to support them in whatever they do.
Since Roe v. Wade became law 37 years ago abortion access has been under constant attack both from antis in the streets and legislation like the Hyde Amendment. Regardless of intent many of these actions send a clear message that women can’t be trusted. Abortion, a medical procedure that is only needed by members of a marginalized population, has been singled out from all other procedures as something the state will not support financially and that often requires crossing medically unnecessary hurdles like waiting periods, parental consent, and harassment by antis. The implication is both that abortion should be controversial and taboo and that women can’t be trusted to decide if they should have the procedure, even with the help of doctors and counselors.
“Trust Women” is a reminder that access to abortion shouldn’t be limited because of politics or religious ideology. And it’s a reminder that no one but the woman seeking an abortion is qualified to decide if it’s the right decision. “Trust Women” means recognizing that each individual woman can make her own decisions about what is best for her. For me living these words means judgment has no place in my relationship to a woman’s decision about her own medical care. It means doing what I can to share information and increase access so women can make their own decisions without other people’s beliefs and judgments getting in the way.
No one should have to say, “Trust Women.” It should be obvious. By saying it out loud, over and over, Dr. Tiller made clear the blatant sexism, the sense of moral superiority inherent in anti-choice organizing and policy. No one should have to escort women outside abortion clinics or provide many of the resources we direct women to through the hotline. But as long as access to abortion is under attack we must clearly state that women can make their own decisions and we must fight to break down barriers designed to keep women from being able to act on their choices.

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4 Comments

  1. LdyGray
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Dr. Tiller’s motto has become a rallying cry of sorts, a way for me to strike up conversations with people on the other side of this debate. My best friend and I have been trying to raise awareness and funds for the Dr. Tiller Memorial fund through our cafepress store (http://www.cafepress.com/wonderwomen) – together, we hope to bring his message to the world. Thank you for sharing how Dr. Tiller’s message has impacted you.

  2. paperispatient
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    And it’s a reminder that no one but the woman seeking an abortion is qualified to decide if it’s the right decision. “Trust Women” means recognizing that each individual woman can make her own decisions about what is best for her.
    I think this is really difficult for a lot of people to get behind, even some people who consider themselves pro-choice. I’ve heard so many people – both anti-choicers and pro-choicers – make comments like, “What if a woman only wants an abortion because she doesn’t want to be fat during swimsuit season? Do you support that choice?” It doesn’t matter if I agree with someone’s reasons for having an abortion, and I think the moment that we start trying to evaluate the “legitimacy” of a woman’s reason(s) for wanting an abortion, we’re starting up a slippery slope from which only bad things can come. Thanks for a great post, Jos.

  3. EGM
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Jos, your experiences have really inspired me–’d love to volunteer for NAF hotline like you have. I’ve looked all over the website but haven’t found any info on how to get involved in that program. Do they accept volunteers?

  4. Jos
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    EGM, if you’re interested in working at NAF there’s some (slightly outdated) information here: http://prochoice.org/about_naf/jobs.html#hotline

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