My Sobering, Rewarding Job at an Abortion Clinic
FlaglerLive | February 2, 2016
By Catherine Durkin Robinson
I felt faint.
It was my first day on the job. I was a college student and part-time counselor at a woman’s health clinic. My duties involved helping patients through their abortion procedures. They’d already met with the doctor and nurse; my job was to assist them emotionally.
I was told most of the patients would want me in the room with them to hold their hands and provide support.
My first patient did just that. After answering her questions and explaining, in layman’s terms, what was about to happen, I asked if she’d like me to stay with her and she nodded, looking down at the floor. Later, during the procedure, the surgical, hospital-like atmosphere hit me hard. The machine made a lot of noise, the sterile equipment produced a sharp scent. There were tears.
Samantha thanked me afterwards. She couldn’t tell I almost passed out.
I wasn’t the fainting type.
Julie, who’d been working at the clinic for months and helped me get hired, came into the room a few minutes later to take my place. I slowly walked outside to breathe in some fresh air and get my bearings.
That was a mistake.
I received my first death threat that day, from a God-fearing, “pro-life” man standing just beyond the gates. This was around the time that doctors and clinic workers were being shot and killed in Pensacola. I quickly went back inside.
I never felt faint again.
Most college students work their way through school bartending, waiting tables, or assuring older women that whatever they’re trying on in the store “looks amazing.” I had worked those other jobs, too. This one was different.
It was also much more rewarding.
At the clinic, I met Heather. Her boyfriend waited in the lobby. They were young and scared. They couldn’t understand how or why birth control measures didn’t always work.
Another patient, Rosa, hugged me after her procedure and wouldn’t let go for the longest time. She’d been date-raped and felt too ashamed to tell anyone.
Sandy was a senior in high school and saved up the money herself, which was why she was so far along, at 14 weeks. She wanted to be a mother some day, but first she had to go to college and make a better life for herself. She cried into my shoulder, mourning the loss of her innocence and what would have been her baby.
Alicia always thought she was pro-life, until she had sex and the condom broke. Now she needed a choice. A choice she’d tried to deny other women. This made her question everything.
She wasn’t like Cara, who self-identified as a warrior for unborn children. Cara told us she was different and not like the other women, the women who made bad decisions. After all, she said, she couldn’t help it if her boyfriend forgot to pull out.
We asked Cara to leave and seek her choice elsewhere.
I met a young mother who ran away from an abusive husband with her baby in one hand and a suitcase in the other, only to discover to her horror a few weeks later, she’d been given a parting gift. Barbara would never make it with another mouth to feed and sold her wedding band to get the money for an abortion. She didn’t cry so much as stare into space, eyes sad and empty.
Young women with awful family situations who begged us not to call their parents, afraid they’d be kicked out of the house and made to live on the street if anyone knew they were pregnant.
Older women who had no idea they were still fertile.
A grad student once came into the clinic with a paper bag and frightened look in her eyes. Elaine handed the bag to me and said, “I delivered this last night.” Four months earlier, she had discovered she was pregnant and made plans to marry the father, only to be dumped right before the wedding.
She didn’t want to be a single mother, and had no support system. A late-term abortion was her only way out, but something went wrong and she miscarried before her appointment. Elaine needed love and support, but on the way into our clinic, someone threw a rock and hit her on the head. She ran out the door after handing me the bag.
These are some of the hundreds of women I helped while working as a counselor. I never met any woman who wasn’t sad, angry, traumatized or sometimes all three, by the events that led her to us.
Most left our clinic relieved, if a bit heartbroken.
Misguided politicians in Tallahassee are now threatening to turn this safe and legal procedure into a felony. Many activists will shout about a patriarchal society. They will remind everyone about the Constitution andRoe v. Wade. They will yell about misogyny and vow to never go back to the days when women, mostly poor and minority women, died from illegal, unsafe abortions.
And they’re right.
But I’m not yelling. I’m thinking about Heather and Rosa and Elaine.
(The names of the patients were changed.)
Catherine Durkin Robinson’s award-winning columns have appeared in The Tampa Times, The Tampa Tribune, and Creative Loafing as well as several national magazines and newspapers. She is a mom, writer, advocate, political organizer, and runner. Reach her by email here.