Have You Thanked an Abortion Provider Today?

By Christine Cupaiuolo — March 12, 2009

Dr. Suzanne Poppema ran an abortion clinic near Seattle in the 1990s. She writes at RH Reality Check this week that while her job was rewarding, she often worried she was a member of an endangered species: “Like the spotted owl, our habitats were being invaded and destroyed — not by loggers but by anti-choice protestors.”

At the same time, fewer medical schools and residencies were educating students about abortion and were limiting training opportunities at outside clinics. “Many doctors continued working past retirement age so their patients wouldn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion,” adds Poppema.

Her story is familiar among abortion providers. The New York Times last week reported on the increasing age of doctors and other abortion clinic staff — many of whom came of age before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 and who saw providing care and counsel to women as their calling. They now fear that their roles will go unfilled.

“We worry about that a lot,” said Sally Burgess, executive director of the Hope clinic and chairwoman of the National Abortion Federation, the main professional association of abortion providers. “Younger women have always had access to abortion care, they don’t fully appreciate the battle that was fought to have it available to them. And more important, I don’t think they know how precarious the option is at this point, even with Obama’s election.”

Anne Baker started counseling women in 1976 at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill., and never left. She estimates she has counseled 25,000 women and a few girls during that time, ranging in age from 11 to 53.

“It’s been my dream job,” she told the Times. “I wanted to be standing by the side of someone who was making a decision that others would condemn her for, and support her and link arms and say, You’re a good person making a hard decision, and that’s what I’ve done for 33 years.”

The Anne Baker’s of the world deserve major props for being on the frontline. Women’s health clinics generally pay less than other medical offices and the jobs carry a special stigma and added stress. The NYT’s Michael Winerip writes:

“People running these clinics,” Ms. Arick said, “have brains wired for social work and social justice even though they’re in the medical business.” Studies show the typical woman having an abortion is a poor, single parent in her 20s. Many don’t have insurance, or the insurance won’t cover abortion. Ms. Burgess said half who come to her clinic need financial help, and she employs a staff member to search for charitable grants.

Working at an abortion clinic intrudes into a person’s private life. “I never wanted to be political,” Ms. Welsh said, “but for the clinic to survive, I had to know all the legislators from our area. They can make or break you.”

“You work in abortion,” Ms. Burgess said, “it will affect who you will date, the parties you will be invited to.” Every day when she comes to work, she’s picketed. On the weekday I visited, 15 protestors carried signs comparing abortion to Hitler’s Holocaust.

A decade ago, after an Atlanta clinic was bombed, Ms. Welsh had to take terrorism prevention classes. “I’m a director of a nonprofit, and I’m sitting there thinking, Why am I learning about letter bombs?” she recalled. “My board decided after that, only I could open the clinic mail — I was the only one they insured, to save money on the premium.”

On July 11, 2008, protestors picketed Ms. Welsh’s retirement party.

Poppema, the doctor from Seattle, writes that the violent atmosphere of the 1990s prompted “the provider community to preserve this endangered — but highly valued — species of physicians. We formed new organizations, like Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and Medical Students for Choice, that were dedicated to training the next generation of providers and reducing the stigma around abortion.”

And in 1996, March 10 was declared a National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.

This week, take a moment to follow through on Poppema’s suggestions to save the endangered abortion provider:

If you know a doctor who provides abortions, thank them for what they do. Call or write to your elected officials and ask them to consult with an abortion provider before voting on any abortion-related legislation. Too often, bills are passed without input from the very people they affect most. Finally, if you’ve had an abortion, tell someone about it. One in three women will have an abortion by age 45, yet it remains a taboo topic. The more we can talk openly and honestly about women’s abortion experiences, the more we can reduce the stigma around this procedure.

Plus: Backline, which runs a toll-free national talk line for women to discuss pregnancy, parenting, adoption and abortion, offers 10 Reasons We Love Our Local Abortion Providers.

Backline is the distributor for the documentary film “Abortion Diaries.” If like me you hae an interest in how popular culture represents women who are pregnant and considering abortion (or who have abortions), check out this timeline of U.S. and Canadian TV shows and popular movies at the “Abortion Diaries” website.

8 responses to “Have You Thanked an Abortion Provider Today?”

  1. I would just like to say that I don’t condemn anyone who has made the choice to have an abortion or not. It is probably the hardest choice a woman has ever had to make.

    That being said…the notion that it’s our bodies its our choice holds very little water with me. “I don’t want the government to make decisions for me” Well the government already says we can’t put certain substances into our bodies (crack, pot, certain types of medication without a prescription). In the US we are not allowed to commit suicide. These are just a few of the examples.

    We should not be allowed to hurt ourselves, and having an abortion is hurting yourself often on an emotional level. Believe me I’ve heard many stories of women breaking down years later about the child they aborted.

    Yes I have rights as a woman, however my rights should never be allowed to hurt other people and unborn children are other people. At no time after conception was any part of those cells dead. And at the moment of conception a UNIQUE set of DNA was formed that is undeniably human. At the moment of conception all of our traits were decided, eye color, hair color, genetic dispositions. You can’t deny that it’s a human baby, and when has it ever been my right to kill another human?

  2. I want to make say (as many others have done countless times before me) that no one likes abortion. No one wants any woman to have to endure the pain of having to go through with an abortion, because you’re right Kim, it definitely has an impact on a woman’s emotional wellbeing. That being said, women should be given the option of having SAFE abortions and the support available to them when desired. And the desire for abortions will never go away. Whether it is made illegal or not, women will seek abortions. As for your argument that the government already says we cannot put certain drugs into our body, all I can think of to say at the moment is that there is little good to do those things for anyone involved, whereas good can come out of having gone through with an abortion. But there are so many complex factors involved here, and there is no simple answer, but women should have the choice to do what is good for them, and the support to make the best decision for them.

    And just wondering, why are there some of those who oppose abortion on the grounds that it is murder but have no problem with murdering abortion providers? (extreme case, but still…)

    Thank you, abortion providers!

  3. I just love it when people try to stereotype everyone who is pro-life as being part of the group of people who go and bomb abortion clinics. People that are truly pro-life would never hurt another human at any point.

    It’s very convenient that you chose to point out someone’s mentally ill decision as an example of the pro-life movement. It’s like saying the KKK are really Christians.

    I also find it funny that pro-choice bloggers can only tolerate their opinion on their blog. I posted these same facts about abortion on a pro-choice blog (prochoice america) and they removed it. What are you afraid that someone might go look at all their choices and chose not to have an abortion?

    Everyone says they don’t like abortion..well why? Because you are harming another person, one that can’t speak for himself/herself. If science says that at conception all of our characteristics are created. And we each have a UNIQUE set of DNA that is human if tested, then why are we allowed to hurt other people at THIS stage of their life?

  4. Well, Kim, since we *didn’t* remove it, you might also give pro-choice bloggers some props. And Hyejo was not stereotyping everyone who is anti-abortion.

    I don’t want to get into a point-by-point debate, but it’s important to note that science says no such thing. Some religions believe life begins at conception. That’s all.

  5. Thanks Christine, I was trying not to stereotype anyone. I did say it was an extreme case.

    And I don’t think we should generalize everyone’s decision to have an abortion as being mentally ill.

  6. No go back and read my blog again. I said it was funny that you choose to use that example of someone’s mentally ill decision ( THAT DECISION being to bomb an abortion clinic, and that person having no affiliation with the pro-life movement.

    NEVER did I say that a person who chooses to get an abortion was mentally ill. GO BACK AND READ MY RESPONSE AGAIN. The only person making mentally ill decisions are those that choose to bomb and kill more people. READ MY RESPONSE AGAIN!!

    If you were not trying to stereotype people then WHY did you say AND I QUOTE YOU…. “why are there some of those who oppose abortion on the grounds that it is murder but have no problem with murdering abortion providers?”

    Who are “some of those”? What was your point with making that comment if not to associate (thus stereotype) pro-life people with people who bomb abortion clinics? I said that a true pro-life person respects the dignity of every human life and would not seek to end anyone’s life.

    As for the comment that life begins at conception being a religious thing. I said ALL OF OUR CHARACTERISTICS THAT MAKE US UNIQUE human INDIVIDUALS…are formed at conception.

    Here are some websites to support my claim. You used your own terminology NOT MINE.

    Sexual differentiation (ie physically male or female) decided at the moment chromosomes fuse when the 23 chromosomes from each parent form 46.


    At conception a NEW set of UNIQUE DNA is formed that is neither the DNA of the mother or the father.


    These are just a few of the websites. But don’t mince my words…remember I said at conception EACH PERSON HAS A UNIQUE SET OF DNA THAT IF TESTED WOULD COME BACK HUMAN. It is the same DNA from conception until if I tested it at 5yrs old, 50 yrs old, 100 yrs old.

    You decided to change my words into saying that some religions believe life begins at conception. I never used any of that terminology.

    If the DNA is new and unique (and human DNA) to that embryo then they must be a new and unique human being. And if they are human then they deserve the same human rights we all enjoy.

    My question was…why am I allowed to hurt that UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL human being at this stage of their development? When I am not allowed to murder them at any other stage of their life?

  7. No no I was not shouting. Using caps to stress certain words. Thank you for listening to my viewpoint.

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