Being an abortion provider in the United States is a difficult job. You'll likely be demonized. You could be killed. Given the working conditions, it's no surprise that the number of abortion providers in this county is on the decline. Today, only 2% of ob-gyns perform half of all abortions. And many of those doctors and nurses are aging out of business.
The good news is that there are some young people signing on to replace them. Dolores P., a nurse practitioner, is one of them. In an informative, moving, and funny essay on the Hairpin, she talks candidly about her own abortion, why she decided to become an abortion provider, what her training is like, and the things that make her feel like this choice is the right one.
One week, on a Monday, I read about the Burris Amendment, which was an amendment to the defense bill that would have let soldiers have abortions in military facilities overseas. I read "Current law bans abortions in most cases at military facilities, even if women pay themselves, meaning they must go outside to private hospitals and clinics -- an impossibility for many of the estimated 100,000 American servicewomen in foreign countries, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan." It was struck down. Couple days later one of our patients was a soldier from Afghanistan. Hey, I was just reading about you guys.
No contraception around (she was stationed pretty far out) meant that she got pregnant. "Regulations require that a woman be flown home within two weeks of the time she finds out she's pregnant, a particular stigma for unmarried women that ends any future career advancement." Ends any future career advancement. For my patient, that meant that she had to figure out how to make it back to the states on her own. Even if she had chosen to "go straight," it wouldn'tve been much better: "Servicewomen who make the decision to have an abortion must first seek approval from their commanding officer to take leave from their military duty and return to the United States or a country where abortion is legal." (Guttmacher.) Ask your boss if you can please take off a while for your abortion.
And no matter what, she had to pay for it all herself. So even though she knew she was pregnant almost immediately, it took eight weeks to make arrangements, travel plans and raise all the money. That means by the time she walked in our door, she was beginning her second trimester, which is a way more expensive and invasive procedure. She also had to spend eight more weeks than she had to miserably pregnant. In Afghanistan.
Her procedure went well with no complications (notice trend) and before she left, Dr. S took her hand and said, "Thank you for saving us out there." She responded, "Hey, thanks for saving me over here today." As I watched them the thought that someone somewhere had to be scripting this appeared and then immediately burst.
Here's the policy that you can get pissed about, and now here's the person you were pissed for. I see a lot of people get frustrated and huffy about stuff, and you can, but then you have to promise to actually do something about it. I have the privilege to be reminded that this is someone's life, not the New York Times Most Emailed Article. And it is an honor to be reminded. It makes me work harder. Being an abortion provider has meant that I drive home from work knowing I did something, actually everything in my power, to support people who needed it. It's a privilege and it's fucking awesome.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.