Young abortion provider talks about her job

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.


  1. “Today, only 2% of ob-gyns perform half of all abortions.”

    I’m not surprised. Just because something is right doesn’t make it easy. Those 2% have my respect.

  2. 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.

    walk like an egyptian

  3. Nicely told.

    I have a rare Canadian TV biopic about one of our abortion crusaders, Henry Morgentaler, and the part that struck me about the issues is the ‘crime scene’ photos they showed of failed self-abortions (dead women in puddles of their own blood) These might have been fake, but knowing Canadian media, they were probably real and very haunting.

    There’s an entitlement problem here — now that sorority girls (for example) know they can get one “if they really need to”, and poor moms are already too busy, no one is fighting against the little gang of old white men who have all the answers for nine months and no answers for at least 16 more years.

    Also, military bases don’t have condoms? So their official policy is essentially, “Get the gonorrhea, and then we’ll give you antibiotics?” Really? Also, this policy seems to guarantee at least a few extra unwanted pregnancies, and thus indirectly increase abortions.

    New headline: American military would rather you have an abortion than a condom!

  4. “Thank you for saving us out there.”

    Yes, pawn on the Forever War chessboard, thank you so much for beating, abducting, shooting, and bombing innocent people trying to eke out an existence using Bronze Age technology. We are all so proud that you bravely and selflessly stood up to the imminent invasion from a land-locked, Third World country on the other side of the planet.

    1. Shhhh, don’t scare it kids… this is a real treat! We’ve stumbled upon the mythical “Spit-on-our-soldiers” Douche. If we’re lucky, we might even get to see it do it’s “a-holier than thou” dance before it returns to doing absolutely nothing of any significance whatsoever.

      1. So, they are saving American citizens in Afghanistan how? Being the authority in power didn’t really make the Taliban or any other Islamic militants more dangerous than they are now.

        No, I am not American.

        1. I didn’t– and wouldn’t– say that. And I’m not about to derail the discussion of the important topic at hand to discuss the complexity of supporting the difficult lives of troops who are fighting in a war I do *not* support.

          My point is simply this: to read about a frank and emotional exchange between two heroic people (read: people who make very tough decisions to do what they believe is right in the world, despite *overwhelming* opposition), whose lives have just intertwined in a very poignant way, and respond to it with a sardonic, hyperbolic attack that has very little to do with the story at hand is so telling it is nearly poetic. Specifically, it demonstrates such a lack of character that the comment doesn’t seem fit to be published in the company of Dolores P’s article.

          C’est la internet, I suppose.

          1. Fair enough. By needlessly insulting that person you wilfully derailed the comments even more though. Needlessly because you just don’t feed trolls, that never works out.

            Yeah, that sounds like a pretty fair and not-at-all sexist or discriminatory policy.

            Why? She had the choice not to have sex. She was not an animal but a human being. Last I checked, humans had the ability to supress their instinct to reproduce, at least for a certain period of time. Understandably human? Yes. So trivial that it should be ignored? Not necessarily.

            If her choice to have sex resulted in her being unfit for service then I don’t see why a pregnant woman should be treated differently than a guy who contracted a serious STD that renders him unfit for his duties for example. And before someone raises this particular strawman: I am not comparing a pregnancy to an STD in any other way than in its effect on fulfilling your professional duties.

          2. What is sexist is the idea that male service members should be allowed to engage in activity which may result in a pregnancy while female service members should not.

          3. The law, in its majestic equality, will punish pregnancy equally whether it occurs in a man or woman.

      2. My scorn is mainly directed at the idiotic propaganda that soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are Keeping Us Safe, because that is exactly the opposite of the truth. Treating each and every member of the armed forces as a hero dilutes the term and is little more than a recruiting tool for the next generation. While I believe individual soldiers are in many ways complicit by virtue of belonging to the military in the first place, I really don’t want any of them to be maimed or killed in the name of complete and total bullshit.

    2. I think your reply has already been orphaned. Bummer, too, I would really have liked to be entertained by whatever you just responded to.

  5. Based on the account, her work is very important. I want to stress that two elements make this difficult to straddle. The absence of contraception ***IS***, knowing your own physical health and how the birds and the bees work, the way to become pregnant. In other words, your body was just doing what it was supposed to. Often times, we detach the two events because we have the ability to terminate. Another item is that the patient was alone and responsible for the cost herself. This is horrible. It takes two to make a relationship. So the fact that the partner was missing makes the point even more that the decision was hers to make. I think this is the worst part, a missing partner. If I could repeat myself, please use contraception if you don’t plan to have a baby.

  6. “No contraception around (she was stationed pretty far out) meant that she got pregnant.”

    Um, just don’t have sex when there’s no birth control. The fact she’s a soldier has nothing to do with it. In fact, I hope she doesn’t have a position with a lot of authority. I doubt her intelligence.

  7. I agree with UER, the woman serving in Afghanistan did not get pregnant as a result of being “stationed pretty far out” where contraceptives were unavailable. She got pregnant because she appears not to have understood that a hundred-per-cent effective contraception method was still available to her.

    It used to be the case that serving personnel, who become sick or unfit as a direct result of their own negligence (failure to take anti-malarials, for instance, or getting injured whilst drunk) were deemed to have wittingly caused damage to a military unit, in this case, themselves. It was a punishable offence, as were self inflicted injuries.

    If this pregnancy was a result of consensual sexual activity, then surely it should be a disciplinary offence, as she’s taken a military unit (herself) out of active duty due to culpable negligence.

  8. If this pregnancy was a result of consensual sexual activity, then surely it should be a disciplinary offence…

    Yeah, that sounds like a pretty fair and not-at-all sexist or discriminatory policy.

  9. 1. The article did not say the sex was not consensual. It would make the following sentence pointless.

    No contraception around (she was stationed pretty far out) meant that she got pregnant.

    I’m fairly certain the article would have been spun an entirely different way if the pregnancy had been the result of an attack.

    2. Not sexist and discriminatory provided both parties are punished. Two persons are responsible. This is, of course, assuming the father is also in the military. If the father was a civilian, her judgment was even worse than previously suspected.

    1. Not sexist and discriminatory provided both parties are punished.

      The only way that policy could be non-discriminatory would be if all service members, male and female, were required to abstain from sex entirely during the duration of their service. (Contraception is not 100% effective, after all.) Good luck with that.

    2. In fact, I hope she doesn’t have a position with a lot of authority. I doubt her intelligence.

      Yeah, only stupid women have unwanted pregnancies.

  10. Setting aside that she was a service woman and (from how I read the article) the sex was consensual, it is still admirable that the Doctor has a value and follows through with it in a meaningful way. A lot of us claim to have a belief yet don’t have any actions to back up our words.

    The point of this story was to say: don’t just say something, DO something. I also happen to agree with the abortion provider that abortion should be more accessible in every way than it is now. I also hold the belief birth control should be free. I’d pay higher taxes for benefit of myself and the greater community.

  11. Regardless of whether the military’s current policy is correct or not. An unwanted pregnancy meant
    a. if she decided to keep it

    “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.

    or b.

    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.

    The lack of intelligence is demonstrated by her surprise there could be consequences to unprotected sex.

    1. I’m getting the distinct impression that you don’t think males should ever have to take any responsibility for their part in this play. She’s not the only person who made a decision to have unprotected sex. The sperm donor also made this choice. Why is the male blameless for a situation he also helped create?

  12. Delores P. is fucking awesome.

    I wonder if the posters who think the service personnel involved in the story is “stupid” for having sex without access to birth control have ever spent significant amounts of time in a constant life-threatening situation. Afghanistan is significantly more primitive and dangerous duty than Iraq. Sometimes a little human tenderness is pretty darned important, especially when you think you probably won’t live to make it home.

    1. If mistakes = stupidity, I guess all those soldiers who set off an IED and lost limbs are even dumber. Why didn’t they recognize that going into a warzone could have consequences?

  13. Could be killed? Look… the douchebag who killed Geroge Tiller Kansas should get the death penalty or life w/out parole whatever the stiffest punishment punishment Kansas has…

    but the Philadelphia abortionist who killed 7 babies (yes they had been delivered so unless you’re Peter Singer spare me the technicalities) and one mother killed the same number of people in a few weeks than than abortionists have been killed by pro-life whackos in the past 20 years. 8 murders in the past 18 years is 8 too many to be sure and each is a tragedy… but I smell a New York Times “trend” here.

    A lot of jobs are more dangerous than abortion provider… school teacher, reporter, bus driver, etc., etc. They may be heroes if you are pro-choice but the chances of becoming a martyr are (thankfully) slim.

  14. The military treats STDs like syphilis in the field. A soldier gets a shot of penicillin in the clinic, confidentially, and returns to work. A pregnant woman, however, has to notify her unit that she is pregnant, jeopardize her career by arranging transportation home, and then pay for the surgical procedure.

    A first trimester abortion procedure could safely, confidentially, and quickly be provided in any field clinic by a trained provider. You can use cheap disposable equipment and it takes about 10 minutes.

    The way that health care works in the military now, consequences of sex for a female soldier are much more severe than for a male.

    This policy exists because of moral opinion, not because of cost or health concerns.

  15. Well, I’m just glad that the father had to pay for half of the abortion/plane ticket and also had his career effectively ended.

    He did, I’m absolutely certain!

    The fact that a mass of young adults are thrown out into a remote location in a foreign country and make poor decisions about their sexual activity should tell us a lot about the larger picture going on there.

    These young people are, for better or worse, making a great number of decisions out there, whether about their genital contact or whether to shoot an unarmed journalist. An unwanted pregnancy is just a tip of the iceberg of poor decisionmaking, isn’t it?

    I agree, hold her responsible, but don’t be too surprised when “our soldiers” do just what you’d think a group of 18, 19, and sub-25 year olds would.

  16. Wow! This is hilarious. I am a woman. Mother of two to be precise. I have experienced firsthand the physical and emotional repercussions of pregnancy. I am amused by the inherent sexism of the personal comments about me. Ha! That’ll teach ya!

    As I said above, both parties are to blame. However, it is the bald truth that in this case, the father/sperm donor has no repercussions. He doesn’t have to deal with the fallout. I think he should be help equally responsible. He is equally to blame for endangering the unit. I’m pretty sure the servicewoman wasn’t on the top of her game for those eight weeks.

    My biggest problem is that the writer of the original article “feels honoured” to have helped this young servicewoman. But I am at a loss to why the servicewoman in question has been praised so highly. She is a silly woman who made a stupid mistake.

    1. Just because you are a woman and a mother does not mean you are incapable of sexist/backwards viewpoints. It’s like saying: oh, I’m not racists because I have two black friends.

      Should the service woman have abstained from sex if she didn’t have contraception and didn’t want to get pregnant? Probably. But how many of us (men and women) have not always done the best thing, how many of us have not had one slip up, one rash moment, one lapse in judgement. Being in a high intensity situation like Afghanistan would certainly make this more likely, I would think. I hope you are judged as cruelly when you make your next ‘stupid mistake’.

      Should this ruin her life, especially when the clinic on site could provide her with a safe procedure that would allow her to continue to continue her career in the same way the sperm donor is allowed to do? A procedure that is, by the way, legal in the United States.

      The abstinence argument is inherently sexist because it really only applies to women. Men don’t get pregnant, men don’t have to carry a fetus around inside of them for nine months, men don’t have to ruin their careers and men (in this case) don’t have the out of pocket expenses. People have sex. Luckily we have these nifty things they can use to reduce the risks associated with it. For the army not to make those readily available to troops is criminal.

  17. Although I may be pro-choice, I do have to question the issue surrounding a lack of contraception. I know that when I was stationed in Iraq on 2 occasions, General Order #1 forbid sexual contact with the opposite sex. I don’t know if the Army was different at the time she was stationed there, but at best she made a bad decision and avoided the only completely guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy and at worst, she violated a military order and was lucky not to find herself penalized for that violation. If the sperm donor was also a military member, the same came be said for him—and he could have been held responsible by the military as well. Of course, she could always have brought a year’s supply of birth control with her when she was deployed or had an IUD put in, but she simply didn’t use her senses to override her biologic impulses. Hopefully she learned something.

  18. I blame heterosexuals. It’s obviously a gigantic mistake to allow them to serve in the military.

    1. I don’t know how we’re supposed to have unit cohesion when all these heteros are boning each other.

  19. Casting blame either direction sucks. The military can’t accomodate/condone deployed troops having sex, and since it’s a basic human need, you can’t condemn soldiers that do it anyway. I think the point of this article is that there are many situations where the best solution is an imperfect one, and there’s not much that can be done about it except to keep calm and carry on.

  20. The wisdom of Bruce Dickinson distilled for the terrified:
    -I could’ve used a little more cowbell*
    -I gotta have more cowbell!
    -I gotta have more cowbell, baby!
    -Babies.. before we’re done here.. y’all be wearing gold-plated diapers.

    *(The wider societal resonance of the teaching of Bruce Dickinson is that “More cowbell” suggests that more cowbell musicians & writers need to born.
    Join me…More Cowbell…Not less… More:
    Now move

  21. To all the moralists nattering about “Well she shouldn’t have had unprotected sex!” – in what way is this any of your f****ing business? She had sex. Yes, people do that sometimes. If she’d gotten syphilis as a result of having sex, would you be clamoring for that syphilis to go untreated? I can just see the evil glee with which you consign her military career and her life to the trash bin – well, the slut had sex so she had it coming to her. Let’s also make sure she loses her home and goes to jail – after all, she’d had sex. We have to punish her.

    By the way, kudos to the abortion provider for taking one of the most dangerous jobs out there. I volunteered at an abortion clinic for a few years, escorting patients past the crazed religious fanatics screaming at them. Even in that insignificant role, I’ve had death threats. I can’t even imagine the type of courage it would take to actually perform the procedures.

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