On May 15, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Human Life Protection Act into law. It is (currently) the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S. The only exceptions are if the health of the mother is threatened or if fetal anomalies make survival outside of the womb unlikely. Rape and incest are not exceptions to this ban. Additional states, including our own, have followed suit, passing restrictive laws with anti-choice conservatives hoping to face the Supreme Court and challenge Roe v. Wade (which states that access to a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right). Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, abortion access would be determined by individual states, rather than being a federally-guaranteed right.
I must admit, I am not the best contender when it comes to social media clapbacks and heated debates. To say this piece of legislation has caused an uproar is an understatement. As a woman who encountered various forms of violence throughout my childhood, my distaste for confrontation of any kind is probably stronger than most. Nonetheless, by being participants in this thing called life, we must take the bitter with the sweet. Conflict is one of the unpleasant parts of the package.
I do, however, passionately engage in a battle of a different type. Sex, STIs, and smegma are merely the tip of the unspoken and explicit iceberg of my work as a nurse in sexual and reproductive health. Unlike treatment for cancer and diabetes, which typically garner universal support, sexual and reproductive health issues—specifically abortion—are rife with personal, political, and religious polarization. Women’s reproductive health has become a war zone. Knowledge is the weapon I choose to support girls, adolescents, and women who are faced with difficult decisions daily.
Frightened and Uninformed
A terrified young woman I supported during a visit recently was in tears before I was able to fully introduce myself to her. She informed me she was pregnant. She said she felt alone and ashamed and that I was the first person she had told. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (acog.org), a leading authority on women’s health in the U.S., developed guidelines for pregnancy options counseling. According to their guidelines, all pregnant persons have three choices: carry the pregnancy to parent, carry the pregnancy to adoption, or abort. After giving her time to calm down, I printed counseling questions, risks, and resources for all three options. As I went to the printer to retrieve the materials, a superior of mine saw the papers and told me they were uncomfortable with me providing abortion resources. I was instructed to throw the papers in the shred bin immediately and refer the patient to an OBGYN. This young lady was brave and trusting enough to share information with me that she had not told anyone else. I couldn’t bring myself to turn her away without supporting her. I counseled her on all three options and gave her the paperwork anyway. I told her she should act quickly if termination was a consideration (access to later term terminations presents greater challenges) and that she should see an OBGYN ASAP to start prenatal care and vitamins if she decided to continue the pregnancy.
Innocent and Unheard
On another occasion, a concerned mother brought her 16 year-old to clinic for contraception counseling. She was concerned because she started noticing a few men in her neighborhood being flirtatious and suggestive towards her daughter, who has autism. The mother was no longer able to afford to stay with her daughter during the day and had to return to working full-time in order to maintain their household. A scheduled contraception visit turned into an emotional discussion after we ran a few tests. Her daughter was pregnant, but unable to inform either her mother or myself about who could have possibly impregnated her. Could this woman afford to parent her daughter and possibly a grandchild? Should an autistic 16 year-old be forced into motherhood when she may not have been able to engage in sex consensually? There are countless stories of women—representing all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and income brackets—who encounter difficult situations that are challenging to manage. The lives, accessible choices, and voices of these women and families are being unjustly usurped and silenced by political agendas.
As a healthcare professional, I am obligated to give my patients the information they need to make an informed health decision. My judgement, beliefs, and bias have no say in that process. Pregnancy is a life-altering event that should be handled with care. Our lives and circumstances are not one-size-fits-all. If the sanctity and preservation of life is truly valued by our political leaders, then this value should be reflected in legislation across all stages of our lives and not extended only to the unborn.
RESOURCES & SERVICES
The following are some organizations and points of contact relevant to people who can get pregnant and anyone who wishes to support them. Beware predatory “crisis pregnancy centers” that are designed to appear as real medical providers but are designed to obstruct your ability to access services, disseminate misinformation, and delay your access to actual comprehensive reproductive care.
Health clinic providing a large range of services and care including STI testing, birth control, hormone therapy, PrEP, and more.
New Orleans Abortion Fund
Operates a hotline, organizes and trains clinic escorts, funds abortions—volunteer and donation powered.
Reproductive Justice Action Collective
Disseminates emergency contraception, operates canigetanabortioninlouisiana.com, a network sharing resources related to reproductive justice.
Louisiana Trans Advocates
Provides referrals to trans positive health care providers, funds name changes, and more.
CrescentCare Health Centers are federally qualified providers of health care to individuals, couples, and families that seek a “medical home” where they can consistently go for care, with a particular focus on underserved communities: the service industry, the LGBT community and slowly developing neighborhoods.
NARAL Pro-Choice America
Non-profit working to impact legislation and policy.
St. Thomas Community Health Center
St. Thomas offers affordable care and accepts most insurance plans, Medicaid, Medicare and offers services on a sliding scale for uninsured and underinsured.
NOW Baton Rouge Escort Program
Clinic escort program in and around Baton Rouge.
Trans-inclusive reproductive justice activists seeking to educate, advocate, and litigate.
Louisiana Judicial Bypass Project
Provides legal support for minors seeking an abortion.
Women With A Vision
Advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research for marginalized women, their families, and communities. WWAV recently released a Comprehensive Contraception Reader, which is available as a downloadable PDF on their website.