November 27, 2013 by panicpony
*A note about language: all of my clients on the abortion fund have indentified as female, hence my use of the word “women” throughout the post.
*I do not speak for the abortion fund I volunteer with. This post is purely about my personal experience as a hotline advocate.
I’ve talked a lot about my work on an abortion fund, which provides small grants to people seeking abortion in the Northwest. Someone recently interviewed me for a class about my work on the hotline, and it was nice to get a chance to describe my experience to someone else. I’ve been working on a big project that is part of the internship I recently did with the hotline. It’s kind of a personal journal/field-guide about my experience, and even though I go into great detail about a lot of things, I’m still to some degree just talking to myself, staying within my own head. The challenge of eloquently expressing the work we do motivated me to expand on that and share some of it with the rest of you. It would be fairly impossible to discuss everything I’ve learned, because there’s just so much and I build on it all the time, but here are some things that stand out for me overall.
1. Abortion isn’t a political issue
When I talk to women on the hotline we don’t usually get into politics. They’re not calling me saying, “Hey, I’m pro-choice so I thought I’d run out and get an abortion”. This is not a political issue for them–it’s a healthcare choice, plain and simple, that has been politicized for them in a way that is completely beyond their control. It’s completely wrong and completely unfair. When we do talk politics, it’s usually out of their anger at this. They know that they’re being manipulated by people that don’t care about their actual situation–and they’re pissed, or sad, or sometimes galvanized.
2. Access is not access.
There’s a lot of discussion about who has what and where when it comes to abortion access. Now, I’m not going to deny that, for example, Washington has it better than a lot of places because we allow Medicaid coverage for abortion procedures. That doesn’t mean everybody gets it. You could be 5$ off the qualification cutoff and be denied. You could have a fairly decent annual income and still not have 600-2000$ laying around for an emergency medical procedure–I think we would be hard pressed to find anyone who did regardless of what the medical situation is. You could have insurance but have a high deductible that means you would essentially have to pay out of pocket–or maybe your state doesn’t legally allow insurance to cover abortion. You could live in a state that does allow Medicaid coverage for abortion but is totally broke and has an army of state workers that illegally deny coverage because of their own anti-choice beliefs. I know I’m largely preaching to the choir about this, but legality of abortion does not equal access, nor does personal situation. That’s why I’m so grateful that my abortion fund assesses need based on a person’s situation right this second rather than on an equation we plug people’s stats into.
3. There is no such thing as a true stereotype about abortion.
Abortion is not rare. The majority of people I talk to on the hotline already have children and are making a parenting choice. Abortion is not a form of birth control (at least not in the way it’s characterized by those who want to discredit it) and it’s not easy to get one. Lots of religious folks have abortions. There is no such thing as “Post Abortion Syndrome”. There is no such thing as a “right reason” to get an abortion–every reason is right. Basically throw every single stereotype or trope you’ve ever heard or thought about abortion out the window–they’re all absolutely wrong.
4. Political landscapes don’t reflect reality.
I would say the majority of calls I get are from Idaho women. This is a place where blatant anti-choice activity is celebrated, where there is a ridiculous anti-choice law presented to the legislature pretty much every year (although even in this climate they often fail), where there are only two providers which although the 20 week ban there was struck down in court will only do procedures up to 13 weeks, and women like Jennie Linn McCormack are turned into the town punching bag of Pocatello. Do you know how many women I’ve helped get abortions who are from Pocatello? A LOT. There is absolutely zero connection between the kind of limited legal access that anti-choice “activists” and legislatures think reflect the wishes of their constituents and the actual amount of women who need and get abortions.
5. People will do what they have to do to get abortions.
I am consistently in awe of the bravery of the women I talk with–women who face down every single legal, political, financial, and social barrier to get the medical care they need and deserve. Now, I am NOT trying to downplay the very real effect all these barriers have on women seeking abortion care. I am trying to celebrate the fact that women know what they need and do what they have to do to get it. That 20 week ban? They’ll find rides and places to stay to get to another state that will honor their need and perform a procedure past 12 weeks. That fake clinic next door to the Planned Parenthood or that falsely advertised in the yellow pages that they provide abortion care and then told all kinds of awful and scary lies to the woman I have on the phone to delay her procedure and get her to change her mind? You didn’t fool her, you just made her more determined. That medicaid cutoff? She called an abortion fund, pawned her jewelry, and borrowed money from a friend. The only thing all these crappy barriers did was highlight the ridiculous lengths they force women to go through to get the care they need–and it’s not a good look. Again, I am fully aware that these barriers sometimes work. But I’ve talked to so many women who have busted right through them and if there’s anything that demonstrates that women know exactly what they need for themselves better than anyone and will do what they have to to get it, this does.
6. People involved in providing abortion are not invested in making the choice for the person.
As a hotline advocate, I am not there to advocate abortion. I am there to meet a need for a person who is advocating for themselves. The women I speak with tell me what they want and need and I help them do that. Occasionally a woman will express doubt, reveal they are being pressured, or let me know they want to do this but need a lot of emotional support. I’ve had a few people change their mind and tell me their carrying their pregnancy to term. They’re still telling me what they need–they need me to pull back from funding them until they’re certain, to check in with them about coercion, to refer them to support resources, or to prenatal care resources. And every single clinic or person I know who works in abortion care does the exact same thing. That’s our job. We can’t make the decision for them; we can only do whatever we can to facilitate their decision in the way that they’ve asked us to.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned while working on an abortion fund. This work has become my baseline for why I engage politically–these women who are just seeking a health care service, plain and simple. It’s helped me to build a true reproductive justice framework for my political and personal thinking. It’s truly one of the best things I have ever done.
If you want to support an abortion fund, find out if there is one in your area you can volunteer with or make a donation to places like the CAIR Project or consider donating to the TEA Fund or the Lilith Project in Texas. Abortion funds are a lifeline for so many, especially in places like Texas where they are suddenly facing such limited access. And if you don’t have time or money to donate, give your friendly local hotline advocate a hug and a thank you! They work hard for free, usually in the midst of work or school or both, and deserve all the appreciation they can get!