December 7, 2010

T-shirt slogans and vocations

"Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion.  Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right decision for herself and her family."  ~Hillary Clinton.  This is what my new, purple t-shirt says.  

The national conference for Med Students for Choice was this weekend in Chicago.

I sat at a round table after breakfast and listened, along with over four hundred other people, to Dr. Rachel Phelps give the keynote speech of the conference.  She spoke on the current barriers to women's access to contraception, reproductive health care, and abortion services.  Her words would have been depressing, if I had focused on the current undermining that is occurring across the entire United States.  As I listened to her speech, I could feel my heart beating forcefully in my chest.  I could feel a rising sensation in my gut, a feeling that spread and took hold around my heart and squeezed painfully so that the air I drew in to breathe made my chest ache with tension.  My heart literally ached at what Dr. Phelps described.  

She spoke of the laws and restrictions that make it ever more difficult to obtain an abortion.
She spoke of physician-only laws, of 24-hour waiting period-laws, of parental involvement laws.
She spoke of the violence that has been done to physicians who provide abortions.

She spoke of the women that she sees in her work: white, black, Asian, rich, poor, educated, ignorant, young, old, middle-aged, married, single, mothers, first-pregnancies.  She spoke of the women who had been yearning for a child but found out that their fetus had such a severe chromosomal abnormality that it was incompatible with life.  She spoke of women who already had several children and loved them dearly, but simply could not afford either the money or especially the time and energy to have another child so close the others.

She spoke of how often she saw women whose contraceptive method had failed.
She spoke of how often she saw women whose doctors had misunderstood their birth control methods or needs, of how often their doctors had taken them off birth control or refused them an appropriate method because they did not have the right information about different methods.
She spoke of how few hours medical schools spend on an aspect of health which touches nearly all of our female patients, of how little time is spent on the methods of birth control, of how few residencies related to women's health even talked about contraception or abortion.
She spoke of how often her patients thanked her for making a decision bearable that was so hard for them.
She spoke of how 1.5 million abortions happened last year alone in the United States.
She spoke of how 1 in 3 women will have an abortion.
She spoke of the 1800 doctors who currently provide abortions and how they are aging and retiring with no one to take their place.

I felt my heart constrict, I felt a band of resonant pain around my chest as I listened.  As Dr. Phelps talked, I realized that this, this was something that mattered to me, deeply.  I realized that, no matter how much I try to say that I am open-minded about what I want my specialty to be, this called to me.  If I truly wanted to help those who cannot help themselves, this was my calling.

Life is too precious for it to be undertaken lightly, and no woman should be forced to bear a child she does not want.

I want to be an obstetrician/gynecologist.  I want to help my patients with anything related to their reproductive health.  I want to help them bear the children they want, and I want to be able to help them when they face a pregnancy they cannot continue.  I want to be there for my patients for the joyous births, but I also want to be there for them when they face the deepest sorrow, or fear, or uncertainty.

I want to honor women's ability to make their own decisions.  

I want to be an abortion provider.

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