November 11, 2013

Stand with me

Over the weekend, I attended the Medical Students for Choice national conference in Denver.  This was my third national conference, and as in years past, I was uplifted by the chance to be surrounded by future physicians who support abortion access, comprehensive medical education, and positive change in attitudes surrounding abortion.

There were some fantastic moments that stand out: meeting and thanking Dr. Phelps, whose keynote speech three years ago called me to follow this path; getting to see my friends from the Activist Leaders Institute in May; talking the whole plane ride home with the M1 and M2 representatives from my school about everything reproductive health under the sun; and hearing from the brand-new doctor who is brave enough to take on the late Dr. Tiller's clinic in Wichita, Kansas.

Something was a little different this year, though.  There was a theme that kept surfacing, one that was relevant to everyone there and one which hit home harder than I was expecting.  The theme was: you are not alone.

One of the sessions I went to was titled, "Religious Women Have Abortions." The speaker, Rev. Rebecca Turner, is a Christian reverend who started and counsels religious women on the subject of abortions.  She said something I had no idea I needed to hear.  She handed out cards that read, "We pray for medical students who want to include abortion care in their practice.  May they receive good training and find good mentors." I felt all the tension go from my shoulders as a sense of relief washed over me.  I had no idea how much of my isolation from people of faith had to do with the censure I assumed I would receive from them; here was a reverend not only saying "it's okay" but also blessing me and praying on my behalf.  I was, and am, touched.  She also gave us business cards that we can give to patients, which have two scripture verses on them.  One, from Romans 8:38-39, reads: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life..nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God." I felt gathered in, brought back into a place of acceptance and love.

The final speaker of the conference was an MSFC alumna who has taken on the gargantuan task of providing abortions in the late Dr. Tiller's clinic.  She is only one year out of residency, and in that year she has suffered more troubles and tribulations than any doctor should have to overcome.  Anti-choice organizations found her family medicine practice in Chicago; protested outside her office; harassed her business partner and landlady until she was asked to leave the building and the practice; and have followed her every move in order to intimidate her.  She stood at the podium, looked around the room, and told us to stand strong.

The culture of medicine, she said, was responsible for our isolation.  Too long have abortion providers been pushed to the fringe of medicine, where they are perhaps the only one in their community providing this service.  Too long have other physicians cared more about other issues to the detriment of standing up for reproductive rights and abortion access.  Too long have other physicians remained silent when politicians come chiseling at the rights of their female patients to make their own medical decisions.

But then, she challenged us to continue our path.  We will be the ones to stand together.  We can be the ones who challenge hospital administrators when, no matter what our specialty choice, we ask them hard questions about whether they provide abortions on-site and if not, why not? We can be the ones who make it clear that abortion training is important to us, regardless of specialty.  We can be the ones who show the established authorities in the world of medicine that we will be silent no more, that we demand this education and this care for our patients because abortion is health care, and that we will not stand down when faced with opposition.

I have had many classmates who thank me, randomly and in a quiet voice, for standing up to ignorance on Facebook or for asking questions that make others uncomfortable.  My friends often say that they are proud of my choice to become an abortion provider as part of my practice, and they often say that they support me, especially because they're not sure they could do it themselves.

To this, I say thank you.

Your support of me is always appreciated.  It is a small beacon when I worry that I won't match, that residency programs will view me as a zealot, that someday a crazy person will shoot me for caring for my patients.

However, my plea is this: for those of you who know me, who think privately and silently "That's not right" when a professor or a classmate makes a derogatory remark, or who think "I could never do that, but I'm glad someone does;" for those of you who have private opinions that are rarely expressed--Speak.  Please.  The world of medicine needs more people who consider themselves moderates or supporters of women's rights to speak up and challenge the vocal but tiny minority who set themselves against access and equal care for women.  Those of us who are choosing to make abortion part of our practice need your support--not just so that we can have access to jobs where we are supported, not just so that our procedures can be done in accessible places like hospitals and ordinary doctors' offices and clinics, but also so that we know you have our backs.

It is lonely when you feel that no one supports what you do.  If you support us, speak.  You will brighten our day and make it that much harder for abortion opponents to tear us to pieces.  If it were clear to our opponents that abortion is a normal part of medical care, that the majority of doctors support it for our patients--their power would vanish.  Your silence empowers them; your speech uplifts us.

I need you.  Please stand with me.

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