I worked in reproductive healthcare, and ‘abortion’ is not a dirty word | Opinion

Andrew Harnik/AP
·4 min read

A dear friend called me out of the blue a few years ago. As a born and bred millennial, I know that a phone call without advance warning means something serious. On this phone call, she told me she was pregnant and asked me if I thought she should have an abortion.

At the time, I was working as a nurse for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida (PPSENFL) helping to provide dignified abortion access to patients. I started blabbing about the safety of abortions. I got on my soapbox about how the movies get it all wrong — the majority of patients are incredibly confident in their decisions and that most abortions are either induced at home after consultation with a physician or take just a few minutes in a simple procedure.

I mentioned the hundreds of abortions I had assisted on and that not one had required care that wasn’t easily managed in clinic. I even threw in the trite statement that pregnancy is far riskier than abortion. I rambled that abortion will not affect fertility in the future nor the health of future pregnancies, nor will it increase risks of getting cancer — all these being frequent enough questions I had gotten from patients.

My friend stopped me during this dissertation and asked again, directly, if she should have an abortion. I answered with a question. “Do you want a child right now?”

Her “no” came swiftly and resolutely but her voice wavered with a follow up.

“But is it bad for me to have an abortion?”

This question shattered me. The existence of her question did not mean that she was unsure of what she wanted for herself, her future and her health, but that she was unsure that the world we live in would allow her to want it.

Lawmakers chipping away

Jan. 22, 2022, marks the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that ruled a pregnant person has the liberty to decide to have an abortion without excessive restriction, and yet here we are half a century later fighting about what that means. When I began working in reproductive health, I imagined a United States where the protections guaranteed by this decision were the floor, not a ceiling. I thought of myself working toward making reproductive healthcare more affordable and accessible and less stigmatized. This year, conservative lawmakers are resolved to chip away at the rights of patients to have autonomy over their bodies and their healthcare until the entire justice system caves in around us.

At PPSENFL, abortion nurses worked intake, procedure room or recovery room. We all rotated but recovery was my favorite by far because most patients would come out of the procedure room bathed in a glow of relief. Relief from the physical representation of a traumatic event. Relief that they can prioritize the children they currently have and attend school plays or pay for ballet lessons instead of taking on another job. In many cases, it meant they would still continue to struggle to make ends meet without figuring out how to feed one more mouth. I would see relief that they drove hours or flew to Miami and were able to access care.

Many times though, the relief had no tear-inducing story of difficult choices. The story was simply that a person wanted an abortion and got one because that is their right.

No caveats needed

We must roar as loudly as we can to deafen the stigma anti-abortion zealots have concocted and we need to shout as often as we can that abortion is healthcare and should be made unrestrictedly and equitably available, and fully funded.

“Abortion” is not a dirty word. Abortion does not need to be followed by caveats, explanations or shame. Everyone knows and loves someone who has had an abortion. From an aunt of mine who was secretly bused into the city in the 60’s and met in an alley by a stranger, to my friend who had projected society’s unfounded puritanism onto her bodily autonomy — may we continue to love them and continue to fight against those who refuse to respect or acknowledge the privilege and right of their decisions.

Monica Skoko Rodriguez is a former Planned Parenthood nurse and holds a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in nursing practice from Duke University. She is the executive director of the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women and a board member of Ruth’s List Miami.

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