by Kate McIntyre
When I tell people I work at an abortion clinic, there are often some immediate assumptions about what my day looks like and who the clients are. In an effort to normalize abortion, I want to set the record straight by sharing things some people may find surprising about abortion work.
It’s common to talk to folks who are calm, cool, and collected.
For the most part, clients who come for their abortion appointment are relaxed. Of course, there is always space for any emotions that come up like nervousness, fear, impatience, or any number of feelings. However, many of the clients I see are content with their decision because they have processed their choice in the time leading up to their abortion. The day of their appointment is the last step and I’ve found that most people are ready to move forward.
People come from all backgrounds and ages.
There isn’t a typical age or type of person who has an abortion. Parents, non-parents, young adults, teens, married, single, non-binary folks, professionals, or un/underemployed – anyone who is pregnant may choose to have an abortion. People of all different spiritual and secular backgrounds have abortions. Stereotyping abortion clients simply does not work and I think most people would be surprised to see our waiting room.
Sometimes during a counselling session, we laugh.
Having an abortion doesn’t mean that a counselling appointment needs to be somber. Depending on their concerns and how they are doing with their decision to have an abortion, we sometimes joke around during the appointment. There are moments of levity and warmth and small talk and asides that are more related to our commonalities than their appointment. There is no one right way to feel or act during an abortion appointment. If laughter feels appropriate and mutual, it happens!
If someone doesn’t feel certain about their decision or discloses that they were pressured to have an abortion, they don’t stay for the procedure.
More than anything, we want people to make the choice that is best for them. If during our conversation, I notice wavering, uncertainty, or if they share that someone in their life wants them to have an abortion but they’re not so sure, we spend time unpacking that.
We talk about the factors that have brought them to this appointment, and the factors that cause them to pause or question their choice to have an abortion. If, through our conversation, the degree of uncertainty is too high, clients will rebook for a later date to give themselves more time to feel comfortable with whatever decision they make. We don’t want people to go through with something that doesn’t feel right, and so if they need more time, it is crucial that we support them in taking it.
I talk about female-assigned anatomy A LOT.
There are a lot of things in the desk drawer of my office: I have diagrams. I have speculums. I have a cervix model. I have samples of different kinds of birth control. During almost every appointment, I pull one or more of these things out. I have found there is a distinct lack of understanding related to female-assigned anatomy for most clients. Through no fault of their own, I might add! We need more quality, comprehensive, rights-based sex education. We talk about things like how different kinds of birth control work to reduce the chance of pregnancy, and discuss the steps involved in an abortion so they feel informed about the choices they are making. I can’t tell you how many speculums I’ve inserted into my closed fist, IUDs I’ve handed to clients to look at and touch, or how many times I’ve heard clients say “It doesn’t feel as scary anymore,” after I’ve described what happens during an abortion procedure.
There are many myths and misconceptions about whom, when, and why folks choose to have an abortion. As an abortion counsellor, people share the context of their lives with me. A part of me wishes other people could be a fly on the wall of a counselling room for a day so they could see with their own eyes what it’s like. But I guess my words will have to be enough.
There’s no one right way for people having an abortion to feel; there’s no one right way of experiencing the day of the procedure, or how to feel afterwards. For us, there are, however, a few right ways to talk about the choice to have an abortion. We always need to check our assumptions, to challenge judgment and biases, and to support people in making the best choice for them.
Kate McIntyre is a Health Educator and an Abortion Counsellor at Women’s Health Clinic.