Before Abortion: 24 Hours of Choice

With abortion clinics in Ohio shutting down, there is concern. Once no abortion clinics exist in a state, women are forced to get abortions in other states. If they cannot afford to do this, they are more likely to turn to illegal, dangerous and potentially fatal procedures. The government is now requiring hospitals to perform vaginal ultrasounds on all women who want to terminate their pregnancies, whether they need one or not. Vaginal ultrasounds are an intrusive and emotional procedure for the patient, involving a hand-held probe penetrating the vagina. “Having no control over such a procedure is almost like…” said Mary, waiting for somebody else to finish her sentence with the word ‘rape’.

Before Abortion 24 Hours of Choice won Prague Freedom Foundation‘s Excellence Award. It was written during the Kent State and Anglo American University‘s Journalism Program that I participated in during the Winter Semester of 2014-2015.

Gynecologists know perfectly well when an abdominal ultrasound is not enough and a vaginal ultrasound is necessary. With the new regulations in Ohio, however, that control goes to the politicians, explains Mary, a nurse at the Akron Women’s Medical Group. She asked to keep her surname private in fear of the protestors who attempt to gather contact information of the staff in order to harass them. She is upset that the government is now requiring hospitals to perform vaginal ultrasounds on all women who want to terminate their pregnancies, whether they need one or not. Vaginal ultrasounds are an intrusive and emotional procedure for the patient, involving a hand-held probe penetrating the vagina.

“Having no control over such a procedure is almost like…” said Mary, waiting for somebody else to finish her sentence with the word ‘rape’.

“Women come here at their most vulnerable,” she said.

Mandatory vaginal ultrasounds are one of the new additions to the controversial “24-hour law” first introduced in 2006. Although abortion is legal in the state of Ohio, the government keeps adding new laws, making it harder for women to terminate their pregnancies. During a 24-hour period, the patient is presented with all her options and – according to some – pressured into keeping the baby.

“Women come in here knowing less than they did 15 years ago,” said Mary whose clinic performs up to 45 abortions during their busiest weeks. The state now requires that hospitals perform vaginal ultrasounds as part of the routine examination that an abortion-seeking woman must undergo. Through this procedure, a nurse is required to take a picture of the fetus and show it to the woman. The patient is also forced to see her fetus’ heartbeat, provided it is detectable at that stage.

Kathleen Clyde, member of the Ohio House of Representatives opposes these new restrictions. “The legislature should not be asserting itself into the doctor’s office…,” she said. “Forcing women to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound is outrageous.”

Clyde fears that if the situation deteriorates, low-income women could see some “very scary things.” Before abortion was first legalized in 1973, women risked many health dangers when they had illegal abortions. Both sides agree that the design of the law succeeds in revealing whether the woman is being coerced into having an abortion against her will – but the effectiveness and purpose of the law add even more debate to an already controversial topic.

Part of the problem is the sensitive terminology of what it means to be “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” In general, those who oppose abortion and support the new provisions call themselves pro-life. Those who instead fight for a woman’s right to decide whether an abortion is a right choice for her are pro-choice. This, however, is often misleading. The way some see it, some people on the pro-choice side push for abortion more than they do for all the other choices that women have.

“To me, this is pro-abortion and not pro-choice because one choice is considered less than the other,” said Kelly Shinners, a nurse at Bulter Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. “Abortion is just one of those choices.”

Shinners’ goal is to make women of all backgrounds, financial situations and education levels understand all their choices. She doesn’t want them to believe abortion is their only choice because that is not what being pro-choice means.

Jaime Miracle, the policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, refers to the other side as ‘anti-choicers.’ Miracle thinks the 24-hour law is ineffective and believes that once a woman is already in the clinic, her mind is made up.

“This is another example of the anti-choice [movement:] not understanding these women’s decision-making process,” said Miracle. According to her, the values of ‘pro-choice’ mean more than just the abortion issue of pregnancy. From her point of view, it’s about having quality medical care (including contraception) and about having one’s family the way they want it to look.

Extremists exist on both sides of the debate. The most passionate ones take their views to the sidewalks outside abortion clinics. The protesters aren’t usually hostile, although security guards are preventatively summoned as a safety measure and to comfort the women. By law, people have the right to protest peacefully on the sidewalk. Recently, on Jan. 29th, two peaceful protesters stood with their signs, sniveling while bundled up against the sub-zero temperature. They were fighting for their opinion to be heard in front of the Akron Women’s Medical Clinic, and simply handed out pamphlets with information about different kinds of abortion and contraception which outlined all of the options available to women. The pamphlet cites several post-abortion symptoms, including ‘using drugs or alcohol more than before.’ The protestors pleaded: “Contact a pregnancy center. God bless you.”

These pregnancy centers – found in most cities, especially near universities – aren’t always praised for their work, however. Their fliers advertise their services as having ‘no judgment, no pressure and no politics.’ They can be found in abundance at police stations, schools, hotels and various waiting rooms. But not everyone believes that the message they are spreading among young women is accurate.

In order to investigate this suspicion, NARAL Pro-Choice League decided to investigate the truth of their advertisements in a two-year undercover study. As their policy director, Miracle explained that their goal was “to experience what the women would experience.”

The results were shocking. Half of the undercover patients were not pregnant and went in to get tested – when their tests came back negative, most centers did not endorse birth control but instead told them about abstinence. Those who were pregnant and asked for advice were often given false information that linked abortion to breast cancer and dementia – some were even told the story of a woman who claimed that ‘abortion turned her into a crack-head whore.’ Upon receiving these results, NARAL began fighting for pregnancy centers to advertise their services correctly.

Other centers of seemingly objective information, such as Planned Parenthood branches, are also facing intense criticism. Kayla Smith, legislative director at Ohio Right to Life, accuses Planned Parenthood of being a “business making hundreds of thousands of dollars out of these women’s abortions.”

Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of information about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and abortion, is often accused of only offering two options: becoming a parent or having an abortion. According to Smith, it often pressures women to have abortions. They often come to high schools to present information to students. For many, they are considered the neutral source of information. But not for Smith. She believes that the 24-hour law is a better source of information. “Even if it saves one life it is effective,” she said.

Misha Barnes, the managing director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, believes the organization to be a quality healthcare provider. She joined the organization after being a patient there herself.

“I don’t consider myself pro-choice or pro-life,” she said. She supports policies that allow people to make their own decisions about their lives and get educated about all their options, including parenting, adoption and abortion.

“We support them in whichever decision they make,” said Barnes. According to her, Planned Parenthood also gives their patients time to think it through. Even if a woman comes in wanting an abortion straight away, she is told all of her options and is scheduled for a consulting appointment where she receives more information and signs a consent form. Only after that does the 24-hour period take place. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio is a non-profit health care provider that receives government funding. The funding is for family planning services, STD testing and sexuality education – not for abortions.

With all this plentiful – if often conflicting – information being thrown at female patients facing a difficult decision, the 24-hour law has the potential to be a great source of facts, especially for younger women. But abortion clinics might soon see another hurdle. A new “transfer-agreement” requires abortion clinics to have a formal agreement with a hospital to take on patients in case of abortion complications, even though it is agreed that abortion complications are very rare. The new provision excludes public hospitals from being able to participate in the agreement and as many as three abortion clinics have been shut down because of it. There are three potential concerns with the transfer agreement. First, those hospitals that are formally against abortions will refuse any agreement requests, hence lowering the number of clinics for women to turn to. Second, some people fear this agreement is going to become a platform for influential individuals within the hospital who hold pro-life ideals. And third, hospitals might fear negative publicity. Especially with economic problems looming over the country, it is easier and safer for them to stay out of the abortion debate.

With abortion clinics in Ohio shutting down, there is concern that Ohio is going in the direction that Mississippi found itself at this time last year. The government began threatening to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state last January. Once no abortion clinics exist in a state, women are forced to get abortions in other states. If they cannot afford to do this, they are more likely to turn to illegal, dangerous and potentially fatal procedures.

Bridget Harrison, policy adviser for Speaker William Batchelder at the Ohio House of Representatives, emphasized that she could not speak for the legislators who are promoting anti-abortion laws’ long-term goal. But she did say, “I think that the ultimate goal of people who are pro-life is to completely eliminate abortions.”

Maisie Crow, photographer and multimedia producer, made a movie about the clinic in Mississippi called The Last Clinic. It demonstrates the struggles that the clinic faces as well as people arguing for and against its closing. She worries that we are going back to the times when women were dying because of illegal abortions. “It’s shocking to me that we might return to that,” she said. “I’ve met women who have aborted no matter what the law is.” Crow considers herself pro-choice and believes that women need to have access to health care and have the option to consider what is best for them.

Although religion is at the center of the abortion debate, even the church does not deliver a consistent message. Churches like the Unitarian Universalist Church consider themselves pro-choice.

Reverend Richard Pentello from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kent, Ohio, a priest for 35 years, refers to abortion as ‘unfortunately an option’ in today’s society. The Catholic Church sees a fetus as a life, not just as a cluster of cells, and they believe that all life is valuable “from the moment of conception until natural death.” Although he respects the rights of women, he does not believe that “those rights supersede the right to life.” He and the church understand that there are various circumstances but believe it important for the option of adoption to be considered. Despite the church’s strong pro-life opinion, Pentello said that women who opted to get abortions for whatever reason can still go to heaven as long as they are truly sorry and seek forgiveness.

”Those who violate the dignity of life, like abusers and terrorists, are left in the hands of God,” he said.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Maisie Crow – ‘The Last Clinic’

I thought I was done collecting sources for my final project when Lance gave me a flier for a presentation in Franklin Hall by someone called Maisie Crow. He said that she was doing something involving abortion. When I Googled her later that day, I found out that she made a movie about the last abortion clinic in Mississippi that is under the threat of being shut down.

I was immediately interested and decided to go to the presentation, but I wasn’t expecting to be inspired. Maisie looked like one of the college students and was just as short as me. She was given very impressive introductions by two staff members at Kent that I actually knew, Thor and David. She herself didn’t say much because she wanted us to watch the movie first. Her passion and determination for her project was obvious right away when she stopped the movie a few minutes in because the speakers had a weird buzz and she wanted her movie to be presented at its best.

In the movie she managed to capture on film exactly what I want to capture on paper – a story about abortion from both the pro-choice and pro-life sides. Although she is open about being pro-choice, she has a good relationship with the pro-lifers at the abortion clinic because she spent an equal time with them as she did the other side. Her movie was even shown in a church.

She is continuing her story and wants to develop her 45 minute movie into a full length feature film and she is extremely devoted to sharing this story. After the presentation I had to line up with a bunch of other people who wanted to talk to her. I was excited when it was my turn and I told her a bit about my project in Ohio and we exchanged information. Because she was leaving at 10AM we didn’t have time to meet in person but we did spend about 30 minutes on the phone talking about abortion, our projects and life in general.

I got a quote from her for my paper and we promised to stay in contact. It is amazing what Maisie has accomplished and I think we can all learn from her. I look forward to watching her other videos and sharing my paper with her once I am finished. It is amazing finding people who are successful yet levelheaded and who inspire you to do what you love and to use it to make a difference in the world.

Asking Strangers Controversial Questions

I came to Cleveland with a very ambitious project in mind. I wanted to write a compelling article about abortion. I could already picture myself talking to pregnant girls who were considering abortion, or those who had already had one. I thought I’d just as one student and they’d give me several contacts willing to line up and tell me their personal life stories. A week and a half later and I only have three days left in Kent. Despite me trying really hard, I have found no one who has had or considered having an abortion.

I didn’t realize the cultural differences in openness about speaking about abortion. Everyone here is extremely friendly, but they need to be approached with care when it comes to such a sensitive topic. Many people who I approach won’t even utter the word ‘abortion’ or will say it in hushed tones. Sometimes their facial expression changes too – whether it’s shock that I would ask a stranger such a delicate question or the amusement on a priests face when I ask for only 5 minutes of his time to explain the churches complicated stance on this.

By asking many different strangers questions about abortion, I have learned not to judge a book by its cover. Some of the young college-aged students who I approach seemed very timid and closed-minded. On the other hand, those who I was the most nervous to approach, a local Catholic Church priest or an older Amish man, were happy to share their views and never once asked me about my religious views and showed no judgment towards me for asking this.

Taking Iva’s advice, I have also learned to introduce myself in a way that will make people comfortable speaking to be, before busting out the big guns. Being raised in an Americanized International School gave me the false impression of understanding American culture. But I have realized that I am only now beginning to discover it. I hope to use what I’ve learned to gather more information so that I’m able to give my paper the justice that such a controversial and important topic deserves.