‘Abortion Recovery’ Month? How About ‘Abortion Wellbeing Month’?

Amie Newman

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's political decision to declare April "Abortion Recovery Month" for the women of Minnesota is unwelcomed by many, to say the least. Now Exhale, a nonprofit promoting well-being after abortion, has declared April "Abortion Wellbeing Month."

As Robin wrote about in her Roundup post this morning, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s political decision to declare April “Abortion Recovery Month” for the women of Minnesota is unwelcomed by many, to say the least. Women, reproductive health and rights advocates and journalists from around the country have a lot to say about how little he must actually understand about the full spectrum of women’s abortion experiences and how much he clearly understands about anti-choice zealotry.

One of the most personal and heartfelt voices in the crowd comes from the anonymous writer who details her personal abortion experience on Salon.com. As Robin quotes in her post:

Now, weeks into my recovery process — I’m still bleeding, cramping, underweight, emotional, grappling with my need for children and a partner with whom to raise them — I see my experience grossly manipulated by Pawlenty, a man who doesn’t, can’t, know how I feel. But it’s always like this, the moralists and proselytizers stealing the microphone because I, and millions of other women, didn’t make the choice they prescribed.

Enter Exhale, the non-profit “pro-voice” organization created by and for women who have had abortions to promote emotional well-being post abortion, Exhale feels it can make the most impact keeping the attention focused on “creating a climate where each woman’s abortion experience is supported, respected and free from stigma.”

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In that vein, Exhale has declared April to be “Abortion Wellbeing Month.” It is important to Exhale, says founder and executive director Aspen Baker, to recognize that what often happens “in discussions about the emotional experiences of abortion” is that “politicians pick and choose the stories that fit their own political beliefs.”

Using words in the proclamation like “aftermath” in relation to women’s post-abortion experiences, it’s not hard to see that Governor Pawlenty is not interested in acknowledging the full range of women’s abortion experiences in order to support women as decision-makers. He is making a political plea.

Still, Baker does say that she agrees with Governor Pawlenty that “many women have been helped by agencies that provide counseling and support after an abortion.” The problem is that deciding that only women who have had a difficult time post-abortion have stories that are valid results in, as Aspen says, “some women feeling seen and heard and leaves others feeling left out and further marginalized by abortion politics.”

Women have different experiences after an abortion, of course. Even women who are entirely sure that they are doing the right thing for themselves, their families, their lives, may still acknowledge that it was a difficult decision. While, for others, the decision is sparkling clear with very little turmoil before, during or afterwards.

Overwhelmingly, however, there is still societal stigma and controversy related to any decisions women make about our bodies whether it’s about sex, childbirth, breastfeeding, or abortion. Express fear of parenting or dissatisfaction after you’ve given birth, even with a wanted, cherished pregnancy? Taboo. Decide to breastfeed in public? Be prepared for judgement. One experience becomes the “should” and the rest become the “shouldn’t.”

The truth is you can feel many things at once, or over a period of time after an abortion, childbirth, a miscarriage, etc. But the more we can provide honest portrayals of the full range of women’s experiences, the better off all women are.

We are all human, making the best decisions we can for ourselves. Allowing women to be the final decision makers over questions about our own bodies and lives means trusting women but it also means acknowledging the full range of women’s experiences: good, bad and in-between. Instead of pitting women’s experiences against each other, as Pawlenty and other anti-choicers do, or, as Baker says, “hold up one experience as the only experience of abortion, we [Exhale] believe in building connections and understanding diverse abortion experiences. We believe that every woman, every story, and every voice should be seen and heard. We believe that every woman can experience wellbeing after an abortion and that we all have a role in creating a social climate that is supportive and respectful of each person’s unique experience with abortion.”

So, this month, instead of acknowledging abortion as an experience that can only be recognized as a sickness or illness from which women need to ‘recover’, it’s immeasurably more helpful to women to talk about abortion without stigma or judgement, to promote emotional strength and wellbeing, so all women are supported in the way they need.

Herewith, we will declare April as ‘Abortion Wellbeing Month.’

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

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