Bridging Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum

Grayson Dempsey

In the twelve years that I have worked as a pregnancy options counselor, no story has ever been told to me in exactly the same way, and no question has ever been so simple as to require a rote response.

For anyone who has ever talked to a woman making a pregnancy decision, there has been a moment of uncertainty. A moment in which you have hit an impasse, or when the woman’s ambivalence seems greater than her ability to take the next step. A moment when you are sitting across from someone who’s values differ from your own, or when your heart breaks for the circumstances of a woman’s life. A moment when you think that you might make a different choice, were you to be in her shoes, or that you want to hug her because her situation feels all too familiar. Even the most seasoned counselors can find themselves in these moments, the moments when they take a deep breath and say:

Tell me more about that.

Who will support you in your choice?

Do you know anyone who has made a similar choice?

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Can I offer you some resources?

Tell me what you know about abortion/adoption/becoming a parent.

How do you think you will feel afterwards?

How are you feeling right now?

 Finding the right words when you are sitting with women making complex, life-altering choices can be an intimidating experience, especially when those of us working in this field are so committed to honoring each woman’s unique decisions. In the twelve years that I have worked as a pregnancy options counselor, no story has ever been told to me in exactly the same way, and no question has ever been so simple as to require a rote response. It has been my honor and privilege to sit with women making brave and loving choices, and it has also been my honor and privilege to sit with women making choices that challenged my most deeply-held beliefs.

When I came to this work, I worried endlessly about saying the “right” thing. I worried that I wouldn’t have all the answers and stuck closely to a checklist that ensured I met the goal of simply sending my patients out the door with the correct paperwork. As time  went on, I stopped worrying so much and began to really listen, and began to trust my patients enough to stray from my checklist and let the conversation reveal what was really on their minds. In doing so, my options counseling became less goal-oriented and more focused on creating a place where women felt empowered to find their own answers, to choose with intent, and to hold the complexities and occasional contradictions that can come to the surface when one is making a choice about motherhood, abortion, or adoption.

My ability to expand my options counseling to really meet the needs of women and their loved ones and offer the highest quality services to my patients grew from the time I spent in honest conversation with providers, colleagues, and women themselves. My fear of being caught “off guard” by a challenging question or circumstance was diminished when I spent time exploring those fears in a safe and encouraging environment. My skills in talking to women – and men, parents, and anyone else who needed support – have developed not only from years spent working in clinics and on talk lines, but from dedicated training time that I have spent with colleagues around the world. In a field that can be so emotionally-loaded, so nuanced and political, so incredibly large and ever-changing, it is essential that those of us working directly with women have the opportunity to come together to recharge, debrief, assess our strengths and challenges, and practice new language until it becomes our own. Coming together inspires us, reminds us of the power of our work, and offers new information, tools and networks so that we can continue to offer the highest quality care to all who come through our doors.

The opportunity to be a part of such gatherings is always a thrill, but especially so when the audience is broad and the goals are far-reaching. This fall, I am fortunate to be facilitating an event that will not only bring together professionals working across the field of pregnancy but will also aim to shift paradigms in thinking about the pregnancy experience – for as we know, women who have abortions, women who parent children and women who place for adoption are not separate but are often the same women at different points in their lives. Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum is a one-day training event sponsored by the Adoption Access Network in collaboration with the Abortion Care Network, Backline, Cherry Hill Women’s Center, Inwood House, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Philadelphia Women’s Center, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, and Planned Parenthood of New York City.

Drawing on regional expertise with goals best-suited to the unique needs of participants, the event will offer the chance to explore worldviews and personal values about pregnancy decisions, hear from professionals working in every aspect of the field, ask tough questions of one another and practice new language that we can use both in our clinics and our communities, and build strong networks with our colleagues throughout the country that will continue to improve and broaden our work with women and families. The dialogue-based format of the event has been created to draw out the expertise and experience that attendees have to offer, and to ensure that participants leave with answers to their most pressing questions and new ways of thinking about their work.  This event offers the extraordinary opportunity to engage with pro-choice colleagues not just in learning but in true conversation, and to return to your work with the skills and confidence to truly support women in all pregnancy experiences and decisions.


Please join us

Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum

November 5th, 2010

New York, New York

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News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.