Commentary Abortion

I Used to Think Abortion Was Murder. Now I Work at an Abortion Clinic.

Hannah Dismer

How I stopped passing judgment on abortion care patients and started listening.

Facebook has a way of reminding you of how much you’ve changed. I graduated from high school in 2012. I was passionately opposed to abortion throughout my teenage years, having attended Catholic school for my entire academic life.

I was raised on anti-abortion talking points from the Catholic Church, the Catholic school system, and conservative parents. “Abortion is murder,” I thought. “Abortion is the murder of unborn babies.” I believed in the anti-choice myths about “late-term abortion” and “partial-birth abortion.”

The other day I saw a Facebook post from seven years ago—something I wrote as an 18-year-old high school senior about to go off to college. The post reflected my thoughts at the time: that abortion was the “easy solution,” that people needed to “take responsibility for their actions,” and that people who are having sex should be prepared to have a child. Reading this was unsettling. I know this is the person I used to be and how I used to view the world, but seeing a reminder of this mindset caught me off guard.

Seven years after writing that post, I work for an abortion care provider. I am routinely in the operating room with patients, holding their hands and providing them emotional support before, during, and after their abortions. I have seen hundreds of procedures and helped thousands of people access abortion services. I have supported loved ones through the process, and I have helped people seeking to carry their pregnancies to term plan for the future. I work with pregnant people to help them fully understand all of their options and make the choice that is right for them. Abortion care is just one option, but it is an important option. It’s a health-care option I see pregnant people struggle to obtain, an option people toil and shed tears over. And most people have limited support in making this decision.

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When I was a teenager, I had a negative relationship with sex. I was sexually assaulted before I had the chance to become sexually active. I was thrown into a situation I was not able to handle. I felt alone throughout my high school years, and developed internalized shame surrounding my sexuality. I seemed to grasp onto other people’s supposed sexual immorality as a way to make myself feel better. I felt alone and completely empty. I thought of sex as a horribly negative part of life.

How did I go from anti-choice to pro-choice? The shift was gradual.

I moved out of my family home, I went to college, and I got involved with intimate partner violence and sexual violence prevention services. Through working with other survivors and dealing with my own challenges, I came to want to see sex as something positive. I wanted to see what healthy sexuality looked like. I started learning more about sexual health, getting involved in sex education for others, and embracing the idea that people have a right to know how their bodies work. Through my work with survivors, I believed in rape/incest/abuse exceptions for abortion. I thought if a person had been assaulted, they should be able to choose whether to continue their pregnancy. I still thought abortion was wrong or sinful, but I genuinely believed the “sin” of the abortion would be the rapist’s to answer for.

Early in my college career, I felt as though I was having an identity crisis. I was working to educate others about relationship and sexual violence, and I was surrounded by feminist campus leaders and pro-choice organizers. I loved my feminist community, but I still felt attached to my views on abortion. My opposition to abortion had felt like a core component of my identity before these new experiences, and that core component was being challenged.

I slowly worked through my identity crisis while feeling alone in my social circles, and then one day I had a realization. I believed in women’s rights, and I realized that I viewed abortion as acceptable in cases of violence. I took the time to think about why I believed in exceptions for pregnancies that were the result of rape, incest, or abuse. I had been learning about best practices for working with survivors of violence, and knew how important it was for the survivor to feel in control of their life and their decisions.

I asked myself: Why does someone have to be assaulted—to have their autonomy disrespected and to suffer abuse—in order to be justified in making their own decisions? That question fundamentally changed me. I was still uncomfortable with abortion, but I had a different perspective that inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and participate more fully in difficult dialogues. In a sexual health class one day, abortion was the topic of discussion. I almost skipped class that day, but I am glad I didn’t. I wanted to learn more about abortion, so I sought out more information. I began to differentiate between myth and fact and to undo a lot of the anti-abortion programming I’d been raised with. I continued to challenge myself and learn from others. I learned that the vast majority of abortions take place at or before 12 weeks’ gestation. I learned that third-trimester abortions are exceptionally rare. I learned about fetal development. I learned about why people choose abortion.

I stopped passing judgment and started listening.

I continued to grow intellectually and emotionally. I taught classes where abortion would come up, and I was able to lead group discussions on the topic. In undergrad, I organized two counterprotests of anti-choice groups on campus for passing out inaccurate information. I wanted to combat the lies with medically accurate information. That is still my goal.

Based on my experiences and my moral principles, I place high value on autonomy and self-determination. I decided I wanted to continue my career in sexual and reproductive health, as I have a knack for discussing stigmatized topics. In college, I wanted to see what abortion care looked like firsthand. After graduating, I started doing patient support as a volunteer and branched into patient education, crisis intervention, and community education. I see how stigma directly affects vulnerable people trying to decide whether abortion is the right choice for them. I now believe abortion stigma needs to rapidly vanish, and we need to have open conversations about reproductive health, especially abortion.

Abortion care is compassionate, life-affirming care. I’m so glad to have made it out of my anti-choice echo chamber.

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