Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

She performs abortions, and is no longer silent

Thinkstock

Thinkstock

One month after Donald Trump was elected president, I leaned back in a black leather chair as a man hovered over me. For the first time in decades, the fate of Roe v. Wade seemed to be in real doubt. Feeling a mix of anxiety, sadness and resolve, I thought: I'm committed now.

The tattoo artist slowly etched, on my right forearm, a rather large coat hanger — the symbol of illegal abortions that cost unknown numbers of women their lives in the years before Roe. Overlaid, in bold lettering, were the words "Never again." From now on, unless I was in long sleeves, everyone I met would see my tattoo the moment we shook hands — at the office, at parties, in the supermarket, on first dates.

To many people, the only thing worth knowing about me is that I am a doctor who performs abortions. They probably don't think much about my amazing family, my three little dogs, my devotion to my students, or my skill at restoring old furniture.

At parties, sometimes a woman will catch my eye from across the room and make a beeline toward me. As we chat, she will reveal, in a hushed voice: "I've had an abortion." I'm simultaneously touched and saddened that my new acquaintance feels compelled to tell her story to a complete stranger — and to do so in a whisper.

The partygoers have clearly talked before I arrived: Colleen is going to be here tonight. Did you know she does abortions? I am a symbol before I even ring the doorbell.

How could I expect the men I date to be any different? In the past, I've tried every strategy: Burying references in my online dating profile; waiting until the third date to talk about the specifics of my work; carefully dropping the word "abortion" in conversation and watching for a reaction.

Every man I have dated — no matter how liberal or open-minded he professes to be — has flinched, looked away, or gone silent when I first tell him what I do. Abortion becomes shorthand for so many things that are difficult to talk about: intimacy, alienation, poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, disappointment, illness and the general messiness of human bodies and circumstances. I watch myself transform from potential girlfriend into political symbol. In more instances than I'd like to recall, this has meant that a new relationship ends before it really starts. The majority of American adults support a woman's right to an abortion, but it's another matter to date someone who performs them.

Because of increasing restrictions at the state level, abortion access across the United States has gone from bad to worse. For example, in Pennsylvania, where I live and work, a recent bill (SB3) proposed by the state legislature seeks to ban surgical abortions in the second trimester. If this bill passes, my patients' lives could be endangered; and if I follow the standard protocols to save them, I could be prosecuted as a felon. This bill was written without consulting medical experts, and is strongly opposed by all mainstream medical associations and physician groups.

Embracing the symbol of the coat hanger meant also accepting myself as a symbol, which I had always resisted. But as I shed the stigma of being an abortion provider, I felt free. For the first time in my life, I was ready for someone to love me because I provide abortions, not in spite of it. With that tattoo, I made some other changes: No more batting my eyelashes on dates, feigning innocence or acting apologetic about who I am. No more waiting the requisite three days to call back, or counting down three dates to have sex if I wanted to.

An unexpected side effect of the 2016 election is that many people have become vocal about their support for reproductive rights. I met an investment banker who was close to a decade younger than I am. For him, my profession seemed to add to the edginess of dating an older woman.

Neither the tattoo nor my new perspective changed everything. There was the entrepreneur with political aspirations who sent mixed messages and ultimately drifted away. Was it because I could be a liability to him in some future election, or was he just not over his ex? Being more open about what I do has not led to perfect communication or the end of insecurity.

In addition, the ongoing threats to reproductive health care have left me with little extra energy to deal with disapproval or embarrassment from men. A friend once said, "Behind many woke men are exhausted feminists" — and I'm no longer willing to exhaust myself for the comfort of others. In the best instances, my newfound impatience and clarity have allowed for deeper connections and a sense of shared purpose.

Recently, an online dating match messaged me and, without knowing my specialty, began lamenting the threat of SB3. He's an attorney temporarily based in North Dakota, where he's defending Standing Rock protesters. Our conversation about social justice led to such a strong connection that we ended up meeting despite the distance.

Whatever happens, I will no longer be silent or fearful when a new love interest — or anyone — makes me feel exposed and vulnerable.

Never again.

Washington Post

She performs abortions, and is no longer silent 07/10/17 [Last modified: Monday, July 10, 2017 5:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Forecast: Sunny skies, warm temperatures to rule across Tampa Bay this week

    Weather

    After periods of heavy rain in some parts of Tampa Bay over the weekend, the region can expect sunny skies, and warm condition to prevail through the workweek.

    [10Weather WTSP]
  2. PolitiFact Florida: How would Florida fare in Graham-Cassidy health care bill?

    National

    Following a sharp rebuke by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., hit the airwaves to defend his bill that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act.

    Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  3. Whatever happened to the Zika epidemic?

    Health

    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting Zika. Cases of the virus are down dramatically in Florida.
  4. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again

    Cooking

    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.