Volunteering for Reproductive Freedom

  • First Published-September 16, 2009
  • Edited-December 30, 2010

For about five months in 2009,  I chose to donate my “free” time to a pro-choice organization.  I did this rather than go see a movie, shop, or run errands that would’ve been easier to do without my daughter along…or write, for that matter.


  • Because it needs to be done.
  • Because I can.
  • Because it’s my way of thanking all the women who have come before me to give me reproductive freedom.

Reproductive freedom is at the root of all female freedom.  When a woman can control her fertility she is less likely to end up in poverty.  When a woman controls her fertility she is acknowledged as a full person, capable of making decisions, rather than a passive vessel from which future generations will spring.  She has the freedom to work and to progress in her career, only taking child related breaks on her terms.  Economists unanimously agree that a key step in a country’s progress towards “first world” status is female self-control over one’s fertility.

You may argue that in this day and age, control over fertility means access to the pill and other contraception.  I disagree, saying you need to include access to abortion to have full reproductive freedom.

Abortion isn’t a pleasant procedure to contemplate.

In later stages of pregnancy, the procedure become downright gruesome.

However, a woman should not be held hostage to her body because she was raped, had a contraception failure, made a bad decision, or was coerced into unprotected sex because of cultural/social taboos.

The American right would like us all to give these unwanted children up for adoption, which makes for a pretty fantasy.  Of course, that fantasy only works if you assume that every child, regardless of physical, emotional, or behavioral needs would be adopted.  That every child, regardless of the parent’s ethnic background(s) would be adopted.  The truth is that children with special needs, children of mixed race, and minority children are not as “desirable” to prospective parents, and thus are less attractive to potential adoptive parents.

Putting all that aside for a moment, it assumes something far more insidious…that women need only step back and gestate and all will go well.  Anyone who thinks that has never been pregnant.  Never experienced the literal growing pains of a uterus.  Never become diabetic with pregnancy (and as someone who stuck herself a grand total of 14 times a day-10 for blood sugar checks and 4 to give myself shots of insulin I can attest to what it’s like to feel like a pincushion).  Never puked for all 40 weeks of pregnancy (I know what it’s like to come close to being hospitalized because I was practically dehydrated from all the puking).  Never had the heartburn.  Never had their lungs infringed upon by a 3rd trimester fetus.  Never gone through labor. Never experienced the joys of having their vaginal walls tear as the baby entered the world.

It’s also a pretty fantasy where no woman ever gets pre-eclampsia.  Never gets diagnosed with cancer while pregnant.  Never is faced with a situation where it’s your life and death on the line.  Keep the baby and you both die, or abort the baby and you live…which would you choose?

There’s no discussion of where restrictions on reproductive freedom would end.  These “pro-lifers” are often the same people rallying against “big government,” saying that the government has no right to get involved in personal affairs.  But what is more personal than a pregnancy?  How would they force me to stay pregnant?  Would there be a law that all women of child bearing age take folic acid, just in case?  What if I forget to take my prenatal vitamin?  Chose not to control my pregnancy induced diabetes?  Would I be sent to jail for negligence?

What about miscarriage?  How would they prove the difference between a natural miscarriage and the ingestion of herbs known since time immemorial to cause “accidents” for pregnant women?  Would every D&C (such as I had after my first pregnancy did not pass naturally after her/his heart stopped beating) be cause for a police investigation?

I don’t know how it ends, except that I suspect it would look a lot like “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

And so I volunteer.

Each time I volunteer I park my car near the clinic.  I scan the perimeter of the clinic for protesters.  The legal line is drawn on the ground in yellow paint, and I often see the protesters put a foot over it, or pace it like an angry lion pacing his too-small cage at the zoo.  A frequent protester is an elderly woman, who often gets away with more small transgressions because it would be bad press to have her arrested for every small infraction.

I enter the double doors and pass through a metal detector.  I hand my purse to a security guard for inspection.  I sign in using my first name and last initial only…for my protection.  I exchange my id for a badge that will open the elevator or give me a code to use on the numerical pad that changes the order of it’s numbers regularly.  I know where the panic buttons are in case of emergency.  I know when to call 911.

My path does not lead me through the waiting room, but I’ve been there as a patient.  There is an air of sadness, and quiet resignation.  No one is happy to go to the abortion clinic.  Relieved, yes…but never celebratory.

I work in an area far removed from the medical procedures.  It could be any office.  There’s a water cooler, a copier that breaks frequently, staplers that jam, files that need alphabetizing, and envelopes that need stuffing.  Like any non-profit, there’s money to be raised and lobbying to be done on our behalf.

But there are also industrial shredders, and no piece of paper is thrown away without first being shredded.  Those who dislike what happens behind our doors could harass a doctor, a patient, an employee, or a volunteer like me.

When my time is done, I use my badge to descend to the main floor, and exchange a few words with the guard as I pass back my badge and sign out, receiving my ID once more.  I push the heavy doors to the street open, and again glance around to look for protesters before making my way back to the car.

I drive back to my sitter’s home to pick up the little girl I love more than any other child in this world.  Because a morning away from her to help fight to secure her reproductive freedom is a far better use of my time than getting a manicure.