Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A dose of reality

Granted, it's 20 years old, but have things changed that much?

Go view the old Frontline episode, "Abortion Clinic". The chapter descriptions are taken verbatim from the Frontline site. I add my own comments.

Chapter 1: The Clinic, Chester Pa.
We meet the young women who come to the clinic seeking abortions, those who work in the clinic, and those in the town who protest the clinic's existence.

My comment: One of the protesters is a doctor, but the staff tell the patients he's "dressed as a doctor." They imply that he's not a doctor, rather than being honest and saying, "The doctor that's outside isn't affiliated with us. He will be trying to convince you not to have the abortion." Note how the stage is set: These nice, caring people; these troubled young women that they're only trying to help; and the mean old ignorant people outside who just make it unnecessarily more difficult.

Chapter 2: Helen's Story
Helen, 17, comes to the clinic with her mother. The counselor, Jenny, questions them about Helen's situation, family history and whether she has considered her other options. This will be Helen's second abortion.

My comments: I do have to give them credit for letting the prolife doctor explain why he's there, and why he objects to killing these fetuses. As you watch the counseling, you can see that there's no effort made to ensure that the patients know what it is that they're going to destroy. The counseling seems pretty shallow. It's just "Review the thought process that brought you here." Helen was lied to and abandoned by a man who must be considerably older than her, since he's had a vasectomy. There's no discussion about how she gets into these relationships with men who leave her pregnant and abandoned. Like her father abandoned the family. This girl needs help, this family needs help. They get abortion. Which is what they got before -- this is, after all, Helen's second abortion and she's only 17. Her mom wants better for her, but that's not what she's gonna get. She's being vacuumed out and sent back into the same pattern of looking for love with men who will only abandon her.

Chapter 3: Helen's Abortion
The camera records Helen's abortion procedure and how she handles it.

My comments: Notice that it's the counselor, not a nurse, that's assisting the doctor. And how demeaning is it to be left alone up in the stirrups, spread-eagled, and left exposed to whoever happens to walk in that door? Here we see the truth of what the prolife doctor was saying -- that there is no consult with the doctor. She doesn't even meet him until she's prepped and on the table with her pants off and her legs spread.

Note that the doctor doesn't wash his hands. There doesn't even seem to be a sink in the room.

I do credit the counselor with being warm and concerned and attentive.

Somebody at Jill Stankek's blog said she saw what looked like a crash cart in the room, but I didn't see it. Nor do we see anybody checking Helen's vital signs, monitoring her for signs of reaction to the anesthesia or for sudden blood loss. There's no IV set up, not even a pole to hang an IV from.

After the abortion, Helen is still left in the stirrups, still exposed to whoever walks in that door. That's gotta be a vulnerable feeling.

Now, they let the doctor say "the bulk of the material is placental," without noting that the prolife doctor was right that there is a fully formed embryo. The second doctor makes some evasive comments about the embryo/fetus (The turning point in naming is when every structure is in place, which is at 8 weeks, well inside the first trimeser. Most abortions are done between 8 and 12 weeks, which is first trimester but killing a fetus, not an embryo.) Doctor #2, you'll note, simply asumes that the woman knows what's being destroyed. Or rather, that it will "turn into" something that "looks like a human being." Note that they're careful not to get close enough to the "pregnancy tissue" to allow you to see the remains of the fetus. For those of you curious about what you'd have seen, you can go here. Not to put too fine a point on it but the prolife doctor was right about the arms and the legs and so forth. Did anybody ensure that Helen understood this? Was her choice informed? Or was this merely about avoiding one outcome -- a live birth -- without any awareness of what outcome she was chosing, and for whom?

Chapter 4: Alternatives to Abortion
In the Chester, Pa. area, Dr. George Isajiw and his wife have counseled and supported nearly 500 women who decide to carry their babies to term.

My comments: I'm surprised and astonished that they showed this. That they showed not just what abortion does to the fetus, but a prolife doctor providing real help and support. Contrast how much care and attention the women get from Dr. Isajiw and his wife verus the in-and-out, few hours of attention they get from the abortion clinic. Note that Dr. Isajiw doesn't demonize Gary's mom, who had pushed for abortion. And they actually present two rape victims who chose life for their babies. I can't imagine this happening in a current show about abortion. I do wonder that there was no discussion of reporting the rape to the police. Nancy was clearly in the second trimester, since the abortion method they'd use was saline. I look at how much more at ease and at peace Sue and Nancy seem, compared to Helen and Barbara (the girl we'll meet in Chapter 5).

Chapter 5: Barbara's Story
Barbara, 17, has had a sad, difficult life. She has a two year-old boy, Michael, and admits to Jenny, the counselor, that she frequently has been without food.

My comments: Barbara's story is hard for me, because in many ways her situation was similar to mine when I thought abortion was the answer. I'd been skipping meals to feed my born child. I thought that for my daughter's sake, I had to make myself go through with it. But I couldn't pick up the phone. Thank God. I have my son. All Barbara has is the memory of what's clearly a traumatic experience.

Like Helen, Barbara is in the situation she's in because of poor choice in men. This isn't addressed at all beyond "Where is he? How does he feel about this?" Nothing about how to make life choices that don't leave her abandoned and alone, shivering on an abortion table.

Contrast Jenny's (the counselor's) concern that a patient will drain her "for the rest of the day" with how Dr. Isajiw and his wife open their homes to the women for months on end. I could make the same kinds of comments about the counseling that I made about Helen's fairly perfunctory counseling. Barbara is so clearly depressed and demoralized. She looks beaten and defeated. She fears that her family will totally abandon her if she has her baby. She seems to lost and alone. And after the abortion, she'll still be lost and alone. I can't help picturing how much better off she'd be with Dr. Isajiw and his wife, getting nurturing and love instead of a brief counseling session and an abortion. Jenny doesn't seem uncaring, just locked in a role of "supporting the woman through her choice". The idea that there really could be something better likely never crosses her mind. "Other options" are just check boxes to make sure that the patient has "considered". The idea that Barbara could avoid what she clearly doesn't want but feels trapped into never enters the equation.

Chapter 6: Barbara's Abortion
Unlike Helen's, Barbara's abortion is not easy. It seems to take a long time and Barbara hurts, physically and emotionally.

My comments: Repeat many of the issues with Helen's abortion, such as leaving a young girl frightened, cold, and alone all exposed and vulnerable when she's already been so badly abused and mistreated. The perfunctory "You're sure this is what you wanna do now, right?" does nothing but make sure that any guilt she might feel afterward lands squarely on her shoulders. "She can't blame me!" Jenny can tell herself.

Somebody should have sat and cried with her, gotten her past the stoic way she was forcing herself to go through with this. Again, Jenny doesn't seem uncaring. She clearly is working hard to get Barbara through something that they both assume, sadly, is necessary. But watching Barbara, I just want to grab hold of her, hug her, and help her to run far, far from that place to someplace where people won't be hurting her. Where the only escape from an abusive boyfriend isn't through an abortion facility. Where she's entitled to a little joy in her life, a little love.

This exchange is heartbreaking:

BARBARA: (starts crying as the abortion is finished, her baby is dead)

JENNY: It's okay.

BARBARA: (sobbing)

JENNY: Barbara? What are you feeling?

BARBARA: (sobbing)

JENNY: Is it hurting?

BARBARA: (shaking her head, sobbing)


BARBARA: (sobbing) Not physically.

JENNY: Okay.

BARBARA: (continues sobbing, shaking her head, as the doctor and counselor work silently)

JENNY: Barbara, you're gonna hear the machine again.

BARBARA: (lets out a soft, anguished cry)

Then they inflict some physical pain for a while and focus on that. Barbara lays there, sobbing, putting her hand to her face. The doctor finishes and walks out. The counselor becomes very businesslike, her face tight. She doesn't want to have to deal with this. But she does. Now that it's too late, she takes Barbara's hand and tries to comfort her.

JENNY: You're allowed to hurt. Okay?

BARBARA: (fighting back tears)

JENNY: Something's bothering you now?

BARBARA: (sobs something I can't hear)

JENNY: Anything else?

BARBARA: (sobbing) Everything.

JENNY: What do you mean, everything?

BARBARA: (sobs)

JENNY: It's gone. Yes. And that hurts. Okay? You chose to have this done but something's stil been taken away from you. And it doesn't feel good. It's even tougher when you already have one child and you love it a lot and you take care of it and do the best you can, to have to go through something like this. Okay? (strokes Barbara's face) So be upset because of that. Okay?

A totally defeated Barbara is moved -- still with no pants on, just wrapped in a blanket -- to the recovery room. She presses her hands over her empty womb. Her posture is of an old, old woman. She looks about 100 years old. The counselor is silent. Barbara is in agony.

The people who would have helped her avoid this, if only she'd have let them, pace by outside as the church bells chime. And Jenny stands outside the recovery room looking demoralized.

Jenny's not a monster. But she's just been part of crushing a girl who'd already been wounded.

Why is wanting to help the Barbaras of the world avoid this nightmare seen by so many as something so sinister? How can anybody look at that girl, alone and abandoned, cold and vulnerable and grieving in that recovery room, and feel as if there's been any kind of victory?

HT: Jill Stanek


Anonymous said...

Hey Christine.
Insightful comments, thanks for your keen analysis. The fact that only one or two prochoicers on Jill Stanek's blog responded to this video speaks volumes. One would expect them to jump all over it, but they were curiously silent. Is it because it's too hard to watch? To compare the despair of Helen and Barbara to the hope in Dr. George's "clients", no narration needs to be added. Truly, this video speaks for itself.

Here's another observation:
Notice how the facility's owner/primary physician Dr. (can't remember his name)states that he has no problem being referred to as an *abortionist*, but that he would like the pro-life side to remember that he is also a gynocologist and surgeon who has helped in the development of fetal monitoring, so therefore he also is active in the preservation of life. Contrast that with Dr. George's humility when he states that the real heroes are the women who go to term with their pregnancies in spite of the enormous pressure society puts on them to abort.
And Dr. George does a great job of saying that they are at the facility to pray not only for the women and babies scheduled there today, but for the workers who may not realize what it is that they're doing.


Christina Dunigan said...

Carder, if abortion's so great, why have any objection to that being the primary thing people associate with you?

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