Jurisprudence

The New Normal for One Abortion Clinic is Like Working in the Emergency Room

Photo illustration by Slate.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by bartoshd/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Rawf8/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

This as-told-to essay is part of a short series exploring abortion access in Illinois, which is preparing to become an abortion ‘island’ as surrounding states have banned or have signaled that they will ban abortions in the wake of the end of Roe v Wade. This piece is based on a conversation with Becca Wilson, a nurse at Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, IL. 

In the wake of Roe falling, discussions with patients have gotten more difficult. Patients are more strongly voicing feelings like they are doing something that’s wrong or illegal. Or they’re experiencing a larger amount of confusion about their decision to terminate because there’s this bigger overarching idea of “Well, if the Supreme Court or the government says that this isn’t legal, then I’m clearly doing something wrong.”

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We’ve started to see patients in absolute crisis. At the clinic, we hear over and over, “Oh, it’s illegal in my state. Oh, I can’t do that.”

Patients are also dealing with a larger amount of indecision and internalized stigma. They’re saying, “Oh, I don’t want to murder my baby,” or statements that reference this larger discussion that we’ve all been hearing. It’s really disheartening to hear patients say these things, and it’s also really exhausting. We have to try and approach these fears without lecturing people and saying, “No, it’s not… We don’t need to think that. You are able to make your own decisions. It is not about what other people think or the laws…”

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In response to these concerns, we often focus on the basics.  We tell patients: “This is your body. Bodily autonomy is important, and also, that’s not something that can be taken away, and it’s not anything to do with laws. It’s your choice. It’s your body.” I also tell patients, “Hopefully this is just a temporary insanity, this is something that will pass, and it’s not something that is permanent. And one day, hopefully we will be at a place where we are valuing people’s rights again instead of degrading them and all that.” What I say obviously depends on the person, but I just really try to nail in: “This has nothing to do with anyone else. This is your decision. This is your decision. This is your decision.”

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Myself and lots of other people who work at the clinic are always frustrated that it seems like we are forced to have conversations that aren’t really the ones that we should be having.  We are in the middle of this war that is non-consensual.  SCOTUS has done something that’s against what the people want. And while the justices can make something “illegal,” it is not something that has anything to do with the law. We all still have control over our own bodies, regardless of what they say.

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As my coworkers have said, we’re busier all of a sudden, we’ve opened up more procedure rooms. We’ve been adjusting the way we see patients to accommodate a larger number of patients. At times, we just feel rushed.  Our team is thankfully very good at their jobs and generally very strong workers, but at times, it can be a little obnoxious to feel like we’re just here for efficiency’s sake instead of providing the best care that we possibly can provide.

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As a nurse, our new normal in the clinic just reminds me of working in an emergency room. In an ER, you’re just a cog in a machine. You just have to deal with whatever is handed to you. You don’t really ever have time to be the medical provider that you want to be. Being busier at the clinic means we don’t have as much time to give patients because we are running on way thinner rope.

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Of course, we have to make sure that we are sustainable. And of course, we have to be able to take care of patients in the best way possible, which does, a lot of times, mean we must  focus on being efficient.

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But at times I feel like we’re sacrificing some things by seeing a higher volume of patients. And I fear that volume is just going to get worse. Obviously, we would rather be able to provide care for as many patients as possible. But I think there’s some person-to-person values that are lost as a result.

What we excel at, for the most part, is making a healthcare environment that is more human. We want people to feel like they’re being seen instead of just a place where they generally feel they’re just being pushed along or in a system that doesn’t care for them. Sadly, I don’t think there’s any other option. This is the world we’re living in now. These are the laws that we’re dealing with, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to make sure we can keep our doors open.

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