Revolution Interview with Dr. Susan Robinson
"Chasing the Abortion"
Updated May 16, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution Interview: A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Recently, Revolution/revcom.us had the opportunity to interview Dr. Susan Robinson, one of the four heroic abortion providers in the U.S. who openly provide much-needed third trimester abortions. She worked with Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, who was murdered in cold blood by an anti-abortion fanatic in 2009, and she was featured in the highly acclaimed 2013 documentary, After Tiller. The clinic in Albuquerque where Dr. Robinson does this important work was under siege last summer from the Christian fascist group Operation Rescue, and in November 2013, the city was also targeted with a law banning abortions after 20 weeks, a very important service provided by her clinic. Robinson was presented with an "Abortion Providers are Heroes" Award by the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride last summer. The beginning part of this interview, where Dr. Robinson discusses what people need to know about the importance of and need for third-trimester abortions, was published on April 10. The full interview is now available below.
Revolution: You’ve mentioned, how are people going to know what is the truth about third trimester abortion? Or what are the conditions of the women who need them. There is as you know the full strategy that Pro Life Nation has been very open about, that we’re seeing being realized right now in the legislatures: where 20 week bans are sweeping the nation state by state, they’re getting their foot in the door, but their real agenda is to abolish all abortion. In the midst of that there are Democrats like Wendy Davis, Hillary Clinton, and Obama, and then filtering down to a lot of pro-choice people, there’s this sentiment that abortion should be legal but restricted. Third trimester abortion is a gray area for a lot of people, and the anti-abortion movement knows that, and has written about how they’re including that in their strategy to abolish abortions and outlaw them everywhere. So I was wondering if you could explain why you perform this procedure, first off.
Susan Robinson: Well, yeah. I think the pro-choice people who are never faced with anything to do with very late abortions, they just say to themselves in a very kind of superficial way, “Jeez, why would these women wait that long? That’s ridiculous!” By that time it looks too much like a baby. Basically, that’s the argument. What’s the difference between 19 and 23 weeks? It looks more like a baby. I think a lot of pro-choice people have not thought about it and nobody has stood up and said, “Well wait a minute now! Where did you get 20 weeks from?” So my goal, and Shelly’s1 goal, is to get out there and explain to people what are some of the reasons that people have very late abortions. Here are some reasons.
Over half of our patients had no idea they are pregnant until well into the second trimester. And people go, “How is that possible?” and I go, “Well it’s possible enough that there was a reality program called Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant that lasted three whole seasons!” This is not a rare event. So many people don’t know they’re pregnant until well into the second trimester, and then what they do depends on what social class they are.
A well-off woman would be able to arrange herself an abortion no problem, no delay, nothing. But a poor woman, and this is getting worse and worse, she has to figure out how to get transportation to the clinic, she has to figure out if she’s got a job how to get two days, or depending on how pregnant she is, you know, if it’s in the third trimester, four or five days off from work. She has to arrange childcare, she has to arrange, she has to take a pay cut. She has to chase down the money for an abortion. And we have tons of patients who found out they were pregnant at 18 weeks and ever since then were chasing the cost of the abortion. By the time they raised the money that an 18-week abortion costs they are 22 weeks, and then they have to go raise some more money. The money is just a huge problem, thanks to that awful Hyde Amendment.2
A lot of people don’t even find out they’re pregnant until they’re 20 weeks along either because they already have irregular periods or they’re on a form of birth control that makes their periods either irregular or absent. Women say, “The doctor told me I would never get pregnant” or “My partner told me he had a vasectomy” or “I was on the pill” or “I was on the IUD” or “I was getting depo shots and they told me that it would make my period…” you know. There are a million ways to not know that you’re pregnant!
So let’s see, other reasons… We’ve had a few patients who are developmentally very disabled, they had no idea, you know, what pregnancy was or what intercourse was or what anything was. We’ve had women who had to escape a captor in order to get to have an abortion, I mean you know their male captor refused to let them go. We’ve had a lot of patients who at first say “This is great! I find out I’m pregnant, I’m 18 weeks pregnant, that’s OK, we’ll make it work somehow,” and then as often happens the male becomes more and more, becomes abusive. And as that abuse accelerates, and the woman comes to realize that if she has this baby with him she is going to be tied to this baby with him for the next 21 years. A lot of those guys say, “I want the baby. If you don’t want the baby, I want the baby.” Thereby relegating the woman to being an incubation pod for the next several months. But these women, they’re not stupid, and they realize that if they don’t get an abortion they’re going to be tied to that abusive man for years and years to come. So that’s an example of drastic change in life circumstances.
Other types of drastic changes in life circumstances are, let’s say you’re getting clean, you’re clean and sober but then your partner gets put in jail for a felony. So there you are back on the street and your partner is in jail, you know. We have women who were given, slipped a roofie, and didn’t have any idea they were pregnant because they thought they were virgins!
Also a large proportion of our patients are highly desired pregnancies who have a very grave diagnosis of a terrible fetal anomaly. I’m not talking about an extra finger here, I’m talking about you know, the ones that are typically diagnosed late with brain problems, big time brain problems, so you know, what are those people supposed to do? Certainly some of them feel that they can adequately and lovingly parent whatever they get, and more power to them. But there are other people who feel that they that they cannot do an adequate job and that it would be torture to put a baby through what they think, or know (‘cause most of these people consult a lot of doctors before they give up on the pregnancy), they want to spare their baby a lifetime of suffering.
Christ, I could go on and on! I stand up in front of a room full of pro-choice people and start really fleshing out what women, especially poor women, go through, they get it very, very quickly.
So, I think what most people assume is that that’s the reason the women end up getting late abortions, is 'cause they can’t make up their minds. But in fact that’s a very small number. Fewer than 8% of our patients have such difficulty deciding whether to have an abortion that they it puts them into their third trimester. Most of them find out late and then other circumstances start cascading, like they’re trying to raise the money and each time they try to raise the money and they go to another clinic they’re one day past the limit, and their partner is abusive and you know and and and. People understand that stuff when you explain it to them.
So people think that late abortion is too frequent, too casual, and I guess they think it’s too dangerous too. And they also think that it’s morally somehow different from an early abortion. Well it’s certainly not too frequent, I mean it’s fewer than a tenth of 1% of all the abortions that are done in this country. I mean, it’s a miniscule number, and it’s certainly not casual when you consider that women come from all over the United States and Canada and all over the world too; I mean you have patients who come to us from Europe, we have patients from Australia, we have patients from Afghanistan, and these people are not making a decision casually. They are making a huge, determined commitment to get this procedure done. Also, an abortion at any time in the pregnancy is significantly less dangerous than childbirth in this country.
So it’s not just frequent, it’s not dangerous, in fact it’s more dangerous to have a baby than an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy, and nobody ever tells you that.
And then a few people are concerned... very few people actually make this argument after they heard some of the stories, but they say, well you know, somehow it’s a morally different issue. They say, “I can see having an abortion when it’s just a little piece of tissue. But the more it comes to look like an actual baby, the less acceptable it is to me.” And I just think that’s a very feeble argument. It’s a superficial and not well-thought-out argument that the morality of abortion is based on how the fetus looks.
So yes, I know that many pro-choice people are in favor of putting a limitation on it. I think Wendy Davis is doing it because she wants to be governor, but I mean if somebody sat down and talked to Wendy Davis the way I’m sitting down and talking to you, I’m sure that she would change her mind. She might continue to say she’s in favor of a 20-week limit because, because you know, that’s how you win elections in this country! What I’m trying to do is I’m trying to get pro-choice people to look more carefully at their prejudice here, and see what’s behind it—see what misconceptions are behind it—and as soon as that happens they start going, “Oh, I get it!”
I think this is a question of patient autonomy. If you are pregnant with a child with Down’s and you go, “I’m happy with whatever God gives me,” I’m with you every inch of the way, I’ll be delighted to take care of you and do your prenatal care, and if you are pregnant with a child that has Down’s Syndrome and you say, “I don’t think I can do an adequate job of making this child have a good life,” I’m with you 100%. You know? It’s not like I’m pushing abortion. I’m pushing patient autonomy.
My bottom line message is that women are moral experts on their own lives, and they are adults, capable of struggling with difficult ethical issues and arriving at the correct decision for themselves and their families. Those decisions may differ from woman to woman. That’s not internally inconsistent. This is about autonomy. Patient autonomy and a woman’s ownership of their own body.
Women are not housing units! They are not life support systems! They are not incubation pods. People get that if they are pro-choice, and if they’re not pro-choice, after seeing the movie they walk away saying, “Wow this is a lot more complicated than I thought. This calls for a lot of compassion all the way around.” And that’s really all I want.
Revolution: You mention this is the kind of situation which is all too common, not just with abortions that are later on in the pregnancy, but just as a result of the stigma and the lack of access, women getting trapped in abusive relationships. There is a question of autonomy; there is also a question of a larger role of women in society, and you use this term "incubation pod" and I was just wondering if you would talk a little bit more about what you think it means when women are reduced to incubators. What do you mean when you say that?
Dr. Robinson: Well I mean what Lynn Paltrow3 is trying desperately to undo, which is once a woman becomes pregnant, that pregnancy is the property of society and her rights and her autonomy are put after that of the fetus, and my opinion is that the woman's rights and autonomy trumps the fetus right up until the moment of birth. That it is scandalous to think that a non-sentient potential human being would be considered more important than a sentient woman is just appalling to me. I mean as you I'm sure know, there is something like, I don't know four or five hundred pregnant women in jail, all of them of course women of color, in jail for various prenatal endangerment excuses.
There's a poor woman in the Midwest, I forgot where, maybe she's in Chicago. She was pregnant and her boyfriend decided to walk out on her. She was so distraught that she tried to kill herself by taking Coumadin, and fortunately she was saved but unfortunately her baby died. I mean I think they delivered it, so it was a baby, and it died and she was in jail for over a year facing murder charges and on and on. There are many, many examples of this and these are examples of women being reduced to a housing unit. Just because you have a potential human life inside yourself does not reduce you to a non-human being. That is what's going on.
I mean, pro-choice people who when they really stop and think about it, they didn't disagree.
What's really ironic about people's opposition to third trimester or later abortions is that they think it's quite easily avoidable. If you were to give a population major comprehensive sex education I am sure that fewer women would be in the second trimester when they found out they were pregnant. If you would give women accessible, usable free birth control, I'm sure that many more women wouldn't come in saying, "Well I couldn't afford my pills this month." And if you were to give a reasonable social safety net to struggling young families by which I include adequate food—it's scandalous that I should even have to say that in this country, adequate food—health care, day care, you know, a social support safety net for struggling families, many women would elect to keep their pregnancies because many women are having their abortions early or late not because they don't want babies, but because they have conflicting responsibilities and obligations and they feel that the children they already have trump the fetus. You know I think these people who say, "Oh, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare" are just crazy. It should be safe, legal, and exactly as accessible as needed.
What I'm trying to talk to [pro-choice people] about is it what makes women end up needing abortions, and the very late abortion, because you know my shtick is the very late abortions. I certainly agree 100 percent that it should be without apology and I spend a lot of my time sort of trying to get the patients to stop apologizing for being there.
Revolution: Let's shift gears a little. Last summer and through November Operation Rescue4 was focusing a lot of attention on Albuquerque. Can you talk about what they were trying to do and how they were doing it and how the clinic was affected by it?
Dr. Robinson: They decided they were going to have some kind of boot camp day training for anti-abortion activists, so young kids who were interested in being anti-abortion activists were out there picketing. All these little wet behind the ears snot-nosed kids knowing nothing about abortion, knowing nothing about New Mexico, are coming here telling us what to do. Not a good idea. Then they had the temerity to go to the Holocaust Museum, and the man who was leading them demanded that Holocaust Museum have a display for all the aborted fetuses. You have to hand it to them for chutzpah. They were handing out brochures and stuff and everyone was highly infuriated by this and finally they closed the museum early because these people were making such a ruckus. And that managed to offend every single person of every shape in Albuquerque. It was not well thought out. They moved to Albuquerque for the purpose of shutting us down and who are they to tell us what to do? And then they had this boot camp thing that really backfired quite badly on them and they made this ridiculousness at the Holocaust Museum. Then they are the ones who got this stupid ban,5 to get this referendum up and they lost that by almost 10 percent, which was quite a bad loss. So now they are deciding that instead of going after Southwestern Women's Options where we do late term abortions, they are going after the University of New Mexico Reproductive Health Clinic here where they also do abortions for patients who have to have their abortions done in a hospital, and of course we love them because here is a hospital that will actually permit medically indicated abortions. And these are people who know how to do them; these are good people. So they are now turning their attention to UNM trying to whip up some anger over the fact that UNM is publicly funded and is teaching what is considered to be a legitimate part of women's health care; it is certainly legal and is actually required that OBGYN residents, it is required by the professional accreditation group that OBGYN residencies teach abortion and as soon as that happens the federal government, I think it was Bush, stepped in and said that requirement could not be enforced. So there is a requirement on the books that every OBGYN program teach abortion, in fact I think fewer than half of them do, but the requirement is not allowed to be enforced by the professional governing body. So they are going after the state university for teaching what is an accepted legal part of medicine! So that's what they are doing now. I don't know what they are doing next but what I do know is I want little cards made up when I send a donation pledge to any pro-choice organization I say that this donation was inspired by the unsuccessful efforts of Bud and Tara Schaffer6 to make abortion illegal and inaccessible, and if you'd like to let them know that they've inspired this donation from a medical student who is pro-choice here is my address. A one-person version of private picketing, you know?
Revolution: I don't think most people know what it means to women and to providers to enter a clinic that is under siege by a group like Operation Rescue. Could you just give a picture or walk through, what do women and providers experience when they come into a clinic during an anti-abortion protest?
Dr. Robinson: Sure. There is always an anti-abortion protest there. Sometimes it's bigger, but there are very, very few days when we do abortions that there are not picketers out there, many of whom are screamers and yellers. So a patient is already afraid and ashamed and all of the things that we've already talked about, to drive in the parking lot. And these people start yelling at her, "Don't kill your baby! Oh mommy don't kill me!" And there's a guy sometimes out there with a bullhorn, at Planned Parenthood in Albuquerque there's always a guy with a bullhorn screaming, "You in the white blouse, don't slaughter the child" and this and that. People who are already in a very vulnerable, emotional state come in just completely unglued. You know, they're crying, and they're... and what's really an indicator of women's determination once they've made this decision, is very few of them turn around and go away. Sometimes we need to test uncertainty in women, and we ask them if they would please go home and think it over again, if their head and their heart is not on the same page here. They still are referring to it as killing their baby or something. And we are really sensitive to if anyone is pushing them to do this, we will do what we can to make that not happen. If they are local we will ask them to go and please think about it. And I've never had a woman resent that. Nobody has ever said, "God damn it, I came here requesting a procedure, and why are you questioning my ability to make that decision?" Because the people we are picking up that vibe from are in fact questioning their own decisions, and it's not hard to pick up on. We ask them if they can please think about it some more, because we don't want to do an abortion on someone who isn't clear that she needs one. In general people are very receptive to that, they say, "Thank you so much, I will. I am going to go home and think it over." And then they either come back the next week or they don't. We don't keep track. But I don't know if there are any women who have had their minds changed by what these people refer to as "sidewalk counseling," and what I refer to as "sidewalk bullying."
It's funny, the Road to Choice is an outfit that was started on the east coast by LeRoy Carhart's landlord. Lee Carhart being one of the other doctors who does late term abortions and all the antis were all upset that Dr. Carhart opened this clinic in Maryland and so they decided to go after the landlord. They made the mistake of picketing his daughter's middle school, complete with pictures of gory dismembered fetuses and a lot of people called him up and yelled at him. When they picketed his daughter's middle school you just sort of felt they had just gone too far. So he started collecting phone numbers from the caller ID, the people who called up and yelled at him. And he called his friends, and asked them if they would please call these people back. They called the numbers and said "[Carhart's landlord] is doing a legal business and we would appreciate if you would stop calling him up and harassing him. This thing grew into thousands of people. It is a rather large organization and on their website, they have a tab, it's the bullies tab and they are known to be sidewalk bullies. It's not just patients with rosaries, they scream and yell at patients. I think it makes it much much, much harder on the patients though it doesn't seem to change their minds. But providers get used to it pretty darn quick or they go do something else. The first few weeks when I worked for Dr. Tiller it sort of made my heart shake, oh God I have to go back there but then I reached the brilliant solution of pretending I am a rock star and I am passing a crowd of my fans. I would just pretend this to myself, the gate would open, all the protesters would be screaming and yelling and I would be smiling and waving! Some of them were taken by surprise and would end up smiling and waving back, like wait, wait, what am I doing? I think you have to learn to get used to it and I remember that it was awkward for me the first few weeks and I thought, what about the patient who already she drove five hours to get here and she is terrified that this will be painful, and… we've had women come in and say, "I know the mortality on this is 50-50 but I need to do it anyway."7 Now that is determination. And so they come with fears and misconceptions and shame and embarrassment and then they have to put up with these people screaming and yelling at them.
[Pretending to be a rock star] turned the whole thing into sort of a game, so it made it a lot easier for me, but when you imagine what it's like for a patient who comes up to the clinic, you know, after she's driven five hours, she's hungry, she's tired, she's afraid, she's embarrassed, and then she has to tolerate these people screaming at her, it just doesn't seem quite fair.
Revolution:We did want ask you about working with Dr. Tiller, and as someone who was there in Wichita, at the time that Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion fanatic—it was a cold-blooded murder, really, I don't think there's any other way to look at it—what do you wish people knew about Dr. Tiller? And what do you think that whole situation reveals about the morality of being anti-abortion, pro-choice, the question of morality around abortion?
Dr. Robinson: The only time that Dr. Tiller was easy to get at was in church, where he did not have any bodyguards. Dr. Tiller was ushering for the church and [Roeder] walked, not into the sanctuary, but into the service anteroom, and shot him in the head. Damn. And there were two other guys in the room who tried to stop him, and he turned the gun on them and said, "I'll shoot you if you try to stop me."
What I'd like people to know about Dr. Tiller was that he believed intensely that he was making the world better one woman at a time, and that he regarded his practice of medicine as a ministry to women. So he had a very deep conviction that this was not only the right thing to do, but a life-saving thing to do. And he conveyed that to Shelly and Leigh and me too, which is why none of us even considered stopping doing abortions after he was shot. The only question was where could we do them? (laughs) You know? We had to get a clinic, and Shelly and I had to find another clinic, cause neither of us is a business woman, we didn't have it in us to start a clinic. And we were delighted, luckily we came across the [owners of the clinic in Albuquerque] and we came into contact with one another, and it's a perfect match, it's a very great fit, and you know, and I think Dr. Tiller would be pleased.
What I find really hard to really understand is the morality of being anti-abortion. I think it's deeply immoral for people to feel that it's appropriate to impose their religious views on other people, 'cause this is essentially a religious issue. You know? And so my standpoint is, that's deeply immoral. From their standpoint, I suspect that they see it as they are saving the lives of babies, and they say it, and I believe them, I think that most of them are sincere. But the problem is that if you believe a fetus is a baby, and that aborting a pregnancy is murdering a baby, then by all means you should follow your conscience and not have an abortion. But if somebody else feels that a pregnancy, a fetus is not the same thing as a baby, whose view should prevail? And the pro-choice people have no desire to make their views prevail over the anti-abortion people. The pro-choice people are pro-choice. You get to choose because you have autonomy as an adult female. And the other standpoint says, "You do not have autonomy over my moral construct. You have to do it my way because I believe this very strongly, and I think that this is the way it should be, because that's what the Bible says." Actually it doesn't say anything about it in the Bible, but you know that's the sort of thing that people say. That's why I think that the anti-abortion movement is deeply immoral, because they are trying to remove, trying to take away the autonomy of women to make these important personal choices, that only they, individual women, are equipped to make. I think that having children that you do not want and cannot care for is deeply immoral. And the people having abortions, really, can claim the moral high ground. You know?
Revolution: That is one thing that has got to change, in light of the ongoing onslaught against this right—which is nothing less than an emergency heading into a disaster—one key thing that has to change is this sense that if you're pro-choice, you have to apologize for it. And as long as the anti-abortion movement maintains this false projection of the moral high ground, it makes it very difficult for people to then mobilize and make the kind of demands and the destigmatization that have got to happen to turn this whole thing around. And I really appreciate how you talk about abortion as a responsible choice and as a moral choice. If you're standing on the side of women's lives, and them being able to make crucial turning point decisions for their own lives, that's moral. That's morality.
Dr. Robinson: Right, right, and I think that we need to reclaim the moral high ground. Women who seek abortions are thinking things, and saying things, like "Can I do a good job mothering right now?" "If I have a baby, I want to do a really good job with it, and I know I can't right now." …for whatever reason. There's a certain number of women that say, "I don't wanna have a baby, I don't ever wanna have a baby." But most of the time people say, "My problem here, the reason I'm having this abortion is that I don't think I can do a good job parenting a baby." And that to me, that is the moral high ground, that's working at the much more difficult end of the moral continuum than just yes/no or you may/you may not. It's struggling with conflicting responsibilities, whether it be responsibilities to other children or whether it be responsibilities to the baby that you might have and do a crappy job parenting it because you're trying to hold down two jobs and going to college at the same time. So that is a point that is almost never brought up, that women are struggling at the difficult end, and the complex end, of the moral continuum, and that they are making, and they are capable of making, and are in fact making the best decision for themselves and their families. [We have to] get out there and tell people not only are we not embarrassed or ashamed about having abortions or doing abortions, but in fact we claim the moral high ground here. To hell with the stigma, I claim the moral high ground. I think we need to say that.
Revolution: We do need to say that. Also, there are women who don't want to be mothers at any point.
Dr. Robinson: Absolutely.
Revolution: And there is a pervasive… we call it a "cult of motherhood."
Dr. Robinson: (Laughing) I was just gonna say "glorification of motherhood!" Absolutely, yeah, yeah.
Revolution: A really big thing that the anti-abortion movement plays on is the idea that women shouldn't even be having sex if they don't want to be mothers, women were made to be mothers. And we're back to being incubators.
Dr. Robinson: (Laughing) That's the bottom line isn't it?! A woman who did not want to be a mother, and I had my tubes tied in my twenties; I found a doctor who was willing to tie them for me. And I am happily, at the age of now 68, not a mother. I'm relieved that I do not have a generation of offspring to whom I have to explain why the world is falling apart, and you know, very likely the human race is headed toward extinction, along with all the other species that are going extinct right now. I mean, we've gone way beyond the point of no return with rapid climate change, we're way beyond the point of no return, probably, with overpopulation and mass starvation...not because we don't have enough food, but because the food is so unfairly distributed. I'm glad that I don't have a child to explain how I let this happen, and, "How could you be passing on a world like this to me?" You know, and I don't have anybody asking me that, and I'm very relieved that I don't, because I would have a hard time explaining it.
And the cult of motherhood is, yes absolutely, I agree 100 percent, a lot of it's cultural, I mean, some people say, "Oh, Dr. Robinson, do you have any children?" And I say, "No." And they say, "Ohh, that's so sad." (both laugh) Depending on who they are, and what sort of culture they're coming from, it appears to be a great loss. I don't care, I say, "No, you know, I love my work, and blah, blah, blah." But I'm not gonna engage with them on this cult of motherhood issue. I think that's too much to swallow when you're having an abortion, you know? I'm having enough trouble convincing them that they're doing a good, responsible thing, that if I try to get into the cult of motherhood with them, I think they'll just think I'm nuts. (interviewer laughs) but you know out of the context of doing abortions, of having abortions, I'm very apt to engage about it, I mean, I think it's sort of crazy. It's crazy. And I don't participate in it.
Revolution: One thing that Stop Patriarchy heard on the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride that we've told people ever since, we met somebody in Montana who said, "Being pregnant is a terrible reason to be a mother. That's no reason to be a mother." (both laugh) I just thought that that really got to, really struck at the heart of this cult of motherhood idea that, really, happening to be pregnant, especially in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, there's no morality tied to then, being forced into motherhood.
Dr. Robinson: Right. Producing an offspring that you didn't plan for and possibly don't want. And half of the pregnancies in this country are unintended. Which brings me back to singing my song about comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and freely available birth control.
Revolution: Right, which the anti-abortion movement, all the major organizations oppose. Consistently.
Dr. Robinson: Absolutely. Which makes you wonder exactly what the whole thing is about. I don't think that it's about abortion. Otherwise, they would be out there campaigning for birth control and sex education and more social services for struggling families. I think it's about, just what you said: "Women should not be having sex unless it's for procreation. In fact, it's sort of disgusting when women have sex anyway, but in the interest of having babies, I guess it's okay, and also because the husband wants it, right?" This doesn't take into account a number of things, starting with the fact that many women are having sex who do not want to have sex, they are being forced into having sex. Seems to me that that sort of underlies this whole...there's a dichotomy, or there's an internal contradiction if you're opposed to abortion, it only makes sense that you would be in favor of sex education and birth control and support of struggling families, so something goes tilt when people opposed to abortion are also opposed to the things that would minimize the need for abortion. Not eliminate it, nothing will ever eliminate it, but certainly minimize it dramatically. So what's really going on? What's their real agenda? And I think their real agenda is this sort of puritanical Calvinist view that women shouldn't be having sex unless it's for procreation. And that's essentially a religious view... that I don't adhere to.
And to my great joy the last of those idiots who made these idiotic statements, like Akin, and "if its a real rape, you can't get pregnant," most of those guys lost, in the election. But you're absolutely right, people in positions of power are standing up and saying this stuff with a straight face. I forget who it was, there was a journalist interviewing an anti-abortion legislator, I don't even remember whether he was state or federal, or what state, or anything about him, except that the journalist said, "Why do you think might want to have an abortion, or might need to have an abortion?" And there was this sort of long puzzled silence, and the guy says, "I don't know, I'm not a woman, you'd have to ask a woman, I've never really thought about it."8
He said, "I never really thought about it." So...I would like to make some noise and see if we could make people think about it. Why do you think people might want to have abortions? Do you think they thought it'd be fun? Do you think it was on their bucket list? Do you think they were on their way to the grocery store and spied a nice looking abortion clinic, and thought, "Hey, that looks like fun, let's go do that!" (both laugh) No. Do you think that women who are going in for abortions....some of the anti-abortion people say this with a straight face, that they don't know what the abortion is going to accomplish. Do you think that there's anyone in the country who has an abortion who doesn't know that the purpose of having an abortion is to turn being pregnant into not being pregnant? But people say this stuff with a straight face, and I think its up to us to laugh at them.
And to get back to the slogan of Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. And more than that, Abortion on Demand as a Responsible Decision. Or something. Even people who believe in abortion on demand without apology, aren't really sure how late in the pregnancy should that apply. And they want to hear what's going on, I mean people who come to see the show [the documentary After Tiller] want to hear, and I have to admit, you know, when I started doing this, I thought, "Well, if someone came in to me at 38 weeks, could I do an abortion on a 38-week pregnancy? You know, it'd have to be a pretty good story." And then I started thinking, "What do ya mean a pretty good story? Is this how you earn your abortion? By telling good stories?" But it does become, you know, late late abortions, do become problematic from a safety standpoint if they're performed in the office. So we will take people over 29 weeks on a case-by-case basis, but we evaluate them very carefully to answer the question to ourselves, "Am I confident that I can safely complete this procedure in the office?" I mean abortion is like the safest referred outpatient surgery. But later abortion gets a little trickier.
So yeah, I think you're right, it's sort of appalling that, God, I'm glad there's Rachel Maddow out there, 'cause she laughs at them, she'll pull 'em up and laugh like a dream, like, "Can you believe this, he said this?!" I don't know how many people watch her show, but when she does that, I'm thinking to myself, "that's the real way to take the wind out of their sails," is to just laugh at them. Todd Akin, "Are you crazy?! Where'd you learn your medicine from?" And that's pretty much what happened to him. Remember, he's the one, "real rapes don't cause pregnancy"?
What do we need to do to wake up young women to the fact that, most young women that I see believe that the right to abortion is [safe and guaranteed] like the right to vote. And they do not perceive that, like in Texas, there used to be like 24 abortion clinics, and now the whole Rio Grande Valley is totally, has no abortion providers.
Revolution: Right, there were 44 clinics last year, and by September there will be six in the entire state of Texas.
Dr. Robinson: Christ. There was a reason I forgot those numbers, I don't wanna hear that! I think that the women who have to travel to get abortions, who are lucky enough to have the means to travel to get abortions, I don't think they perceive this in the same way, they don't perceive that this right is getting eroded, I think that they think, "Well, in the interests of safety, they've closed down these clinics." Because I'm shocked at how many young women believe that the right to abortion is as solid as the right to vote.
Revolution: When we tell folks that consider themselves pro-choice, what's going on around the country, they don't think that we're lying, but they can't believe it until they verify it, that it could've gotten this far without changing the constitution. They can't believe it. And there is too much of a sense that the right is safe. It really will take, through mass public resistance of different kinds, raising awareness, protest, it's gotta expose the real agenda of the anti-abortion movement. And it's gotta expose that what is happening right now is that abortion is being rapidly criminalized, it's become the new normal, especially if there's anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic every day and that isn't being directly opposed by folks who consider themselves pro-choice, you know? If these politicians can say what they say and do what they do, without being directly opposed, being called out as an agenda that does have to do with controlling women's bodies. It's not enough of something that people feel like they need to fight for, but another big piece of it is that people just don't even know how bad it is. People don't know.
Dr. Robinson: Yeah. I think you're right, and the people who do have it bad, that's just the new normal, as you say. The women in Texas, you don't see them storming the capitol in Austin, saying we want our clinics back. You don't see them starting recall elections.
Revolution: Hmm. Well, another key element of this, as you mentioned earlier, really has to be changing the terms around what abortion is, and on the basis of women are full human beings, and fetuses are not. And that there are women who have had abortions who don't regret it, there are women who've had abortions who do regret it, but that all of that is is not without influence.
Dr. Robinson: But this is the price of being a grown-up! Maybe you regret that you went to Harvard instead of Yale. (both laugh) Of course, people regret things. Some will and some won't. And that's the price of making decisions. That's the price of grown-ups making decisions, and if you consider women to be grown-ups, then some of them will regret some of their decisions. It does not mean that for them at that time it was the wrong thing. Because the really wrong thing would've been to say, "No, no honey, don't bother your pretty little head about it, you're not old enough to make this decision for yourself, I'm gonna make that decision for you..even if I don't know anything about you. So this whole thing about women regret abortion, sure there are women who regret abortion, and then there are many who do not! Many members of my very own family have had abortions, and do not regret them in the very least, in fact are very glad that they had them.
1. Shelly Sella is another of the four providers in the U.S. that provide these procedures, also featured in After Tiller. [back]
2. The Hyde Amendment—passed in 1977 just four years after abortions were legalized—banned Medicaid coverage for abortions. Medicaid is the federal healthcare program for low-income people in the United States. [back]
3. Lynn Paltrow is the founder and director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.[back]
4. Operation Rescue is a fascist anti-abortion organization that among other activities, follows abortion doctors around and publicizes their personal information. Operation Rescue's Senior Policy Advisor Cheryl Sullenger conspired to bomb an abortion clinic in the '80s, and gave Dr. Tiller’s church address to the anti-abortion fanatic Scott Roeder, who then went to Tiller's church and murdered him in cold blood. [back]
5. Find out more about the 20-week ban targeting the clinic where Dr. Robinson works, that was defeated in Albuquerque in November 2013: "Five Things Everyone Should Know About Albuquerque's Proposed Ban on Abortions After 20 Weeks of Pregnancy" [back]
6. Bud & Tara Schaffer are "missionaries" from Operation Rescue who moved to Albuquerque a few years ago in an escalated effort to target the clinic where Dr. Robinson works—one of only four clinics in the nation that openly provide abortions in the third trimester.[back]
7. The mortality rate of a late term abortion is NOT 50/50. This is the kind of misinformation women and others are given by anti-abortion activists and "crisis pregnancy centers" aimed at keeping women from understanding abortion as a safe option.[back]
8. Republican State Representative Jim Buchy from Ohio, was a co-sponsor of a heartbeat abortion ban. The full quote from Jim Buchy on the Al Jazeera video is: “Well, there’s probably a lot of—I’m not a woman so I’m thinking, if I’m a woman, why would I want to get—some of it has to do with economics. A lot has to do with economics. I don’t know, I have never—It’s a question I have never thought about.” [back]
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