So, You've Had an
Abortion: Now What?
Last week I sat down with Jane Bogart and Keeley McNamara to talk
about Epilogue, the first after-abortion services organization in NYC.
Jane and Keeley are the co-founders.
Prologue: Jane Bogart and Keeley McNamara
Jane, in her full-time job, works at a university, where she does health
education and outreach on campus for students, addressing a range of
topics from sexuality to eating issues to smoking cessation.
I've been a Health Educator on campus for nine years. Our office is
known as a safe place to go on campus, a place where students who had
unplanned pregnancies could go to talk.
So, I started talking to students about their unplanned pregnancies,
but I had no background in it.
There were several students working in the office then and we got
together to talk about how to counsel someone around an unplanned pregnancy.
What are the options in the city?
We visited Planned
West Side Women's Medical Pavilion,
Side Women's Gynecology—and
a couple of other places—and we looked into adoption as an option
too. We really wanted to provide them with all the options. Through
doing that, I became much more aware of the issues surrounding abortion.
We'd do options counseling and sometimes the student would come
back (after having an abortion) and we would not know where to send
her to help her deal with her reactions. Sometimes she'd come with
her partner… We started to ask questons about what was needed after-abortion.
What are the issues with which women grapple?
Therapy, of course, is one option ,
but we couldn't find anyone who specialized in post-abortion support.
We started looking on the internet and we found a lot of post-abortion
organizations that are religion-based and really prey on women's guilt
[Keeley] They made up a syndrome that
they call “post-abortion syndrome” that makes women feel like they
have this "syndrome", that they're now damaged goods.
[Jane] Keeley was
a student, working in our office and was involved in the whole process
of forming our unplanned pregnancy policy—well, I'll let her take
it from here.
[Keeley] So, I was a student, working
with Jane as a peer educator. I was involved in the
pregnancy options counseling—designing that—and, then I graduated,
and got a job at an adolescent health service, where we
have two clinics in high schools in the city. I do mostly sexuality
education. I provide HIV pre- and post-test counseling counseling,
birth control counseling in the high school, pregnancy options counseling
STD counseling, relationship counseling, nutrition counseling, smoking
cessation, alcohol/drug counseling— pretty much anything anyone wants
to talk about if it's not social work, they come to me.
But the majority of what I do is sexuality, and the majority of the sexuality
work I do is pregnancy options. I work in inner-city high schools, and unplanned
pregnancy is an issue.
So, Jane and I, we continued to talk after I graduated—and were also talking
about it when we worked together—about how a lot of women are coming in having
these mixed feelings after abortion. When I started working with teenagers, it
became apparent that they needed post-abortion support. I would have them come
back in two weeks to see me after their abortion—just to make sure that
they were taking their birth control right, or that they took their antibiotics,
or that they didn't have sex in the two weeks after their abortion. You know,
you're 15 and you just had an abortion, someone has to take care of you. They
would say: I was really happy and now I'm feeling sad, or I don't have anyone
to talk to about it.
They can't tell their partners. They can't tell their mothers. They can't tell
their cousins. They can't tell anyone and it's kind of like this feeling of being
separated. Out of their society. Out of their culture.
So, I would talk to Jane about it. Are you seeing this with the college-age people
you see?..and she said: absolutely. That's when we started doing more research,
and found that there's really not much out there as far as post-abortion support.
I was interning my senior year of college at NARAL and
I was telling someone there that we were interested in post-abortion support
and she put us in touch with Exhale,
an organization in San Francisco, started by Aspen Baker, that has a post-abortion
talkline in San Francisco. We've been working with her to get it up and running,
to use their model and replicate it here. She's been very suppportive.
Keeley McNamara and Jane Bogart, co-founders
Feelings of guilt, relief, sadness and empowerment are all normal and natural emotions that may accompany the experience of abortion. The increased visibility of the anti-abortion movement, with picketing of clinics, verbal attacks on women seeking abortions, and the barrage of messages telling women they should feel badly about their decisions, has increased the need for supportive counseling both prior to and after an abortion.
Women may have similar feelings when making other choices in their lives but, unlike abortion, these choices are not politicized and women are encouraged to seek support from family, friends and professionals. After abortion, however, women may be unsure or fearful of how family, friends and others will react to their choice so they may have no one to talk to about their experience and the circumstances that caused the pregnancy and the need to terminate, or not know where to go or be able to afford services.
There are a number of organizations that do what they call post-abortion counseling. Many are called "Pregnancy Care and Education Centers," or PACE centers and most, if not all, are linked with religious groups who look to reinforce the idea that abortion is wrong. Generally, their tactic is to focus on those who may be already feeling guilt about the abortion.
In response to the need for a non-judgmental resource for after abortion support, Epilogue was formed. Epilogue is a non-profit organization dedicated to reproductive freedom that provides non-judgmental, accessible after abortion support services designed specifically to meet the emotional and informational needs of women and girls who have had abortions, their partners, allies, friends and family. Epilogue is not affiliated with any religious or political organization.
Epilogue has the following goals:
• To support reproductive freedom.
• To provide secular, accurate, non-judgmental information about after abortion emotional and physical well being and to fill a gap in what currently exists in after abortion support services.
• To raise awareness of the normal and natural reactions to the experience of abortion and to counter the myth that abortion causes severe psychological damage.
• To develop and implement a free, confidential after-abortion counseling TalkLine staffed by trained peer counselors that would offer non-judgmental emotional support, resources and information for after abortion needs.