On March 10, 1993, a white supremacist anti-abortion fanatic murdered Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider, in his clinic’s parking lot. Three years later, March 10th was chosen to mark National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, a day to honor Dr. Gunn’s legacy and to celebrate the resiliency and commitment of those who continue to provide abortion care.
Independent abortion providers have been providing essential health care for decades, often enduring harassment, professional stigma, and even threats of violence to do so. Our dedicated colleagues have continued to provide compassionate, necessary, and critical care throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and at the same time that anti-abortion attacks, at all levels of government, have intensified.
Those of us who provide this care, as medical professionals and as clinic staff, often do so out of dedication to reproductive freedom and full bodily autonomy for all people. We share a desire to help people whom others have judged and stigmatized as unworthy of dignified, safe healthcare.
Spending day-in and day-out up close with our patients and the complexity of their lives has shown us how crucial abortion care can be to people’s well-being. We spend our days speaking with and walking patients, partners, and families through this one procedure that can alter the course of their lives. Yet across the state, anti-abortion protestors and lawmakers far removed from these situations stand in judgment and anger, professing to know what is right for the people making the decision to obtain an abortion.
We have patients whose pregnancies were long awaited but have produced anomalies that would lead to a brief and painful life. Other patients already have children and know deep in their bones that this is just not the time to bring another child into their world. Others are young and not at all ready to parent. Still others fear what another pregnancy would do to their health. They decide that seeking an abortion at that moment is the most loving and best decision in the larger, complicated context of their lives. People who seek abortions are all ages and come from all walks of life, and re-criminalizing abortion will not change that. Abortion is a common and normal part of reproductive healthcare, and always has been.
What we’ve learned from many years of doing this work is not to make assumptions, and to meet our patients where they are. Most are both grateful for the care, and surprised by the compassionate staff. The surprised part always hurts a little—they’re surprised to not be judged or pressured, but rather given care that makes them feel valued and not alone. As providers and clinic staff, we see our patients as whole people, with complicated lives and priorities who are making the right decisions for themselves and their families.
So many of us do this work because we believe in providing people with the care they need, and we know the support we offer patients can be transformational in their lives. We often feel a deep commitment to this work, but also have to be careful about sharing this commitment, as anti-abortion politicians dehumanize us and our patients to the point that harassment and threats of violence are just part of the job.
While abortion providers don’t get into this work for the accolades, we know that when people stand up to support the providers and clinics in their communities, they are also standing up for the patients who have chosen to get abortions and for the continued need for access to safe, quality abortion care. When people are vocal and stand up for that access, we continue to chip away at the stigma, the judgments, the disinformation, and the anti-abortion propaganda that enables anti-choice lawmakers and judges to further restrict access to abortion, shut down clinics, and harass and penalize providers and patients.
This year’s National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day is possibly the last one before the U.S. Supreme Court moves to completely dismantle nearly 50 years of precedent set by the Roe v. Wade decision that has kept abortion legal on paper in every state. At such a fraught and difficult moment, we hope the majority of North Carolinians who support abortion access will join us in showing appreciation that this care is available to those who need it in our communities.
Such expressions of appreciation can be as simple as sending postcards or social media posts with supportive messages to clinics, or just amplifying their social media posts on your accounts. You can also get to know your local clinic staff by volunteering as a patient escort, helping them create a welcoming experience at the clinic, or even offering to buy lunch for the staff one day. As always, busting down abortion stigma by sharing your stories, advocating for proactive local, state, and federal policies, and voting in every election for pro-choice candidates is going to help build the world we want to see, where all people can get the care they need, including abortion, when they need it.
Abortion providers show up for our communities every day and will continue to do so. We hope you will do your part to support abortion access in North Carolina by voting, especially in statewide elections.
Dr. Amy Bryant is a gynecologist based in Durham, NC.
Amber Gavin is the VP of Advocacy & Operations at A Woman’s Choice, an independent abortion provider with clinics in Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh, NC and Jacksonville, FL