The women leaving anti-abortion pickets to get abortions

A few days before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. calf Last month, a woman who described herself as an anti-abortion activist showed up in Dr. Marissa Lapedis, a family medicine doctor performing the procedure in Atlanta.

But she wasn’t there to protest – she had an appointment.

“She talked about being on marches and said she spent a lot of time volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers — you know, showing patients the ultrasound and explaining what’s happening,” said Lapedis, a member of the Group of Reproductive Health Physicians The Daily Beast. “She said she has been anti-abortion all her life and her whole family is like her – yet she is so grateful for the care she has received from us. She literally said, ‘I’m so grateful to be able to make this choice for myself.'”

Lapedis’ experience is remarkable in part because she lives in a state that faces a six-week ban on the trial — although the law has so far been held up in court.

“Sometimes there are anti-people who say, ‘Promise me nobody will find out, my boss can’t know’. [because] they work in the republican legislature or something. What happened – but this patient was so grateful.”

Abortion providers across the country are reeling from the fall roe, and some face the prospect of legal reprisals from law enforcement agencies in their own state or even in other states where patients need help. Almost inevitably, they think of the many patients they have seen who came for treatment that they vehemently opposed—and, in some cases, actively protested against.

“All of us who have abortions pretty regularly see patients who tell us, ‘I’m not pro-choice, but I just can’t go ahead with this pregnancy,'” said Dr. Sarah Prager, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington. “We’ve even seen people from the protest lines coming into the clinic to get their abortions and then protesting again outside the clinic.” And to be clear, she added: “These are not people who are after an abortion opposed to the election, but who simply have access to this essential service when they need it, despite their personal beliefs about abortion in general.”

According to Prager, the phenomenon is so widespread that abortion providers have a name for it: the Me Exception.

“We often say in the movement that people believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest and ‘me’ meaning whatever reason is relevant to that person,” she said. And yet, she noted, of the many polls that describe how Americans view abortion, virtually none reflect that reality.

“Anti-choice people have no incentive to be honest about whether or not they had an abortion, and we as doctors would never leak a story about a patient,” she continued. This is prohibited under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, the federal law protecting confidential health information.


Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Still, health professionals are allowed to discuss cases broadly, and when asked about patients with anti-choice views last week, abortion providers had no shortage of sometimes unbelievable stories about activists who thought they were the exception to the rule.

dr Portia Jones, a family doctor in Washington, recalled the time a woman “whose sister-in-law was the president of a large right-to-life organization” asked to be “smuggled out the back door” of the clinic, into who she worked in Philadelphia. Then there was “the picket who took her daughter to a procedure and was back on the picket line the next week,” she recalled. On another occasion, a woman “walked in and told a packed waiting room that they were all sinners and should leave immediately,” she said.

“When I pulled her aside, I found out she was also there for an abortion,” Jones told The Daily Beast.

Jones and other abortion providers attributed many such cases to a sense of exceptionality on the part of patients deciding that their situation entitles them to do what they think other women shouldn’t – legally – be able to do. “I’ve done a lot of option counseling with patients who have had to do some pretty creative moral jiujitsu to justify their behavior to themselves,” she added. “But our role is to give people information, to give them a space to make decisions, and to support them.”


Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

While 13 states are the first to introduce so-called trigger laws to effectively ban almost all abortions, according to an analysis by Guttmacher, about two dozen states have laws on the books that could severely restrict the procedure, according to the Institute, a research organization dedicated to the right to abortion. The laws are, of course, the result of decades of far-right organizing against reproductive rights, with actions ranging from peaceful protests to anti-choice officer elections to violent attacks.

But vendors said the hypocrisy among the grassroots fueling the so-called pro-life movement was blatant.

“I would say about a third of my patients would say at their consultation or during the procedure, ‘I want you to know that I’m pro-life, but you understand why that has to be,'” said Dr Nicholas Gideonse, commemorating his work as an abortion provider in rural Oregon. “I think in almost all of these cases, they made that choice to be the best parents they could be.”

There were certainly those pro-life patients who “were vocal in insisting that their circumstances were special and special,” Gideonse added. But there have also been cases of pro-life patients who have come to him for sympathy.

“I remember a soft-voiced younger woman feeling that because I gave birth to her other unplanned pregnancy, I understood how hostile to life she really was, and because of that, I was the person who could perform the procedure she needed now,” he said.

Rather than an isolated incident, stories of anti-choice activists literally veering off the protest line to seek help were rife. That phenomenon may be fading in states where clinics are shutting down amid legal threats, but providers have been confident hardcore activists will continue to seek their help.

A few years ago, Dr. Meera Shah, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in New York, one of the protesters regularly outside her clinic using abortion treatments.

“I treated them with compassion and kindness like I do anyone else because I knew people came to us with their own lived experiences,” she said. “I don’t know what this person was exposed to or what their community is like – it can be unsafe for people to express an alternative view [about] abortion in their communities or their families. But I know that nobody expects it. Nobody believes that they will get into this situation. You can have these strong beliefs about something that you think will never affect you, and then when you’re in the moment your thoughts about it can change, and that’s very much the case with abortion. We see it all the time.”

In her book You’re the only one I’ve ever toldShah explored the day-to-day reality of abortion care that mainstream policy dialogue often fails to capture.

“I think the anti-abortion movement is approaching this with very strong preconceptions,” she said. “Their lived experience has taught them that abortion is bad, so just run with it. But what they fail to do is keep an open mind and express empathy for those going through it. And that’s what brought us here.” The women leaving anti-abortion pickets to get abortions


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