“We apologize for protestors”, a small sign proclaimed as I entered the tiny waiting room. It was packed with people: men, women, and tiny children filled nearly every available seat. I walked quickly to a locked glass window guarding the reception area and signed my name on the clipboard hanging from the counter. A friendly, if slightly nervous looking nurse slid the glass open an inch. “Do you have an appointment?” She asked, informing me that otherwise it would be several hours until a doctor could administer my pregnancy test. I told her that I did, and carried the appropriate paperwork to the only seat I could find. I had never been to an abortion clinic before, and I do not know what I was expecting. However, after five minutes in a packed room that smelled faintly of mold, I knew that something about me would be forever changed by this experience.
Eviscerating. In a meeting with my college advisor the week before, this word had been used to describe the Graduate School application process. It came to mind as I, along with a younger teenage girl with blackened front teeth were led into the back room. I knew the word was associated with the forceful taking of something essential, and here I felt it was my very dignity as a woman that hung in the balance. The room I was ushered into was too cold, the walls a mustard yellow that chipped away near the ceiling. Something wet touched my foot as I readied myself for an examination, and in my nervous state I did not register this indication that my room probably had not been properly cleaned. After waiting for what seemed like years, the Doctor rushed in and performed a hasty examination, only to inform me that I was not pregnant, tests were known to fail, etc. Then he held my hand for a moment too long, let his eyes run over my body, and left the room.
Toni Morrison writes that we must learn to love with every part of our body, not just with our minds, but with our hearts and hands. As a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major in college, I had always believed that through my work as a theorist of feminism and gender, I was making a difference in the world. Surely if I wrote enough articles about equality from a comfortable office in a well-established, Liberal Arts institution, conditions for women would improve. However, in those few precious hours at the clinic, I realized that I had to do more. That day I saw firsthand that, in our society, love can still have limits, and dignity is a luxury only afforded by the most fortunate. I believe we can do better than that. I believe that every woman, no matter what her background or income, has the right to take care of her body in the way she sees fit, and the right to a quality institution in which to do so. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work towards these goals through volunteering at that same women’s clinic, working with at-risk youth in local schools, and beginning a volunteer program at the women’s clinic of Winston-Salem. The knowledge that I’ve made even a small difference in the lives of the people I’ve met is enough to keep me going each day, putting my head, heart, and hands to work in the service of a better world.