When I first walked into the clinic, I was bracing myself. The clinic was closed – it doesn’t take patients on a Tuesday, just Maria the medical steriliser doing some paperwork upstairs and Suraya the receptionist organising bookings and interstate patients for later in the week behind the front desk.
I was in an abortion clinic for the first time – and I’m not sure what I thought I would see, but whatever I expected to jump out at me, it wasn’t there.
Suraya gave me a tour, and the camera crew – just one camerawoman and a sound guy – explained how patients first arrive, then see a nurse, then consult with the doctor, then consult with the anaesthetist, then go in for the procedure and then spend time in the recovery area, they don’t leave until they are deemed ready to go by nurses. She has to fend off partners and family members who are anxious to pick up their girlfriend, wife, daughter, sister or mother – clients won’t be leaving until the anaesthetic has worn off and they’ve been fully briefed on aftercare.
After nine weeks at the clinic, Maddie discovered there are as many reasons for abortion as there are women who have them. Post continues below.
I was there to begin making a documentary for the ABC about what it means to work in an abortion clinic. I spent the next three months working alongside nurses, doctors and support staff helping to provide women safe and legal abortions.
And it was, in some ways, like any other workplace: a sign above the sink in the staffroom reads “wash your own dishes please”, there is a time to arrive and a time to leave, a lunch break in the tea room with small talk and friendly chatter, and staff with a busy life at home. But in other ways it was unlike any other job: here in an abortion clinic the staff are caring for people who have made a choice to terminate their pregnancy, they have to work under threat from pro-life organisations (with occasional death threats and fake bombs delivered to the office) and often keep their job a secret from friends or family.
On my first weekend at the clinic (with no cameras, it took six weeks before we began to film, with privacy and sensitivity to the women) there were two girls under the age of 15 who had been raped – the police were involved in both cases. When the mother of one of them tried to talk to me for the documentary because “she wanted people to understand and then started to cry and couldn’t speak, I was floored by how life can give people such tragic challenges. It’s not fair. I went home that night speechless, and still don’t quite know how to describe the feeling.
Over the next three months though, I met people with stories very different to this, ones for whom, in fact, the decision was not difficult to make: a mother of four in her 40s who felt she couldn’t support everyone adequately and was too old, couples in their late 20s who weren’t ready. There were women I met for whom this wasn’t a traumatic and laboured choice, but something they felt very clear about.