Meaning, resilience, and self care for the abortion team
Awarded 2007
Small Research Grants
Lisa Harris, MD, PhD
University of Michigan

This pilot project will explore the experiences of workers who directly perform and assist with abortion work at a Midwest Planned Parenthood affiliate, and evaluate a self-care intervention designed for them. In general, the physicians, nurses, counselors and surgical assistants who do abortion work are inspired by feminist ideals and their deep desire to make a better world for women, children and families. They are devoted workers who describe their work as meaningful and gratifying and who are deeply committed to women’s “right to choose.” Informally, however, they report significant struggles with psychological “fall-out” in their work, in particular around issues of violence, loss, stigmatization, and personal threat. Yet they also perceive the need to silence their voices around these issues. Frank talk about these issues and these experiences is difficult on multiple levels: Public mention of the work may make Planned Parenthood staff vulnerable to threats or violence. It may risk disrupting personal relationships with friends and family members who have opposing views. In addition, if the difficulties of abortion workers were to become public and available to anti-abortion activists, the “pro-choice” movement itself may become vulnerable. Therefore, abortion providers largely bear in silence the ethically complex burdens of their important work. The pilot project we propose is designed to address the relative silence around these issues. This work will first and foremost provide support for Planned Parenthood workers, which is an end in itself. However, coming together in this way, and carefully documenting this experience has the potential to suggest models for support of abortion work more generally, for increasing resilience of abortion workers, to become an essential component in the training of new abortion providers, and to open up new spaces for discourse and discussion that current “pro-choice” and “pro-life” rhetoric prohibits.