I've been inside a plastic surgery clinic once. It was right next to my arthroscopic surgeon's office, and on my first visit I accidentally crutched my way into the wrong waiting room. I was greeted by beautifully painted, subtle pastel colored walls and brightly colored, strategically placed flowers. There were a few pictures hung at various places throughout the not-too-big, not-too-small staging area, all of attractive women smiling, carelessly joyful and effortlessly flawless. I was quickly offered tea or water or coffee or my choice of a few canned beverages, before both the receptionist and myself realized that I was in the wrong office. Before leaving, I heard a doctor's assistant usher a patient into an exam room, quietly promising her that they will take excellent care of her and that her comfort was their highest priority, so anything she could do to accommodate would be done.
My visit, if you could call it that, was brief, but it reminded me of the few trips I've made to various spas. Everyone spoke in hushed, kind tones and beverages were always being offered and everyone either felt instantly comfortable, or would be catered to so that they could eventually feel comfortable.
Six years later, I walked into an abortion clinic, and it wasn't by accident. I was there with my then-boyfriend, holding his hand as the automatic doors slid open and the waiting room beckoned us in a cold, harsh, unappealing way. The walls were painfully white, and the few pictures that hung on the wall were of perplexed women; some holding their faces in their hands, others looking distraught or, at the very least, seriously contemplative. There were a few plants but they weren't flowers, and drinking water was made available, but it came out of a sad looking water cooler that had been pushed back into a corner. I was well cared for and the medical staff tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible, but there efforts were in spite of the environment and - as I would later learn - the meager funds they had at their disposal. As I walked out of the clinic, slightly sore and so thankful for the ability to make an informed and confident decision, all I could think about was subtle pastel colored walls and plastic surgery.
All I could think about was the environment we create for women who want to enhance their breasts or plump their lips or fix some fictitious flaw that, more often than not, is nothing but a bi-product of an overly-shallow society, versus the environment we create for women who want to make a legal choice about an unwanted pregnancy.
All I could think about is the message the two very different environments sends women all over the country. It says, "We support you in choosing to make yourself look more desirable or fulfill a pre-determined, socially acceptable standard of beauty, but we do not support you in making your own decisions about reproduction". If your medical decision enhances your appearance, we will not only make you comfortable, but provide you with a memorable, soothing and spa-like experience. If the medical decision interferes with our (often religious) beliefs, or simply gives you the opportunity to control a future we definitely won't be part of but definitely will not agree with, we want you to feel uncomfortable and we want you to feel shame and we want you to feel regret. Even if it is at the hands of an uninviting waiting room aesthetic.
All I could think was: This needs to change. And that thought hasn't left my mind.
An abortion clinic should be inviting, comfortable and tailored to fit the needs of potential patients, just like plastic surgery offices.
Both are medical procedures.
Both are legal.
Both are chosen by the patient, and sometimes that choice is difficult but usually it isn't.
Both are stigmatized, although one is (obviously) more than the other.
Both come with risks.
Both can be empowering.
So why aren't women who walk into a clinic for an abortion, greeted with by beautiful flowers and happy pictures and a plethora of tasty beverages? Why aren't women who are seeking abortions given a vast and diverse variety of clinics to choose from, as patients and consumers, so that they can pick one that is closer to them or smaller so they feel like they're getting a more personalized experience or just a better fit for said woman's needs? Why aren't abortion clinics the spa-like experience that plastic surgery offices are? Why can't they give women a feeling of luxurious ease, just like other medical facilities that offer a variety of other completely legal, totally common procedures?
And most importantly, why are we so hell-bent on telling women - by either our actions, our subtle judgements, the hateful words coming out of pro-life mouths or with the interior decorations of a waiting room - that it is better they cut themselves open to look beautiful, than it is for them to take control of their futures and make their own decisions about unwanted or unplanned pregnancies?
We're a few weeks away from 2016, so this is bound to change, right? Soon, a woman will walk into a clinic after a scheduling an abortion and be provided with an experience as comforting, hospitable and pleasant as the woman going in for a routine liposuction, right?