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the Body Politic
Vol. 7, No. 6 - June 1997, Page 13
Copyright © 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.

K Kaufmann and the Blinding Flash of Light

Interview by Anne Bower

About 90% of women go through an abortion without any major upset.... Those women who do have problems after an abortion are usually women who had problems before the abortion.
She said it came to her in a "blinding flash." It was 1992 and the Supreme Court had just released its decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania vs. Casey. K Kaufmann, feminist and writer, was sitting at her desk knowing what this ruling would mean for the nation's women. "Oh my God, it's just going to be an obstacle course out there," said Ms. Kaufmann and of course, time has proven her right.

But that morning Ms. Kaufmann conceived of the idea to write a book that would tell women how to find the help they need when confronted with an unplanned pregnancy. Ms. Kaufmann, a writer for feminist publications since the 70s and pro-choice activist since the 80s, went to a friendly editor in San Francisco and was told to write a proposal. The editor helped show the proposal to various publishers who loved the idea and said it needed to be written but their final response, said Ms. Kaufmann was always "No one will touch it."

Compounding the problem was the 1992 election. Bill Clinton, who might become the first pro-choice president, was in a tight race. There were a few small independent publishers looking at Ms. Kaufmann's proposal, but they wanted to wait until after November. When Mr. Clinton was successful, people made the same mistake they did after abortion became legal -- assuming that all their troubles were over.

At that point, Ms. Kaufmann said she got discouraged and put her idea on the shelf and let it gestate until a year later when friends convinced her to try selling the idea again. It took two more years, but eventually Ms. Kaufmann was able to interest the giant publisher, Simon & Schuster in her work and the task of actually collecting all the material began.

Over the last two years Ms. Kaufmann has interviewed hundreds of people and sifted through stacks of laws, gone to clinics, interviewed staff, and women who have had abortions. Out of this she has produced, The Abortion Resource Handbook, an indispensable guide for today's modern women seeking practical information about abortion.

This has not been an easy birth. For a while her publisher was the object of an e-mail campaign instigated by the anti-choice community, promising a boycott, but the pro-choice community sent messages of support and convinced the publisher they were doing the right thing.

In the following interview Ms. Kaufmann tells what her book offers women coping with an unplanned pregnancy. Now that The Abortion Resource Handbook is due to be released in July, she is calling once again on the pro-choice community to make it a success by purchasing it and making sure it finds its way into the nation's bookstores.

Editor's Note: We are taking orders for this essential reference. All pro-choice organizations need this in their libraries and should have a copy for friends and family. The paperback is only $11.00. Subscribers get a 10% discount.

Q: K, in the very first chapter of the Abortion Resource Handbook, you offer suggestions on how women can find a pro-choice clinic and avoid the fake ones. What signs would tell a woman she had made a mistake and gone to a fake clinic?

A: The first clue is on the telephone when you ask a clinic, "Do you provide abortions or do you refer?" If you don't get a straightforward answer like, "Yes we do provide abortions or we can refer you," then you are running a very good chance that you may have a phony clinic.

In general, the phonies work on getting you into their clinic. They will not give you information over the phone. If you ask, "How much do you charge for an abortion?" they will probably say, "We don't give that information over the phone. Why don't you come in for an appointment and we'll talk about it then?" Everything will happen after you come into the clinic.

Q: Since we're now in the computer age, you tell your readers if they have access to a computer that they can get some good referrals off the internet.

A: Yes. Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation and Abortion Clinics On-Line offer help. Women should also know that there are anti-abortion web pages that are set up to look like pro-choice web pages. (See Bucci story on page 3)

Q: Once a woman finds a clinic there are still many obstacles to negotiate. If she's young, there are parental consent laws. It seems pretty daunting.

A: Yes. Obviously, parental consent and notification laws are meant to hit at some of the most vulnerable women, and they do. They look daunting and in some ways, they are. There aren't a lot of studies, but some do show that teenagers are more likely to delay calling clinics and more likely to need a second trimester abortion. A lot of this is because they're afraid of the laws. They're afraid to tell their parents. They're afraid they won't have the money or of what's going to happen. They are afraid of going to court,which can be very daunting.

I think the message we need to give young women is, however scared you are, call the clinic. Get on the phone line to NAF, it's an 800 number so you don't have to pay. Your local clinic will give you information and counseling. They won't make you tell anyone you don't want to. The clinic can assist you with going to court or going out of state. The main thing is, make the first phone call and get help. It's hard, but the clinic will make it as easy for you as possible.

Q: Our opponents often say that women who have abortions don't have enough information beforehand. In your book you talk about informed consent, including samples of the forms in the appendix, and you talk about managing "waiting periods."

A: The whole issue here is the anti notion that women don't know what they're doing. When a woman is terminating an unplanned pregnancy, she knows what she is doing. In chapter 9, I talk about what happens at the clinic. A woman will usually get a sonogram, get detailed information on the procedure, and in some clinics she can look at the surgical instruments used. Some clinics, if the woman asks, will allow her to see the fetal remains. This was a dicey thing to put in the book, but with the constant accusations that the pro-choice side never tells the truth, I had to let people know what's going on.

Women do know what's going on and they have their abortions anyway. They are getting complete information from the clinics.

Q: Your book does deal with the emotional side of this issue and you make a very powerful statement in the chapter, Taking Care of Yourself. You say, "for most women, the decision to have an abortion is a survival decision."

A: The real problem today is the amount of dis-information from the other side. One of the most powerful stories I got when I was researching this book was from a clinic worker who talked about a young woman who had come to the clinic after having gone to a phony clinic. The woman walked in and was given all the information about what would happen, the procedure, and then she was asked, "Do you have any questions?" The young woman looked at the clinic worker and said, "When do you start carving up my thighs up?" The provider looked at her and said, "They told you that, and you're still here?" To me, that says what a woman will risk when she doesn't want to continue a pregnancy.

Q: You have some wonderful advice for women who have to make a decision about continuing or terminating a pregnancy. "Feel good about it." Do you think women need that reinforcement?

A: In today's media market, women definitely need that! Today, the whole issue of the stigma of abortion is very powerful. It's one of the reasons why, when I was writing this book, one of the hardest things I found was finding women who had recently had abortions who would talk to me.

We have been given the message by the media that the only good abortion is one that a woman has agonized suitably over and felt guilty over and if you don't feel guilty, something's wrong with you -- you're hard, you're unfeminine or unnatural. We know this is not the case. About 90% of women go through an abortion without any major upset. Sure, there are a lot of natural emotions. You may feel angry or isolated or scared. These are normal emotions in a crisis which an unplanned pregnancy is. On the other side, most women feel relieved. Those women who do have problems after an abortion are usually women who had problems before the abortion.

Q: That feeds into my question about Post-Abortion Syndrome? Does it exist?

A: At the recent NAF conference, Ava Torre Bueno gave a very good workshop on post-abortion counseling. One of the points she made was, women who have problems do so because of past abuse, either emotional or physical, or because of unresolved grief from a previous loss which is triggered by the abortion.

Q: K, in your book you even address the scary issue of self-induced abortions. You tell women, DON'T DO IT. Are you finding this is happening?

A: When I did the chapter on funding for abortions, and talked with people at these organizations, I asked one of the women, "What would be your advice for a woman who wants an abortion and can't afford one? She said, "Don't do it yourself!" One funder said she talked to a woman who had put a chop stick up her vagina, had thrown herself off a moving vehicle, and done other things which ended her up in an emergency room. Finally she called one of the foundations and they were able to help her get a medically safe abortion.

In the section on herbal abortion, I report on a teenager who spent two weeks going home from school and drinking herbal teas, getting sick and throwing up all by herself until she realized this wouldn't work and she finally called a clinic. She did have to go to court but got her abortion. This is what's going on out there and it's really hard for a lot of women.

Q: Getting into the door of a clinic can be hard, too, so you cover "clinic harassment in Chapter 7. Were you worried this might deter women from trying to get to a clinic?

A: No. I think the issue of clinic harassment is important because it may scare women thanks to all the media coverage of clinics bombed, picketed and doctors shot. It's important that women know there are things you can do to limit your exposure. One of the very simplest says, have yourself dropped off in front of the clinic. If you park down the street and walk to the clinic you are more exposed.

I believe the more information a woman has, the better off she'll be. Every woman shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.

Q: As this interview is being conducted, the bill to ban the D&E late- term abortion procedure is being debated. You go into this subject in Chapter 11, describing the procedure and talking to some women who have had this done. What do you think might happen if the procedure is banned?

A: Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics said it best -- there is no way to effectively ban this. I think the solution will lie with the doctors. In the New York Times there was an interview with doctors like George Tiller and Warren Hern who actually do late-term abortions. Basically, they said if this procedure is banned from being used on live fetuses, then they will all use digoxin.

The main thing about the whole late abortion issue is, it's an outright attack on second trimester abortions. That's what they're after. What is scary to me, at the NAF Conference was, some of the doctors are starting to say, "We have to accept limitations." Now, there are other doctors like Dr. Tiller who say no. At the conference he got up and made a very eloquent statement about the difference between all our neonatology and the fact that technology has nothing to do with what he does and what reproductive health care clinics provide.

Q: One final little question. Do you see access to abortion getting any better?

A: Oh dear, I wish I did. I think a lot of people are hinging a lot on medical abortion, but I don't think it's realistic. There is a cost involved and the people who are providing medical abortion now are people who can provide surgical abortions as backup.

Where things are optimistic is with organizations like Medical Students for Choice who have been doing a good job of getting abortion on the medical school curricula, although there is a lot of resistance. There is also movement in the direction of having mid- level clinicians provide abortion. To me, these are probably the most hopeful areas for the future.

Q: Well K, it sounds like there will be a real need for your book for some time.

A: I'm afraid so and I hope people will mount a grassroots campaign to get it in their local bookstores.

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