In my attempt to feel more connected to a community of women’s health providers, I picked up This Common Secret from my local library branch.
It had been on my “To Read” list for years, and the second I sat down with Dr. Susan Wicklund’s amazing storytelling capabilities I was immediately sucked in.
Wicklund weaves a detailed and, at times, heart wrenching set of stories from her experiences as an abortion provider in the late 80s and 90s. She was practicing at the height of Operation Rescue’s terrorist activities and also before the federal FACE act was put into place in 1994.
At times, the level of harassment that she and her family experienced at the hands of anti-choice demonstrators, who could only be called terrorists, is unbelievable. Wanted posters with Wicklund’s face on them. Harrassment at her family home. Picketing her daughter’s school. Death threats. Home break-ins. The murder of other abortion providers.
But Sue solders on, committed to her work, but not without doubt. Wicklund let’s us into the deepest corners of her fear, her self-doubt, and her nightmares, which is exactly what makes this telling so powerful. Abortion providers are often dehumanized by the right-wing, and, as I have written before, it is incredibly important for us to write publicly about our experiences and let the rest of the world into our lives. It exposes the hypocrisy and terror that lie on the other side of the clinic doors, and make very clear who exactly are the ones who care for women and families.
I began reading this book on my lunch breaks at work, but quickly realized I could not, as I had returned from lunch one too many times with tear-streaked cheeks , overwhelmed with the connection I felt to Wicklund’s story.
As I read, I found all the emotions that I feel about anti-choice picketers staring right back at me, as Sue writes after having to encounter them for the first time:
When I left the clinic, I saw the protesters differently. They were no longer just a nuisance. They were a force that had a negative impact on my patients, planting unnecessary fear and guilt in women at this vulnerable crossroads, as they weighed whether to end an unwanted pregnancy. Their rhetoric and self-righteous pleading was misleading and alarming. I knew , looking at them, that the last thing they cared about was the safety and well-being of the women I had seen that day.
This past weekend I got to stand back out on my beloved picket line with Seattle Clinic Defense, and the rhetoric and promises to help were just as false as ever. As we tried to block the protesters from view, one of the docs came outside to grab a cup of coffee. She shot me a sidelong glance, a faint recognition, but careful not to say anything. She thanked us for coming. For standing up. That it meant a lot.
There is so much emotion in This Common Secret, a story that we should rally around and say, yes. Me too. This sounds like me. I do not encounter nearly the level of personal targeting and harassment as providers like Dr. Wicklund, Dr. Hearn, Dr. Parker , and Dr. Tiller, before his assassination, encountered. But we do need to stand up and make them feel like part of a community of providers. Abortion providers are, by and large ostracized from the medical world just as much as abortion has become isolated from the rest of women’s reproductive health care, and this is where abortion and providers are vulnerable.
This book left me with a feeling that cannot be squashed. That we are in this together. That we must rebuild a community of all those working in reproductive health and abortion care, not just for our own sakes, but to make this whole community safer and stronger.