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Thursday, February 5, 2009

If working at an abortion clinic isn’t adventurous enough, try taking money at an abortion clinic. Two out of five days a week, I’m counseling, advocating, interpreting, and doing all of the miscellaneous admin stuff that you come to expect at a non-profit. But three days a week, I am the one to hate.

The anti-choicers feed everyone lines about how abortioneers are just in it for the money. I’m sure I could earn more by working at a pizza joint, but that makes me look sort of selfless and caring and things that abortioneers cannot possibly be. And when an abortion is your first exposure to the wide world of reproductive justice, you, the client, are going to believe the hype. A disproportionate amount of our clients are women of color without much money, which doesn’t surprise anyone who does know RJ. And then there I am: a professionally-dressed (when I’m not wearing striped knee socks and a mini skirt) white woman asking them to hand over thousands of dollars that they probably don’t have.

A coworker recently mentioned to me that she couldn’t see herself working as a counselor because she’s not the “nurturing type.” I don’t know about “nurturing” as my primary descriptor, but I’m empathic, caring, and concerned. On payment days, I consciously have to shed that layer of myself as I walk into work. I rarely have backup on payment, and I’m responsible for keeping the clinic flow going and making sure clients are seen in a semi-reasonable amount of time. I have five minutes, tops, with each of our thirty-plus clients, and I have to be friendly (“I love your hat! Are you doing OK?”), efficient (“I’m listening to you. I’m just entering this information into the computer real quick.”), and the biggest bitch (“No. We are not haggling. I’m sorry the sonogram measurement was further than you thought, but I need your payment within the next fifteen minutes or you cannot be seen.”) all at the same time.

And I’ve had boyfriends wearing rosaries around their necks literally throw cash at me, I’ve been “cussed out,” as they say in the south, I’ve been scammed, I’ve been threatened, and I’ve been flat-out told that I “don’t want to help; [I’m] just trying to take people’s money!”

I’m a small person and I look a good eight years younger than I am, and I’ve learned to recognize where I really do need to act “tough” in order to be taken seriously. And of course, I understand that my post is collecting payment, and that’s a huge bone of contention for our clients because it represents a good deal of their struggles pre-appointment. And my reactions and the clients’ reactions aren’t personal. I’ve also come to terms with “difficult” clients. I would not still be working there if I didn’t realize that just because I’m risking my life (to a degree) to work in the clinic doesn’t mean that the clients don’t have every right to treat me however they want to. They don’t owe me anything. But it also doesn’t mean that I don’t resent being treated like dirt when I ask for payment. I sometimes almost hate my coworkers who are counseling that day and who never take money, when they talk about how much they were able to help and connect with a client.

The other day, I called taking payment “the most passive-aggressive counseling session in the world.” I am the face of the enemy; the client gets an opportunity to lash out; when it isn’t acceptable to yell at the woman who’s aborting “your” 24 week “baby,” it’s acceptable to yell at the person who’s taking your money. And in those cases, I’m not making a noble difference in women’s lives. I’m one of those inflatable clown punching bags. And it doesn’t matter that I’m even wearing a button that says, “Don’t let politics trump medicine,” because I’m just in it for the money.

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