Our papaya workshop was on October 28, 2013. The date was rather fitting, as it was also on this day we learned that District Judge Yeakel found the increased abortion restrictions via the passage of HB2 unconstitutional. This news infused an extra bit of excitement into the evening’s workshop on manual vacuum aspiration. Judge Yeakel’s decision felt like a breath of fresh air, a brief period of relief in the midst of an onslaught of attempts to control women’s bodies. Unfortunately, our joy was short-lived: the state of Texas filed an appeal, and on October 31st, the 5th Circuit allowed Texas to enforce the law. When I read about the decision online, I distantly wondered if the judges of the 5th Circuit, in releasing their terrifying decision, were celebrating Halloween.
As a pro-choice Texan, I am constantly fighting the urge to tear my hair out with every anti-choice proposal and decision made by my state. Now, as a pro-choice medical student in Texas, these frustrations have only escalated. Not only are anti-choice groups woefully out of touch with the realities of the women who seek an abortion, some are also using bad science and misleading health information to justify their beliefs and actions. A disturbing trend of frivolous clinic regulations has begun to sweep across states with largely anti-choice governments. Clinics are suddenly required to worry about standards that include the distance between hand-sanitizer dispensers, the size of their parking lots, and the type of flooring in their janitor’s closets. Providers must having admitting privileges at a hospital for doing procedures, which, when done correctly, require no hospital admission. These lawmakers, who are apparently so concerned about women’s health, have suspiciously yet to suggest funding for making such changes. I am not holding my breath.
Even though we just marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the fight to maintain bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom is far from over. While a woman is allowed to have an abortion, that decision has been asterisked and footnoted by the numerous anti-choice laws put into place over the last decade, and especially the last few years. Without access, there is no choice. With this in mind, papaya workshops represent more than a learning exercise in state like Texas—they are a staunch rebuttal against the attempts to widen the chasm between choice and access. They allow similarly-minded and similarly-driven medical students to learn valuable skills and form a community that is aware of the proceedings within the Texas Legislature and aware of how those decisions affect both doctors and patients. There is very little in my medical school curriculum that discusses intentional abortion, the doctors who provide them, and the care for the women who receive them. This omission of a legal medical procedure is dangerous, as it contributes to the stigma associated with abortion and the physicians who provide them. The papaya workshop helps to mitigate some of these gaps in our education and enables medical students to consider the possibility of providing abortions in the future. But more than that, it aids in the creation of more well-informed, pro-choice medical professionals who can help ensure that women enjoy reproductive choice without barriers to access.
Guest blogger: Nistha Jajal, medical student at University of Texas Southwestern