Abortion AMA: What Does The Room Where You Get An Abortion Look Like?
Welcome to Bustle's Abortion AMA column, where reproductive rights advocate and Romper editor Danielle Campoamor will speak to experts and medical professionals to answer people's questions about abortion in a way that is educational, unvarnished, and judgement free. Ask us anything.
While I was sure of my decision to end my unwanted pregnancy when I was 23, I was terrified to walk into what I envisioned to be a cold, sterile room with scary medical instruments and even scarier masked physicians. I had endured seven knee surgeries, so I knew how uncomfortable operating rooms could be. I didn't think to ask what the room where you get an abortion looks like, either, so I was at the mercy of my own imagination and the pictures painted by anti-choice advocates. Turns out, the room was nothing like I had anticipated.
Bustle reached out to two different kinds of health care facilities that provide abortions, as well as individuals who've had abortions and were willing to describe the rooms they were in during their abortion procedures, to get a better idea of what these rooms look like and what potential patients can expect.
If you're thinking about and/or scheduled to have a medical abortion — an abortion induced by two forms of medication — the room will likely look like the rooms at Carafem, a non-profit medication and in-office abortion and birth control provider in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia. "When we created Carafem, we looked to best practice in dentistry and medical office design," Melissa S. Grant, Chief Operations Officer of Carafem, tells Bustle. "Mounting clinical evidence has shown that better design of space along with a pleasant caring staff can improve not only a client's health, but also their morale."
When I visited the clinic I was welcomed by a slew of comment cards, filled out by previous patients who felt compelled to thank Carafem for the care, compassion, and information they received. "We try to also focus on the entire experience; from seeing one client at a time for privacy, sharing technology with simple language and lots of images, to offering choices of soft music and subtle non-medical smells, like lavender," Grant says. "Clients may not always remember every detail of what you said to them during their visit, but they will remember how you made them feel."
Not every clinic will be set up like Carafem, but if you're receiving medication to end your pregnancy you will likely be sitting in a room that looks very similar, with a health care provider, as you go over your medication instructions, birth control plans, and discuss any questions you may have. Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB-GYN in Hawaii and Fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Bustle that medication abortion doesn't require a room with equipment. "A medication abortion could be completed in a counseling room with only a set of chairs and without any instruments," she says.
Alex Ferencz, 30, from Denver, Colorado, tells Bustle that her "abortion room" was really her living room in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Missoula, Montana, where she had a cat tree, a litter box in one corner by the TV, and a lively kitten running around.
"As for the clinic where the pills were given to me, [it was the] same as any OB-GYN exam room," Alex says. Alex says there was an exam table/bed where she sat, and peach or pink walls. "There was a table that came off the wall with the computer for medical professionals to enter information and the chair included," she says. "There were different pamphlets in a holder screwed to the wall that discuss STIs and such."
If you're planning and/or scheduled for a surgical abortion — a vacuum aspiration, administered in a clinic by a licensed physician who numbs and dilates your cervix, then uses suction to empty the contents, or a dilation and curettage (D&C), in which the cervix is dilated and an instrument is used to scrape the uterine lining — the room will likely resemble an exam room at an OB-GYN's office. "Most rooms look exactly the same as any other clinical space or procedure room," Dr. Moayedi says. "What’s consistent across all spaces is that the clinic staff works to make them warm and inviting."
Planned Parenthood shared photos with Bustle of one of their facilities in New York City, which shows the inside of a procedure room as well as the facility's new recovery room. "Patients may assume that a procedure room is like an operating room with glaring bright lights. That’s actually the opposite of what we have," Stacy De-Lin, M.D, Physician Director of Reproductive Health Services at Planned Parenthood of New York City, tells Bustle. "Our treatment rooms look much like a typical gynecological exam room, and in our procedure rooms, we have clouds on the ceiling and use aromatherapy to create a relaxing environment."
Sriya S., 27, from Brooklyn, had an abortion at a Planned Parenthood in Manhattan. Since she was put under general anesthesia for her procedure, she remembers the recovery room best. "I woke up, and it felt like I was getting a pedicure with a bunch of gal pals," she tells Bustle. "We were all sitting in those large leather cushiony chairs that envelope you. There was a table set up at the end of the room and, I swear to god, the all-you-can-eat graham crackers and the all-you-can-drink ginger ale looked like a Thanksgiving spread to a broke grad student just waking up from an abortion."
According to De-Lin, Planned Parenthood's abortion care rooms are very similar to regular gynecological exam rooms. "It's important to us to show people what our health centers actually look like to reduce stigma and to ease the patients' fears and concerns," she says. "Planned Parenthood New York City is a place where patients can receive the health care they need in a professional and supportive environment provided by staff who really care."
"When I had my abortion, the procedure room was much bigger and brighter than I expected," Mallory McMaster, 31, from Cleveland, Ohio tells Bustle. McMaster had her abortion at Preterm Abortion & Sexual Health Care Clinic, and her description of the room is very similar to that of the abortion care room I visited at a local Planned Parenthood in Bellingham, WA. "It was a corner room with two walls of full-length windows, so it felt really warm and inviting. It was spotlessly clean with a basic exam table, a light, and some medical equipment along one wall. I think there were some plain cabinets and a sink, too — it was like any other room in any other doctor's office."
There are situations in which a patient would need to be in an operating room during their abortion procedure, but those situations are very rare and are usually dependent on the patient and their medical history. "The operating room has many more tools that we can use, and better supplies and resources in case of any kind of complication or emergency," Dr. Colleen Denny, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells Bustle. "So any patients who are worried about any kind of complicated procedure, to be conservative, even if they may never need those things, we will schedule their procedure there." According to Dr. Denny, patients who have a history of bleeding problems, heart disease or lung problems, and other medical complications that could complicate the use of anesthesia would require an operating room.
Even late second trimester abortions — and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 1.3 percent of all abortions occur past 21 weeks gestation — can usually be done in a free-standing clinic. "It often has more to do, not with the pregnancy itself, but with the patient's health issues," Dr. Denny says. "We just want to have all the things we could possibly need if she's a bit higher risk." And according to Dr. Denny, the operating room used for an abortion procedure is the same as any other operating room. "It is any other operating room," she says. "They're sterile, they're clean, they have a lot of different machines to help people breathe, they have the overhead lights, they probably have five to six people on the team taking care of the one patient, including the anesthesiologist, nurses, and the technicians that are around, but any operating room is kind of generic."
When I walked into the room I had my abortion in, I was shocked at how simple and how comfortable it was. While I was focused on other things besides the decor, I can tell you that the warm environment made the experience much more agreeable than I assumed it would be. From the staff to the environment to the procedure itself, my abortion was easily the least traumatic medical procedure I have ever had.
Have questions about abortion? You can email them safely and anonymously to Abortion AMA at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll answer them. Together.