Clinic Nurse Puts Fear Aside to Focus on Providing Care

How could you not think about it, I asked her. How could you not be fearful? I confided to her that just walking up to the reception desk had made me uncomfortable. Was it fear? Jitters? Or was I just thinking how similar the reception area here in Santa Ana would have been to the two in Brookline, Mass., that day two weeks ago when a gunman walked in and killed two women? I wasn't quite sure where the feeling came from.

Fran just smiled at my musings.

She was in between patients one day this week as she tried explaining to me why the killings in Brookline and the subsequent shooting incident the next day at a Virginia abortion clinic weren't driving her to distraction. She's been a nurse since 1959 and has worked with Planned Parenthood since 1983. She was at work on Dec. 30 when the fax came in about the murders, one at the Planned Parenthood clinic and the other at another clinic that performs abortions.

"You think about it," she said, "but it's not like you're walking down the hallway looking over your shoulder or waiting for someone to pounce on you. You couldn't function that way."

So, she doesn't dwell on the murders because that would be paralyzing. But there are other reasons why she doesn't give in to the fear. "I think it has a lot to do with commitment to the job," she said. "I really look forward to coming to work every day."

As a nurse practitioner, Fran doesn't assist in abortions. Her view of Planned Parenthood is its range of health, educational and counseling services to women who need it. The abortion controversy that rages around Planned Parenthood is never far from one's consciousness, but it clearly isn't a debate Fran relishes.

She doesn't come across as a polemicist on the subject, never once using the word "abortion" during our 40-minute conversation. Instead, she referred to it as "that aspect of health care" or "providing the service." She didn't volunteer any spirited defense of abortion, other than to say she is firmly committed to a woman's right to choose to have one. Nor does she take a chance to demonize the anti-abortionists.

"Obviously, anybody is entitled to their opinion. I would like to see the energy used antagonizing each other directed more toward people, as far as education and helping people understand what health care is all about as far as sexuality is concerned--whether it's birth control, family planning, prenatal, whatever. We just need to do more education, and it would be ideal to see all that energy directed to something very positive, on both sides."

She's somewhat philosophical about the threat of violence at work. On an intellectual level, she knows what we all know--that violence is everywhere. It's not as though abortion clinics are shooting galleries, and everywhere else is a safe port. As Fran points out, shootings also have occurred in post offices and high-rise office buildings.

And yet, there's a difference. Only at abortion clinics is shooting someone not universally condemned. While condoning violence isn't representative of the established anti-abortion movement, killings of abortion practitioners are the only homicides that can curry favor with some segments of the population.

And, in truth, clinic violence is part of the reason Fran, 56 and the mother of three grown children, only wants to use her first name for publication.

I asked how she reacted to hearing that someone at a Planned Parenthood clinic had been killed. "My first gut reaction was just the distaste for that type of violence, just because violence does not solve a problem. Then the more you think about things, maybe you relate it more to what you're doing."

While she prides herself on the range of medical and educational services that Planned Parenthood offers women, she knows that many people disregard all of that because it also offers abortions.

The 325 abortions arranged through the Orange and Riverside counties chapters of Planned Parenthood account for less than 1% of the services provided, according to the organization's 1993-94 annual report. The organization saw 20,870 women during that time, with about 80% younger than 30 years old.

I asked Fran if she foresees an end to the abortion debate. "Personally, no, probably not. I think it's just such a hot issue and there are always going to be people who have varied opinions and it's going to be difficult to bridge that gap."

You don't like the debate, do you, I asked.

She shook her head, no. "But I can stand up for what I believe in, if I have to," she says.

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