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Beautifying Abortion Clinics: An Architect’s Folly



Theresa Bonopartis - published on 12/30/14 - updated on 06/07/17

All the water features and paint in the world won't change the reality

Bubbly water features, lush flora, verdant colors, and a sense of "humor" and "playfulness" designed to make women de-stress and relax. You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s architect Lori Brown’s description of a new salon or yoga studio, but Brown is talking about an abortion clinic. Brown, a feminist activist and associate professor at the University of Syracuse School of Architecture is leading an effort to transform abortion clinics into "beautiful," affirming and inviting spaces. In an article with a sympathetic writer, Brown detailed how she teamed up with other activists to transform the look and feel of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

Ms. Brown talks about her decision to collaborate with the owner of the only abortion clinic in Mississippi: “it was so glaringly obvious that an architect and artists needed to be involved” and yet

it was the one clinic that I went to that you would swear you were not in a clinic. It was yellows and lavenders and red. It was so upbeat. All the way through, from the waiting room to the procedure room to the recovery room.

The problem is, of course, that this Jackson, MS clinic is still a place where innocent children are killed. Choose all the perky and soothing hues you like, there’s not enough paint in the world to make clients feel “upbeat” about why they’re there.

Changing the environment of clinics is just one of the latest strategies of abortion advocates to dispel the shame surrounding abortion and make it seem like a normal (and empowering!) event in the lives of women. In Brown’s quest to make that a reality, she seems to assume that making abortion clinics “beautiful” will alter the truth of what takes place inside them.

As a post abortive woman, and as someone who has worked with thousands of other women who have suffered as a consequence of abortion, I find this disingenuous. Brown plans, for example, an environment of “lush flora and vegetation and inflatable and interactive sound barriers that add an element of playfulness to an often tense and confrontational zone.”

The “tense” and “confrontational” part is right. Entrances to clinics are, ipso facto, tense places. Most clients are conflicted or grimly determined; no client I’ve seen has entered a clinic with a smile on her face and a song in her heart.

As for an “element of playfulness,” inflatable things, lush vegetation and splashing water may be fun in another setting, but gurgling water will never replace the sound made by the vacuum aspirator that plays in continuous loop in the minds of so many post abortive women, year after year after year.

The article tells us that the “walls of the space can be playful, beautiful, functional and safe all at once.” Safe for whom, exactly? At best, exterior architectural and design upgrades can camouflage the reality of the abortion experience for first-time clients and the public. But they can never alter the truth of the lived experience—safe for neither mom nor baby.

Commenting on the interior layout of the many clinics she visited, Brown noted: “the ones that were so great were the ones that really thought about the entrance sequence and what a patient and her support group or partner or friends who come with her would experience when they enter and have to engage with the reception” because “what you encounter when you first walk in really sets the tone for what that experience will be like.” Is it possible Ms. Brown is so oblivious to reality as to think that natural light and comfy chairs are going to “set the tone” for what happens in the “procedure” rooms?

Brown’s highest praise went to this simple, but “thoughtful” innovation:

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