A recent medical school graduate reflects on the intersection of race and reproductive rights
By Christina Sturdivant Sani
May 11, 2022 at 1:22 p.m. EDT
Medical school graduate Sherry Reddix. (Tracy Nguyen for The Washington Post)
Sherry Reddix is a 2022 graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine and a future abortion provider. She will be starting a residency in family medicine in California. This interview has been edited and condensed.
I’m from Mississippi, and my whole family is in the field of medicine. My aunt, uncle and father are all physicians, and my mom is a nurse. My uncle was actually nominated to the State Board of Health in Mississippi in 2012. Then his nomination was blocked because he served as the emergency on-call physician for the abortion clinic in Jackson, the clinic at the center of the current Supreme Court case. It was my senior year of high school, and my phone was blowing up with calls and texts. My grandma was like, “Uncle Carl is on Rachel Maddow!”
Having that experience, I realized how egregious it was that his nomination was blocked and how even being loosely associated with abortion really stunted vertical mobility. Mississippi has a lot of structural, historical racism, and my uncle is Black, so that was another angle. I was like, “Okay, are they being racist?” It really highlighted that there are intersections to this. There’s racism, and then there’s abortion being so stigmatized. And then for me, being a woman, all of these things are compounded.
My formal education from medical school about abortions was the basic information needed to pass the national board exams. Things like medications used, their side effects and up to what gestational age they are effective. We also were taught basic knowledge of the procedures — primarily first-trimester abortions. This was all theoretical. There was no hands-on training or education on advocacy.
That’s why I decided to go to the Abortion Training Institute, a conference run by Medical Students for Choice. The conference offered networking with a community of current and future abortion providers and technical hands-on first- and second-trimester abortion simulations. It was a safe space to question and process our own feelings and attitudes as medical students and ask questions openly and shamelessly to current providers. While prepping for the conference, I read their literature about how Black women have four to five times higher rates of abortion. They’re more likely to get a second-trimester abortion, which significantly has more risks. They’re more likely to have unintended pregnancies and not have access to contraception.
I went to an HBCU, so having that experience, I always see gaps when it comes to race. And when I got to the conference, I realized that there weren’t a lot of Black women there. There needs to be representation. And so that’s how I founded Unmuted [a program through Medical Students for Choice that hosts online events dedicated to exploring the history of reproductive violence and oppression facing the African American community]. The sad thing is it doesn’t matter how educated you are, how much money you have, how famous. Serena Williams almost died during her delivery, and she probably had some of the best care that money can buy you. So it just goes to show that racism is so deeply rooted in the U.S. And sadly, it’s only getting worse with this [antiabortion] legislation.
“I certainly do not plan to stop performing [abortions], especially when I’m needed now more than ever,” says Sherry Reddix.
[At the conference], they talked about the idea of Roe being overturned, but this was 2020, so it wasn’t as imminent as now. [But] the attitudes of the panelists, who were OB/GYNs and family medical doctors, were like, “Nothing is gonna stop us.” There were conversations about safety, and some of [the providers] were like, “Yeah, I’ve gotten death threats,” or “I have to change the way I walk home, but that doesn’t stop me.” After hearing this, I’m thinking: I guess I’m not the only “crazy” person who doesn’t feel fazed by death threats. If anything, it’s even more motivating to me because it proves that this resource is so precious and limited that hurtful people are targeting the few individuals who provide them.
For my OB/GYN rotations, I asked my clerkship director if it was possible for me to [perform an abortion] because that’s not normally part of the experience. And she was like, “Oh, that’s an interesting request. We’ve never gotten that request.” So she set it up so that I could work with one of the OB/GYNs who does abortions for one day.
I didn’t know how to feel. I was very excited, but also abortions are talked about as very somber and solemn. And so, I was like: How do I voice that? But then I met the OB/GYN, and we knew a lot of the same people and she was so excited for me to be there. I think we did like three abortions that day. And with one of the patients, it wasn’t a solemn, somber experience. Like, she was joking with us. She was excited to not be pregnant. It wasn’t like this dark-alley thing that you always envision abortions to be. It was a regular part of health care.
Another patient was there because her developing fetus had genetic abnormalities, and so that’s why she was opting to have an abortion. So I think it kind of put [things] into perspective, because people have abortions for all sorts of reasons. And it’s really not our job as providers to judge them.
When I heard about the recent leaked Supreme Court [draft] decision, [I thought] of course, it’s outrageous that our judicial system is flagrantly attempting to disenfranchise people with uteruses. But I’m also not shocked, as this is the same system that has traditionally failed women, Black people and other marginalized groups. I also felt this way because it does not change anything in my eyes. Abortions have been illegal for most of human history, and women have been using herbs, supplements and medicines to regulate their fertility and to discard unwanted pregnancies. If the current abortion laws are overturned, abortions are certainly not going to stop [in Mississippi and elsewhere]. People are still going to find ways to terminate their pregnancies, whether those methods are safe or not. I certainly do not plan to stop performing them, especially when I’m needed now more than ever. Until someone physically takes the tools out of my hand, I don’t foresee a future where I’m not performing abortions.
Christina Sturdivant Sani is a writer and editor in Washington.