Dr. Lopiano considers herself to be like any other working mom. Whether the OB-GYN and Medical Director for Whole Woman’s Health, Texas is delivering five (yes, five) babies overnight or seeing 40 patients in her office during the day, she knows how difficult it is to "have it all" and remember to pack your 5-year-old a lunch. Unlike most working moms, however, Dr. Lopiano, who provides abortion as part of her job, has to pass angry protestors and screaming extremists on her way to work.
And these days, she has to endure the harassment and the seemingly never-ending onslaught of misinformation about her profession while pregnant with her second child.
"Obviously it's very frustrating to hear something that's not rooted in medicine or science or the standards of medicare care," Dr. Lopiano tells Romper. "We worked really hard to learn the medicine, right? We worked really, really hard in medical school and residency to get this right, so when you hear people that have no medical background say these things, it's maddening."
Dr. Lopiano tries to not let all the "noise" impact her, though, and stays focused on the care she provides her patients. "I'm a physician. I have a job to do. My job is to practice compassionate-based quality medicine, and a lot of the noise that comes from people shouting or negative comments online? That's just noise that gets in the way of patient care."
That noise has increased since the 2016 election, though, and in recent weeks has hit a fever pitch. Threats of violence or death almost doubled at health care clinics that provide abortion in 2017, according to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), while cases of trespassing nearly tripled. In 2016, reported incidents of "obstruction" — protestors yelling at patients and physicians with the goal of disrupting care or intimidating those seeking care — rose from 580 to more than 1,700. And now that the president, vice president, and other elected officials have started lying about second- and third-trimester abortion procedures (most recently, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker claimed parents seeking later abortions "take the baby home and kill the baby at home.") providers and advocates fear the harassment, threats, and obstruction attempts will only increase in both frequency and intensity.
These women come in and they assume they're going to be judged for what they're doing just because I have chosen, in my life and in my separate path, to continue my pregnancy.
And yet, Dr. Lopiano's largest concerns lie with her patients, her child, and her pregnancy. Like most working parents, she's focused on her job and her abilities as a mother, and says parenthood has actually made her a better health care provider, and visa versa.
"Having gone through pregnancy and birth and the postpartum period, and then raising a toddler, all of those things have made me a better provider," she says. "And this is true of office care, labor care, my postpartum care, postpartum counseling, and my abortion care. Across the board it made me more thoughtful, compassionate, and just more understanding of what patients are going through and their fears and their aches and their pains."
And now that Dr. Lopiano's son is getting older and she's preparing to welcome her second child into the world, the idea of having a profession of purpose and working to better her community has taken on a new, more profound meaning; a meaning that propels her to continue to provide abortion care regardless of the current political climate. "The most recent election and moving to Texas and our son getting older, these confluence of events has prompted us at home to talk about leading a life of purpose and having a profession of purpose and showing our child that what job you do, what education you chose to have, should ultimately lead to some kind of purpose," she says. "For my husband that's military service. For me, that's reproductive justice work."
I'm just like any other working mom.
Only 7 percent of OB-GYNs who work at private practices provided abortions in 2013 and 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and a 2019 survey of OB-GYNs found that while three out of four had patients who asked for abortions, fewer than one in four were willing or able to perform them. So it's not lost on Dr. Lopiano how vital the care she provides truly is. But it's what happens inside the office, between her and her patients that keeps her going when political grandstanding, constant harassment, and life as a mom seem nothing if not overwhelming.
"I'm just like any other working mom," Dr. Lopiano says. "It’s exhausting. It's tiring. I am on my feet and I'm working and I'm counseling and I'm living [my patients'] lives with them and I'm sharing their fears and what they’re going through in their lives and I'm practicing medicine and figuring out what’s the best thing to do for my patients and what’s the best medicine, and then I'm going home and I'm making lunches and reading bedtime stories and cleaning up the kitchen."
But it's the added joys and stresses, wins and losses of motherhood that give Dr. Lopiano the chance to connect with her patients, whether it's patients with children at home or patients who are foregoing motherhood for the time being (or indefinitely).
"These women come in and they assume they're going to be judged for what they're doing just because I have chosen, in my life and in my separate path, to continue my pregnancy," she says. "What I tell them is that my life is not their life, my path is not their path, and we are all on different paths and I'm there for them. I'm there to meet them where they are and help them make the best decisions in their life and for them."
Sixty percent of women who seek abortions are already moms, and with those patients, Dr. Lopiano experiences bonding moments that, she says, are just like those moments she'd share with any other parent in a coffee shop or at the playground.
"We bond over our kids," she says. "We talk about milestones, we talk about child care, we talk about all of these things in a natural way."
For the majority of her patients, the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a decision made with their family in mind, and Dr. Lopiano is proud to help them make that decision so they can continue on with their lives. "Becoming a mom took it to the next level of really getting it and really understanding what women are going through and being even more driven to support them to make the decision that’s best for them."
While the current administration, anti-choice politicians, and so-called "pro-life" advocates have worked tirelessly to demonize abortion providers and the people who seek out their care, the truth is the majority of providers and patients look like Dr. Lopiano: hard working people who want to do the right thing for themselves, their bodies, their futures, and their families.
"Just because they're in my clinic doesn't mean they're not loving, caring mothers working so hard, every single day, for their children," says Dr. Lopiano. "Just like I am."