When Your Mom’s an Abortion Provider

Dr. Sondra Dantzic, who has been an OB/GYN for more than 20 years, “never imagined” her safety would come into play when she first became an abortion provider.

Then people started threatening her and her young children at her home.

“When I began being targeted at our home, my husband and I were shocked. I never thought it would happen to me. I was terrified when I was threatened at the clinic, but I never thought they would follow me to my home.”

Dr. Dantzic, who studied at Hampshire College in the early 1980s, and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Sophia Dantzic, came to campus this past April as mother-daughter presenters at CLPP’s annual activist conference, From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom.

The conference, which attracted more than 1200 activists this year, offers a space for multiple generations to engage in the reproductive justice movement.

During the workshop, “Know the Right, Resist the Right, Fight for Your Rights,” the Dantzics spoke about their experiences with anti-abortion protesters showing up, year after year, just beyond the driveway of their house.

Sophia passes them every day when she takes their family dog for walks. “I’ve imagined interacting with the guy at the end of the driveway, but I don’t engage because the strategy is to ignore him,” Sophia remembered. “Only engage with people you can have a conversation with.”

Dr. Dantzic told workshop participants, “It is difficult to reveal to colleagues that I’m scared. The reality is, there’s no way to fight this kind of intolerance without being afraid. But we can’t let fear dictate our actions. Fear can be a healthy tool—use it to help keep you safe. We are up against some nasty business. If you are going to do this work, it is important to address your fear.”

After their powerful workshop, Adrian Ballou, Communications and Development Associate at CLPP, caught up with them to talk more about their experience presenting together.

1) How did it feel when you were presenting with your mom/daughter at the CLPP conference?

DR. DANTZIC: I have so many rich memories of my college experience. To be able to be on a panel with Sophia on campus, surrounded by all that love and shared passion—it was nothing short of thrilling…

Although I didn’t participate in CLPP as a student in the early ’80s, when I did become involved in CLPP it was by invitation from Marlene Gerber Fried in 2008.

We ran into each other at an annual National Abortion Federation (NAF) conference. I told her my story about how my family and I were targeted at home by anti-abortion extremists.

Her immediate response was, “You need to come to the conference this year because you need to feel the love.”

And she was completely correct. After two years of feeling rather isolated and worried about my small children at the time, that conference was really a watershed of liberation and community. I got the love and support I needed to move forward.

SOPHIA: I sat on a panel a few years ago at NAF about what it’s like to be the child of an abortion provider, but this was the first time I ever presented like that with Mom.

It was cool to bounce ideas off of each other. It opened the doors to discussion about how we feel about what happens to us, and the work Mom does, and the work I want to do.

For me, coming to the conference was much more about finding my people. High school is a really interesting place. Even though I go to a large high school with 1500 kids in it, I feel really alone a lot of the time.

It was nice to come to a place where I felt like everyone shared my values and understood what I want to do with my life. It’s a great group. Everyone is driven and motivated, and cares so much about the work they do.

2) How did the setting of CLPP and Hampshire impact your feelings, presentation, and/or work on these issues?

SOPHIA: Because people sometimes have such strong reactions to my mom being an abortion provider, I often just don’t talk about it. It was nice to know that it was safe to process what I was feeling. And to share these things that I’m constantly thinking about, but keep to myself, because of the inherent danger of what my mom does.

DR. DANTZIC: Hampshire feels like home to me—it was my home for four years. I think Sophia came away from the conference thinking about whether it should be her home for four years.

Coming to CLPP as a mother-daughter duo gave us each an opportunity to consider very seriously whether Hampshire could be exactly the right school for Sophia. It gave Sophia a direct experience of the Hampshire College way, if you will.

It was amazing to watch Sophia walk into the conference and be immediately engaged in both an academic as well as an activist endeavor. I could see the way her personal and educational growth could soar in that environment. In fact, that seed began to blossom right there, it was so immediate.

And I attribute that entirely to the work that CLPP is doing. I think it’s fantastic that somebody had the keen idea to invite not only me but also Sophia. Because that’s who CLPP is for, young up-and-coming activists like her.

3) What’s something you would say to parents working in reproductive justice or abortion access? To children whose parents are engaging in this work?

SOPHIA: I think the meaning of the work does get lost in the humdrum of our day-to-day lives. It’s not something that we talk about all the time. So being able to think about it at all was a departure from the norm.

My mom works two hours away from where we live, so I’m very separated from her work—I rarely go into the office or anything.

On some level I think that’s the experience of a lot of kids. We’re separated from our parents’ work, and all we notice is our parents aren’t there for us. I think it’s so important, as the children of parents doing this work, to remember how brave they are. Because it’s easy to lose that in the feeling of they just aren’t there.

Having protected time with my mom to go out to dinner is kind of a novelty. To just be able to do things like go out to dinner and go back to our hotel room and watch Friends—it was nice to connect with my mom.

DR. DANTZIC: Being at the CLPP conference together gave me an opportunity to hear Sophia say things like what she just said. We don’t have conversations normally about the impact of my work on how she feels about me. So it was wonderful to hear her talk about her experience to other people in the audience.

Getting invited to the CLPP conference as a duo gave us an excuse to take a weekend to ourselves and drive up to one of my favorite places in the whole entire world. In that way it just gave us this golden opportunity to go deep—we sort of had a protected time just to be mom and daughter.

I remember—it’s going to stay with me a long time, this image: we had a long conversation over dinner about reproductive justice, and our hotel clerk and waitress both knew about the CLPP conference. They were like, “Oh, cool, you’re attending that!”

Sophia proudly said, “Actually, we’re speaking at it,” which felt so good to be able to say. That kind of experience, it just doesn’t happen at home.

My advice to parents in the field is to trust your instincts about how to share the work with your children in developmentally appropriate ways. Ways that feel congruent with how you teach your kids about other difficult issues in our complicated world.

4) Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience at the CLPP conference?

DR. DANTZIC: It was great to connect with Sarah Buttenwieser and her son Lucien. When we ran into this other parent-child duo we gravitated toward them instantaneously because we all knew we had a shared experience.

There was a sweetness to it. It was all part of the rich memories of Hampshire for me, combined with the aliveness of the current and prospective student body.

SOPHIA: I felt so at home there. Even though I was just becoming a part of this community, I really felt welcomed. I want to be more involved! 

During the workshop at the conference, a student told Dr. Dantzic, “You said you don’t bring a lot to this [the reproductive justice movement] because you’re just a doctor, but you are a warrior!”

Her daughter, following her mother’s path, is an up-and-coming warrior too.