TALKING WITH ANITA FEITH
“I don’t know where me ends and the social worker in me begins. I think that I am just this one lump of person and social worker, and those two roles complement one another”.
Volunteering led to a professional career.
“When I moved down to Baltimore one of the things I started doing was volunteering at a free clinic. That clinic received no federal, state, or city funding. It truly existed on donations. At that point the clinic didn’t want to accept anybody’s money, because then they would have to operate in a way that the people who were giving funding mandated that they operate. So they relied on donations and volunteerism of doctors, nurses, social workers, or people that were just interested. I was one of those interested people. I probably spent about 5 years volunteering there just one evening a week. I was initially what they called a patient advocate. Somebody would come in to see the doctor, and I would meet them, take a brief history, weigh them, and then take them to the examining room. This particular free clinic also had a women’s counseling group, and so I started doing that and I thought, ‘I really like doing this.’ I thought about law school. I thought about medical school. I guess maybe my mother said to me one day, ‘Well why don’t you think about social work; you probably get more mileage out of that.’ She was absolutely right.
I remember my field placement. I had a second year field placement in the same hospital where I then was hired and worked for 12 to 13 years. It was in an adolescent clinic. There was this formal adolescent program there, and the first ten or twelve appointments I had my clients never showed up and I just knew that I would never learn anything. Eventually, I had a group of clients who I saw regularly, and I use to have little cheat sheets sort of on my desk. I knew there were certain questions that I needed to ask them, but I was so nervous that I could never remember. So I had them written down, but I didn’t want the clients to see them…One thing that as a new social worker is very difficult is to leave your job at work. It’s very difficult to not worry about your client, or not to take everything so personally.”
Anita Feith is a firm believer in women’s rights and proudly speaks her mind. She received her Master’s degree in 1974, a year after the landmark decision of Roe vs. Wade.The impact of that court decision on clients and practice is an on-going concern.
” I certainly was, and still am, a pretty strong proponent of a woman’s right to choose. In my view, that was exactly the kind of law that we needed. Now there are certain states that have fairly restrictive laws. I think Maryland has, for the most part, been one of the more liberal states in how they view the right to abortion, the right for a woman to choose. With adolescents there was always this push-pull. Should the parent be notified? In fact if I’m not mistaken that was part of the law in Maryland. I know that in some cases an adolescent was asked, ‘if your parent knew that you were here for these services what would they do?’ If the response was ‘well they will beat me, they will throw me out the house, they will do whatever’, then we didn’t notify the parents. If the response was ‘nothing’, we will certainly encourage her to come in with her parents. That would be the ideal. You don’t really want a fifteen or sixteen year old whether you’re a parent, or a healthcare provider, to undergo any kind of procedure without a parent.”
It was poor women who were most affected by Roe vs. Wade.But how did they actually access the services?
“Planned Parenthood was always aiding in that field. They had loans and they really did as much as they could to work with women that requested those services and were financially not able. I think forever, and this is true with so many different issues, as far back as one might recall, and as far ahead as one might think, women with a need found a way to access those services. In addition to having the money you also have to have some kind of knowing. I would imagine that women who had more education might have been more successful at accessing those services. Even well before Roe vs. Wade.”
Talking with women about abortion calls upon professional skill and a non-judgmental attitude.
” I remember… my counseling of teenagers and adult women prior to abortion. In the facility where I worked women had to see a social worker to talk about this decision, and there were all kinds of consent forms that they had to sign. My question was always ‘Why is it that you are choosing abortion versus choosing to continue the pregnancy or choosing to put your child up for adoption?’ As opposed to saying ‘why do you want to have an abortion?’ Because it was my firm belief then, and still is that no woman really wants to have an abortion. But it is a choice, it is an option, and one based on what is going on in a women’s life at that point in time and what her circumstances are. That’s why she makes her choice.”
Ms Feith was interviewed by Ms. Odali Melendez-Harrison