Terry Beresford: An Appreciation

By Carole Joffe

terryberesfordp4-5_000Terry Beresford’s contribution to abortion care was monumental. She was one of the key figures in developing the new field of abortion counseling while serving as Director of Staff Development at the Preterm Clinic in DC, several years before the Roe decision. Shortly after Roe, she took a position as Director of Counseling at Planned Parenthood and there inaugurated a series of training workshops in abortion counseling which drew participants from all the country. These workshops, beyond the practical skills they developed, helped to create a sense of community among the participants who were newly employed in the already controversial world of abortion provision. Among the many publications on the subject Terry authored are Short Term Relationship Counseling (the “short term” in this case referring to the relationship between counselor and patient, acknowledging the reality that there would likely be only one encounter between the two); How to be a Trainer: A Self-Instructional Manual for Training in Sexual and Reproductive Health (both published by Planned Parenthood of Maryland) and the co-authored chapters, with Anne Baker, on abortion counseling in the two recent abortion textbooks sponsored by NAF. (Anne Baker, also a leading theorist of abortion counseling, had attended one of the first workshops offered in Maryland).

As Terry once explained her original vision of abortion counseling to me in an interview, “The model was to help the patient do some self-exploration so she reaches understanding of herself, her feelings, and her options, and can then take an action…Your job as a counselor is to affirm her competency and her sense of self-worth, and her ability to act on her understanding.” Terry was well aware that this approach, which could take a considerable amount of staff time, became increasingly difficult to sustain over the years as the clinics faced increasing costs for security and other items which often made quality counseling the most expendable budget item. She was also aware of the necessity in many places to devote counseling time to state-imposed mandates (which, with their often blatant disregard for the truth, violated everything Terry believed about the professional integrity of the counselor). She philosophically accepted the realities that kept many clinics from doing in-depth counseling and rejoiced at those that could sustain some version of her, Anne Baker’s and others’ model. After her retirement from Planned Parenthood, Terry became a consultant, traveling widely to address issues, such as staff relations, that went beyond counseling.

Because of her involvement in abortion dating to the early 1970s and her longtime immersion in NAF, Terry was a treasure trove of lore about virtually all aspects of abortion care—and those who provided it. She was an invaluable resource to me when I started to research Doctors of Conscience, a book about physician involvement in abortion before Roe. She identified key informants, and conducted some of the interviews herself. She relished talking about “the old days” but was deeply interested in current events in the world of abortion as well. She never lost her deep interest, or great affection, for NAF in particular—always asking me, when we met in recent years, about what happened at the last annual meeting. Our field, and our organization, has lost a giant.

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) is the professional association of abortion providers in North America. Our mission is to ensure safe, legal, and accessible abortion care, which promotes health and justice for women. Our members include private and non-profit clinics, Planned Parenthood affiliates, women’s health centers, physicians’ offices, and hospitals who together care for more than half the women who choose abortion in the U.S. and Canada each year. Our members also include public hospitals and both public and private clinics in Mexico City and private clinics in Colombia.

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