Last night, Whole Woman’s Health president and CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller, was honored by NARAL Pro-Choice America as Champion of Choice for her leadership in bringing the fight against HB 2 to the U.S. Supreme Court.
With exactly two weeks until oral arguments are heard on March 2nd – she had this to say:
Thank you for this honor and for inviting me here this evening. I am very touched to receive this award and to be asked to share a few words with you tonight.
First, I want to start with a big thank your to The Center for Reproductive Rights for representing us and for securing the injunction we currently have from the Supreme Court. They are fierce advocates to whom we all owe a giant round of applause.
Second, a loud shout out to my Whole Woman’s Health team members across the country. We are a fabulous group of women and men who deliver impeccable care to women day in and day out. My team has endured many challenges since HB2 went into effect in Texas and they are bruised and battered beyond what you could imagine. I hope you are able to come to the Rally at the Supreme Court on March 2nd and meet Marva, Fatimah, Andrea, Bhavik, Kristeena and other Whole Woman’s Health folks in person. They deserve a round of applause and our supreme respect.
As you can imagine this has been one of the most challenging, difficult and intense 3 years of my life.
I have fought like hell and done my best to push back on the bully politicians in Texas, to combat the stigma that allowed for laws like this to pass in the first place, and to share a larger vision for what quality independent abortion care provision looks like in this country. Whole Woman’s Health has taken on this challenge with all of ourselves – with our hearts, minds and bodies. We have spent hundreds of hours on this lawsuit and shared thousands of documents with the state as part of the discovery process in this case – openly sharing our emails, our financial information, our leases, our mortgages, our doctor contracts.
We are proud of the quality, professional and compassionate abortion care services we provide; we have nothing to hide and we stand in the light.
Over these past 3 years I have chosen to open the doors of all of my clinics in an unprecedented way – inviting documentarians, press and on-camera reporters into our clinics – to experience the Whole Woman’s Health way, to see our clinic environment and to meet our staff and physicians. Every time we open the door of a Whole Woman’s Health clinic to the public we see the stigma of abortion melting away; we can see it shifting as we share openly and honestly about the work that we do. This is not easy, this takes lots of time and effort, and sometimes it is scary; but through these open doors we are changing the way people think about abortion care in this country.
At the same time I have been leading this fight, I have also watched the company I built take hit after hit; and the clinics I started in Texas close door after door. We have endured a whiplash that is indescribable – opening and closing our clinics, winning victories in one courtroom only to be reversed in the next. This roller coaster has been going on in Texas for nearly a decade now; and as we all know, it has not and it will not stay in Texas.
So why, you may ask, do I do it? For me, abortion care is a calling.
Abortion involves all the big things in life – life, death, sex, family, religion, money, identity, self-esteem, and stigma – as you all know, it is a lightning rod issue in our culture. Eradicating the shame and stigma around abortion is my life’s work. In places like Texas where we are witnessing such dramatic backlash and hostility, we must challenge the assumptions these laws make about women. Laws that require forced ultrasound, waiting periods, hospital privileges for physicians, and the building of mini hospitals to provide care. When laws like these pass, rural women are out of options and many poor women are left behind. These laws disproportionately affect women of color, young women and families without health insurance. Many women are still shamed and Providers are stigmatized.
I firmly believe that our national, public discourse around abortion needs to SHIFT. Our conversations are plagued by simplistic dualism that begs for more complexity, for more nuance; for embracing the grey, the ambiguity, and the depth of feeling that people in our culture have about abortion. The laws we are dealing with stem directly from our silence and the shame and stigma that surrounds abortion in this country.
We all need to stand in the light.
So, you may ask, what happened in Texas and why should you care?
Well, the Right Wing convinced people that abortion is unsafe and needs to be regulated and is dangerous – and people believed it. They turned their feelings and beliefs into policy and laws and completely disregarded science, facts or evidence. Not because they are idiots or Texans are dumb – but because they have a well thought out, well-funded, strategic plan that is working.
As we all know, these laws are not in the true interest of the health and safety of women. Targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP laws) arise out of a political agenda designed to make abortion almost impossible for practitioners to provide and for women to access. They make false assumptions about a woman’s capacity to understand what it means to be pregnant and to make a sound moral choice on her own.
Every day, all across the world, good women have abortions.
Abortion is part of comprehensive healthcare. So is the right to parent, the right to give birth how and when you want to, and the right not to have children at all – it is all part of realizing our full humanity as women.
Access to safe abortion is a human rights issue.
Over these past three years being at the center of this storm I have come to think of the national news coverage as Tragedy Porn. The sensational way Texas is presented in the news can allow people to think it is crazy and over there and won’t happen to them…. When in fact it can and it will. The truth is that the feelings and beliefs of a few can shut down access and constitutional rights for thousands. We need everyone taking real action to shift this culture. Especially those in progressive states – we need you to lead the way and to show what’s possible; to stand firm and show what actual rights look like when they are accessible to all women.
As I wrap up I will leave you with this – my dream for the future of Texas and all across the USA. I dream that the people who provide abortions will be seen and respected as the human rights workers and medical professionals that we are, and that people who seek abortion care will be respected and know that they are not alone.
I need you to speak up and out, do not let anti-abortion rhetoric go unchallenged. Do not allow our opposition to hijack the moral high ground. I’d like a world where no woman comes into my clinics thinking she is the only woman who has had an abortion. Thinking she is the only Christian that has had an abortion. Thinking she is the only good mother who had an abortion.
Whole Woman’s Health clinics offer an Oasis from the stigma and shame surrounding abortion in our culture, from the voices and judgments of others that often make it difficult to sit quietly and contemplate a big decision. In our clinics we have a moment to affirm that women are good, to affirm that women are moral and kind, and to affirm that women are not selfish. As we listen to her, we can witness her dreams and her aspirations and affirm that she is put on this Earth to see them out and to act on her own gifts. Let’s make sure all women hear these messages both inside and outside our clinic doors – from DC to California to Minnesota to Texas and all the states in between.
We need your leadership in order to hang on on the front lines in Texas. I welcome your support, and I welcome your donations. If you would like to support our stigma eradication and culture change work on the front lines I invite you to make a donation to our 501©3, Shift, by visiting www.shiftstigma.org
Thank you again to Ilyse and NARAL for being such fierce allies and thank you to all of you, so very much. Here’s to a win for Whole Woman’s Health in the Supreme Court. We will see you in two weeks for Oral Arguments!
(Cover photo courtesy of Renee Bracey Sherman)