From Virginia: Words on Racial Justice

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is a non-profit organization that operates abortion clinics in Austin, Texas and Charlottesville, Virginia. To get the latest from Charlottesville, we spoke with the Clinic Director at Whole Woman’s Health of Charlottesville, Sean Mehl. 

Every morning I sit in my office with Heather Heyer’s words imprinted on the wall above my head: “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”

As an outsider, a transplant, and a white male, these words, and the words of countless others, are a sobering reminder of longstanding issues facing communities of color. It is a daily affirmation and a reminder of what it means to have arrived in Charlottesville.

The presence of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance in Charlottesville is about more than increasing access to quality abortion care. It is about showing up and putting in the work to eradicate systems of oppression.

Racism has been shown to have a quantifiable effect on health disparities and maternal health outcomes. We know that limiting access to abortion contributes to poor maternal health. We also know that black women are far more likely to fall victim to these tragic statistics of maternal and fetal death. It is a trend that has been elevated to what many consider a maternal health crisis. In Texas, one of the most hostile states for pushing dangerous abortion laws, this has been devastatingly true.

The institutions that oppress and strip away human dignity work to uphold violent misogyny and reproductive coercion. These systems, legislators, and smug politicians fear the empowered black mother, the pregnant trans man, the immigrant family seeking a life free from political violence, the self-determination that so inextricably binds these movements. We are a product of our racial history.

Rather than run from it, it must be confronted. Symbols of this history still stand in Charlottesville, cast in bronze and placed in public parks as if to be a permanent reminder. It is seen in the eyes of the black family mourning of the death of their child by police hands, the child forcibly taken from her mother and placed in immigrant internment, the countless others stripped of reproductive autonomy.

Indeed, Reproductive Justice is Racial Justice.

In the post-2016 election era, there is no other place so bound to these histories and struggles in the public eye as in Charlottesville, but Charlottesville is more than an event in recent memory. It is a place, a culture, a stake in the ground as we plant our roots into the earth and uphold values that define humanity.

Even as the media headlines fade from news cycles, Charlottesville still carries on a smoldering reckoning and daily struggle with unresolved racism. A hotbed of racial tensions erupted to the surface, and so they remain.

As Corey Long sits behind bars for standing up against white supremacists, so are women held down by archaic and misguided laws. Reproductive Justice cannot be untethered from Racial Justice if we wish to make access to quality abortion care a reality. It must be front and center.

With enough dots, you form a line. From lines, a mural. Murals that remember, honor, and paint a picture of the world we want to live in. Murals that remember Heather Heyer and fight for justice for Corey Long. The presence of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance in Charlottesville is about taking the paint brush from the hands of those who undermine human dignity and giving it to empowered individuals armed with self-determination to paint their own masterpiece.

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From Indiana: Words on Fake Clinics

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is a non-profit organization that operates abortion clinics in Austin, Texas and Charlottesville, Virginia. Currently, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is awaiting a decision from the State of Indiana on a licensing appeal so they can open a clinic in South Bend. To get the latest from South Bend, we spoke with the Director of Clinical Services (North) at Whole Woman’s Health, Sharon Lau. 

Fake women’s health centers (also known as crisis pregnancy centers) outnumber abortion clinics in the United States by a margin of at least 3 to 1. These centers pose as comprehensive reproductive health clinics with the goal and mission of shaming and deceiving women to keep them from having abortions. They purposely locate next to or very near abortion clinics and choose names meant to confuse and mislead patients.

Like many clinics that actually provide abortion care, Whole Woman’s Health has direct experience with these fake clinics.

We could tell story after story of what women have shared with us regarding their experiences at these centers, but here is just one recent account.

Women’s Care Center (WCC), an organization with more than 20 fake women’s health centers in 11 states, operates a center directly next door to the Whole Woman’s Health (WWH) Clinic in Peoria, IL.

A couple came into our clinic and told our staff that they had mistakenly gone to WCC. Staff at WCC made them think they were in the right place and separated the couple. They performed an ultrasound on the women and when she felt something wasn’t right and tried to confirm that she was there for an abortion, the WCC employee said they needed to talk more. She then put the couple in front of a large screen with a photo of their ultrasound and stickers on it saying “hi mommy” and “hi daddy.”

When they eventually made it to WWH, the husband asked our staff why they (WCC) are allowed to be so close and make people think they are in the right place?  Why indeed? Because WCC and other organizations like theirs don’t actually want women to make their own decisions about important health care questions but instead want to mislead and shame them into continuing their pregnancy no matter what.  Unfortunately, stories like these are not unique.  This is the designed strategy of fake women’s health centers across the country.

We are in the process of opening a clinic in South Bend, Indiana and purchased a commercial building uniquely suited to our needs after multiple landlords refused to rent to us. Not long after, Women’s Care Center (WCC) purchased a residential property directly next door to our building.

They sought to have the building re-zoned for commercial use so they could open one of their centers, claiming they only wanted women in the neighborhood to have options and easy access to care.  Not only does WCC already have 5 centers in South Bend and the surrounding communities, an anonymous donor gave the money for the project with the expressed condition that their center be located next door to WWH.

WCC could have purchased one of the numerous vacant buildings in the same neighborhood, with the same access for the women in the area, that was already zoned for commercial use. Instead they chose to purchase a building that was not already vacant and was not zoned for their needs.

The community fought back, and with the help of courageous Common Council members and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, they won. The re-zoning was ultimately denied.

Throughout the process, WCC touted their support of and respect for women, all the while denying that their purpose in trying to locate next door to WWH had anything to do with confusing women. Their argument was blatantly disingenuous. This choice was a clear indication that more than anything else, their priority was to be directly next door to Whole Woman’s Health (WWH), where we know from experience with other WCC sites, it would be designed to confuse and mislead women.

Shortly after the re-zoning denial, WCC announced that they were purchasing a commercially-zoned property directly across the street from WWH. While we are not surprised, we are disappointed by the persistence from an unlicensed, non-medical provider to continue to try to dissuade and shame patients from coming to receive our health care services.

We hope that Women’s Care Center fulfills their assurances not to engage in the types of deceptive practices that we have previously experienced, but we are not optimistic.

At Whole Woman’s Health Alliance we trust women to weigh their situation and their options and come to the decision that is best for them. We create a welcoming, nonjudgmental space, provide high-quality medical care and understand that women are the experts in their own lives about whether and when to have children.

For more information:

www.wholewomanshealthalliance.org

From Texas: Words on Abortion Stigma

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is a non-profit organization that operates abortion clinics in Austin, Texas and Charlottesville, Virginia. Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is working to strategically shift the stigma around abortion in our culture. They are committed to fostering open and honest conversations, lifting up all communities, and transforming the abortion care environment. 

In order to get a pulse on the conversation in Texas, we spoke with Prenita Singh, the Clinic Manager at Whole Woman’s Health of Austin, and Courtney Chambers, the Texas Advocacy Director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. 

A view from the clinic:

Growing up, I was fortunate that abortion was never a taboo word. Both my parents are science teachers and abortion was discussed just the same way as sexual education and pregnancy was discussed. It was also never a taboo word amongst my peers and me when we went to college.

In fact, I’ve had discussions about abortion with two very close friends of mine. The first was discussed over pizza. We’d both recently graduated college, moved back to our respective hometowns and desperately needed to catch up with the sagas of true adulthood. My friend had no urgency or shame to tell me what happened. It was a natural conversation of, “So, I’ve been seeing this guy… and ended up having an abortion.” There were no questions, no exclamations, no shock or embarrassment, just the usual conversation that continued well into the night.

The second discussion was a phone call while I was at work. My friend went in for bloodwork for a standard procedure and found out she was pregnant. Since we’ve had conversations about abortion before, there wasn’t a question of, “What’s next?” It was more of a conversation about what day I could take off to accompany her to the clinic. We must have been lucky that day because there were no protestors outside of the clinic.

There was nothing abnormal or shameful about these conversations. Not in my family, my circle of friends or my professional work environment (I worked in OBGYN that saw many high-risk pregnancies).

Fast forward to a few years later and imagine my surprise when I moved to Texas and abortion was not only controversial but also treated as a cultural taboo. There were protestors outside when I came for my job interview even though it was well beyond office hours.

Imagine my shock when I learned the laws that guided this clinic and the abortion field in Texas. Laws that seemed inconvenient and downright ridiculous. One law states that if a woman is less than 100 miles from any abortion facility, there must be a 24 hour waiting period. I hate driving. 100 miles is a long drive. Not only is she supposed to find the time and resources to get to a clinic but then she has to turn around, go home and do it all over again the next day!

As women, we balance at least 20 things on our plate at any given moment. We are caretakers and assume the responsibility of everyone. We are judged and scrutinized for every move that we make. We are expected to take care of partners, children, and a household but yet it is assumed by the government that we are not capable of making decisions about our own bodies?

Abortion stigma has negatively affected personal conversations, state and federal laws, and it affects our patients every day – sometimes without them even realizing it. We will continue this work, and will continue to meet every woman who walks through our doors with dignity, compassion, and respect.

From the advocacy world:

With constant attacks on access, advocacy work in and outside the clinic continues to be more and more vital to fight against TRAP laws and other restrictions that utilize and perpetuate abortion stigma as a way to further restrict access.

Whole Woman’s Health clinics are designed to eradicate stigma from the moment you enter – they are welcoming, comfortable places free of judgment and full of trust for our patients. This has always been integral to the model of care.

However, in two Whole Woman’s Health clinics we have extended stigma eradication efforts to the clinic exteriors by installing beautiful, affirming murals on or near the clinics. The murals counter the stigma and hateful rhetoric that many patients encounter from anti-abortion protestors outside the clinic. The murals are a reflection to patients and the larger community that the clinics are a place of love and respect.

In addition to the stigma eradication work in and around the clinic, Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance also provide clinic tours and Abortion 101 and 102 workshops to organizational partners so that they can best advocate for abortion rights and access. These clinic tours and workshops allow pro-choice partner organizations the chance to see the work we do and to ask any questions they may have about abortion care. In addition to advocacy partner organizations, we have also provided these trainings to a range of other groups like journalists and media outlets, legal organizations, and clergy of various faiths.

Of course, legal challenges are also a type of advocacy and we vow to continue to fight back in court against burdensome restrictions.

We do this stigma eradication work in all the communities we serve, but it is particularly important in Texas, which as a state has led the way for national trends in increased abortion restrictions and attacks on access. This advocacy work started in Texas and eventually led to the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court victory in 2016. Here’s to many more years of fighting back against abortion stigma!

For more information on Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, their advocacy and how to support them, please visit their website at www.wholewomanshealthalliance.org

Trust Women: A Reflection of the Work We Do

The following was written by one of our abortion providers, Diane Horvath-Cosper, an obstetrician and gynecologist. 

In a hotel conference room in Seattle, a hush fell over the group of about 200 medical students as Dr. George Tiller made his way to the podium to give his keynote address, wearing a button on his lapel that read: “Trust Women”. Maybe I had expected someone so courageous to be loud and outspoken; I was caught off guard by the softness of his voice and the gentle way he spoke about his work. He related story after story of patients who had found themselves in need of his care and who had had nowhere else to turn for help. It was easy to imagine him as an island of calm during stressful circumstances. His career, cut short by his murder at the hands of an anti-choice terrorist, was built around the words on his lapel pin: Trust Women. Trust women to be the experts on their own lives, to know what’s best for themselves and their families, and to make their own healthcare decisions.

His career, cut short by his murder at the hands of an anti-choice terrorist, was built around the words on his lapel pin: Trust Women. Trust women to be the experts on their own lives, to know what’s best for themselves and their families, and to make their own healthcare decisions.

Like Dr. Tiller, I became an abortion provider because I trust pregnant people to make the choices that best fit their needs and values. The decision to have an abortion can be easy or difficult or anywhere in between, but in every single case, it’s the pregnant person’s decision to make.

This job isn’t always easy – my colleagues and I face threats from extremists, excessive and medically unnecessary regulations that harm our patients, and alienation from friends and family who do not support our work. What makes it worth the struggle is the tangible, positive impact we make on the lives of our patients. I will never forget the first person I cared for during my family planning fellowship who reached out and gripped my hand as I was leaving the room after completing her abortion procedure, and with tears in her eyes, whispered, “You saved my life.”

 After working in several other clinics in the 12 years since I graduated from medical school, I knew I wanted to work for an organization that shares my values and supports my advocacy for patients and colleagues.

Whole Woman’s Health recognizes that ongoing access to safe, compassionate abortion care isn’t possible unless we also actively engage in the political process in the courts and in the halls of government. Our fight extends well beyond abortion access – we must also advocate for better prenatal, birth, and postpartum care, affordable contraception that centers the needs of the patient, and the resources people need in order to raise their families in safe and healthy environments.

To truly align ourselves with the communities we serve, we need to recognize the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, immigration status, and income, and understand how all of these factors and more impact our patients’ daily lives.

In a place like Baltimore, where abortion access enjoys sufficient legal protection but where children are still harmed by lead exposure, the maternal mortality rate is unacceptably high, and city residents are subject to systematized violence by institutions that are supposed to protect the public, we have a lot of work left to do.

As we approach the 9th anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s murder, I reflect on the importance of the work that we do at Whole Woman’s Health. Being able to decide if, when, and how to have a family helps people pursue educational opportunities, work their jobs, take care of the children they may already have, and realize their own hopes and dreams.

In addition to contraception, respectful pregnancy and birth care, and support for parenting, abortion services must always be an essential component of comprehensive, justice-based reproductive healthcare.

My patients trust me with some of the most intimate details of their lives and their bodies, during times when they may feel vulnerable and alone. As an abortion provider, my role is to provide safe, compassionate care in a stigma-free, shame-free environment, and to be worthy of the trust people have placed in me.

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance Supports Mayor Buttigieg’s Decision to Veto Organization’s Attempt to Open

April 27, 2018 – (PRESS STATEMENT) 
The following statement was issued by Whole Woman’s Health Alliance:
“Today, we applaud Mayor Pete Buttigieg for standing up for what is right and putting women and families of South Bend first. This veto shows that he is  listening to the community and ensuring access to quality healthcare is available.

Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend is committed to providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare services with expert medical staff and physicians. We have enjoyed participating in open and honest conversations with key community leaders, community members and local allies and we look forward to continuing to build those lasting relationships as we continue the process of providing care to those that need it. As members of the South Bend community, and with broad support locally, Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend will always uphold the values of dignity, respect and compassion in the medical care we provide.”

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Whole Woman’s Health Alliance (WWHA) is working to strategically shift the stigma around abortion care in our culture and is committed to fostering open and honest conversations, lifting up all communities and transforming the abortion care environment. WWHA is a 501(c)3 organization leading powerful stigma eradication, culture change and community education work across the United States. The work is rooted in and informed by direct service work delivering high quality abortion care in many communities across the country. WWHA’s largest programs are the operation of clinics in Austin, Texas, Charlottesville, Virginia and South Bend, Indiana where we have opened new clinics in challenging places where access to quality abortion care is under attack.
For more information: www.wholewomanshealthalliance.org

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance Supports the Release of Activist Alejandra Pablos from Immigration Detention

Immigrant Rights and Reproductive Justice activist, Alejandra Pablos, has been detained at Eloy Detention Center in Arizona for over a month and will be appearing before a judge today.  The following statement was issued by of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.

“Whole Woman’s Health Alliance supports the release of Alejandra Pablos from immigration detention and urge the immigration judge at her bond hearing to take into consideration Alejandra’s deep impact in our communities. In both Texas and Virginia, Whole Woman’s Health Allianceworks closely with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), the organization with which Alejandra works. The community organizing work led by Ms. Pablos and NLIRH is vital to ensuring that all communities have access to reproductive education and reproductive healthcare. Ms. Pablos is a valued member of the reproductive rights coalition in Virginia and is dedicated to advocating for the healthcare rights of all people in the state of Virginia.

Alejandra has made a deep impact in our communities and in the movements for reproductive rights, criminal justice reform, and immigrant rights around the country. We fully support her release from immigration detention. “

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance (WWHA) is working to strategically shift the stigma around abortion care in our culture and is committed to fostering open and honest conversations, lifting up all communities and transforming the abortion care environment. WWHA is a 501(c)3 organization leading powerful stigma eradication, culture change and community education work across the United States. The work is rooted in and informed by direct service work delivering high quality abortion care around the country. WWHA’s largest programs are the operation of clinics in Austin, Texas, Charlottesville, Virginia and South Bend, Indiana where we have opened new clinics in challenging places where access to quality care is under attack.

For more information: www.wholewomanshealthalliance.org

Preparing for Your Abortion

At Whole Woman’s Health, we provide the best medical care and a range of reproductive healthcare. Abortion care is our specialty, with outstanding physicians and trained, caring staff. You will be well cared for while you are with us, and we provide a follow-up appointment 2 weeks after your abortion, to make sure you’re feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally well enough to continue your regular activities.

Whether you choose to have a medication abortion at home or an in-clinic abortion, there are some things you can do beforehand to care for yourself post-abortion. With either procedure, you have the control to make this the experience you want it to be. We are here for you.

It should be noted that abortion is a very safe, common procedure and many women are able to resume regular activities in just a day or two following an abortion.

If you opt for a medication abortion, you’ll take the first pill (mifepristone) at the clinic. You’ll take the next set of pills (misoprostol) at home, 24-48 hours later. Most people will begin bleeding and cramping within about 1-2 hours of taking the misoprostol. The heavier bleeding and cramping typically lasts for 4-6 hours and most people will pass the pregnancy during this time.

In the case of a medication abortion, you have the choice of being in the comfort of your home, in the company of a friend or family member, or perhaps with a partner. Maybe your bedroom is your cozy place, or maybe you’ll want to be in your living room with the fireplace going. This is an abortion on your own terms, and can be a very empowering experience.

If you opt for an in-clinic abortion, your experience at home afterward will be a little different, but you’ll still want to prepare to recover once you get home. During your in-clinic procedure, we are still catering to you and want to make it a relaxing, comfortable place for you.

We’ve put together a checklist of the things you’ll want to have:

  • A support person who is aware of your situation, and can give you a ride, if needed.
  • Phone
  • Be within a one-hour drive of an emergency room
  • No obligations
  • Maxi pads (not tampons)
  • Thermometer
  • Plenty of fluids and light snacks
  • Ibuprofen and Tylenol

You’ll receive a similar checklist, along with a packet of information, to take home so you’ll know exactly what to expect while you’re at home.

In any case, consider this a time to practice self-care and spoil yourself a little! In additions to the checklist above, perhaps you’ll consider a few extra treats for yourself such as:

  • A few TV shows or movies to binge-watch
  • Your favorite snacks
  • A good book
  • A heating pad
  • Magazines
  • Cozy items: favorite blanket, warm slippers, fluffy pillow
  • Comfy clothes + underwear that will fit a maxi pad
  • Tea
  • Journal
  • Aromatherapy/essential oils

Don’t forget that 2-4 weeks after your abortion, you’ll have a follow-up appointment to make sure the procedure and healing went as planned. If you have any questions during this time, don’t hesitate to call your nurse at the number provided to you during your appointment.