Thank you Andrea, the National Institute for Reproductive Health staff and the board for this honor – as well as fro standing with us as partners and supporters for the past three years. I am grateful to everyone who has come before me; the abortion providers who have paved the way and stood up for what is right, even when it is not easy; and the activists demanding dignity and justice whose shoulders I stand on today. It is wonderful to be here among friends.
I want to introduce a few loved ones who are here. My sister Cathy, my nephew Sam, my dear friend Ellen, my sister of the heart Renee, and my most honored guest, my tremendously supportive #1 fan, my thinking partner, and my love – my husband Karl. These are the kind of people every woman on the front lines deserves to have at her back and by her side. Thank you for coming.
As you can imagine these have been the most challenging, difficult and intense three years of my life.
I have fought like hell 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 our lawsuit, shared thousands of documents with the State and endured many hours in deposition and testimony.
During this time we have also chosen to open the doors of all of our clinics in an unprecedented way – inviting documentarians, press and on-camera reporters in 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 give tours of our beautiful facilities and share openly and honestly about the work that we do. This is not easy, this takes 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.
We are proud of the professional and compassionate abortion services we provide; we have nothing to hide and we stand in the light.
At the same time I have been leading this fight, I have also watched the company I build take hit after hit. We have endured a whiplash that is indescribable – winning victories in one courtroom only to be reversed in the next; closing and reopening our clinics repeatedly. This regulatory roller coaster has been going on for nearly a decade now; and as we all know, it has not and will not stay in Texas.
So why, you may ask, do I do it?
For me, abortion is a calling.
Abortion involves all the big things in life – life, death, sex, family, religion, money, identity, self-esteem – as you all know, it is a lighting 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.
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. In fact, they have a well thought out, well-funded, strategic plan that is working. And the truth is that the feelings and beliefs of a few, successfully shut down the constitutional rights for thousands.
As we 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.
We know however all across the world, every day, 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.
Three years ago Whole Woman’s Health chose to challenge these laws and to work with the Center for Reproductive Rights to build a case that would demonstrate the harm and the undue burden faced by so many people all across Texas. Let me tell you, serving the lead plaintiff is no joke! But amid all of the uncertainty, the challenges, the setbacks and the waiting I have never once regretted it. We are standing on the right side of history and I am proud to lead us through these times. It is an honor.
Let me tell you, being at the Supreme Court and hearing the four liberal justices argue our case and cite our evidence chapter and verse was the thrill of a lifetime.
When Justice Kagan very adeptly took on the Texas Solicitor General’s assertion that the clinic closures had nothing to do with HB2 I almost (almost) felt bad for the guy.
When Justice Ginsburg questioned how the requirement that medication abortion be offered in a surgery center was based in any way on medical evidence we thoroughly enjoyed hearing the Texas attorney grasp for straws.
When Justice Breyer called out our evidence over and over and over, demonstrating a complete mastery of our case, our testimony, the evidence and the amicus briefs I had chills.
Even Justice Kennedy didn’t seem to buy into the state’s argument that this law was somehow in the best interest of women’s health and safety. He never once questioned our attorneys about the undue burden standard, and he even went so far as to comment that the law’s restrictions on medication abortion delay women from accessing the safest method early in pregnancy and may increase the second trimester abortion rate. Something surely not in the interest of a woman’s safety.
And then finally as Chief Justice Roberts attempted to end the questioning that had already gone on for nearly 30 minutes longer than expected we saw Justice Sotomayor, who was on fire, ignore him and just keep on going. At one point when the Texas solicitor general asserted that this law didn’t harm Texan women she just sat back in her chair, actually leaning back quite far, crossed her arms across her chest, gave him the side eye and said, “Really. Really?”
We are very hopeful for a 5-3 ruling. We should hear by the end of June.
So to wrap up today, I want to leave you with my dream for the future of Texas and the future all across our country where abortion care is under attack.
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’d like a world where no woman comes into my clinics thinking she is the only woman she knows 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. Women and families across the country need us, the pro-choice majority, to speak up and out. We cannot let anti-abortion rhetoric go unchallenged. We cannot allow our opposition to hijack the moral high ground.
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 each woman’s life and to listen to her story. Let’s make sure all women get this support both inside and outside our clinic doors.
We need to link arms and stand up against politicians who have tried to push safe and compassionate care out of reach. We are standing in opposition to laws like Texas’ and others like it that shut down clinics, force women to delay care, and create shame or other obstacles to abortion.
Amid this fight back let us also remember that we stand for something: we stand here to affirm that women are good, to affirm that women are moral and kind. To affirm that when a woman has decided to end a pregnancy, 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. She gets to determine the path for her life.
That is the world we stand for, and it is the world we will create together.
Thank you again to the team at NIRH for being such fierce allies, for standing with us for so many years, for providing the kind of support that groups on the ground truly need, and thank you to all you you. Here’s to a win for Whole Woman’s Health in the Supreme Court!