A Message From Our Founder: Why I’m Reopening My Clinic in Austin Amidst Continued Attacks on Texan Women

 

austinreopen2.pngNearly nine months after U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision in June, which overturned restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas and nationwide,  we’ve decided to reopen our flagship Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Austin. By mid-April, we will be serving Central Texas again.

In July 2014, Whole Woman’s Health of Austin was forced to close due to Texas’s Omnibus Abortion Bill (HB2). The admitting privileges and ASC building requirements, which legislate everything from the size of hallways to the size of the janitor’s closet, had a direct impact on Texas abortion providers, causing over half of the state’s clinics to close. Since then, women in need of abortion care have had to wait longer for appointments, drive outside of their communities for a simple procedure, and had to delay their care.

I’m making this decision as part of a bigger commitment to defend women’s access to abortion nationwide. Since I founded Whole Woman’s Health in Austin in 2003, I’ve testified and been a plaintiff in at least four different cases taking on Texas’ onerous laws, as well as fighting for access for women in states all across the USA.  After our Supreme Court victory, the Whole Woman’s Health decision has been used to reverse similar anti-abortion laws in over 8 states, restoring women’s health and access to quality care.

When we made the devastating decision to close in Austin in 2014 in the wake of HB2, I made the commitment to reopen in Austin as soon as I could. We got our start here, and I’m thrilled to announce that we’ll be restoring the fabric of care that Texans have come to count on from Whole Woman’s Health.

As we have seen, anti-abortion restrictions like HB2 are designed to shut clinics down, they shame women and they make accessing abortion difficult. But, every woman deserves support, respect, and dignity in making her own health decisions, including being able to safely and legally end a pregnancy if she needs to – and the majority of Americans support this opinion.

Polls have shown that the vast majority of Americans believe women should have access to safe, high-quality abortion care in their local communities.  In our clinics, we provide every woman the compassionate, professional and safe abortion care that she deserves and it is time this care returned to Austin.

At Whole Woman’s Health, we’ve been inspired by dozens of allies: supporters, partner organizations, staff, physicians and members of the community.  Despite opposition, our community has rallied with us to restore quality care and serve Central Texas. However, even with this re-opening, there will still only be 19 abortion facilities providing care in Texas, still a stark decline from the 41 clinics that were open prior to HB2’s implementation in 2013.

All abortion care providers –  in Texas, and throughout the country – are still subject to continued legislative attacks and targeted regulation. At least 46 anti-abortion bills have been introduced this season at the state level. They range from outright abortion bans, to more restrictions on methods and facilities, to the institution of funeral requirements for fetuses.

It would appear that Texas politicians are undeterred by the Supreme Court’s rulings and will continue to allocate precious Texas’ resources to restricting abortion access, no matter how costly or unconstitutional the fight may be. The state spent $4.5 million in the Hellerstedt battle, and lost again recently in  Whole Woman’s Health V. Hellerstedt II: A federal judge blocked state regulations forcing Texas health care providers to bury or cremate embryonic or fetal tissue from abortions, miscarriage or treatment for ectopic pregnancy–regardless of their patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. Like many other clinics and activists throughout the nation, we will persist in fighting these battles on the streets, in the courts, and in the national conversation. Despite what political rhetoric might have you believe, the people of Texas are on our side.

We can, and will, restore services and the care that women need— even in Texas. Hopefully, this opening will also serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of the nation.

In leading the long fight against HB2, we know our work is not done.

As we use our Hellerstedt victory to return to the Austin and Central Texas community, we feel more determined than ever to help restore care in the communities that need us the most throughout the country. Our Austin reopening in April is simply our first giant step forward.

Beginning April 2017, schedule an appointment at our Austin location by calling (877) 835-1090.

 

Whole Woman’s Health Celebrates 14 Years

 

Whole Woman's Health turns 14!

Statement from Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health:

“I’m feeling so proud to have taken a risk to form my own company based solidly in my mission and vision. Being an abortion care provider in the South comes with challenges. I’m proud to have had women working with me by my side since day one who are passionate, dedicated, whip-smart and reflect and care for the communities we live and work in.

I’m proud to have grown so much over these past 14 years – adding clinics where we are needed most, fighting bad laws and bad guys, adding non-profit work in advocacy and education and emerging as national thought leaders and innovators in our field.
I couldn’t be prouder of my family and my team at Whole Woman’s Health! On this 14th anniversary, I pause to thank the doctors, nurses, counselors, medical assistants, advocates and leadership at Whole Woman’s Health. And I toast our allies all across the nation. We are all bright lights and we will shine on.”

We are more resilient than ever and are continuing our commitment to grow, advocate, educate, teach, learn, listen, and fight!

Beyond SCOTUS: What Happens Now?

Yesterday’s Supreme Court victory was a historic win for abortion rights and was especially meaningful for us and providers across the country who have had to close their doors from these medically unnecessary restrictions.

While we’ve been celebrating the good news, there are new questions on all our minds as we look ahead: When will clinics reopen? When will abortion access be restored?

 

The remaining clinics in Texas will be able to keep their doors open, and this decision paves the way for other clinics to open or reopen. However, this process may not be a swift one. Many layers combine to create an abortion landscape and include, but are not limited to, state laws, local statutes, community support, state funding options, insurance coverage rules (only a handful of states allow for state Medicaid to cover abortion services), finding a building, finding a building that someone is willing to lease to us, purchasing equipment, applying for and going through the process of getting approved for licensing, hiring and training staff and physicians, and more.

Here’s Amy Hagstrom Miller speaking about this process with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

And so, I think what we’re going to see is many of us, Whole Woman’s Health included, trying to figure out where will we be able to reopen, what will the process be for finding a lease and finding a building and restoring the staffing and the physicians. And the second part will be: What’s the process going to be now for us to apply for a new license for abortion services in the state of Texas after we’ve had this win? How is that process going to be for us? And I think, you know, none of us really know how it’s going to be. And so, I think we’ll see a couple—a couple of us probably try as soon as we could. And, you know, I think it’s important to also realize that part of the abortion facility work is operational, and it’s healthcare—you know, Healthcare 101. And so, we have to figure out how to raise funds for acquiring the equipment, acquiring the medicines and the staffing and those kinds of things, in order to run a top-notch facility. And that isn’t something that can happen overnight.

 

We came into this work to provide compassionate, quality abortion care and that is exactly what we want to continue doing. It is our dream to see abortion access restored in Texas – for people to have clinics in their communities where they can receive care.

We’re working to resume care in communities that have been left without – but first that means getting the resources together to rebuild. Our nonprofit, Shift. is raising money to help with this effort. Donate here to help us turn the tide on the current abortion access crisis in Texas.

Amy Hagstrom Miller: Today, We Made History

I am beyond elated. Every day Whole Woman’s Health treats our patients with compassion, respect and dignity – and with this historic decision, today the Supreme Court did the same. We’re thrilled that justice was served and our clinics stay open.

After years of fighting heartless, anti-abortion Texas politicians who would seemingly stop at nothing to push abortion out of reach, I want everyone to understand: you don’t mess with Texas, you don’t mess with Whole Woman’s health, and you don’t mess with this beautiful, powerful movement of people dedicated to reproductive health, rights, and justice.

Three years ago, Texas politicians passed HB 2, a regressive law aimed directly at women who have decided to end a pregnancy and those of us who provide their care. With no legitimate medical justification, politicians forced abortion providers to completely restructure our clinics or to build mini hospitals. HB 2 forced more than half of Texas’ abortion clinics to close – including several of my own. Click here to help us keep clinics open.

These closures have put a staggering burden on Texas women. With this clinic shutdown law, politicians forced Texas women seeking abortion to go to clinics that are further away or in another state; take more days off of work, lose income, find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation to travel hundreds of miles. For many, the process of obtaining safe and legal health care has become an onerous, grueling feat or just flat out impossible.

I hold in my heart all those women and families who were forced to forgo care as a result of Texas’ draconian anti-choice laws.

Today’s decision marks a turnaround for Texas and for our country, but let me be clear: this win doesn’t mean the struggle is over. First, clinics don’t reopen overnight. We have a daunting task ahead of us to determine whether and how we can reopen our health centers that were forced to shut their doors over the past several years. Renewing leases, hiring staff, and working with communities that we previously served to help us re-open for care.

And second, this decision only addressed two of the many, many restrictions women face to get abortion care in Texas. Now we must redouble our efforts across the country to end similar state restrictions that push abortion out of reach for too many women. It’s time to pass proactive state laws so a woman has access to quality clinics in her community, can afford abortion, and doesn’t face shame or stigma when she seeks care.

From day one, Whole Woman’s Health rejected HB 2’s insulting premise and we fought back. We took on the bully politicians. We have struggled every day since then against anti-choice, regressive policies and our opposition’s best efforts to shut us down.

And we won.

I am proud to continue providing holistic and high-quality care not only in Texas, but also in Maryland, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Illinois. Today, we made history and tomorrow, we get back to work so that every woman who seeks abortion services can get the health care she needs with dignity and respect.

 

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The only infograph you need to understand what’s at stake with WWH v. Hellerstedt (via Refinery29)

Any day now the Supreme Court Justices will hand down a decision regarding our case against Texas HB 2, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. With only eight justices on the bench, there are multiple scenarios that could play out in a case that, for better or worse, will impact abortion access across the country.

Refinery29 put together this comprehensive infograph to help understand how these different rulings will ultimately impact access where you live:

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You can read the full article from Refinery29 here.

Amy Hagstrom Miller’s Speech from the NIRH Champions of Choice Awards Luncheon

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.

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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!

Amy Hagstrom Miller on Today’s FDA Mifepristone Announcement

Today’s FDA announcement of a label change to Mifepristone is a significant advancement for women in the United States.  All of us at Whole Woman’s Health are thrilled that the updated FDA labeling reflects evidence based care that is best for women. People who visit our clinics deserve options for abortion care without worrying about medically unnecessary obstacles and this change allows for more women to get the care they deserve.
We are particularly encouraged that this updated labeling could expand the availability of abortion in Texas, where  anti-choice politicians continue to interfere in women’s personal health decisions, enacting laws such as HB2 that deny women the ability to make their own decisions about whether and when to become a parent.
Prior to HB2, 40 to 50% of our patients at Whole Woman’s Health chose medication abortion. Since HB2 went into effect, that figure has decreased dramatically. For the past two years only about 5% of the women we serve in Texas have been able to get the medication abortion care they wanted because HB2s barriers were insurmountable. This label change will dramatically expand access for women not only in Texas, but throughout our clinics nationwide.
While we appreciate this step forward, we also acknowledge that there are still too many restrictions preventing women from quality care.  The reality is that low-income women, women of color and rural women bear the brunt of abortion care restrictions.  We will continue to fight for the day when all women have access to the compassionate and comprehensive reproductive health care that we provide at our clinics.
Whole Woman’s Health has a strong commitment to make Medication Abortion an option for all our patients and we look forward to implementing this new label change in our clinics in the coming days.
Amy Hagstrom Miller
President and CEO
Whole Woman’s Health