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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Silent No More: A collection of abortion stories from Forward.com.

Today Forward.com launched a series of abortion stories from their readers, titled Silent No More, Forward Readers Tell Their Abortion Stories, in advance to the anticipated ruling from the Supreme Court on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Below is the collection of stories in their entirety, or you can click here to jump to their website.

What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? Those four words went around in my head in the spring of 1973. I was 28 years old, wife, mother of two sons and I was pregnant. Being an only child, my dream was having a house full of kids with all the commotion that goes with raising a big family. At that time, my children were ages seven and four and I really, really wanted a daughter to begin to even out the sexes in my family dynamic.

However, my marriage was not “made in heaven,” as I had hoped it would be, and we constantly had financial setbacks due to my husband’s gambling habits. Gambling brings not only the lack of funds, it also brings lying, mistrust and disappointment into the marriage. I was miserable. My four-year-old son was severely asthmatic and caused us much worry and concern. That same year he had spent one week, at two different times, in an oxygen tent, and we also made countless trips to the emergency room, usually during the night. I never knew when he would have an attack, and our family life was filled with worry and interruptions. If I wasn’t worrying about the bills, I was worrying about his health.

I was two months pregnant and in no position emotionally or financially to take on another responsibility. Roe v. Wade had just been decided, and having an abortion was safe and legal. Was that an option for me and my family? After discussing this decision with my husband and my obstetrician, the doctor agreed to perform the procedure at the same hospital where only four years earlier he had delivered my son. Due to the high demand for the procedure and the hospital scheduling only four a day, I had to wait 10 days for my appointment.

Those were the hardest days of my life….I was not feeling well, my heart was breaking, but the voice in my head kept saying, “This is the best approach to the problem at hand.” Along with my voice, my mother was 100% in favor of my decision and she too kept me strong by supporting my decision. Thank you, MOM! My husband was indifferent and left the decision to me.

The day finally came, and my husband took me to the hospital, and when it was all over, I felt a wonderful feeling of relief. I have never regretted the decision. I do not have any emotional scars and have not second-guessed myself on the decision I made 43 years ago. I behaved responsibly to my family and made it possible for me to care for the children I already had without additional burdens. It took me seven additional years to have a tubal ligation, because at 28, I was not ready to make the decision to not have any more children. I wanted to leave that door open if I felt there might be a better time to add to my family; however that opportunity never presented itself.

I was a lucky woman then due to the wisdom of the Supreme Court justices at the time. and now I am a lucky women because my granddaughters still have the opportunity to make choices when it comes to their health care. This country cannot let this right to privacy become history and disappear.

— Carol, 71, Arizona

In June 1969, I was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. My first “pulpit” was rabbi of the Hillel Foundation at the University of Florida. I was 26 years old and married with a three-month-old child.

I grew up in Boston, intensely aware of the ideas and thinking of the Catholic Church. In retrospect, I led a very sheltered life as a teenager, both unaware of and oblivious to the radical life changes to come.

In 1969, the University of Florida had not yet caught up with the many radical campus changes in the universities in the more liberal Northeast. It was a very conservative campus, although the issues for students were not much different than those for their Northern peers.

Rabbi Max Ticktin had become a very important influence in my thinking and in my career aspirations. My decision to go into Hillel was very much influenced by Max. He became very involved in an organization called Clergy Concerned.

To make a very extensive story short, the Episcopal priest at the University of Florida and I became the local participants in Clergy Concerned. John and I soon were intensely involved in counseling young women both from campus and the larger Gainesville community in reference to what we euphemistically called problem pregnancy. Through the Clergy Concerned network, we were able to arrange for these women to travel to New York, where abortion was already accessible.

We met with many young women during those years. We discovered that both the college coeds and local townies were painfully unaware of how their bodies functioned and general issues of sexuality.

I smile when I think of the fact that the Jewish girls, for the most part, went to see John with their concerns, while their non-Jewish counterparts came to me.

Abortion counseling was a felony in the state of Florida at the time. I got in touch with a liberal Jewish attorney who was willing to work with John and me and was prepared to support us if and when we got into trouble.

I vividly remember the day that my secretary at Hillel asked if there was anything wrong with our phones; for the entire morning, repairmen had been working on the wires and telephone lines leading into the Hillel building. Realizing my phone was being tapped, I sought advice from Max and became careful with my telephone talk. Of course, this step raised my level of paranoia, but it did not stop me from work I believed was right.

This experience is a very important piece of my career. I was very young and very naïve. I am proud of my decision, and regard my activity as a profound Jewish moment.

Max taught me to treat the matter not as a mechanical convenience for these women, but rather as a life lesson for their personal sense of dignity, as contrasted with the shame and fear that many of them experienced.

Not a day went by without my personal soul-searching. I am deeply grateful to my Episcopal colleague for the ability to share, to compare ideas, to pray together and to reexamine our different but similar seminary training.

In 1972, I became the Hillel rabbi at the University of Pennsylvania, and returned to the pseudo-safety of Northern liberalism, but I return to the University of Florida in my mind every time the right-to-life discussion hits the news. I would caution your readers to remember that this is more than a political point; it is about the lives, fears, sense of shame, fear of future and the neshamas of human beings whose right to choose must be protected by everyone, especially those in authority.

— Michael, 73, New Jersey

My cisgender male partner of seven years and I had sex, and the condom we were using for safer sex and birth control broke. Within the hour, we called our friend who was a nurse practitioner at the Feminist Women’s Health Clinic and got a prescription for Plan B (a prescription was needed at that time, almost 15 years ago). I took the medication, and we both hoped that would be the end of it. Neither of us wanted children — not then, not ever.

Over the next few weeks, I felt different. I could feel subtle shifts in my body that were probably imperceptible to an outsider. I felt certain I was pregnant despite virtually everyone around me stating that I wasn’t. Most significant and disorienting, I could feel another presence with me. I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but it was mine.

My partner and I went to the clinic on week three to get an early pregnancy test. It was confirmed. I made an appointment that afternoon to have an abortion as soon as possible. I learned that I would need to wait another few weeks for the fetus to grow big enough for the doctor to accurately and safely terminate the pregnancy.

I was entirely confident in my decision to have an abortion. I was profoundly grateful that I had a feminist doctor to do the procedure legally. But I was also a bit captivated by the complexity of what I was experiencing spiritually.

There was a mismatch between the frameworks those of us who identify as “pro-choice” use to talk about pregnancy and the experience I was having. I very much understand and support the need to use language such as “the fetus” when describing pregnancies before birth, instead of using language like “the baby” — we who support women’s reproductive freedom know how the conservative and religious right has used words like “baby” to manipulate, scare and guilt trip women into keeping unwanted pregnancies.

That said, I experienced something more than a set of cells forming within me and something different from a baby — the closest I can describe it is that I sensed a spiritual being coming into existence. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t sad, it just was. And on some level, during those two weeks of waiting, I did my best to let that spiritual being know that it was deeply loved by the universe, but it was not going to be born.

I don’t hear many people talking about this aspect of abortion very often. Perhaps it’s because there aren’t that many people who have a similar experience to me, or perhaps it’s because we haven’t figured out a way to discuss something that feels too taboo — to know that one is ending a potential life for a range of legitimate reasons, to feel deeply connected to that potential life and then to end the life without regret.

I had my abortion safely, legally and without secrecy. I am deeply grateful to all of the reproductive justice leaders, women, health care providers, legislators and others who made that decision possible.

Each year during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur, I take time to remember this decision and its consequences in the section for mourning children. I know this doesn’t conform to traditional Jewish law, but I do it anyway. I look forward to a time when the Jewish community creates a new, public ritual to mark — and honor — abortions. Until that time, if you see me in synagogue weeping during that part of the service, you will know my tears are for a connection I chose to end, as well as tears of gratitude that I have autonomy over my body and my life. These are not tears of guilt, or shame, or second guessing. These are tears of recognition that something holy transpired within me and I am forever changed.

I am a 74-year old man, and I can look back at a life that someone sometime in the future will call a life well lived. But were it not for a mother who, against the urgings of her doctor, had refused an abortion, I might not have lived. By rights, I should be a poster child for those who staunchly support a ban on abortion. But I am not. I firmly support a woman’s right to choose.

My parents were born in Galicia and moved to the Netherlands, where they were married in 1932. Before the Nazi occupation, they had two children, Eva born in 1936 and Leah born in 1938. And then there was me, the product of an unplanned pregnancy, born November 23, 1941, 18 months into the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. My mother’s obstetrician had urged her to have an abortion. “It would be immoral,” he told her, “to bring another Jewish life into the world.” My mother wasn’t particularly religious, but on this occasion, she took advice from the biblical story of Hannah, a woman who would go to the temple year after year and pray that she might conceive. And it was in reading about Hannah’s agonizing desire to have a child that my mother decided to ignore the obstetrician’s advice and not to have an abortion.

When I was nine months old, my parents made arrangements for the family to go into hiding, my parents in a psychiatric hospital, my sisters with a devout Catholic woman and me with a Dutch-Indonesian family and their Muslim nanny. Three months later, my parents were deported. And the following year, my sisters were denounced and killed in Auschwitz. My father lived long enough to see liberation, but lies buried in the former Ebensee concentration camp. Only my mother survived. And all she was left with was me, the child she had refused to abort. But that was enough to give her the will to go on living.

I grew up with the Holocaust all around me. And it took me a long time to comprehend what had happened to my sisters. My mother’s neighbors would show me Eva’s notebooks and I would be jealous of her perfect handwriting. And my mother would tell me how sweet Leah had been and I would be envious of the praise she received. But then my mother would tell me what made me special, how close I had come to not being born and she would remind of the pledge that she, like Hannah, had made, “if the Almighty will give me a child, I will give that child to service of the Almighty all the days of his life.” That pledge became a deterrent in a Jewish mother’s arsenal of gentle psychological warfare and probably contributed to that life well lived.Yes, the moral questions posed by abortion are all too real for me. And yet I come down on the side of those who support a woman’s right to choose. The question isn’t whether abortion is morally right or wrong, but whether the State is the best arbiter of a deeply personal moral decision. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote those now infamous words in the Supreme Court’s decision affirming the State’s right to forcibly sterilize women it considered unfit: “is it better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute the degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for the imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” In urging an abortion, my mother’s obstetrician was doing the bidding of the State. The question for me is who do I trust: my mother or the State?

— Alfred, 75, District of Columbia

I had an illegal abortion in 1964, and I have hardly mentioned it in the last 52 years. I might have mentioned it to my former husband. I know for sure my four adult children didn’t know because I told them one by one on the day I decided to write this piece, and asked each if my writing about it would embarrass them. They were a little shocked. Each said, “I had no idea. Why didn’t you ever mention it before?” They (so far) have had no other questions, including the most obvious one, and they all said they were okay with my now exposing this experience.

I was a sophomore at the University of Southern California. My boyfriend was a junior, and I had no intention whatever of marrying him.

I remember during the drama of this pregnancy, he had two personal tragedies going on. “First my cat and now my mother,” he said, giving their recent deaths equal weight. He came up with half of the $600 abortion price without any fuss. I don’t remember how I came up with my half — my allowance at the time (from my parents) was $5 per week. It’s an odd twist that he was Jewish — it was 20 years before I married a Jew and 30 years before I converted [to Judaism].

I also don’t remember how I found the name of the abortionist. That is quite a detail to forget. I do recall that a college friend whose father was a major law enforcement official in Los Angeles (he later became chief of police) drove me to a parking lot, where we were met by a young man who drove us to the site — a single-family home in Torrance. I had no appreciation for the medical or legal risks I was taking. I was only a little scared. When I had cataract surgery at Manhattan Eye and Ear 10 years ago, I was much more scared than I had been about this abortion. Maybe it was the optimism of youth.

There are a few details I do remember. I remember climbing up on a kitchen table. I remember being draped. I remember it was quick. I had a little cramping and I was fine.

And I remember the name of the woman who gave me the abortion — and that is the phrase I have always used, “gave me the abortion,” as if it were a gift — was Mrs. Ramsey. I somehow got the idea she was a disbarred doctor, but I am not sure if that was my own hopeful imagination at work. In a shocking coincidence, several years after my abortion, I overheard my mother and her sisters talking about an abortion my aunt Helen had had many years earlier. They mentioned the name of the abortionist: “Ma Ramsey.” I never let on that I had overheard this conversation.

I Googled Mrs. Ramsey’s name (having never done so before) in preparation for writing this piece, and I found this: The Court of Appeals in California in 1958 upheld the conviction of May Ramsey, alias “Mah Ramsey,” for an abortion she performed in Orange County in 1956. She had gone to prison 10 years earlier also for performing an abortion. The 1958 court opinion described exactly what I experienced: The woman who was getting the abortion was met in a parking lot by a younger man (turns out it was Mrs. Ramsey’s son), taken to a modest private home, laid on a table and subjected to a quick and safe abortion. However, in the court case (and not in mine), the police had been peering through the window.

In upholding Mah Ramsey’s conviction, the court describes details that I had long forgotten: Mrs. Ramsey was a woman in her mid-50s, hair in a switch on top of her head, spoke with a slight Southern drawl. There is no mention of her having been a doctor. The police saw through a window “a table with a woman lying on it, ‘her legs…her feet’ were in stirrups, and May Ramsey was sitting at the end of the table and between the legs of the woman. There was a quantity of surgical equipment in the room, a chair near the end of the table with a white dishpan containing several instruments, a card table with syringes and ’other medication’ on it, a spotlight or floodlight, an electric suction pump and hypodermic tubes and needles. The woman on the table had an aluminum instrument with a black rubber face mask tied to her wrists.”

That could have been me.

Her conviction was upheld despite challenges that the raid had been illegal. I don’t know if she served more time, but whatever happened to her, even this second conviction didn’t stop her — my abortion was a mere six years later. None of these legal opinions mentions that any harm came to any woman. Seems the others, like me, had a safe and uneventful experience.

I didn’t know then and maybe I never will know whether she was a political activist or this was just a way to make a living. At the time, I had no appreciation for her bravery, nor for what a public service she was performing. She conforms to the trope of the noble abortion doctor, and I hope it went well for her. Had it not been for her, things would not have gone so well for me.

 

A Masked Man at a Farm Near Baltimore, Then a Happy Ending With Boxer Shorts

The dictionary defines regret as a sense of loss, disappointment or dissatisfaction.

I do not regret my abortion, the illegal one I had shortly after my 20th birthday, seven years before Roe v. Wade became law. I didn’t regret my decision then, and I don’t regret it now.

I do regret that complete, comprehensive sex education — the kind that was not available to me in 1966 — is often still unavailable to our young people, leaving them vulnerable, unprotected — and sometimes pregnant. I knew so little that I accepted my boyfriend’s statement that he’d “pull out” and I couldn’t become pregnant.

I do regret that my abortion was performed without anesthesia by a masked man in a farmhouse, and that the $600 it cost to me at that time was equivalent to $4,000 in today’s dollars. I had to borrow money from almost everyone I knew, and the day before the scheduled abortion, I had to call my boyfriend’s parents, tell them I was pregnant and ask them for money.

I do regret the humiliation of having to stand on a street corner in downtown Baltimore, waiting to be picked up by a man I’d never met, a man who knew my first name and said he was going to take me to the county farmhouse where the abortion would take place. I could only hope that the underground network through which I made my arrangements was safe and reliable, and that my driver was not a serial killer.

I do regret that when my husband and I decided to start a family, I did not have nonjudgmental gynecological care. Seeing on my medical form that I’d had an abortion, and then performing the most perfunctory examination, a doctor wrote INFERTILITY in large block letters on my paperwork and left the room. His diagnosis trailed me to two other physicians, who performed unnecessary and expensive tests and surgical procedures, when the solution to conception was very simple: boxer shorts for my husband. I have two adult daughters who know my story and believe it is their legal right to make their own reproductive choices.

Finally, I do regret that more women don’t speak out about their experiences with abortion. We cannot and should not be shamed into silence, and we must make certain that women who are as desperate as I was do not have to make desperate choices.

— Rosalyn, 70, Maryland

I am 56 years old, a wife, mother and soon-to-be grandmother. I’ve just retired from a joyful career as a teacher’s assistant in an elementary school in Georgia. This wonderful life of mine was made possible by two abortions in my teens.

My first abortion was as a ninth grader. None of the adults in my life had taught me about sex, healthy relationships or how to stand up for myself in social situations. I got involved with an older boy who pressured me relentlessly. I got pregnant the first and only time he penetrated me in what was a frightening, painful and degrading encounter. My parents arranged the abortion and swore me to secrecy for eternity. I felt so deeply ashamed.

Then, when I was 19, I was in a relationship with a guy in his mid-20s. He was kind at first, and I thought we had a future. But then he began mistreating me, and I endured it because I had such low self-esteem. I was depending on the diaphragm, and when I got pregnant again, I sank into deep suffering. I still lived at home and could not tell my parents, so I would close myself in my bedroom closet, fall to the floor and silence my sobs in a pillow.

If he had wanted to get married, I might have agreed, simply because I was paralyzed by panic and passive in my despair. Thankfully, he arranged and paid for an abortion. He dropped me off alone, and did not come back for me until the clinic had long closed. I wandered on the city street in a fog of humiliation, and yet I was overwhelmingly relieved that I was not bound to him by a child for the rest of my life.

Those two abortions saved me. I was able to get a college education and build a thriving family with a loving man. The worst part has been facing – alone and in silence – the incessant malice of religious and political condemnation. The billboards and bumper stickers, the preachers and politicians — they all take delight in dehumanizing people who’ve ended accidental pregnancies. Decade after decade, I lived a kind of inner solitary confinement, tortured by the belief that others, if they learned the truth, would see me as a murderous monster and abandon me.

At the age of 40, I was finally able to confide in a friend, and a few years later I told my husband. Then, in 2013, I shared the truth with my grown sons. Instead of casting me out of their lives as I had feared, my loved ones embraced me with compassion.

I am so grateful for this chance to tell people that abortion care saved me, but the merciless public messages of shame hurt me, and that is why I will spend the rest of my life trying to shatter the silence and end the emotional brutality of abortion stigma.

— Karen, 56, Georgia

I recall sitting on the bed next to my mother during her final days, watching the Senate confirmation hearing of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. My mom commented how happy she was that she had lived to see women in such positions of power and respect, as well as how relieved she was that in her lifetime abortion became legal and safe. I was surprised by the latter comment. Nearly 40 years ago, when she discovered that I had an abortion as a law school student, she was furious and denounced me. It was just a few years after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and abortions still had a deep stigma of shame, as did the underlying reason for my abortion – premarital sex.

We never spoke about it again, until that day in the hospital. She explained to me then that her fury had been rooted in her terror for my well-being. In fact, I was able to access abortion services at a local Planned Parenthood clinic in New York City and pay for it based on the clinic’s sliding scale fees. While I deeply wished that my contraceptive device hadn’t failed all those years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the ability to make my own decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, to afford safe medical care and continue with my life plans.

The story was quite different for my grandmother, as I learned that day. As a nine-year-old child, my mother witnessed her own mother almost bleed to death from a “back alley” abortion. My grandmother already had five children, and, as poor immigrants, the family didn’t have the resources to support another child. Because abortion was illegal at the time, she had very few choices for terminating her pregnancy. As my mother tells it, after the abortion, my grandmother began howling in pain and bleeding profusely. Unable to bear it, my grandfather left the apartment, leaving my mother to witness the agonizing scene. My mom recalled her terror as she saw her mother bleeding and screaming, certain that she would die.

This is what my mother feared for me when she went through my suitcase during semester break, a few days after my abortion, and found the clinic discharge instructions. Her mother’s experience could have been mine. If it had been just a few years earlier, I might well have been without access to legal, affordable, safe abortion services. After she told me her story, she glanced up at the TV monitor and expressed a hope that this new Supreme Court justice would uphold abortion access so no one else would ever have to see her mother nearly bleed to death or fear that fate for her daughter. I promised her that I would continue to work to make abortion safe and available.

Almost 41 years after Roe v. Wade, it remains critical that pro-choice advocates from the faith community actively urge our leaders to ensure every woman has full access to her reproductive rights. Our legislators must understand that people of faith are calling to protect a woman’s religious liberty and reproductive rights, as well as her health and economic security. As my mother’s memory pained her, it propelled me to action, especially through the National Council of Jewish Women. As an NCJW local and national board member and state policy advocate, I will continue to demand reproductive justice in the halls of the legislature and in the public square.

— Claire, 65, California

It was 1964 in Southern California. I was 23, in a committed relationship, and even though I was using birth control, I found myself pregnant.

I had vowed I would never have an abortion. Not because of religious or moral issues but because a 15-year-old high school friend of mine had died from an illegal abortion.

Well, now I was in that position and I desperately did not want a child at that time in my life or with that partner. I knew it was the wrong time for me and for any child that I might bring into the world.

I did not have the money to go to an abortion doctor in Beverly Hills, nor did I have the money to fly to Europe. So I started asking around and a friend told me of a “clinic” in Tijuana, Mexico. I called and made an appointment. I was told that I could bring a friend with me, and that the cost was $500 in cash. I was to meet someone in a parking lot behind a shop in Tijuana one night a few days later.

We drove to Tijuana and parked in the lot. A man came over to our car, told us that only I could go for the procedure, and I followed him to a waiting car with four other pregnant women inside. We were all desperate and scared.

The driver took a long, winding drive, trying to make certain that we were not followed by anyone. Finally, we arrived at a large house and went inside. There was no furniture except for a couch and a few chairs, and in one other room there was an examining table with stirrups for the procedure.The man (doctor?) who was to perform the abortion came in. He was fat and coarse. The money he had collected from all of us was peeking out of his pants pockets.

When I went in, I watched as they “sterilized” the equipment from the previous procedure by dousing it in alcohol and lighting it on fire. They did not have an autoclave to sterilize the instruments.

I was very frightened, but I had been assured on the phone that I would be given anesthesia. Well, that was the next big lie. They put a mask on my face, but when I breathed in deeply to get the benefit of the drugs, they removed it. They did not want to take the chance that someone would not come out of the anesthesia alive. The abortion proceeded without anesthesia and was very painful. Afterward, they administered an antibiotic shot. They warned us not to lay down in the backseat when we crossed the border so as not to raise any suspicion about what we had come to Tijuana for, and to see a gynecologist as soon as possible when we returned.

The driver took us back to the parking lot. We drove back to the States, and thankfully I did not experience bleeding, infection or any other harmful physical side effects.

I do not have regrets about getting the abortion, I’m only amazed at the danger, mutilation and even death that I and so many other women put ourselves through in those days, before Roe v. Wade. I have worked since then to preserve legal abortions.

I am celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary with an Israeli man. We lived in New York for more than 35 years and made aliyah five years ago. Our 25-year-old adopted daughter is living with us.

— Nancy, 75, Israel

I never again had that feeling of total integration of conscience and body as at the moment it dawned on me I was pregnant. It was eerie: I found myself standing in front of the window of a very upscale baby shop, with my head turned, observing a man holding his child up in the air.

“I am pregnant!” And I immediately knew that I would not have this baby. It was a matter-of-fact decision, and I did not struggle with it.

This happened in Brazil in the late 70s, in a country where abortion is illegal to this day, a country where politicians are considering making it even more difficult for a woman to have an abortion. Thousands of women die because they are too poor to afford the clinics where the other women go. What hypocrisy.

My best friend went with me. Another friend had recommended a decent clinic, and the procedure performed by a real doctor who was actually very caring.

This is the one decision in my life I have never regretted. My child would not have had a happy upbringing, and I did not have the right to cause unhappiness to another human being. I never felt any guilt.

I didn’t have the urge to become a mother ever, and today I feel great relief that I’m leaving no descendants behind.

— Ana, 58, Brazil

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.

**

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!

From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

This month will mark 1-year since I had my abortion at Whole Woman’s Health. Having my abortion was one of the hardest decisions my partner and I had to make, granted I was 27 and he 29. It was real life, life changing and something I can say was the best decision we have ever made for our lives, our future, and the child we would have had.

When I found out I was pregnant I was working a part time job for $11.82 an hour, he was in between jobs and we lived in a place my parents owned and we could barely pay our bills. The soul reason for us choosing what we did even though knowing our child would have all the love we could offer, was we knew he or she deserved so much better, we deserved better for ourselves.

My partner and I both have Bi Polar, I was living in misery being un-diagnosed and he in denial of my disease and it was to a point that we weren’t happy as a couple anymore. He decided he wanted to spend the summer away and I would spend it finding stable ground for myself and my mental illness. When we terminated the pregnancy it became a battle for both our happiness. It weighed on me with the “what ifs” constantly and was only making my depressive phases worse. We needed a break from each other to find each other as well as ourselves again.

“We will support your life and always love you, if these are your reasons then make sure they are not just words.”

My parents being the Catholic Republicans they are were disappointed with our decision. I kept telling them that we wanted better for our child, that I wanted to go back to school and graduate and have a house, financial stability as well as mental stability. I can remember looking at my mom after I found out I was pregnant and made my appointment for the abortion, she looked me in the eyes and said, “we will support your life and always love you, if these are your reasons, then make sure they are not just words.” I have heard that over and over in my head since then.

When my partner and I drove into the city for our appointment it was the longest hour of my life. We drove in silence. When we got about 15 minutes from the clinic I looked at him and asked if he was scared and he looked away from the road and at me and said “yes”, then looked back at the road. The entire eight hours at the clinic was like a movie, I was numb. I answered the questions and had no emotion. Going through the procedure was painful, I opted not to be medicated because I wanted to go through the process with a clear mind, and was not scared of the pain.

Driving home, I went through the motions of my life and had no feelings, no regrets, no happiness, just flat. When my partner moved away I took time to heal, I enrolled in school, I rescued a puppy, I got a new job and found new hobbies. My life completely changed. When he came back we were both different people. We didn’t get back together until about two months after he moved home. With us having the time apart and growing personally it was completely different. It was happy. We were happy again.

The support and comfort and acceptance we received from the women at the clinic was something I have never felt before.

The clinic experience was such a blur, what I remember most was during the procedure I spent crying so hard and biting my arm through my sweater. It was physical, emotional, mental, and spiritually crippling. I had three nurses standing around me, petting my hair, holding my hand, and trying to soothe me. I glanced at my partner and he was staring at the wall with no emotion on his face. I felt worse for him than myself, it was me going through it physically but he felt every ounce of pain I felt, if not more. He saw my hurt and could do nothing about it, i saw his and was equally powerless. our lives changed forever.

The support and comfort and acceptance we received from the women at the clinic was something I have never felt before. We had already made our decision when we walked in but I was assured it was OK by them. I was going to be completely OK. I can happily say I will graduate in December as a Medical Assistant. When my instructor asked where I want to be employed after I graduated I told her a woman’s health clinic. I have always been a feminist, a believer in equal rights and an advocate for that equality. This experience has only fed that fire. I am an empowered, intelligent woman who is in control of my own destiny and that to me is beautiful.

I can never repay anyone for this second chance, all I can do is support the woman and men in my position and advocate for our choices.

We have a house we can afford, we have two dogs and two cats, we wake up with a river in our backyard, we have our bills paid, sometimes we have arguments, sometimes we nit pick at each other but I can safely say that at the end of the day, are are in love and are truly happy. I can’t say we wouldn’t be if we hadn’t had the abortion, but I can honestly say that I am doing exactly what my mother told me I needed to do. I was blessed to have my partner, who shows me things I could never see. He has always supported me, sometimes not up to my expectations, but those are just that, expectations. He truly is a gift in my life and some day him and I will have a child, we will be amazing parents, it was just not the time. We needed a second chance.

So, to wrap it up, I want to say thank you, thank you for giving me, us, this opportunity. Thank you for the support, thank you for allowing me to make my own decisions with my body, thank you to the incredible employees and thank you for everyone you have helped get to the same place of happiness as I am, being able to advocate for their own future and body. I can never repay anyone for this second chance, all I can is support the woman and men in my position and advocate for our choices. Writing this has been part of my healing. I think about our child often, it still hurts sometimes. I know the tiny “what if” will never go away, I accept that and also embrace that because like I said, I got a second chance to make my life the beauty that it is today. Again, thank you for the second chance at being the best woman I can be.

 

This letter was published with permission from the author.

 

#FlashbackFriday: Watch the Whole Woman’s squad speak @ the Supreme Court!

We don’t know about you, but we’re still just recovering from last week’s oral arguments and Supreme Court rally! It’s been tough getting back into the day-to-day now that we’re no longer prepping for the biggest reproductive rights case of our generation (although now we’re playing the waiting game again as we look toward the Justices for a decision).

So, it’s understandable that we’d be spending the week reliving the moment by going back through Twitter and Instagram feeds, and re-watching the rally recordings. Our Whole Woman’s Health squad had the honor of speaking several times throughout the program, and we’ve gathered them all below for your Friday viewing pleasure 🙂

Amy Hagstrom Miller, President & CEO:

 

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, Physician @ Whole Woman’s Health:

 

Andrea Ferrigno, Corporate Vice President:

 

Marva Sadler, Director of Clinical Services:

 

You can watch the rally in its entirety here and scroll down for the entire list of speakers!

Below is the complete list of speakers:

“I’ve learned to be stronger by witnessing their strength” – Andrea Ferrigno’s speech on the steps of the Supreme Court

Good Morning Everyone,

My name is Andrea Ferrigno, I am the corporate vice president for Whole Woman’s Health. Like my colleagues here to, we are grateful that so many of you have come to bear witness as we bring our case to the Supreme Court. It’s been quite a journey.

As a Hispanic immigrant from Latin America, I have witnessed firsthand the grave importance of having access to safe, legal abortion care in an environment where women’s voices matter. That is why I am committed to this work both on a professional and personal level.

I have done just about every job at Whole Woman’s Health, and I can tell you what it means to provide compassionate, quality abortion care. to do this work in Texas, where so many Latinas and immigrants like me are struggling to get the health care we need, is personal.

I am proud to be able to talk to patients in their preferred language, to listen to them and hold their hand. I have the privilege to sit next to women as they share their stories with me, and honor their most inner struggles with spirituality, fear, love, life and parenthood.

I am truly humbled and inspired by their resilience.

But I have also seen firsthand how laws like HB2 can force clinics to shut down. I’ve had to sign the construction orders for costly work to comply with medically unnecessary TRAP regulations.

Not only have they tried to shut down our clinics, they’ve tried to stop us from creating the warm and friendly atmosphere our patients deserve. They want to make our spaces cold, sterile, and scary. I watched with sadness as they told us we could no longer provide the soothing space our patients are grateful for. Again, there is no medical reason for these rules. Instead, they are simply a way for politicians to reach in and interfere with how we provide care, with how we show women that we love them, value them, and trust them.

I think about the woman that on the phone begged me to see her even though our clinic was shut down by this law, I still hear her desperation telling me: “Please, please, I won’t tell anyone. Why won’t you help me, please?!’

Or the woman that became pregnant while starting her chemotheraphy treatment for ovarian cancer. Her own physician refused to help her terminate the pregnancy because of fear of repercussion from the anti-choice board members of his hospital. She came to us the day HB2 was enacted and we couldn’t see her.

There are so many stories just as compelling, and it is by listening to women’s stories that I’ve learned to be a better person; I’ve been humbled by their wisdom, and I’ve learned to be stronger by witnessing their strength. I share their frustration and pain on a personal level, because it is impossible to ignore this injustice. We have to remember that these laws don’t end abortions, it ends safe abortions.

Every day I see the impact of onerous, medially unnecessary abortion restrictions on the lives of the women who come to our clinics.

But working for Whole Woman’s Health, I’ve also seen what is possible. What it looks like to respect and support our patients and provide compassionate care. It is transformations and is the reason why we are here today. I look forward to the Supreme Court deciding on the side of justice so that I can keep doing the work that I love.

I stated 16 years ago that this is my calling, what God would want me to do. I’m not stopping, are you?

“…you made a difference in my world.”

Dear Whole Woman’s Health Staff:

I was in your care while making one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I don’t remember anyone’s name – the day is a bit of a blur – but I wanted to thank you all for making such a difficult day that much less difficult by providing me (and the other women) with such a supportive, safe, gentle, and loving environment. Thank you.

I’m so glad I had the option of coming to you. I know your jobs must be difficult but rewarding and I wanted to let you all know that you made a difference in my world.

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