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!

Countdown to SCOTUS: Five decades of Texas TRAP laws in 30 seconds

As the countdown to Supreme Court oral arguments continue, we are reminded that the admitting privilege and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements we’re fighting are part of a long history, five decades – in fact, of anti-abortion legislation that has been pushed through the Texas legislature.

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P.S. Have you signed up for the Thunderclap yet? We’re sending a message on March 2nd – Protect Abortion Access!

Statement from Amy Hagstrom Miller: “Today, my heart is filled with hope”

Hello, My name is Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. We are the lead plaintiff in this case. I own and operate 8 high quality independent abortion care clinics in 5 states – Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico and Maryland.

Today is an exciting day for Whole Woman’s Health. We have been fighting this draconian law since 2013. After a series of appeals and emergency injunctions, here we are today, having heard from the highest court of the land that they will hear our case. I want to thank the Center for Reproductive Rights for continuing to partner with our organization in our continued fight to stand up for the reproductive rights for the women of Texas.

Today, my heart is filled with hope. Although this is the first step in a much longer process, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the rights that have been in place for four decades and reaffirm that every woman should be able to make her own decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy. I have hope for my staff members, who, for years, have poured themselves into providing Texas women with high-quality and comprehensive reproductive health care. And most of all, I have hope for the families and communities all across Texas who now may be able to get the safe and comprehensive care they need from a clinic they trust.

This law is causing real harm to women across the state of Texas, and has been since 2013 – it’s creating higher costs, longer delays, and extra steps for women seeking abortion care, and in the process punishing women for their decision to exercise their constitutional right to end a pregnancy. A woman should be able to access the safe and legal abortion services she needs regardless of her zip code.

By forcing clinics to close, Texas legislators have multiplied the barriers women face when they need an abortion. Texas women are forced to go to multiple and unnecessary visits at clinics that are now farther away, take more days off of work, losing income, find childcare, and arrange and pay for transportation for hundreds of miles. For many women, the process of obtaining safe and legal health care has simply become unfeasible. No one should be denied safe and compassionate care based on her zip code, but that’s exactly what this law does. Legislators are effectively forcing these women to carry their pregnancies to term against their will.

Take for example a woman from Lubbock. Prior to HB 2, her community had a clinic. With the enactment of HB 2, she faced a 230 mile, 4.5 hour trip – EACH WAY – just to get a first trimester abortion. She was a working, single mother of 3 without healthcare. She faced layers of barriers – including find gas money for the drive and child care for the day she would be away. In the end she was pushed into the later second trimester and finally was unable to obtain the abortion she wanted.

Or take for another example a woman who visited our McAllen clinic on the Texas-Mexico border. Unfortunately she was scheduled for an appointment the day after HB 2 first went into effect. After HB 2 her appointment was immediately canceled. She was devastated by the absurdity of this law – noting immediately that if she had come just yesterday the same MD and staff would have been able to help her. She reached out to our hotline and said: “I will terminate this pregnancy. So how about I tell you what I have in my cupboards, under my sink and in my medicine cabinet and you tell me what to use and how to use it in order to do my own abortion.”

It’s stunning to hear stories like these, but that is exactly what is at stake. If the Supreme Court does not stop this deceptive, politically driven law we will hear more stories like these.

In 2003, Whole Woman’s Health made a commitment to provide quality and holistic reproductive health care in Texas. This is a commitment we intend to keep. To the women of Texas: Now, more than ever, we are here for you. We have been betrayed by legislators and vilified by anti-choice extremists, but we are still here for you, and are confident that justice will be on our side.  We are honored to stand up for Texas women and families and bring this case to the highest court in the land.

Amy Hagstrom Miller
President & CEO of Whole Woman’s Health

We think birth control is for everyone.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy (left) was one of the five male Supreme Court Justices who sided with Hobby Lobby on Monday, saying that a corporation has the right to deny female employees birth control coverage due to the company’s “religious beliefs”. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (right) wrote a scorching dissenting opinion on the case’s decision, which was joined by the other three female justices of the court.

Recently the Supreme Court heard Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a case concerning a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that required employers’ health insurance plans to offer contraceptive coverage for their employees. Hobby Lobby, who officially won the case yesterday, sued to be exempted from the provision due to the “deeply held religious beliefs” of their company that being required to offer birth control coverage to their employees is equivalent to abortion. It is important to note that Hobby Lobby’s 401K program invests in pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers that produce various forms of birth control – from the pill to emergency contraception to the IUD – as well as drugs used during procedures in abortion care.

The case deeply divided the court with the concurring side being all five male justices while the dissenting side was all four female justices. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in particular wrote a sharp dissenting opinion, saying that the court, she fears, “has ventured into a minefield.”

You can still obtain safe and accessible reproductive healthcare, including birth control, from any one of our locations across the nation in Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Baltimore, or Minneapolis. Find our clinic locations here or call us for directions and pricing on what we offer. We welcome all into our doors with no judgement or shame for what you’re coming to us for.

On Buffer Zones and the First Amendment

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Eleanor McCullen toes a painted buffer zone line outside of a Planned Parenthood in Boston. She, among other anti-choice activists like William Cotter of Operation Rescue (at right), is suing the state of Massachusetts over its buffer zone law, saying it violates their right to free speech. The Supreme Court will hear arguments today. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in McCullen v Coakley, a case in which anti-choice protesters claim that a Massachusetts buffer zone law requiring picketers to stay at least 35 feet from a clinic entrance violates their right to free speech. Should the high court side with McCullen and others, places like Portland, Maine, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Chicago would no longer be able to enforce their buffer zone laws and ordinances passed to protect patients seeking abortion care in the facilities that serve those areas.

In the case of Hill v Colorado in 2000, SCOTUS sided with Colorado’s current buffer zone law, stating that protesters’ First Amendment rights to free speech were not violated when buffer zones were enforced. In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Stevens wrote that it only makes it more difficult to give unwanted advice to someone seeking an abortion:

“Although the statute prohibits speakers from approaching unwilling listeners, it does not require a standing speaker to move away from anyone passing by. Nor does it place any restriction on the content of any message that anyone may wish to communicate to anyone else, either inside or outside the regulated areas. It does, however, make it more difficult to give unwanted advice, particularly in the form of a handbill or leaflet, to persons entering or leaving medical facilities.”

McCullen v Coakley is a direct challenge to Hill v Colorado, and the court’s decision to hear the case has abortion providers and pro-choice advocates more than a little concerned. Appeals court judges have all upheld that buffer zone laws are a good balance of rights for both protesters and the clinics that they target, giving patients and staff access to the building while also allowing picketers to maintain their right to free speech but not to incite violence or block access to clinics. When issuing his opinion on McCullen, First Circuit Judge Selya called the plaintiff’s allegations of First Amendment violation a “creative recalibration of First Amendment principles”.

As Robin Marty asks in her Think Progress piece, “By taking up McCullen, is the Supreme Court signaling it sees something different than the previous courts did?” Even though the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994 has prohibited protesters from blocking patients and staff from clinics, buffer zones have since protected patients from further harassment that could become, and has become, violent behavior.

Buffer Zones Do as They’re Intended

In this chart from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), incidence of reported clinic violence have dropped substantially since 2007, the year that SCOTUS found buffer zones to be constitutional. Opponents of the Massachusetts law say these buffer zones violate their First Amendment rights.
In this chart from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), incidence of reported clinic violence have dropped substantially since 2000. Though the instances have decreased, the majority of clinics that don’t have buffer zones still face violence everyday. Opponents of the Massachusetts law say these buffer zones violate their First Amendment rights.

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Massachusetts, showing that supporting and allowing for buffer zones is a necessary way for the state to exercise its interests in protecting clinics, their staff, and their patients from violence:

“Despite these precautions, reproductive healthcare facilities regularly encounter violence and obstructed access to this day. The most recent murder of a physician who provided abortions occurred in 2009. By 2010, one out of every five reproductive healthcare facilities was afflicted by anti-abortion violence. In 2012 alone, five facilities suffered arsons. From 2007 to 2012, there were at least eight arsons, six attempted arsons or 3 bombings, 41 incidents of assault and battery, and more than 200 acts of vandalism of facilities. Much of this violence occurs in the areas immediately surrounding reproductive healthcare facilities. Given this continuing reality, a buffer zone immediately surrounding facility entrances helps secure patient and staff access to the facilities, and is a narrowly-tailored response to the States’ significant law enforcement interests. In fact, surveys show that buffer zones have decreased violence, obstruction and intimidation outside of reproductive healthcare facilities. This improved situation compels the continuation, and not the dismantling, of buffer zone laws.”

NAF also recommends buffer zones in its Legal Remedies to Address Clinic Violence and Harrassment handbook, and lists a state-by-state collection of ordinances and injunctions that help protect clinics. Though some buffer zones were struck down before the decision in Hill v Colorado, NAF believes that “if similar ordinances were introduced today they would likely survive a constitutional challenge.” In regards to McCullen, we certainly hope that’s true.

Freedom of Speech ≠ Freedom of Violence or Harassment

US News and World Report quotes President of Massachusetts Citizens for Life Anne Fox on the lawsuit:

“We consider it a First Amendment issue, because it’s a law that targets very certain facilities, just abortion facilities,” says Anne Fox, the [Massachusetts Citizens for Life] president. Protests outside corporate buildings or by animal rights activists, for example, do not have protests “buffer zones.” Fox says the zones also make it nearly impossible for anti-abortion activists to speak freely to women walking into clinics to get an abortion. 

While we wholeheartedly agree that the First Amendment grants anyone the right to say and believe what they choose as well as assemble in protest, it grants no one the right to use tactics like violence, harassment, stalking, or murder as a means of “free speech”. Being forced to stand 35 feet away from the entrance to a clinic, while making it more difficult to directly engage with a patient, does not obstruct a protester’s right to assemble or tell them what they can or cannot say and believe. A buffer zone is created so that a picketer can’t get into a woman’s face, follow them to the door, or make any harmful actions against her when she’s walking into a facility.

From Adam Liptak of the New York Times writes:

Law professors defending the 2007 Massachusetts law filed a supporting brief in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, No. 12-1168, pointing out that buffer zones also exist around polling places and funerals. In a supporting brieffiled for Planned Parenthood, Walter E. Dellinger III, a former acting United States solicitor general, reminded the Supreme Court that it forbade protests on its own plaza.

As the court hears arguments today we, like many others, will be watching for the decision to see if they uphold the standards that were rightfully set in Hill. Until then the question remains: If SCOTUS interprets the creating of safe, protective spaces for women in communities with high instances of anti-choice violence as an encroachment on free speech, what kind of precedent does that set for future First Amendment cases?

(Shira Schoenberg for The Republican/MassLive.com)