By Carolyn Miller, Development & Communications Manager
If you’ve had a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach since the beginning of the New Year, you might be like me and have read or heard about how 2015 was a terrible year for women’s reproductive health. Maybe today, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, you’ve read again how threatened reproductive rights are. Many women in the US now live in areas where obtaining an abortion requires them to jump through many hoops, travel many miles, and wait longer than they should for one of the safest medical procedures. There were as many restrictive laws in the past five years as there were in the previous fifteen.
Lawmakers know they cannot outlaw abortion outright, so they add restriction to restriction, until it is a wall insurmountable to most women. If you have been shocked by any of last year’s stories about the attack on women’s right to choose, I know where you’ve been. It was while I was reading article after article that I fell into the first stage of grief for the loss of my reproductive rights.
In the first stage, I could not believe what is happening in America, especially on the state level. There are laws regulating everything: the provider, the facilities, medication abortion, patient counseling, second and third trimester abortions, and waiting periods. A woman’s right to privacy is being chipped away as mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds become more common. State officials are now reviewing ultrasounds in three states. Plus, states began defunding Planned Parenthood clinics, thereby cutting off many women’s access to abortion, birth control, cancer screenings, and treatment of STDs for both women and men. I wondered how this could happen, that the world’s most powerful nation would scrape away at the rights of half its population.
Reality set in, and I became angry at everyone and everything. I was upset with myself for not doing more, frustrated with politicians for every thinly veiled piece of legislation they passed or failed to stop that hinders access to abortion. As of January 1, 2016, 24 states have passed laws that claim to ensure the safety of the patient, but in reality do nothing to improve patient safety. They actually restrict patients’ access by causing clinics to close. I was disgusted by the obviously edited Planned Parenthood “sting” videos, which have spurred many lawmakers to pass these laws and push for defunding Planned Parenthood. More and more, I became anxious about the future, wondering what would happen to me if I had an unplanned pregnancy or had to counsel a friend with one. I thought of the those who are thinking of their other children, I thought of the rape survivors, I thought of the women who want to establish a career before they create a family, and it made me angry.
I felt the weight of 158.6 million women’s problems on my shoulders. When my fiery anger abandoned me, I became overwhelmed by the hateful rhetoric and extreme anti-abortion violence. Abortion providers should not fear for their lives when they go to work. Women should not have to cross borders for reproductive health care. I imagined those who must run the gauntlet of protesters trying to get to a clinic. I remembered the lives lost at Colorado Springs. I marveled at the unending stream of personal insults and hatred from the depths of the internet towards any person who supports a woman’s right to choose. Stopping the onslaught felt impossible. So I retreated, hoping that neither I nor anyone I know would ever need an abortion.
But that’s a little unrealistic isn’t it? Nearly one in three American women will have an abortion by the age of 45. My voice deserves to be heard, and I will continue to speak and write about one of the safest and most common medical procedures in the US.
I joined the staff of Medical Students for Choice shortly after the Colorado Springs shooting, which made me hesitant to tell others about my new job. Why would I want to mention my job when I might get shot for it? But that means anti-choice rhetoric has won, and I refuse to let that happen. I won’t contribute to the stigma of abortion and be vague about who I work for, what I do, and what I believe in—I’ll speak up without shame or hesitation and get the conversation started.
I realized that I can shape the future of women’s rights and so can every pro-choice person out there. On the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the fight is not over. MSFC fights for reproductive rights by creating the next generation of abortion providers. In one year alone, 62 student groups fought to change their school’s curriculum, fighting the stigma of abortion in the medical community. We had record-breaking interest in attending our Abortion Training Institutes (ATIs). In 2015, our donors helped us educate 136 students at our ATIs and helped us meet the increased interest in our Reproductive Health Externship Funding Program (RHE). 137 students were able to gain abortion training at a clinic of their choice through the program. This is 60% more than just 2 years ago! And what about life after MSFC? Our alumni continue to do great work across the US in areas such as Texas, the Carolinas, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. They refuse to be intimidated by anti-abortion threats and violence because they know they are providing an essential service to women.
There is so much you can do to fight for reproductive justice. You live in a representative democracy, and have the right not only to speak freely, but also to speak to your representative. You can write to your local and national representatives, telling them why they should be pro-choice and a defender of women’s rights. You can share information from reputable sources on social media in order to fight the deluge of disinformation. You could also write a letter to the editor of your local paper, thoughtfully detailing your views on Roe v. Wade and Whole Women’s Health v. Cole. If you are a medical student or resident, become involved in your school’s MSFC chapter, or maybe start your own chapter if one does not exist. If you are an ally, you can set up a monthly pledge or make a one-time donation to support future pro-choice physicians.
We all need to speak out, not just for our individual rights, but for the rights of all women because access to abortion is key to ensuring women’s liberty and equality. We need not only pro-choice physicians, but also pro-choice citizens. It is not enough to be a silent supporter. Add your voice to mine and speak up about being pro-choice.
To learn more about women’s reproductive rights in 2015, visit the Guttmacher Institute.
If you are not a student or physician, you can become an activist through many organizations. Here are a few: NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and National Abortion Federation (which includes ways to become involved with the organization, but perhaps more importantly, how to be an activist in everyday life).