Voices of Courage: Care is Not a Crime Benefit

My name is Catherine Stratis, and I’m a third-year medical student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. I was one of the leaders of Sinai’s chapter of MSFC from Spring 2022-Spring 2023. I am also one of the founding members of the MSFC NYC coalition.

Voices of Courage

The Voices of Courage benefit, hosted by Physicians for Reproductive Health, was dedicated to amplifying the voices of physicians actively fighting against the criminalization of reproductive healthcare throughout our country, loud and proud in the face of danger and injustice. The topic was timely and of the utmost importance.

Being in a room surrounded by dedicated abortion providers and activists was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I knew that I would not only learn so much from being there, listening to the speakers, and observing the interactions between people holding different roles in this movement, but also have a fantastic time – and John Oliver making an appearance was a bonus!

John Oliver speaking at the Voices of Courage: Care is Not a Crime Benefit

Memorable Moments

I remember arriving at the event with my fellow MSFC NYC members and looking at each other in complete awe and disbelief that we were there. The venue, City Winery, was located on the West Side Highway on the Hudson River; this sophisticated, swanky spot complemented and enhanced the event’s grandeur.

Once we all sat at our table in the main room, we realized that we were the only medical students present. We felt both out of place and a sense of belonging, waiting for our turn to do this work as physicians in training. We made a toast to MSFC, sipped on wine, and enjoyed charcuterie boards. Several times during the presentations, my MSFC colleagues and I looked at each other with a shared understanding of feeling inspired and grateful to be there. It was surreal.

Voices of Impact

The two honorees, Dr. Bhavik Kumar and Dr. DeShawn Taylor, each shared their unique journeys as abortion providers and pearls of wisdom.

A family medicine physician who advocates for access to abortion and trans healthcare, Dr. Kumar was a sort of accidental activist; he became the go-to abortion provider for interviews with news outlets – first locally, then nationally. He was able to break down and communicate Supreme Court and state policies in a digestible way to the general public, making this information more broadly accessible. Based in Texas, he acknowledged how having a platform that promotes abortion care puts his life at risk, as several physicians have been physically harmed, even killed, for doing what is right.

A Black woman and abortion clinic owner in Arizona, Dr. Taylor amplified the struggles of patients of color and low-income patients, who are disproportionately harmed by abortion restrictions. She spoke about the importance of looking at the people sitting at the table and making every effort to ensure that the table is diverse and inclusive – we cannot provide care to those who are marginalized without having people from marginalized backgrounds leading the way.

I can only hope to have half of the impact these brave, humble, radically compassionate physicians have had on their patients, in protecting access to abortion, and in advancing reproductive justice. All medical students should take note of the wisdom they imparted that day and incorporate these messages into their politics and medical practice.

Embracing Unity and Mentorship

Attending the event with the other medical students was a significant experience. I have gotten to know them over the past year through our education and policy reform programs efforts, so going to this event was a celebration of the work we have already done and a preview of the future work we hope to do. Dr. Antonetti, an abortion provider we have worked with to plan reproductive health and abortion ethics panels at Sinai, is a role model to us. At the event, she introduced us to other physicians and healthcare professionals, who thanked us for taking the initiative as medical students and made us feel like valued members of this community of abortion advocates.

Collaborating and Igniting Change

Events like the Voices of Courage benefit have enormous potential for connection, collaboration, and education.

  • They are instrumental in networking and coalition building, allowing physicians, physicians in training, activists, and supporters to meet and share ideas, planting the seeds for future collective action.
  • They excite medical students for what’s to come, encouraging their involvement and further engagement in the field, and introduce students to potential mentors to guide their efforts.
  • They unite various stakeholders in the movement under a common purpose – spotlighting honorable physicians who serve as examples and inspirations to others.
  • They also attract folks advocating for parallel, intersecting causes, incorporating racial justice, gender-affirming care, trauma-informed care, and health equity.

Finally, these events boost morale and allow attendees to let their hair down and recharge, while enjoying the comedic stylings of John Oliver. At the risk of sounding cliché, this work is a marathon, not a sprint; we should celebrate the more minor victories along the way and give credit where credit is due.

Left to Right: Barbara Pereira Vera, Agathe de Pins, Daniel Baboolal, Sarah McNeilly, Catherine Stratis, Anne Lally, and Julia Zimmerman

For Those Who Could Not Attend

I would share Dr. Kumar and Dr. Taylor’s messages with them, and I would tell them to be like our MC for the evening, Olivia Julianna. Olivia Julianna was disgustingly body-shamed on social media by U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida. She used this attention online to raise over 2 million dollars in support of abortion access in a week through her fundraising campaign “Gen Z for Change.” At only 20 years old, Olivia Julianna demonstrates wit, maturity, and conviction in fighting for reproductive rights in an intersectional manner. She shows us that it’s never too early to start being vocal about what you believe in and becoming involved in activism on a grander scale.

As medical students, there is a myriad of ways for us to advocate for reproductive justice and empower patients – through fundraising for organizations that assist patients financially and logistically in obtaining abortions, raising awareness about state abortion restrictions on campus, filling gaps in your school’s abortion curriculum, participating in MSFC and Physicians for Reproductive Health events, and more. I would definitely encourage other students to attend this event next year!

Shaping a Future in Reproductive Healthcare

My experience at the benefit strengthened my desire to pursue a career in reproductive healthcare. It increased my excitement at the possibility of joining this community of physicians protecting reproductive rights and promoting reproductive justice. It gave me hope for the future — that positive change can happen, that abortion access can be expanded, bodily autonomy can be protected, abortion bans can be reversed, and healthcare can be made more equitable. I look forward to learning from all these inspirational healthcare professionals and activists and working towards these goals together.