This month Whole Woman’s Health turns 15 and Roe v. Wade turns 45.
It’s not lost on me that these are important milestones, and in the struggles women face daily for gender equality and reproductive rights, it might be easy to overlook the progress we’ve made or keep our setbacks in perspective — especially under the current administration.
But these obstacles haven’t kept us down. Women have experienced significant moments of power and success recently, and we’re filled with resiliency now more than ever. We must continue to garner the momentum we’ve built, and use it to dismantle systems of oppression that are designed to hold us back, strip us of autonomy over our own bodies and keep us from being seen as true equals to men.
For me, abortion care is a calling. It involves life, death, sex, family, religion, money, identity and self-esteem. All the big things that ultimately make life so terrifying and fulfilling at the same time. As such, it’s a lightning rod issue in our culture, and unfortunately, is often surrounded by shame and stigma. I’ve made it my life’s work to eradicate that shame and stigma, and I do that by running high-quality holistic abortion clinic facilities. I also work tirelessly to change our culture’s perception of abortion through education and by challenging bad laws and harmful rhetoric that perpetuate false stereotypes about women and providers that are neither rooted in science or fact. In places like Texas and Indiana and beyond, where in recent years we’ve witnessed dramatic backlash against reproductive freedom, I’ve fought to challenge the falsehoods in laws targeting abortion care clinics and the people we serve.
Abortion providers are on the front lines providing the direct services that make women’s rights on paper a reality. We engage in deep and heartfelt conversations with people every day about their bodies, their lives, their values and their beliefs. Without us, there’s no choice. Our opposition understand this and it’s why they work so hard to close our doors. And even though anti-abortion lawmakers and groups haven’t been entirely successful in shutting us down, they’ve inflicted real damage.
How is this possible? Because people in power prey on gender stereotypes when it comes to abortion. They use the stigma surrounding abortion as a powerful weapon in the larger war against those of us whose advancement may result in a shift of power, wealth and control. I’ve always seen this as the real truth behind the abortion debate. It’s not the medical procedure or the unplanned pregnancy that challenges people’s ethics and values — it’s the fact that when women have control over their bodies, they become equals in society. Access to safe, compassionate and unfettered abortion care represents the crumbling of our country’s patriarchy.
Policymakers who enact restrictive reproductive laws don’t just want to end abortion, they want to end contraception, prevention, sex education and even post-natal care. Just look at what’s happening to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This isn’t about abortion. The president and many Republican members of Congress are anti-women, anti-family, anti-minority and anti-healthcare — period. If the sweep of anti-abortion regulations across the nation was about reducing unplanned pregnancies and preventing the need for abortions, we’d see robust funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education.
Access to abortion is a metaphor for women’s autonomy and self-determination. It allows us to lead lives with intention and to create the families we want and pursue the careers we want. When we have control over our bodies, we’re no longer victims of our circumstances, and can live out our dreams and hopes as planned. To me, this is what abortion care work is all about — creating and defending the space for women to realize the rights earned and promised to them on paper.
Abortion is also part of comprehensive healthcare, which is a human rights issue. Abortion providers are human rights workers.
My dream, as we celebrate Roe’s 45th anniversary, is that women who decide to have abortions or seek information about terminating a pregnancy are treated with respect and dignity. This includes having the option to have an abortion in a safe facility near their home. I also dream that the people who perform these procedures and provide information about them are seen and respected as medical professionals who are providing an important and legal service, free of judgment. Because anything less is capitulating to arcane ideas of a woman’s place in society.
Amy Hagstrom Miller is the founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health.