In the summer of 2013, the Texas legislature met not once, but twice, in special sessions, to pass an extreme omnibus abortion bill meant to shutter most of the abortion clinics in the state. The first special session failed not because the majority of legislators planned to oppose the bill, but because Texan advocates literally shouted them down. The room was too loud for the lawmakers to properly cast their votes before time expired.
A few weeks later, the lawmakers reconvened to pass the same bill. Once they signed it into law, they thought they could silence us. Little did they realize they are only making us louder.
In Texas and across the United States, anti-choice legislatures aren’t just closing clinics to stop abortion. They are also closing clinics to silence the voices of those who support women’s personal decision-making. Clinic closures don’t just affect the landscape of abortion access, but the fabric that holds together those who will continue to fight for these legal rights – the doctors who will provide the medical care, the lawyers who will take and defend these cases in court, the counselors who will not just ensure that a person makes the decision that is best for her, but help her on her first steps in the next phase of her life journey, and the clinic staff and volunteers who create an affirming, safe space. And perhaps most importantly, the patients who will later speak out about their experience to family, friends and the politicians who try to take safe abortion care away from others.
Since the Texas bill went into effect, I have watched as 23 clinics close, including two of my own at Whole Woman’s Health. I have lost my ability to help some of those who are pregnant, but one thing I have not lost is my voice. Like all providers and allies facing these similar bills across the country, we will not be bullied into silence.
Instead of packing up, I am redoubling my efforts to change our culture and ensure that we can still provide the support and advocacy that our patients and our community have come to count on. Throughout my career in abortion care, my colleagues and I have always been both service providers and advocates. Both. The two need each other; the two are integral to each other.
Abortion opponents want to be able to talk about a pregnancy and a baby as if it exists apart from and has no impact on the woman carrying it. They want to discuss health care without pregnancy prevention, and childbirth without maternity leave or financial supports. What we need in Texas and throughout this country is some real talk on abortion.
What does it meant to bring real talk about abortion into the public sphere? It includes explaining to the media and thought leaders the realities of abortion care so they can see firsthand the absurdity of laws that require certain types of curtains or wallpaper in a clinic. It includes bringing our daily experience working with those making profound life decisions to confront the myths and confusion purposefully crafted by the anti-choice movement. It includes displaying the beauty of a mural on the walls of our building in the Rio Grande.
For us, real talk now includes erecting billboards, and establishing a hotline that informs the community where safe, legal abortion care is still available while continuing to stand with women at the state capital to oppose laws that want to shut it down.
We will continue the debate that our opponents are afraid to have. Who better to help our society end abortion stigma than red-state abortion providers who have stared that opposition in the eye with courage and resolve? As providers and as advocates, our voices have only grown stronger and more committed.
Let this be a warning to anti-abortion lawmakers: You may close our clinics, but you are sowing the seeds of a new generation dedicated to ending abortion stigma.