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'We Are Not Ashamed': How Abortion Providers Are Pushing Back Against Stigma and Intimidation

A demonstrator holds a sign as activists gathered in Manhattan's Foley Square last month to support Planned Parenthood. (a katz / Shutterstock)

By Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

Nationwide attacks on reproductive rights are not only targeting Planned Parenthood, but also the numerous independent clinics that together are responsible for the majority of abortion care in the United States.

Now, many of those independent providers, staffers, and community members are coming forward and employing creative tactics to celebrate the social value of abortion care—without apology.

“There is stigma for people seeking abortion care, but also stigma for those working in abortion care,” said Kim Chiz, executive director and director of nursing for the Allentown Women’s Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in an interview with Common Dreams.

“It is time for all of us to stand up and say what we do is good. We are not ashamed. We help people and help families. We do it with love,” Chiz continued. “It has always been the time, but now more than ever is the time.”

Independent Clinics on Front Lines

A right-wing video smear campaign orchestrated by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress this summer touched off an ongoing, coordinated political offensive against Planned Parenthood and reproductive healthcare on the state and federal level. The campaigns have brought an escalation in direct intimidation and harassment, with at least four Planned Parenthood clinics physically attacked in the past three months, according to the count of Media Matters.

However, the impact this climate is having on independent abortion clinics is often overlooked, even though such facilities are responsible for well over half of all abortions performed across the United States. Rebecca Willman, member support and operations coordinator for the Abortion Care Network (ACN) of roughly 70 clinics told Common Dreams that this majority is due to the fact that independent clinics often provide abortion as a primary service, while Planned Parenthood performs other kinds of care as well.

“Independents are feeling a lot of what Planned Parenthood is feeling: cyber attacks to websites, clinics reporting harassment and threats,” said Willman. “Since the videos came out and Planned Parenthood is in the news more, our providers are in a higher state of alert. More people are looking over their shoulders and taking different routes to work to make sure they’re not going the same way.”

“The purpose of the videos was obviously to incite anti-choice activity,” Willman added. “That has been successful.”

Meanwhile, many of these clinics are small and unable to muster the legal support or lobbying resources that Planned Parenthood is able to provide. And they face a flurry of laws that target abortion providers across the country with debilitating requirements, including burdensome regulations and long waiting times. According to research organization the Guttmacher Institute, 25 states have “laws or policies that regulate abortion providers and go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety.”

These obstacles disproportionately impact low-income people and communities of color, who already face severe reproductive healthcare disparities.

“True Heroes in Their Communities”

Chiz said that, while her Pennsylvania clinic has not suffered an increase in regular one-site protests, website attacks have markedly ramped up: “The company that maintains our website said they have had tens of thousands of attacks every single day, on ours and other websites for abortion care providers.”

But the real change since the sting videos, Chiz continued, “has been having the opportunity to have good conversations about the social benefits and goodness of organ and tissue donation, whether from a fetus or not.”

The conversation about the social benefits of abortion care itself is spanning the country, as millions mobilize to defend Planned Parenthood. The ACN recently launched a “Stand With Abortion Care Providers” social media campaign to, in the words of Willman, recognize that the crackdown “is also happening to independents.” According to Willman, the ACN is also working to provide a network of support and communication between clinics nationwide.

On the local level, clinics and their supporters are finding creative ways to counter stigma. The Red River Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota is “is having volunteer escorts come once a week and chalk affirming, powerful messages onto sidewalks, do drawings and uplift the space,” Heather Ault, a visual artist and graphic designer who founded the art activism campaign 4,000 Years for Choice, told Common Dreams.

The Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen, Texas is not only part of a legal challenge to state restrictions on reproductive care but also pursuing a massive mural project to transform the clinic wall into a “message of peace, justice, and reproductive freedom,” according to a statement released last month.

And the Clinic Vest Project, founded last year in Chicago, is providing free, color-coordinated apparel to over 55 nationwide groups that provide support services for reproductive health facilities, in order to give volunteers and escorts a more unified and positive presence. Benita Ulisano, who sits on the board of the project, told Common Dreams, “The goal is to provide vest support to family planning clinics that support the full range of reproductive health options including safe and legal abortion.”

“Independent clinics provide the majority of abortion care in our country and independent clinics are closing at alarmingly high rate,” said Ault, who is preparing to launch a new poster series in partnership with the ACN to celebrate the abortion care provided by independent clinics. “Independent clinics are just creative, innovative, and true heroes in their communities providing abortion care.”

Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams

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