Activists protest proposed abortion bans
"People have been getting abortions since the beginning of time, and we will continue getting the abortions we need, no matter what. We take care of each other."
By DOUGLAS J HARDING
Dozens of activists from multiple organizations gathered this weekend at the Capitol in Charleston to celebrate the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and to protest bills in the state legislature aiming to ban abortions and otherwise restrict reproductive rights.
“We live in one of the poorest and sickest states in the country, and instead of giving mountaineers what we truly need, legislators are spending our time and our tax dollars restricting access to basic health care,” said Kaylen Barker, communications director at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia.
Indeed, lawmakers from both major political parties in West Virginia have introduced or sponsored in recent weeks legislation aiming to ban, to restrict or to further stigmatize one’s right to access reproductive health care in the state.
Bi-partisan Senate Resolution 12, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Rucker (R- Jefferson, 16), Minority Leader Sen. Stephen Baldwin (D- Greenbrier, 10) and Sen. Randy Smith (R- Tucker, 14), even aims to designate January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade which ruled that abortion is a secured Constitutional right, as the state’s official “Day of Tears.”
Jamie Miller, a Charleston artist, activist and abortion escort, said the state legislature “constantly” seeks to craft laws that will, in some way, make it harder for W.V. residents to access safe and legal abortions.
“And they do so while saying they are ‘protecting life,’ yet they refuse to pass bills such as the Fairness Act [and] the CROWN Act, anti-hate bills that actually will protect people living in this state,” Miller said. “They also create anti-trans bills and bills that prohibit harm reduction and strip people of their dignity and autonomy. I stand here with no answers to what is happening, but I do know that if someone wants an abortion, they will obtain one no matter what. Abortion will always happen, and we deserve to be safe.”
Miller said she chose to receive an abortion when she was sixteen years old, after becoming pregnant as the result of being sexually assaulted at a party by a boy who did not even know her name.
“I remember buying the pregnancy test like it was yesterday,” Miller said. “I hid in the bathroom at the mall. When those two pink lines showed up, I was screaming, I was crying, I was begging God to give me help. A woman whose face I never saw—I didn’t know her, she was in the stall next to me—spoke to me and said, ‘You are not alone. You need to call the Women’s Health Center and they will help you.’ And she saved my life. I am forever grateful for her.”
Miller said she called the Health Center the next day and made an appointment.
“I was terrified,” Miller said. “I couldn’t tell anybody because I had a religious family, a grandfather in the hospital, a parent with a mental instability—and we were poor. I had to figure it out on my own. I did what I needed to do to raise funds, which included stealing. I was desperate. I knew that I did not want to be a mother. I was not ready, and this was my choice.”
Despite unrelenting efforts by some people and groups to further stigmatize and shame those who have received an abortion, or who are seeking to receive an abortion, Miller said she is proud of herself for the decision she made, and others who make the same choice should be proud of themselves as well.
“I never once regretted that choice because my abortion saved my life,” Miller said. “I am actually proud. I’m proud that I took the initiative by myself and knew what I wanted at that age. I will no longer accept the shame that is placed on me, or the stigma of religious zealots. (…) I am proud of my choice. I am proud of your choice. And I will walk with others at the clinic to support their choice. Forcing anyone to give birth for any reason is barbaric and unjust.”
Miller said she would have chosen to terminate her pregnancy, “no matter how [she] became pregnant.”
Del. Danielle Walker (D- Monongalia, 51) said it is hypocritical for lawmakers to introduce anti-abortion bills while claiming to support a “pro-life” agenda.
“I call B.S.,” Walker said. “If it was pro-life, we would not have SNAP recipients having to do drug screenings. We would not have a foster care system that cannot even keep up with the children. We [would not] have our neighbors who choose to sleep on the streets because they get no respect at the agencies where they are supposed to stay warm. We [would not] have educators who don’t even have enough to put food on the table.”
Walker also said abortion bans are explicitly sexist.
“I don’t see anybody having to give a reason when they need a penile implant,” she said. “They don’t need a reason when they want Viagra. They don’t need to fill out a report if they want a vasectomy. So, please take the shackles and the gag off my ovaries and my uterus: My body, my choice.”
Katie Quinonez, executive director at the Women’s Health Center, echoed the sentiment that, even if state or federal legislation mandates otherwise, people who want an abortion will continue to find ways to receive one.
“We know how this goes: [The Supreme Court] will decimate Roe, [and] politicians will try to control our bodies,” Quinonez said. “But [they] do not decide our fate (…) People have been getting abortions since the beginning of time, and we will continue getting the abortions we need, no matter what. We take care of each other. Abortion clinics and funds will continue to step up where those in power fall short.”
Quinonez said that even the Roe v. Wade ruling has not succeeded in protecting one’s right to receive an abortion because there are countless other barriers and obstacles standing in the way.
“We know that Roe has never been enough,” Quinonez said. “Abortion has and will continue to remain out of reach for far too many people because of workplace and economic injustices, and because abortion can be a financial emergency. With costs related to transportation, child care, lost wages and pointless restrictions imposed by politicians, that hardship is compounded. Everyone deserves access to the abortions they need on the timeline they want. Full stop.”
At the protest, Quinonez also announced that the Women’s Health Center, the only remaining abortion provider in the state, has taken ownership of the Choice Fund, a non-profit fund which “helps West Virginians who are working to make ends meet afford the abortions they need.”
To donate or to learn more about the Choice Fund, visit https://abortionfunds.org/fund/wv-free-choice-fund/.
The West Virginia Holler is an affiliate of The Tennessee Holler and is powered, in part, by West Virginia Can’t Wait. Follow the Holler on Twitter @HollerWV and Instagram @WVHoller. We're on Facebook too! Follow writer Douglas J. Harding @douglasjharding.