Em-URGE-ing Voices

Your urgent thoughts, urging action

Making Communities Healthier

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May 15, 2013


Cross-posted with permission from Provide

“Places get healthier when the people who live in them make informed choices about what they put in their bodies, and when the communities themselves are committed to better health. Those steps improve the workforce and change how families use their resources.” Dee Davis,Speak Your Piece: Living in a fixer upper

I was struck by this quote from Dee Davis, president and founder of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, KY because it reminded me of what we believe at Provide and why we are working in rural communities to increase access to abortion. Abortion access may only be one of the health-related issues a rural woman might face in her lifetime, but it is the one she may be most reluctant to discuss with a social service or health care provider. Stigma keeps providers quiet and women afraid to ask about referrals to women-friendly resources about abortion and abortion providers. We leave women alone to search for the right information. That is unacceptable.

Last summer, I volunteered at the Remote Area Medical rural health clinic at the Wise, VA county fairgrounds. I saw people drive hundreds of miles from 7 states and sleep overnight in a parking lot to be sure to get a place in line for basic health care. As I talked with people I began to realize that many folks waited because they are not able to afford health care anywhere else: stories of spacing medications, years of no dental care, not knowing what the growths on their bodies were but waiting to seek medical help until they could no longer tolerate the pain, smell or bleeding. I had to take a humble look at just what we at Provide are envisioning. When health care is THIS hard to access,what does it take to make sure women are getting the right information about abortion? How does this fit into the picture I saw in Wise, VA?

It fits because despite the fact that stigma and silence try to tell us otherwise, abortion is a medical service that women everywhere require to live full and healthy lives. Access to abortion is access to health care .While the stigma of abortion adds compounding layers onto the health care accessibility issue in these communities, this does not mean that abortion can be separated out and ignored.

What it takes is individual people motivated and equipped with the right tools to create change. We are working to eradicate the silence. We are building networks, offering resources and training, and promoting institutional level change. With providers in rural areas we are talking through stigma, fear and misinformation to ensure women have access to all of the options available so they can make the decision that is best for themselves. It is possible for people to speak out in rural communities and to move things that seem impossible to change. Just this month we finished up interviews and are bringing on new team members who are willing to step into the role in their states to train and organize and push beyond the fear that silence creates. Provide brings the tools and the information, but it is the people–the health care and social services workers and the women themselves in rural communities–who will make the change.

Wyndi Anderson is the Senior Director of Programs at Provide, overseeing work in rural communities, Southern and Midwestern states, and among nursing educators. She is a daughter of South Carolina. She is also the board chair of Choice USA.


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