Letter from the Executive Director
Dear Access Friends and Allies,
On January 2, 2007, I proudly assumed the role of Executive Director at Access/Women's Health Rights Coalition. Well before I accepted the position and throughout the transition, I was in awe of the amazing and tireless efforts of my predecessor, J. Parker Dockray, in building Access into a small (in budget) but formidable (in heart and women power) organization. Under her leadership, and that of our dedicated board, staff and volunteers, Access has succeeded in shifting the conversation of the California reproductive rights movement from one strictly about 'choice' to one that acknowledges the realities that women face everyday trying to 'access' the care and information they need to make the reproductive decisions that are right for them. Through our hotline, advocacy programs, community education, Practical Support Network and Women in Need Fund, we work alone and in collaboration with our allies in the reproductive rights and justice movements to remove the barriers that these women face, even here in 'pro-choice' California.
Demand for the Access hotline only continues to grow. We receive nearly 8,000 calls each year, more than four times the number we can answer with our current resources. We work directly with an average of 1,900 women each year. Our callers represent almost every county in California. The majority of our callers are women of color, one-third are uninsured and another 25% have some type of Medi-Cal (the California Medicaid program), 20% are under 21 years old and almost one in ten are Spanish-speaking. Over half of Access callers are seeking an abortion, and most face barriers to care due to their gestation, insurance status, language or geographic location.
I can promise you that my decade-long experience in the nonprofit sector - more than half of it spent fighting for the reproductive rights of women of color and for unobstructed access to emergency contraception in New York - will continue to nurture Access's growth and enable me to offer a bold vision for our future as an organization and a movement.
You can support my transition and our growth TODAY by making a donation of your valuable time or money. Here are three easy ways you can help:
Make a contribution online.
If you live in California, join our Practical Support Network and provide direct assistance -rides, overnight housing, child care, translation - for women struggling to obtain a safe abortion.
Volunteer! With only two full-time staff members, volunteers are the backbone of our organization. They do everything from answering hotline calls to helping out with office tasks to talking to community-based organizations about Access.
Whether you are a long-time donor, a new or prospective supporter, a dedicated volunteer or a client, I hope this newsletter reinforces the need for your contributions by giving you an in-depth, behind the scenes perspective on our rewarding, often difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching work. This quarter, you can read more about our clients and why they call Access for information, referrals or support via the Real Women, Real Choices: Life on the Hotline column. In Access Reflections, our amazing and dedicated Hotline Manager, Lupe Rodriguez, shares her experience six months into her Access journey. Finally, Reproductive Justice Update: News You Can Use highlights the latest buzz in the reproductive health, rights and justice fields. This month we focus on enacted and threatened abortion bans from Nicaragua to South Dakota and a survey on doctors who refuse to provide or refer for services as basic, and legal, as abortion.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to and support of Access's mission, vision and leadership. I look forward to working and dialoguing with you in the coming years to strengthen Access -- together we can remove the practical reproductive health barriers women face in California and serve as model for allies across the country.
Real Women, Real Choices: Life on the Hotline
All names and other identifying information have been changed to protect our callers' confidentiality.
Sabrina called from Hollister in Monterey County to ask for help to pay for an abortion. At 16 weeks pregnant, Sabrina was turned away from a Palo Alto clinic that refused to perform an abortion that stage of her pregnancy. The Palo Alto clinic referred her to a clinic based in Oakland. The Oakland clinic refused to perform her abortion because of a prior C-section and instead referred her to San Francisco General Hospital for the procedure. The Oakland clinic also referred Sabrina to Access after, incorrectly, informing her that she would have to pay full-price and out- of-pocket for the abortion. She did not have nearly enough money for the cost of the procedure, so, per the Oakland clinic's advice, she called Access to ask for funding.
Three clinics later, Sabrina was now anxious about the delay. When she called us, she had reached 20 weeks gestation. Once our Hotline Manager, Lupe, figured out her situation, she informed Sabrina that she could get Emergency Medi-Cal to pay for the abortion at San Francisco General, despite what she was told by the Oakland clinic, and that she would not have to pay out-of-pocket. She scheduled her appointment and was told that she had to apply for Emergency Medi-Cal before her abortion procedure. Unfortunately, she was unable to take time off from work to apply, and had to wait until the morning of her scheduled appointment to do so. Even though she made the effort, she was not able to get Emergency Medi-Cal. The hospital still agreed to see her but warned that she would not be covered for any medications or complications needed after or that resulted from the procedure. Since she would not be able to take any more days off from work, she went ahead with the procedure as scheduled.
A woman named Corrina called seeking help with the cost of her abortion. She was 15 weeks pregnant and had already made an appointment to have the abortion at a local Planned Parenthood. Because she did not have any health insurance, she was quoted a price of $2,500 for the abortion - a sum which she could not "even fathom having." Corrina was clearly overwhelmed and going through a lot of personal and health problems when she called Access. She explained that three years ago, not long after she suffered a severe car accident, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since then she has had to be on heavy medication, which might be detrimental to the fetus, and her health continued to deteriorate. In addition, her financial situation was precarious because she had been unable to work since her accident and had to move in with her parents after her fiancé left her. While Access could not pay for the entire cost of her abortion, Corrina was possibly eligible for Emergency Medi-Cal, which would cover its entire cost. She seemed interested and hopeful, so Lupe told her how Medi-Cal works and where to apply. She understood that this was probably her best option and seemed determined to get to the social services office that same day to apply. Corrina thanked us for being so kind and informative, and before we ended the conversation, she said that if her luck ever changed she would donate money to Access.
We received a distraught call from Lisa because her health insurance did not cover abortion and she did not know how she was going to pay for her procedure. She tried to make an appointment at a clinic but was turned away because they could not process her insurance. Seeking further explanation, she called her insurance herself and discovered that they would only cover abortion in cases where it was a medically necessary 'emergency.' Our hotline volunteer told her about Emergency Medi-Cal and explained that if she qualified, it would cover the cost of her abortion procedure. She was a bit worried that, since eligibility is based on income and she had applied for and been denied Medi-Cal before, she would not qualify. We explained the difference between Emergency Medi-Cal and regular Medi-Cal, and that Lisa's current income would qualify her for Emergency Medi-Cal. The woman agreed that this was her only option and planned to sign up for Emergency Medi-Cal.
Diana called in with a question about emergency contraception (EC). She had unprotected sex a few weeks ago and had taken EC the day after. Three days later, she had sex again and the condom broke. She did not take EC the second time because she believed that she was still protected by the dose that she had taken three days earlier. She then took a pregnancy test and was surprised to learn that it was positive. She wanted to know whether she had become pregnant the first or second time she had sex. Lupe explained that you can take EC to prevent pregnancy within 5 days of having unprotected sex, but that you have to take a new dose after every sexual encounter. The caller was disappointed and said that she thought it would be harmful to take another dose so soon after the first. If she had known this information, she said she would "definitely have done things differently."
Lupe Rodriguez, Hotline Manager
The first few months for me here at Access were exciting, intense, and unpredictable. I was bright-eyed and very idealistic, so eager to learn, get my hands dirty, and make a difference that I thrust myself into the job completely even before I could clearly explain what my job was! I was simultaneously training for the job and immersed in its work. When I got the tough calls from people seeking advice and comfort, people who had heartbreaking stories or seemed lost among innumerable problems, I was instinctively emotional and ready to give them everything, to enable them to do whatever it sounded like they wanted. The work was disconcerting at times because when I first jumped in, I did not realize that it could be so daunting and emotional.
As the months go by, I have no doubt become more knowledgeable and more emotionally prepared for the job. I can now easily explain many of the different aspects of Medi-Cal coverage, and I have memorized the phone numbers for all of the abortion providers listed in Alameda and San Francisco Counties. I have also learned to be more of a sounding board for feelings and a source of information rather than trying to be a superhero who can solve all of the callers' problems. I have learned to empower people rather than "help" them. Furthermore, I have carved a place for myself at Access and with the guidance of both of the fearless leaders I have had the pleasure to work with, I am developing into a leader and expanding the reach of our services to callers.
Despite the growth I have undergone through Access, I still feel, in a good way, that my experience here every day is exciting, intense, and unpredictable. I still have that emotional, bright eyed idealism that I had when I first walked into Access last summer, and I relish immersing myself in the work. I am still excited to be here everyday because I know that I am going to make a difference, no matter how small, in somebody's life. The work is still intense because even though I now know the best way to counsel a caller, I still cannot completely divorce myself from their emotions or stop myself from worrying about them when they do not call me back. And life on the hotline is still unpredictable, because not a day goes by without hearing a new story or dealing with a question or issue that leads me to learn something new.
I truly appreciate how complicated and dynamic this job can be and I embrace all the challenges that come my way. My time here so far has been invaluable for my development and confidence, and now that I am in this more stable place I look forward to helping Access expand, thrive and empower more women.
I hope that by sharing my experiences here at Access and describing how the work we do here has changed me, I can remind everyone how important it is to be a part of this great organization.
We rely on people like you to donate money to support our work -- no matter what the size of your gift, you can be sure that every dollar helps to make reproductive choice a reality for women!
Please donate today!
Tiny Tickets Program
Do you have a bunch of old 5, 10 or 20 cents BART tickets cluttering up your pockets and drawers?
Well, don't throw them away! Your BART tickets can turn into cash that supports Access thanks to the TINY TICKETS PROGRAM, a partnership between BART and the East Bay Community Foundation.
Just send your old BART tickets to Access, P.O. Box 3609, Oakland, CA 94609, and we will turn them in for their full cash value. To date, we have received almost $1,000 through the program!
The next deadline to submit tickets is in April and we need a minimum of 300 tickets. Send your tickets today!
Reproductive Justice Update: News You Can Use
Lisa Banh, Access Development and Communications Intern
Nicaragua Bans Abortion
Human rights advocates in Nicaragua are calling on the Supreme Court to declare the country's abortion ban unconstitutional. Nicaragua's Asamblea Nacional, the national Legislature, in October 2006 voted 52-0 with nine abstentions and 29 not present to pass a bill that bans abortion in all cases, and President Enrique Bolanos in November 2006 signed the measure into law.
According to the law, women convicted of having an illegal abortion and those convicted of assisting them receive mandatory six-year prison sentences. The law eliminates exceptions to the country's abortion ban that allow the procedure in the case of rape or when three physicians certify a woman's health is at risk. The Center for Constitutional Rights in Nicaragua had said it planned to file appeals to the Nicaraguan human rights council and the country's Supreme Court saying that the ban violates a woman's right to life. Human rights advocates have said the Supreme Court should declare the ban unconstitutional because it violates "fundamental rights and principles." The Supreme Court has not set a date or time frame to issue a ruling on the case.
South Dakota Abortion Bill Back Again
The South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee voted 8-1 against a bill (HB 1293) that would ban abortions in the state except in cases of rape, incest or to save the live of the pregnant woman. The bill, which the House passed in February by a 45-25 vote, would allow sexual assault survivors to undergo an abortion only if they report the rape to authorities within 50 days. Physicians would be required to confirm the report with authorities, as well as to take blood from aborted fetuses and give that information to police for DNA testing.
For incest survivors, a doctor would be required to obtain the woman's consent to report the crime along with the identity of the alleged perpetrator before an abortion could be performed. Blood samples from fetuses also would have to be provided to police.
Abortions could be performed until the 17th week of pregnancy in cases of incest or rape. The bill carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for performing illegal abortions. The measure also would allow a pregnant woman to undergo an abortion if her health could be seriously damaged by carrying the pregnancy to term. Under the bill, a doctor from another practice must agree that the woman's health is in jeopardy before the abortion could be performed.
Some supporters of the measure are trying to garner the 12 Senate votes necessary to move the bill out of committee and to the full Senate. The measure would go on the ballot in the 2008 general election if it passes the Legislature and is signed by Republican Governor Mike Rounds.
Doctors Doing Harm
A survey by researchers at the University of Chicago, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine asked some 2,000 doctors whether they had religious or moral objections to three controversial practices. Of the 1,144 who responded, only 17 percent objected to 'terminal sedation,' which renders dying patients unconscious, but 42 percent objected to prescribing birth control for adolescents without parental approval and 52 percent opposed abortion for failed contraception.
However, substantial majorities of surveyed doctors who objected to a practice nevertheless felt they had an obligation to present all options and refer patients to someone who did not object. But 8 percent felt no obligation to present all options and 18 percent felt no obligation to refer patients to other doctors. Imagine the number of California women who see doctors who hold these beliefs for care and are unaware of their antiquated, not to mention harmful, attitudes. Doctors have no right to withhold important information from their patients. Any doctor who cannot talk to patients about legally permitted care should give up the practice of medicine.
Calendar of Events
Don't miss these upcoming reproductive justice events!
Thursday, April 5, 2007, 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Monthly Advocacy Task Force Meeting
Come learn about the new Access Speakers Bureau, find out what's happening with legislation and policies in Sacramento and get active to make reproductive rights a reality for women across California!
Thursday, April 19, 2007, 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Volunteer Appreciation Party
Celebrate the interns, volunteers and board members that make the work of Access possible! Come enjoy snacks, drinks and raffle prizes with Access staff and your fellow volunteers.
Access Mission and Leadership
Access exists to make reproductive health and choice a concrete reality -- not just a theoretical right -- for all women. Our programs promote real reproductive options and access to quality health care for low-income and uninsured women, young women, women of color, immigrants and women in rural or isolated areas.
Board of Directors: Sepi Aghdaee, Nora Dye, Zoe Harte, Reichi Lee, Jerrie Meadows, Christine Powell, Shailushi Baxi Ritchie, Ellen Schwerin
Staff: Destiny Lopez, Lupe Rodriguez, Katherine Johnston
Interns: Lisa Banh, Silvia Estrada Murillo, Janet O'Connor, Sophia Song, Nina Spring, Pamela Stephens
See our Leadership page for more information.