Testimony to Congress, July 15, 2014
Katy Leopard, Director of Community Partnerships
CHOICES, Memphis TN
In Support of The Women’s Health Protection Act
My name is Katy Leopard and I work at Choices: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health in Memphis, Tennessee, as the Director of Community Partnerships. For 11 years I was a stay at home mother of three children, PTA President, and active volunteer in my church. Memphis, Tennessee, is a city of exceptional beauty and a unique, gritty, southern charm. Memphis is also a city of desperate poverty and racial disparity and it was those issues I wanted to address when I went back to work. Choices is an independent, non-profit, community health center founded in 1974 following the Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling. The agency’s mission is to empower individuals in the Mid-South community to make informed choices for and about their reproductive health. Choices is working to build a comprehensive reproductive medical practice that provides a range of sexual and reproductive health services for more than 3,000 women, men, and teens each year.
Women do not come to Choices because they want to have an abortion. They come because they do not want to be pregnant. Or because a pregnancy is not sustainable, or because it would endanger their health. Some of them see that having a baby right now will cause them to have to quit the job they just got, or withdraw from the college they just entered, or further aggravate an already dangerous family situation at home. They come to us from Mississippi, Arkansas, and beyond not because they want to spend some time visiting Memphis, or because they have a caring primary care physician who could meet their needs at home but referred them to us instead, or because a family friend knows our doctor. They come because they are desperately trying to stay in control of their lives. The Women’s Health Protection Act can help these women.
The women who come to Choices often cannot pay for their care without assistance. They often have to provide written excuses to bosses who want to know why they have to miss a day, and often have to scrape together gas or hotel money in order to pay to travel long distances to have a procedure which is legal but highly stigmatized. They have to park next to and pass by people who yell at them through megaphones, call them murderers, and reach into their car windows. Every day there are men and women who come to Choices for regular wellness exams, STI testing and treatment, pregnancy planning help or pregnancy prevention counseling. The Women’s Health Protection Act can help these people.
But not if Choices does not exist.
Recently in Tennessee the state legislature passed a law requiring that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges. This medically unnecessary law has had disastrous consequences for abortion access in communities in which religiously affiliated hospitals refuse to offer privileges to physicians who perform abortions. Private hospitals have no accountability to the community and should not have this power over women’s access to abortion. Luckily, Choices’ physician has admitting privileges but another clinic providing abortions in Memphis was forced to close as a result of this law, severely straining current capacity. In Tennessee, a woman has a short window in which to determine if she is pregnant and then to make a decision to continue the pregnancy or not. Because of the more limited capacity now in the Mid-South area many women are not able to schedule an appointment before they are too far advanced. This forces a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or to travel even greater distances at greater expense to obtain an abortion.
Under another law specifically targeted at abortion providers in Tennessee, Choices is required to be licensed as an ambulatory surgical center. This requirement insists that Choices be outfitted with medically unnecessary but expensive building requirements. Forcing clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards, even if they only do first-trimester abortions, which can be done in a one-minute procedure or with a pill, is yet another attempt by the Tennessee Legislature to prohibit women from accessing safe and legal abortion care.
Many other laws already passed by the Tennessee state legislature would have closed the doors of Choices. Thankfully, the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled these laws in violation of the state constitution. In November, voters in Tennessee will decide on a change to that constitution which would open the door for increasingly restrictive laws designed to shut clinics like Choices down. Under the guise of “protecting women’s health” these new laws would legislate Choices and a women’s constitutional right to safe and legal abortion out of existence in Tennessee.
The Women’s Health Protection Act can help the women of Tennessee. We urge you to pass it.