There are myriad paths to reproductive health, rights, and justice work. For AJ Haynes, it involved “margaritas and a cover band, as any good story should.”
Haynes, a counselor for the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, told Rewire News Group on Tuesday that about ten years ago, she had a cover band to help pay bills as she worked toward a bachelor of arts in English and communications. At the time, Hope’s late founder and clinic owner, Robin Rothrock, had a Christmas party every year. This particular year, Rothrock wanted to have a band.
“And so we played at the party,” Haynes said. “Afterward, I was just hanging out and having margaritas with Robin. I don’t even know what we were talking about … [But] like you do over margaritas, you have a come to Jesus with yourself, so I was like, ‘I need a job, more jobs, because I’m broke.’”
Rothrock responded: “Do you want to come and work for the clinic?’”
After Haynes said yes, Rothrock explained that Hope is an abortion clinic. She asked Haynes what her thoughts were on abortion. “I had never thought about it before, but my response was: ‘I believe that women should have dominion over their bodies.’ And that was that,” Haynes said. She started working there the Monday after the Christmas party.
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“I don’t know what other people’s processes are in coming to this work, but it was pretty A + B = C to me,” she said.
Haynes said that growing up, she received a comprehensive sex education from the women who raised her. “There was never any guilt or shame or stigma around sex. It was always a matter of health and agency, in that no—in my case—no man should tell me what to do with my body, ever, and that pleasure is OK; we get to celebrate our bodies.”
“Because I was raised that way, it was a very easy sell on abortion care: The ultimate expression of freedom of our bodies is having the ability to have access to things that we need to make choices,” Haynes said.
Ahead of National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers on March 10, we at Rewire News Group wanted to spotlight people like Haynes who make abortion care possible. These are the people who escort patients from their cars to the clinic’s front door across a parking lot or sidewalk that is often crowded with anti-abortion protesters, and who take calls from prospective patients who may have to wait a week or more for an appointment in one of the six states with only one clinic left due to restrictive anti-choice laws. These are also the people who open clinics, fundraise to keep them open, physically protect patients and other providers, and yes, perform medication and surgical abortions.
Specifically, we wanted to hear from them about what they wanted others to know about their work and why they provide abortion care. Here are their responses, lightly edited for clarity.
Clinic Location: Whole Woman’s Health, an independent abortion provider with locations in Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, and Virginia
“Being an abortion provider is what allows me to fulfill my mission to contribute whatever little I can to make someone’s world or day better. Being able to have open, honest conversations about the complexities and stigma surrounding abortion is what keeps me grounded. Hearing the stories our patients share with us—stories of resilience, deep senses of responsibility, and love for themselves, their dreams, their current children, and future families—is what has made this work my mission in life, what has helped create my vision for what health care should look like, and what a just world should look like.”
“The things I want the world to know about abortion providers and the people that have abortions I have already said. What I’d like to do today is invite people to get to know abortion providers and to open their minds and hearts to hear from the people who are willing to share their abortion experiences.”
Clinic Location: Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston
“I work as an abortion provider because I believe this is the most important work there is. I have had two abortions in my life, and the experiences had a profound effect on me. My abortions were opportunities for me to take control of my life and create the future I wanted for myself. I am truly the person I am today because of my abortions. Abortion is a very normal part of many people’s reproductive lives, and I am honored to work alongside my colleagues to ensure our patients receive quality, compassionate health care free of judgement and shame.”
“I want the world to know that abortion providers are heroes. Period. We work tirelessly to ensure that people are able to make the best decisions for their health, their lives, and their futures. We face harassment and intimidation on a regular basis, but we will not be deterred. We show up every day for our patients because we know that when people are able to make their own decisions about if, when, and how they create families, we build stronger, healthier, and happier communities.”
Clinic Location: Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“The decision to have a baby or not, is one of the most monumental that any family can make. It changes EVERYTHING. For those who are fortunate enough, it can mean unparalleled joy and excitement for the future, but for others it can be just one more thing that guarantees a life of poverty, want, and abuse. This right should not be shrouded in secrecy or veiled in shame. It should not be debated in the halls of Congress or used a tool for political gain. My job allows me to be an agent of change for each person I care for and care about. The ability to control one’s own fertility means planning, preparing, deciding for yourself. I do this work because I know how important it is for someone to have a say-so in the direction their life is headed. I do this because it matters. I do this because it’s important. How could I not?”
“Abortion providers are activists, advocates, parents, healers, and dreamers. We are united in our belief in agency, autonomy, and self-determination. We care for our mothers, our sisters, and our friends. We care for our neighbors, our co-workers, our daughters. We are united in our work and share in the privilege and honoring of caring for those who need us. This work is an honor and a privilege.”
Clinic Location: Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota
“I do this work because of the women we serve. They deserve the highest quality care and we strive every day, even in this very hostile, red state to provide that. It is an honor to be a part of their reproductive health care.”
“Abortion providers are just like our patients; we are your sisters, your mothers, your friends, your neighbors. We care deeply about the patients we serve and the teams we work with. We are on the front lines ensuring bodily autonomy and dignified abortion care.”
Clinic Location: St. Louis, Missouri; Wichita, Kansas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Columbia, Missouri
“As an OB-GYN, I believe that it is both my moral and ethical responsibility to provide abortion care—a service that one in four women will need in their life. As a woman, I am acutely aware of the impact of gender inequity. Being able to decide if one wants to parent and if so, when to do so, is fundamental to people being able to dream of an education, career, and family life. As a mother, I have had the honor of knowing the great joy but also the terrible pain that can come with parenting. The magnitude of the responsibility of a decision to parent can only be understood by the person making it—and because of this, I strongly believe the only person qualified to make the decision is the pregnant person in the context of their specific life and social circumstances.”
“Abortion providers are some of the most dedicated and empathetic clinicians I have known. They so deeply care for their patients and above all value the opportunity to help them live their best lives based on their values.”
Clinic Location: Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana
“I feel like my work in abortion care is a way to honor the women that made sacrifices for me to be able to have the vantage points that I have as an artist. I am a counselor, but I’m also in a touring band. We’re getting ready to release a record later this year! So the clinic has at once been a place for me to discover my voice to celebrate my body and other people’s bodies, and a way for me to pay my bills to facilitate me continuing to be an artist, and my art is informed by my experience. And there is no way to draw lines there. Everything about my art informs how I treat my patients, and everything about how I treat my patients and what I learn informs my art. Working in abortion care is just another way for me to say ‘thank you’; it’s an expression of gratitude to all of the people who make these sacrifices.”
“I want people to know that we are already part of their community whether we’re accepted or not. We provide the highest quality, highest caliber of patient care, and we do it with love and compassion. And we will continue to do it, even in this climate under the amount of scrutiny and bureaucratic, bullshit red tape, and stigma and fear that is part of so much of our culture; we’re not going anywhere.”
“We’re whole human beings, trying to help other human beings be whole and get free. We’re seeing people in their most vulnerable state, and we’re just here to help them become stronger—whichever decision they choose.”
“[I just know] this is where I’m supposed to be in this life at this time. It is challenging in ways that keep me up at night, but I just have to remember that I have to take care of my body. We can’t be out here celebrating other people’s bodies and not our own.”
Kat Jercich contributed to this reporting.