Voices from the Field
Local activists and organizations across the country fight every day to protect and advance reproductive health, rights, and justice. Voices from the Field highlights their experiences. Send suggestions for advocates or organizations to be featured in Voices from the Field to Jenny Dodson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane Roseman spends the majority of her time caring for her four children, though can often be found doing abortion counseling at a local clinic, helping out at the elementary school, or singing in the opera. Diane has been involved with reproductive justice issues for two decades, and has been volunteering with the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund for the last few years.
Megan Smith is an artist, activist, and blogger. In 2011, she founded the Repeal Hyde Art Project, a community art installation to raise awareness and create dialogue about the Hyde Amendment. Since then, the Project has received over 400 submissions and has spread across university campuses in the US. Megan has also designed artwork for organizations like Advocates for Youth to create awareness about reproductive health and justice topics. She currently manages social media communications at Ibis Reproductive Health and volunteers for the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund.
On April 1, 2013, the Cambridge City Council in Massachusetts passed a resolution in support of coverage for comprehensive reproductive health care, becoming the fourth city to do so. Click here to learn more about this growing movement in cities across the country.
1. How did you get involved with the effort to pass this resolution in Cambridge?
Diane Roseman (DR): At the EMA Fund, a volunteer-run abortion fund that works to ensure that all people living in or traveling to eastern Massachusetts have access to abortion , Megan and I work on a sub-team together that focuses on external projects such as increasing referrals for public health insurance, advocacy, and clinic relations. Megan had brought up the possibility of working on a resolution as part of our advocacy agenda, although ultimately it was decided that we would pursue it independently of EMA. Through living in Cambridge, I happen to be acquainted with a few of the city councilors, so it didn’t seem like an insurmountable goal.
Megan Smith (MS): We were also inspired by the resolutions in New York, Philadelphia, and Travis County, TX, and the work that the Urban Initiative for Reproductive Health is doing to support on-the-ground efforts with local governments. It was exciting to think about talking to local officials about abortion access, a topic that we are so passionate about, and to think that they could feel the same way and stand with us. We were pleasantly surprised that our elected officials, especially Marjorie Decker who spearheaded the policy order, believed in the importance of comprehensive funding of reproductive health services, including abortion.
2. Why did you think it was important to make this type of statement in Cambridge?
DR: There is such a wave of anti-abortion resolutions, laws and restrictions sweeping the country. It felt like the right time to show that bastions of liberalism can also propose resolutions and mobilize activists to further our goals. Cambridge is often willing to stick its neck into a national fray, even though it is a fairly small city of just over 100,000 people.
MS: I think it’s also important to talk about public funding for abortion in Massachusetts, where the state Medicaid program covers abortion, unlike in most other states. Our state recognizes and believes that all people should be able to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, whether it is giving birth to a child or having an abortion. It’s important that we speak up and reaffirm these values, because they are not the same values that inform federal abortion coverage restrictions. It is equally important to remember that although our state Medicaid program covers abortion, other Massachusetts residents, like those who have health insurance through the federal government or the US military, do not have coverage or the same ability to make those choices.
3. What was the process of introducing and passing the resolution like? What tips do you have for others who might want to do similar work in their own communities?
DR: As I stated earlier, I know a few of the city councilors. I first approached one councilor with the NYC resolution text, asking if she would be interested in backing such a resolution. She referred me to another councilor, Marjorie Decker, who then ran with the idea. Getting it on the agenda involved persistence. Activists in other cities should definitely take advantage of any personal relationship you might have with a representative, and even if that representative doesn’t have an interest in the resolution, they will usually connect you with someone who does. NIRH was so helpful in offering support and even editing the proposed resolution!
MS: Don’t be afraid to try and do something, regardless of if you think it may fail. You never know what will come of it, what relationships you’ll make, and what impact you could have.
4. Both of you are actively involved with efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and to mitigate its impact as volunteers with the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion (EMA) Fund. As part of that effort, can you tell us why you think it is valuable to address the issue of abortion coverage as a local issue?
DR: First of all, I think it’s important simply as an education tool. It’s stunning to me how little people know about federal restrictions on abortion, even our representatives. They can’t be expected to be up on the details of every issue, I suppose. These local politicians may someday run for national office, and it would be a great thing to have them on our side as they head to Washington. It also can help mobilize other groups in the area to work on the issue, raising awareness among the community. I know people have contacted their national representatives about the Hyde amendment after seeing our success in Cambridge.
MS: I completely agree with Diane that starting dialogue about abortion access at the local level is critical to change public opinion. At the Cambridge city council meeting where the policy order was passed, several local advocates and activists, including Diane, spoke publicly in favor of the policy order. Afterwards, a few Cambridge residents thanked us for being there and taking on this important topic. If one of those people didn’t have a concept of abortion coverage restrictions and the impact they have on people struggling to come up with the money for an abortion, they might share what they learned with someone else. We must keep talking about what abortion access means: withholding coverage from someone eligible and in need and leaving them unable to have a full range of reproductive options. People do not realize this because there is so much misinformation and such prevalent stigma that keeps people from sharing their lived experiences. No one will speak up for something if they don’t understand it, and it’s our job as local activists to start that conversation in our communities. We are also thankful to the many individuals and organizations that helped make this resolution possible, including Councilor Marjorie Decker, Ibis Reproductive Health, the National Network of Abortion Funds, Conway Strategic, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project.