Shift-ing Abortion Talk

Making lemons out of lemonade

A patient room at the former Whole Woman's Health clinic (now ChoiceWorks) transformed into a training and education space for community members.
A patient room at the former Whole Woman's Health clinic (now ChoiceWorks) transformed into a training and education space for community members. (by Jana Birchum)

Forced to close their doors after the bulk of HB 2 went into effect last year, the Whole Woman's Health Clinic flagship center in North Austin off I-35 lay vacant for six months. When anti-choice activists set their sights on transforming the former holistic abortion care clinic into an unregulated, anti-choice crisis pregnancy center, Whole Woman's Health founder and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller felt compelled to act. "I said, 'We can't let this happen,'" Miller told the Chronicle. "I called up our biggest donors and told them, 'Let's make lemons into lemonade.'"

After a burst of fundraising, Whole Woman's Health revived their defunct clinic – like a phoenix from the ashes – into Shift, a nonprofit meant to eradicate the cultural stigma surrounding abortion. A combination of storytelling, art activism (a contest for a mural on the side of Whole Woman's McAllen clinic recently started), and education, Shift – led by Miller, deputy director Fatimah Gifford, and program manager Amanda Williams – isn't political or research-driven; rather, its goal is to redefine the way people think and talk about abortion with the help of those who understand it best – the actual providers. For instance, Miller's Abortion 101 class invites community members to walk through what happens during an abortion appointment – from the phone call, to the procedure, to when a woman exits the clinic. "We hope to create a safe place for progressives to explore information about abortion," said Miller. "We try to create an open and honest environment where we can not only explain medical procedures but field questions about moral and ethical dilemmas from pro-choice people who may face some things that make them uncomfortable."

Shift also runs a Real Talk hotline to direct women to the closest provider and connect them with financial assistance. And they've launched a billboard and radio campaign to simply inform the public that abortion is still legal in Texas – a needed clarification for many women confused by the law, said Miller. The building, equipped with rooms dedicated to pro-choice champions such as Molly Ivins and state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, additionally serves as a co-working space, dubbed ChoiceWorks, for allied groups. "Any opportunity we can get to say, 'Can we make something good out of this?' or 'Is there something left here that we can still offer the community?' amid the real evisceration of the health care system helps us feel like we have some dignity," said Miller. "We'll take the tiny little victories; we haven't had many."


www.shiftstigma.org; hotline: 877/833-9190.

For more, check out our War on Women's Health page.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

abortion, Whole Women's Health, Shift, Amy Hagstrom Miller, abortion rights

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