Where are the voices of rural women?
I attend a lot of meetings and conferences that discuss issues of women’s reproductive health including abortion, birthing, STI information, sex education, gender discussions, and so much more. There are often different groups of women represented – immigrant women, poor women, women of color, queer women, etc. – but I have yet to hear the voices of rural women.
I know rural women are not a homogenous group of people that should speak with one voice. However, they are invoked, as such, quite often these days when there are threats to cut funds to Planned Parenthood and other Title X clinics that serve rural areas. People say that these cuts will impact rural women and their families, which is true. But – where are their voices? Why are we not taking the time and the resources we have to ask rural women what they are experiencing when it comes to abortion care? To prenatal care? To basic health care? Where are young women who grew up in rural areas when we need these perspectives? Are they in the room but silent? I can’t imagine any other group of women who would tolerate their name and experience invoked without having their own voices in the mix.
I am not proposing that there is no foundation for the assumptions that have been made about rural women’s experiences with abortion. We here at Provide have been working with rural health care providers to increase access to abortion for over seven years. Women in rural regions drive long distances to access abortion and other basic health care needs. Privacy in rural communities can be a challenge as many of the women have grown up around the providers, clinic staff, social workers or other service providers, creating an environment that can feel too familiar to talk about options like abortions. They have difficulty finding full options counseling for an unintended pregnancy leaving them to find abortion clinics through their own research online or through word of mouth which can land them in crisis pregnancy centers or to a clinic that is farther than they can drive based on gas prices. It is no simple endeavor to improve access in these regions and will involve everyone who cares for rural women.
I am proposing that our broader movement make a real investment in outreach and research to find out what rural women have experiences and what they need in order to to access abortion based on that experience – those failures and those successes. We at Provide believe that everyone who supports women has a role to play in providing information and access to abortion. To effectively transform this belief into action, we also have to know the reality of women’s lives. Rural women will show the way to improve abortion care with the stories of their experiences. It is their stories, their voices, and their strength that will the way to improved access. All we have to do is amplify it. Are we up to that challenge?
Wyndi Anderson, Senior Director of Programs