This Time, It’s Personal

This piece was cross-posted with permission from Women, Action & Media

On Tuesday WAM! launched it’s second action this summer, taking on Clear Channel for pulling radio ads for South Wind Women’s Center, a clinic that provides comprehensive reproductive health care services, including abortion. South Wind does its work in Wichita, Kansas, which just happens to be my hometown. Wichita is a relatively small metro community in southeastern Kansas, and while it isn’t that well known, it’s had its share of newsworthy events. One of those events happened in May of 2009, just a few months before I moved to Texas. It was a Sunday morning, just before noon, May 31st, 2009, when Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his church. He was shot in the head at point blank range. Dr. Tiller had garnered plenty of national media attention for himself and Wichita over the past few years by being one of only three doctors in the country to provided late term abortions.

It always surprised me growing up that these controversial services were offered in Wichita, which was – to me – a little, tiny town in Kansas; and to this day, I often wonder if Dr. Tiller would be alive had he practiced in a different state, a more liberal state, a state who might have better protected him. I’d be lying if I said his murder was surprising; Kansas is without a doubt a conservative, religious influenced state, and Wichita does not escape that. He had been attacked on numerous occasions previously, and his clinic was often protested. His murder closed his clinic, and it wasn’t until April of this year, nearly 4 years after Tiller’s death, that South Wind Women’s Center reopened in the same building Tiller operated Women’s Health Care Services.

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As a young woman who grew up in Wichita, I was lucky. I had had supportive, open-minded parents, who didn’t balk at the thought of having a conversation with their 16 year old daughter about birth control. But I can still speak to the pressures I felt, both direct and indirect, to give up bodily autonomy. Religious pressure from the community to not use birth control, pressure from the education I was given to not have sex, social pressure to both have sex, or not have sex; to use birth control or not to; to use condoms, or to not “bother” your boyfriend by asking him to wear one. While these pressures certainly existed when I was a teenager, they did not stop when I became an adult. Pressures to not take birth control, to not attempt to have control over my body, to not participate in “family planning”, to believe all of that was sinful, and going against God. I remember being shocked and angry when a former classmate of mine – a girl my own age – chastised me for not being actively trying to start a family; we’d graduated High School only a year previously.

This action for me is about many different things: it is about what it felt like to want control over my own body as a young person, and being shamed for that. As a young person trying to find my own identity as a woman, I often felt back lash from my peers, and the adults in my life when I did not conform to what they would think of as a traditional dress code for girls and women. I was made to feel bad for wearing things the way I wanted to, shamed for not dressing like a “lady.” But in the back of my head, I knew I couldn’t win, because if I chose to dress in a more feminine manner, I knew I’d be shamed for that too.

This action is about receiving abstinence-only education while sitting side by side with friends who were pregnant; it is about the hateful attitudes that were rampant about Dr. Tiller, often hearing him called “Tiller the baby killer,” or driving by the dozens of protesters who blocked the drive to his clinic. It is about abortion, and what it could mean to be pro-choice in a community where that threatens your life. It’s about the religious groups who were allowed on to public school grounds to handout bibles and display large signs of what an aborted fetus supposedly looked like. All of these things were, and probably still are, the norm where I grew up. They were never – or rarely – challenged, or protested, or saw as damaging.

While South Wind Women’s Center provides abortion, I fully believe that full, unfettered access to their other services is what is most important here. Access to birth control, access to cancer screenings, STI screenings, and a wide variety of gynecological and obstetric care. Those services are desperately needed in Wichita. When I shared with my Mom what WAM! was about to take on, she reminded me that in Wichita “sex” education started in the 4th grade for me. They separated us from the boys and we watched videos about how our “bodies were changing”. I was in the 4th grade in 1998, my mom was in grade school in the mid 60’s. We both watched the same video. An old, outdated video about how our breasts would develop, the menstrual cycle, how to use tampons (which were a lot different in the 60’s!), and a rudimentary explanation of how a fetus forms in the uterus. That’s all. It is clear that conservative, religious communities, including in Wichita, demonize abortion, but what might be more subtle is that they also demonize bodily autonomy and the women who seek it.

After we launched the action this week, I thought back; I don’t think I ever saw, or heard an advertisement for Dr. Tiller’s clinic while growing up in Wichita. I don’t think he advertised, and while primarily that could be because he didn’t have to, I’m also wondering if he ran into the same problems we’re running into now. The radio ads for South Wind were pulled by Clear Channel because they violated “decency standards”, and I must clearly point out that I believe this to mean: they, Clear Channel, and the people in Wichita who complained about these ads, find trusting women with their own reproductive health care to be indecent, to be wrong, and they negate the fact that South Wind Women’s Center can provided a multitude of other services just because they provide abortion. We’re in a political climate where access to reproductive health care, and yes, abortion services, is being constantly restricted and attacked by conservative leaders on a state and federal level. When a media conglomerate pulls ads for such services, they are too, restricting access, and making a clear statement: these services are not okay. South Wind Women’s Center faces an up hill battle when it comes to positive media attention, or any attention at all now. So, as we shine the light on Clear Channel, we also shine it on South Wind Women’s Center and the health care services they provide to the citizens of Wichita, the state Kansas, and more. Women across the country, including in Wichita, have the right to access to all reproductive health care services, and that access includes the knowledge of those services.

Wichita is a tiny town in Kansas, and if we do not draw attention to the disservice Clear Channel is doing the women of Wichita, by silencing ads for reproductive health care, then a not so tiny town, in some other state is next. And I do not want that to be a norm for any women.

Cover Photo Credit: Steve Rhode via Creative Common

Post Photo Credit: Women Action & Media

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  • Francesca Kay

    Way to go, kate. Very well said, researched, and i think you’re completely right. I hope Wichita, and every other community starts to serve women as dutifully as women serve the community.