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03.31.14 - When Marva Sadler started out in health care, her job was to save lives. She was a paramedic in Waco, TX, and she worked on a truck responding to emergencies whenever a call came in.
Like so many careers, hers didn’t go the way she thought it might. “Reproductive health care wasn’t something that I would’ve imagined,” says Marva. But one day she saw an ad for a position at the local Planned Parenthood. She knew about the organization, understood the crucial role it played in the community by providing quality health care.
What she didn’t know was how tightly restricted abortion care was in Texas—and what that could lead to. “The first day I had to walk through a crowd of people who called me names and made me feel dirty, simply because I didn’t believe what they believed,” says Marva. “I decided that if all those people were saying bad things on the outside, I knew there had to be good people on the inside. That kind of lit a fire for me.”
After two and a half years, she got a call from Amy Hagstrom Miller, the owner of Whole Woman’s Health, a reproductive health facility in a number of Texas towns. Much to Marva’s surprise, Amy convinced her to move a couple hundred miles, to Beaumont, and lead the clinic there.
Beaumont is about 80 miles almost directly east of Houston. It’s a small city with a majority African American population. Major industries include transportation, defense, and education. More than a quarter of the people live below the poverty line. Many who live there have rarely been far beyond the city limits. Marva’s job was to move the clinic to a much-needed bigger facility and to grow the presence of Whole Woman’s Health so that doctors in the area would know that the clinic was a resource for women seeking reproductive health services.
That news was not always welcomed. “Sometimes doctors asked us to leave their offices,” says Marva. “We fought a lot of barriers there.”
Despite feeling unwelcomed by more than a few in the community, Whole Woman’s Health thrived, in large part because they offered safe, high-quality care, and it came from a OB/GYN who had been practicing for decades. “Everybody knows him,” says Marva. “He has delivered three generations of babies. He is the go-to guy. And low-income gynecological care was practically nonexistent before him.”
Now, thanks to HB2, the new Texas law that has wreaked havoc on women’s access to reproductive health services across the state, earlier this month the Beaumont facility was forced to shut its doors. The law unnecessarily requires abortion providers to get permission to treat patients for complications at a nearby hospital.
While on its face the law seems reasonable. It’s really a ruse. Such “admitting privileges” are not easily come by under any circumstances but more importantly, such requirements give hospitals (including those run by anti-choice administrations) the power to decide whether abortion services are even available in certain communities and some cases, in an entire state. And there's no medical reason for these requirements: an abortion is among the safest medical procedures—less than half of one percent lead to major complications—and most of those few complications can be addressed in an outpatient setting. Because HB2 is in effect and the Whole Woman’s Health clinic was forced to close, low-income reproductive health care in Beaumont is now very hard to get.
Whole Woman’s Health was far more than a provider of abortions. “We were the community navigator,” says Marva. “They got a friendly voice when they called. We were going to help them find out where to go. People called us even though they knew we couldn’t provide certain kinds of medical care because they knew we would help them find help.
“They were an easy community to serve because they always showed how grateful they were.” No longer.
The news of their closing did not go down easily. “The first thing we heard was sheer panic,” says Marva. “‘Where am I going to go? I can’t make it to Houston.’”
Marva said it’s not uncommon to speak with people who have never been outside Beaumont. And even if they have, “A trip to Houston is around a hundred miles, and that’s a big thing for them,” says Marva. “You need to save money and plan it out.” And that’s not always a luxury one has during a health care crisis.
The Beaumont community will feel the repercussions of this closure for some time. “They’re not teaching sex education in the school,” says Marva. “Women lost the one place they could buy Plan B without being shamed or frowned upon. They’ve lost that comfortable space.”
Today, Marva supports the three remaining clinics run by Whole Woman’s Health. It’s an extremely difficult time for the organization but everyone on staff remains committed to providing women essential reproductive health care. Each brings their own inspiration.
For Marva, it came soon after she started working at the clinic in Waco. “Not too long after my first day, I did my first in-patient counseling with a woman,” says Marva. “And at the end, she thanked me and said, ‘You saved my life.’ And that was it.
“Now, when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I save lives by providing safe abortion.”