Many of the nation’s top reproductive rights voices convened in Washington, DC, to nourish our shared vision of reproductive health policy for the future.
The audience clusters attentively around her as she describes a morning two years ago—taping a catheter to the inside of her thigh, lacing up her pink running shoes, and assembling a binder of emails from hundreds of women.
Right now she is standing in stylish heels, while behind her—out the giant windows of the United States Institute of Peace—one airplane after another makes its steady descent over the Potomac as another steamy summer dusk settles on the nation’s capital.
The “she” here—of course—is former Texas state senator Wendy Davis, sharing the story of her fabled filibuster against the sham law that now threatens to shutter all but nine abortion clinics in the state.
The rapt audience includes more than 150 state legislators, state advocates, and national allies from across the country who have gathered for the day at the Center’s State Leadership Summit. They’re here to share innovative ideas and strategize about moving forward a proactive vision for reproductive health, rights, and justice in the states.
While the mood was upbeat, the day was not without tearful moments. Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson told the heartbreaking story of a woman who was unable to end a pregnancy due to a fetal heartbeat bill and spent 6 torturous weeks waiting to miscarry.
Under an enlarged black-and-white photograph of a woman handcuffed to a hospital bed while in labor, reproductive justice activist La’Tasha Mayes talked about the groundbreaking work her organization, New Voices Pittsburgh, has done to stop the inhumane practice of shackling of incarcerated women who are giving birth.
Former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores recalled the difficult but empowering experience of sharing on the statehouse floor the story of her abortion at age 16.
There was also plenty of laughter. Comedian Lizz Winstead reminded the group of the power of humor and creativity to shift the reproductive health narrative during the lunchtime keynote speech. Referencing the current trend of sham laws aimed at shutting down clinics across the country, she quipped, “If a politician wants to legislate abortion, make them get hospital admitting privileges.”
But mostly there was valuable networking, exciting panel discussions, and energized breakout sessions. Topics ranged from effective messaging on reproductive rights issues to sharing promising new state policies such as the recently passed Oregon bill allowing for women to obtain a year’s supply of birth control at once.
“There is an ongoing need to come together and recognize the areas where we have had success as a movement so that we can capitalize on and replicate them,” says the Center’s director of state advocacy, Kelly Baden, one of the key organizers of the summit. “If the ideas and policies that emerge from the summit are any reflection of its participants, they will be smart, diverse, inclusive, and bold.”
More details of the day—including pictures and quotes from summit participants such as U.S. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Gwen Moore (D-WI), MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Texas abortion provider Amy Hagstrom Miller, and many more—can be found at the State Leadership Summit Storify page.