Feminist Feature: An Interview with Trust Women’s Director of Development, Rebecca Tong
When was your organization founded and how did it come to be?
Trust Women was founded by Julie Burkhart in 2009 in Wichita, Kansas after the assassination of her boss and mentor, Dr. George Tiller. For over 30 years he kept the doors of his clinic open despite constant harassment and threats on his life. Originally, Ms. Burkhart intended to just continue the political and advocacy work they had been doing together under ProKanDo, the political action committee they built together. However, it became clear that you can have the best legal protections, but if there is nowhere for women to actually go, then the right to an abortion is just a theory. So, in late 2010, Ms. Burkhart made the decision to open a clinic in Wichita; at the time it was the largest metro area without an abortion provider. Now, Trust Women has clinics in Wichita, Oklahoma City, and Seattle.
What pressing women’s issues does your organization address and why are those issues important to you?
We believe that women deserve access to reproductive health care regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. A portion of our work is to ensure that those without the ability to pay, still receive reproductive health care. In Kansas and Oklahoma, private and publicly funded insurance is barred from covering abortion care, unless women purchase a separate “rider policy.” Trust Women helped hundreds of patients last year, coordinating $308,000 from a dozen abortion funds, including our own in-house fund. We simply don’t want money to be the reason why a women does or does not get an abortion.
In addition to direct patient care, we also do a great deal of advocacy, lobbying and communications work. We want to actively change the policies and laws we are forced to operate under. These laws are not based in science or facts and these policies actually lead to worse health care outcomes.
Finally, Trust Women is litigating to expand access to reproductive health care. In Kansas, we have filed suit challenging the Kansas Telemedicine Act, which sought to ban abortion administered through telemedicine (this was targeting medication abortion procedures). This ban singles out abortion care. Before introducing telemedicine in our Wichita clinic, we were only able to offer abortions two days a week. We are now able to offer medication abortion services on additional weekdays and on Saturdays. We are looking forward to expanding this program even more using remote sites and mobile health units.
What policies do you think are needed at the state and local level to address women’s reproductive rights?
Any policy that ostracizes abortion care or abortion providers not only makes accessing care more difficult, it also further ostracizes and stigmatizes patients and providers. Washington State and activists like Seattle NOW’s members, have made sure that reproductive rights and health are protected in Washington state.
What are some of your organization’s recent accomplishments that you are most proud of?
In addition to providing access to abortion care at some of the only clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas, we are also working to move the conversation on abortion by mobilizing and identifying pro-choice individuals in these states through our canvassing program. We engage with voters at their doors to ask them to take action to support abortion access. This past election cycle, we talked to voters we had identified through previous canvasses to get out the vote. This helped lead to the election of more pro-choice lawmakers, including Laura Kelly as Kansas governor.
We have conducted pilot programs in both our Kansas and Oklahoma clinics to make long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCS) such as IUDs and implants accessible to low-income patients that don’t have insurance coverage.
Also, we are suing the state of Kansas to allow us to continue using telemedicine in our Wichita clinic to provide medication abortion. We are pioneering the use of telemedicine to provide medication abortion in new areas. This allows us to provide services in more locations on more days, allowing us to better serve patients.
We are also excited to have recently opened a clinic in Seattle, Washington.
What are the most important goals that lie ahead for your organization?
Expanding access through telemedicine and litigation, offering care up to the legal limit and stopping the weaponization of religious liberty.
What are some everyday things that Seattle NOW members can do to support your organization and the women you serve?
- Speak about abortion care as part of reproductive health care.
- Help raise the profile of Trust Women by following us on Facebook and Twitter and sharing the work we do with your online and in-person networks of family and friends.
- Host us for a speaking engagement.
- Contribute monthly, it helps us plan ahead and keeps our costs low.
- Refer patients to us for primary or abortion care.
What words of encouragement do you have for our sisters struggling with these issues?
Dr. Tiller wore a blue button on his shirt every day. It said, “Trust Women.” We take our name, our mission and our unceasing drive for justice, from this. For almost 40 years, before anti-choice extremists took his life, Dr. Tiller kept the doors of his clinic open in the face of harassment and terrorism. We must do no less for women today.