Former Abortion Clinic Becomes Public Education Nonprofit

A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda during the Senate House Bill 2 debate on July 12, 2013.
Patrick Michels
A woman holds up a plastic baby as pro-choice demonstrators chant in the Capitol rotunda during the Senate House Bill 2 debate on July 12, 2013.

The Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic in Austin has been closed for a year. Back in July 2014, the organization stopped providing services at its flagship facility due to Texas’ House Bill 2, which imposes surgical-center standards and other restrictions on abortion clinics statewide. Though the clinic is closed, Austin women still knock on the adjacent administrative office’s door daily—sometimes multiple times a day—asking for help.

While staff must turn away women seeking abortion services, Whole Woman’s Health has reimagined its empty clinic. This summer, the organization’s president, Amy Hagstrom Miller, launched Shift, a nonprofit that aims to foster open, accurate conversations about abortion and to educate the community about the medical side of the procedure in the hopes of alleviating stigma and combating misinformation.

Texas is a battleground for abortion rights. The state has imposed dozens of regulations on women and providers, including HB 2, which bans abortion after 20 weeks, complicates the use of the medical abortion pill, and places structural demands on clinics. Through her organization’s role as an abortion provider, Hagstrom Miller sees an opportunity to change the conversation about abortion in the state, where the issue is steeped in stigma and politics. On top of operating abortion clinics in some of the more medically underserved regions of Texas, including the Rio Grande Valley and East Texas, Whole Woman’s Health is also challenging HB 2 in the courts.

“We don’t shy from this sort of conflict that people have about abortion. We see that all the time,” Hagstrom Miller told the Observer. “As providers we’re very comfortable talking about the issues that surround abortion, and we do it every day with the women that we serve.”

The sign on the front door of the former clinic off Interstate 35 in north Austin reads “ChoiceWorks,” the name of the new co-working space established by the Shift nonprofit, a space open, for free, to community groups, students and others for meetings, trainings or simply a quiet spot to work. The former clinic’s front waiting room feels like a lounge, while the former reception desk is stocked with office supplies for those using the space. The former clinic now contains conference rooms.

Much of the clinic, including three exam rooms and the counseling space, remains the same, intended to be used during public trainings that Hagstrom Miller and her team have dubbed “Abortion 101” workshops. The facility maintains much of the signature Whole Woman’s Health vibe found at the organization’s clinics in other cities: lavender walls and low lighting throughout, with each room dedicated to a strong female figure in history, complete with her photo and a quote on the wall. While no medical services take place, the idea is to walk trainees through the entire process of getting an abortion. Hagstrom Miller plans to invite local community groups, students and elected officials at first, and then look statewide.

“People can get factual information, but then also talk about what happens in this [exam] room, how regulations actually show up in the practice and how those regulations affect women’s lives and their families,” Hagstrom Miller said.

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

Published at 8:30 am CST