In this Episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution Heather is joined by Roxanne Sutocky from the Cherry Hill Women’s center to talk about the future of abortion rights in NJ and across the globe. They discuss some of the struggles caused by the pandemic as well as some global victories. How will the new president and new justices affect Roe? Finally they talk about how we all need to apply pressure here in NJ to make our legislators support a bill that provides true equitable care for all.
Transcript Auto Generated
Roxanne Sutocky 0:00
When we started to see states really manipulating and taking advantage of the emergency powers bestowed upon them because of COVID to close reproductive health care centers outright. We started to see increases in the number of people that were traveling.
Heather Warburton 0:21
This is Wine Women and Revolution with your host, Heather Warburton. Hi and welcome to Wine Women and Revolution. I’m your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on Create Your Future Productions. You can find us online at www.YourFutureCreator.com. Follow us on all the social medias and get us wherever you get your podcasts from. Today I have friend of the show join me first time on my new network here. But you know, I always had her on a couple of times, I think at least twice if not three times. And she was the host when we did our weed Women and wellness event out at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center. Welcome back to the show Roxanne Sutocky.
Roxanne Sutocky 1:02
Hi Heather. Thanks so much for having me here today.
Heather Warburton 1:05
Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve talked. There’s a lot has happened since last, we talked about what was going on with reproductive freedom in this country. We have a new president, we have a new Supreme Court, all kinds of stuff is going on. We have had a global pandemic, I think since the last time I spoke to you. So things have changed quite a bit. How’s everybody doing out at the Women Center? First,
Roxanne Sutocky 1:28
We’re hanging in there, you know, we have been deemed essential workers, you know, there has been no change in the need, or urgency of the need for abortion care. So we’ve been hanging in there, definitely been tough. But we have a tough group of folks that tend to dig their heels in to the work when it gets difficult. Very, very proud to work with everybody at the Cherry Hill woman center.
Micah Rasmussen 1:58
Yeah, I would also like to attest the fact that everyone that I’ve met there is amazing people, they really are like, I’ve never seen such a great group of people in the healthcare field. But everyone I’ve met there, I’ve absolutely loved. So you’ve got a great group there.
Roxanne Sutocky 2:12
Thank you. I think, you know, all health care workers have had to make a lot of adjustments with the pandemic, but we’re uniquely suited because since we provide abortion care, we are always pivoting based on all of the, you know, different laws and, and things that are kind of constantly changing in our world, which I know we’ll talk about today.
Heather Warburton 2:33
Yeah, well, I guess we have to start off with. How did COVID affect the care, you’re able to provide locally and nationally because you do work with some centers outside of New Jersey.
Roxanne Sutocky 2:45
Right, so the Cherry Hill Women’s Center is one of our affiliated centers. And I work as the Director of Community Engagement and work with all of the women’s centers. So we have five clinics in four states and our Advocacy Center, which is where all of our phone calls come in. And we work on logistics and financial planning. For people who are coming in for their appointment, we have our Hartford GYN center in Connecticut. And then we have our Delaware County and Philadelphia Women centers in PA, we have our Cherry Hill Women Center, of course in southern New Jersey, and then we actually have our Atlanta Women’s Center in Georgia. And so I think the first couple of weeks through the pandemic, we were really figuring out where we were going to be able to continue to provide services and where we weren’t.
And then also what was the legal landscape in the states surrounding us. It’s not uncommon, you know, wasn’t uncommon before the pandemic for people to need to travel to access care, because most people don’t live in a community where there’s an abortion provider readily available to them. But when we started to see states really manipulating and taking advantage of the emergency powers bestowed upon them because of COVID, to close reproductive health care centers outright. We started to see increases in the number of people that were traveling. So we saw this a lot in in the south. But, you know, the way that transportation changed, because of what was going to be safe for people really impacted kind of where those folks wound up seeking care. And for example, we took care of a patient at our Hartford clinic in Connecticut who traveled from Texas and because there was
Heather Warburton 4:35
Roxanne Sutocky 4:36
a clinic that was within a six hour drive, you know of her when all the clinics were shuttered in Texas, but it was actually quicker and more affordable for her to get on an airplane to Connecticut because at that time if you can remember back in March in April, there were no one on any flights, and the price of flights dropped, you know under $50. And and of course she had, you know, some Family and friends that she could stay with in Connecticut, familiar with the area. So the kind of, you know, logistical Olympics that we saw people having to figure out was huge. And so there was a big impact on our Advocacy Center, which I mentioned that helps people to figure out, what is the transportation gonna look like? What is your time off of work, you know, potentially going to look like. Did you lose your job because of the pandemic and no longer have health insurance or your children are out of school, and now you no longer have child care. And so our patients are facing a lot and still are facing a lot more obstacles, and that we needed to help them to navigate. And then in the clinics themselves, and there was determining whether or not we could continue to provide services, which eventually across the United States, you know, it was across the board determined pregnancy termination is a time sensitive, essential health care service. Can’t stand in the way of that, you know. If all of the states had decided to keep, you know, their clinics closed since March, you know, there would have been a lot of people who never would have been able to access their abortions, potentially. And so we’re still not on a timeline where we see a real end to this. Yeah. Right. And so, I think that, ultimately, you know, abortion providers faced a lot of unique challenges. And but a lot of it was really just very similar to what other medical providers have to figure out how do you run a high volume ambulatory surgical Center, which is what the Cherry Hill Women center exists as, while still maintaining social distance for all of you know, all of your patients. And, you know, before there was mask mandates, and people were required to wear masks across the board, how do we make sure that all the patients that are presenting to us have the proper PPE, and we still have enough, you know, ppe to maintain for our, our staff. I think the other kind of unique thing for abortion providers, though, is that no one else has had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with this protesters right through the pandemic. So at no time did we see them stop showing up outside of the facility. Actually, in the early pandemic, we saw an increase in the number of protesters,
Heather Warburton 7:23
Is t just because they were home from work, so they decided to go to protest
Roxanne Sutocky 7:28
They were home from church, they were told that they were not allowed to assemble in the ways that they were used to. And I think there was a lot of frustration about that. And I think there was a lot of frustration about the fact that abortion was deemed essential health care services outright in New Jersey, right. And so, we were the target at the end of the day, from these anti abortion activists, and there’s a lot of overlap in the communities of that are opposed to abortion that are opposed to masking, and that are opposed to vaccinations. And so as these conversations are ramping up about, you know, the availability of the vaccine and about public health, you know, considerations that we make to protect one another. And we know that we are going to see more activity and more hostility coming from from those groups.
Heather Warburton 8:21
Now at your clinic did you do at home managed abortions before this with the, you know, I guess, was it through via telemedicine or providing the medications?
Roxanne Sutocky 8:34
Yeah, so we provide clinical abortion care, which is abortion care services that we do in office in the first and second trimester. And then through 11 weeks, we offer medication abortions, which are administered by the patient at home and the abortion itself happens at home. And so, those services both involve some pre screenings, which traditionally have happened mostly in the clinic and then also some follow up that have traditionally happened in the clinic. And what we’ve seen due the to the pandemic, is more offices working toward transitioning more of the services that they can to telemedicine for a lot of folks at first that looked like the reproductive health services that they might offer in addition to abortion services like GYN visits or you know, examinations, conversations around birth control. And but state by state and there are a lot of regulations about what services have to be provided in clinic, which ultimately do and can stand in the way of a 100% like at home, medication, abortion. There also are some restrictions at the federal level and the FDA’s REMS ruling around medication abortion that rule that the medication abortion Mifepristone is a medication that needs to be administered directly by a physician, which means you can’t mail it, it had to be handed to someone. So there actually was a challenge to that case, through the pandemic, that’s been upheld. And so there currently is an injunction that says that that that medication doesn’t need to be physically handed to someone, or medication that they can take at home safely, you know, that that is a medication that can be mailed. And so what we are doing and what other providers are doing is working on adjusting protocols and evaluating the other regulatory and legislative barriers that may stand in the way of a completely like what they call abortion, which can help to reduce the travel but also that in person need to be in the clinic
Heather Warburton 10:55
Right. Yeah. So maybe that’s something that will come out of COVID is some loosening of some of those restrictions on a permanent basis, not just an emergency basis.
Roxanne Sutocky 11:03
Absolutely. And just improving the the structures for telemedicine across the board. And also, you know, coverage and parity for those services. Because I think that, although there were a lot of providers who would have liked to offer that, you know, across the board or early on, it wasn’t until COVID, that there were requirements that insurers pay for the services that are still being facilitated or offered by providers, even if they are remote. I think it’s seen now as it’s given the place in medical care.
Heather Warburton 11:39
Yeah, I think that’s, you know, good, maybe that is something good, that’ll come out of it. And I wanted to talk about one more good thing too, as far as reproductive freedom, before we jump into some of the other back into the challenges, again, is Argentina, a country that just legalized abortion for the first time, that’s, that’s big!
Roxanne Sutocky 11:58
Absolutely. And the activists that have been pushing for legalization of abortion care, throughout Southern America and in Argentina have been at this fight for years. And so I think that it really can’t be understated how they have just persisted through this pandemic, right, like, we’ve all been facing new and unique challenges. But they stayed, you know, on social media, they were in the streets, really demanding the end to criminalization of abortion services in their country, and they won. And so that is something that I think people around the world can, can join in not only celebrating the win for for Argentina, but what that means for the kind of global landscape of abortion access, and I hope that what we see is the tide turning. And, you know, in places like Southern America, where there still is a lot of criminalization of abortion.
Micah Rasmussen 13:05
Yeah, I think it maybe is a sign that it’s globally going to become more acceptable and understood that its reproductive care is health care for anyone who needs it
Roxanne Sutocky 13:17
Right, and that reproductive health care services. You know, ultimately, it’s healthcare and healthcare is a human right, but that it’s tied, you know, so deeply to our human autonomy and our dignity. And I think we’re really seeing a new generation of people standing up for that in a way that, you know, we, we didn’t in the past, and kind of a breaking down of the stigma that has kept people quiet for so long. And really just throwing that throwing the respectability politics out the window. Because it’s a matter of, you know, human dignity, it’s a matter of survival. And, and it’s a matter of human rights. And I think tying into this kind of broader framework. And, you know, people are starting to see the issue a little bit differently, not as siloed off
Heather Warburton 14:08
The true intersectionality. And we’re talking about equity work here, right. Like, traditionally, Pregnancy has been a way of controlling people that are able to become pregnant. And if we were talking about equity across the board, then reproductive freedom is part of that equity.
Roxanne Sutocky 14:25
Right, and there’s gender equity. There’s also you know, the economic implications of a two tiered medical system because regardless of where you live, if you have the means you’re going to be able to access these services. If they are criminalized, you will find a physician, you know, who can see you in a clandestine setting and it can be safe if you can pay or ultimately you can travel. And, and so you know, that’s true. In countries where abortion is illegal. It also is true in countries like the United States where abortion is legal, but is often inaccessible. And for many completely inaccessible,
Micah Rasmussen 15:02
Yeah, I did kind of want to bring it back to the United States now and talk about we said it at this opening of the show, we have a very different makeup of the Supreme Court now, someone who is openly anti Roe was just added. And you know, I think that may be scaring some people. So maybe we should talk a little bit about a what that might mean for New Jersey, if there are any cases heading to the Supreme Court currently that people need to keep their eye on and what it could mean for people?
Roxanne Sutocky 15:31
Yeah, I think the appointment of two justices in that four year term was probably the most devastating. Or was up there with the most devastating impacts of the previous, I guess, current soon to be previous. Previous as of this recording, they’ll be gone. Yeah, yeah, looking back, I mean, that’s going to have implications for reproductive healthcare for decades, but not just reproductive health care, right, like a whole myriad of of human rights and equity issues. But right now, there are, honestly dozens of cases in the pipeline, and that could, that are headed, you know, towards the Supreme Court, and that, you know, could challenge the protections that we have from Roe, they could also and more likely continue to chip away at access to abortion care services. And so, you know, in the most recent ruling over the summer, in June vs Russo, which was almost a identical case, to Whole Woman’s Health vs Heller set, which was just heard a few years ago, out of Texas, and basically, the court ruled not to overturn precedent. And so I think that even with, you know, a new anti abortion justice, you know, a lot of folks are saying that it’s unlikely that they will go full throttle, and and overturn that set precedent. But, you know, we know that even with the protections of Roe, abortion is not accessible to to most people in the United States. And so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to improve that accessibility, I think, number one, by reducing the economic barriers, you know, that persist? I think the new administration will do well to be the first to end the Hyde Amendment, which restricts any federal funding, including funding for the Medicaid program for abortion care services, that would do more in one fell swoop then, and then we could see done through the court.
Heather Warburton 17:48
Has he given any indication that he might be open to that? I mean, you know, I’m very skeptical of any democrat as well as any Republican. So Has he given any indication that he might do that?
Roxanne Sutocky 17:58
Only like, in the last year, year and a half, and he previously held his support for the Hyde Amendment. And it wasn’t until he was challenged, you know, and pressured to really spin? You know, and and talk about why he opposed that the Hyde Amendment, which really disproportionately impacts low income people and people of color, and that he reversed his stance. And so I think that, you know, we just had the first hearing. And the first hearing on on the Hyde Amendment were leaders of reproductive justice movements spoke to, you know, really why this is a racist classes policy. And I think that we are in a place now where we’re closer than ever to seeing that turned around and seeing that ended. And so there are some good things on the horizon. The the cases that we see kind of bubbling up in the courts have a lot of different focuses, and there are ones that are kind of focused on the types of procedures that can be performed. So there have been challenges to they called D and E are dilation and evacuation, which is the most commonly type commonly utilized method of abortion in second trimester. And so it’s kind of a way to get at abortion, access pre viability without utilizing a gestational line by actually targeting the method itself. And I think we’ll see more kind of like tricky types of cases like that that will continue to chip and chip and chip away at access to where we’ll say what we have row we have the protections of Roe but you know, if you don’t have a clinic in your community, if you can’t pay to have those services, and then what you know ultimately didn’t really have
Heather Warburton 19:56
Right they may not overturn Roe directly, but every little bit they chip away makes it less likely someone’s going to be able to access the health care that they absolutely need in a timely fashion.
Roxanne Sutocky 20:07
Heather Warburton 20:09
So what would happen, though, if Roe were overturned here in New Jersey and in other states across the country?
Roxanne Sutocky 20:16
Yeah. So there is a handful of maps out there that kind of detailed the threat level. There are states in the United States that have things called trigger bans on the books, those states have laws that are enshrined in their statute that say, when and if the the protections of Roe were to fall, abortion will be illegal, criminalized in our state outright, they’re ready to go, ready to pull the trigger. Right. And in anticipation of the fall of Roe, and, you know, in the in the last, you know, several years, we’ve seen the tide turning where, you know, in advance of a more potential likelihood of Roe actually falling. And states are attempting to codify the protections of Roe. And so just very recently, we saw Massachusetts pass the Roe act, and which included a codification of the protections of Roe versus Wade, and also worked to remove some restrictions that were burdensome in their state to help to improve access. So overall, a really good bill. So we have a kind of a balancing act of some states that are doing proactive work that want to make sure that regardless of of where the federal protections are, you know, abortion will be accessible in their state, and we have states that are doing the exact opposite. And we have some that fall somewhere in the middle, right. And that maybe wouldn’t work to completely outlaw abortion, but have already put into place. restrictions that that harm, folks and limit access significantly look just like our neighbors in Pennsylvania. So our clinic in Cherry Hill, I always like to point out as only about 15 minutes away from our clinic in Philadelphia. And but it’s like worlds away when it comes to access, they have a 24 hour waiting period, they have a judicial bypass requirement for minors, and they have a restriction on Medicaid coverage. They have a whole slew of laws, regulating abortion providers differently than other medical professionals. And so I think that as the legal protections fall, we’ll see certain states taking, taking a lot of advantage of that. And, you know, potentially more, you know, unfortunately, it’s more of the same right, because there are states where abortion is still legal, they are still legal, technically, they still have maybe one provider, right, and still is hundreds of miles away. The gestation that they can provide to is is limited. And so those folks, you know, some people can access abortion in the States, but many often are already meeting to figure out travel plans and logistics to leave the state. And so there’s a potential that we might see more of that.
Heather Warburton 23:09
So what’s going on in the great nation of New Jersey?
Roxanne Sutocky 23:12
Yes, New Jersey has always been really a leader when it comes to reproductive health care. I mentioned that during the pandemic, Governor Murphy did state out right, that termination of pregnancy was a time sensitive and essential health care services, being one of the only states that really affirmatively means that it was important and really meaningful. And also during the pandemic, we took steps to introduce proactive legislation. And in the reproductive freedom Act, which is S 3030. A 4848. I have to mention are just beautiful bill numbers. But that bill, I think couldn’t have come really at a better time is the pandemic has had both a direct and indirect impact on folks accessing reproductive health services and people providing reproductive health services, right. We’ve seen as I mentioned, more people who are out of work who are no longer insured but less financial resources available to them, and less practical resources like transportation and childcare. But what we’ve also seen is, you know, an illumination of the disparities in our existing health care system, and that existed well before, right, the pandemic, that people are really seeing them now in a different light as our healthcare systems have been stretched thin and as our human communities have been stretched so thin.
And so the reproductive freedom act was introduced in October. We’re continuing to work to advance that legislation now. It has not been heard yet in committee. We’re working really hard to have it heard in the health committee and We want it to be introduced, we wanted to get a fair hearing. And we have some really great organizations that are part of the thrive New Jersey coalition that are working hard to advocate in supportive of that legislation. And if you’d like I can tell you a little bit about kind of the the core pieces of what’s the bill?
Heather Warburton 25:19
Yeah, tell me a little bit about it and tell me who’s on that health care committee that people need to bother and say, hey, why haven’t you done this yet?
Roxanne Sutocky 25:27
Right. And actually, we can make that really, really easy for folks. You can go to reproductive freedom act nj.org. And you can sign up there, and you’ll get email alerts to like, Who’s the target right now, right. And I’m knocking on wood that by the time this comes out, we will have had the health committee hearing (editors note, we havent) . But what we’re doing is right at the top of that website, you’ll see take action, and you’ll have the opportunity to contact not only your legislators, but also target legislators that are, you know, we’ve determined will help us to be able to move the bill. And you know, through the process that it needs to go through. And I think at any time, it is going to be helpful just for people to be hearing that there are, you know, numerous NJ residents that do support access to abortion care services. And so just reaching out, in, you know, any capacity to your immediate lawmakers to say you support abortion access is huge, like just that, a tweet a quick, quick letter. And but for some of the more strategic stuff, I would say definitely visit reproductive freedom act new jersey.org. And it’ll take you to, to the people that you need to be talking to more specifically about our asks, and it’ll also sign you up so that you can continue to get updates about the bill as it progresses, there’s actually a really meaty bill, and it does a lot and so we expect it to go through a couple of committees.
And, we know that this is not an issue that the New Jersey Legislature really has had to speak about much in the last 20 years, we did a lot of work, to reinstate family planning funding, which is great. But when it comes to the issue of abortion, New Jersey has been, like we said, you know, historically a leader, we’ve been in a really good place. And what this bill does is going to make sure that these mounting threats aren’t going to impact New Jersey residents when it comes to accessing services, and then also that the gaps in access that persist right now when it comes to, to accessing affordable care in people’s communities are going to be close to that we’re not really leaving anyone behind. And so the the reproductive freedom Act, the first kind of pillar we’ve been talking about is having like four pillars, is that it codifies the right to reproductive health care services and to decision making and autonomy for all people who can become pregnant, including cis women, trans men, gender non conforming people actually have a really beautiful broad statement much broader than the the rights that are codified by Roe.
So some people will say it codifies Roe, it’s actually a really broad reproductive rights codification. But we didn’t want a bill that just addressed rights and without addressing access, because like I’ve said a number of times, right, the rights are nothing if we can’t really access the care and theoretical rights don’t do anyone any good. And so the ways that the bill will affect or impact access. One is by eliminating the financial barriers that persist in New Jersey. And so we talked a little bit about the Hyde Amendment. And New Jersey has, for many, many years, and opted to utilize state funds to ensure that the Hyde Amendment doesn’t impact people in our state on the Medicaid program. We don’t carve out abortion care services, unlike any other medical care and say this is something that you don’t deserve or don’t have access to. Everyone can access the full range of reproductive health services regardless if they have or if they have insurance from the state through the Medicaid program. But what we know is that there are a lot of people who have private insurance policies where abortion is completely carved out, or where they have a very high deductible or a very high copay to where it doesn’t even matter that they have insurance in the first place.
Heather Warburton 29:35
I have a 4K dollar deductible on my insurance,
Roxanne Sutocky 29:39
Right and the average cost for an abortion is between four and $500. So literally you have no coverage. Right?
Heather Warburton 29:45
Roxanne Sutocky 29:45
So this bill would ensure that regardless of your your health care policy, you could access this, you will have the coverage that you need and it will cover the care that you seek without any out of pocket costs or co pays that could Be burdensome and, and that do cause people to actually have to rely on, like charitable funds like the abortion, New Jersey abortion access fund to be able to afford their services. But the second piece of that is also looking at people who don’t have any traditional path toward health insurance at all. And so it addresses abortion and contraception coverage for our undocumented community members in New Jersey. And right now we have a small bucket of money called the New Jersey supplemental prenatal program. And that is meant to provide coverage for some prenatal care services. And it does run out of money very quickly, like within the first quarter of the year. And so we would like this bill, ultimately to do is to administer a program with enough resources to cover this prenatal care services that folks need for the full year. But also ensure that those same people have access both to contraception methods, and to abortion care if they choose that, right, because this kind of purposeful withholding of services or funding for one type of reproductive health and not another, can influence decision making, and for people who don’t have a ton of resources and is ultimately the paramount to reproductive coercion from the state. And so if we want to really live into our values of affirming that everyone has the right to make these decisions, we also need to make sure that they’re well resourced to do so.
Heather Warburton 31:34
So Yeah, sounds like areally good bill. It sounds like it’s got some deep stuff in it that really will help people for sure.
Roxanne Sutocky 31:40
Absolutely. Absolutely. And then we see we do we see this bill as a vehicle to really remove obstacles. And hence, we also are feeling, you know, strongly feel that this bill should not impose any new obstacles or new restrictions to abortion, in fact, it it will eliminate some old laws that are still on the books that, you know, have been struck down by our state courts that could potentially be used, you know, or misused to criminalize folks, as well as some regulations that don’t improve patient outcomes. They just serve to make provision of care very burdensome, and limit the number of sites throughout the state where people can access care.
Micah Rasmussen 32:26
So people want to get involved, you told us where we could sign up to get information, if people wanted to donate to the abortion fund, for example, how could they do that? Where do they do that?
Roxanne Sutocky 32:37
Yeah, so the only independent freestanding abortion fund in New Jersey is New Jersey Abortion Access Fund. And so you can visit them at and njaaf.org just n j a a f.org. And I’ll also say that, and, you know, the Cherry Hill Women Center is continuing to provide care through through this pandemic, and also working to help champion this legislation, which has resulted in us needing to kind of exist in a state of increased vigilance. And so we are always in need of supportive volunteers to help walk people in to the clinic. And you can sign up with us at www.thewomenscenters.com/take-action, and to learn more about volunteering. And you can also make a non tax deductible donation directly to the clinic. And if you’d be interested or sign up for our email list as well, to keep up to date on what’s going on with us.
Heather Warburton 33:46
You guys do great work there. And thank you so much for joining me, I always enjoy learning what’s going on with reproductive health care from you, it’s always really educational.
Roxanne Sutocky 33:56
Heather Warburton 33:57
To my listeners, thank you so much for joining us here today. We appreciate you more than you can No, we would not be here if it was not for the support of you guys. So I appreciate everything that you do when you share our posts around when you like things, if you rate us on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts from all that really helps to get these important messages out there. And finally, I have to ask for your monetary support. I’m literally just sitting in a tiny little bedroom in my house right and you know, recording this and I’m paying kind of for everything out of pocket. So if at all possible. If you could go on to my website, click on that donate tab. You can support me on Patreon with a monthly donation or through PayPal, and I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for joining us here today. The future is yours to create. Go out there and create it.
If you want to get involved and support the Reproductive Freedom Act click here to register for an event on Wednesday, March 3rd at 12pm: Virtual Rally for the Reproductive Freedom Act!