Advocating for Reproductive Rights in North Carolina

By Rebecca Harrington

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In addition to flooding Capitol Hill for a day with committed activists, another of our Capitol Hill Days (CHD) goals is to form relationships with volunteers who will continue to help out Population Connection Action Fund once they return home.

So we were very excited when Marie Lina Excellent, one of our CHD 2015 participants, reached out to us about organizing an event on the UNC Chapel Hill campus. Marie Lina is a doctor, public health student at UNC, and co-president of the Public Health Student Leadership Association (PHSLA).

She says, “In April 2015, I had the opportunity to attend Population Connection’s Capitol Hill Days. It was such an inspiring event that when I went back to UNC, I suggested to a couple of UNC student organizations that a collaborative event with Population Connection would help us bring more awareness about reproductive health and the challenges of foreign policy to campus.”

Last week, we worked with PHSLA, the Student Global Health Committee, and Carolina Bebes to organize a screening of the documentary Vessel, which tells the story of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts and her journey to found the abortion organization Women on Waves.

The powerful, at times funny, and heartbreaking documentary spurred an energetic conversation with the audience—a mix of doctors and public health students—about access to women’s health around the world, the current political hostility toward reproductive rights in the U.S., and the repercussions of diminished access to basic reproductive health care.

An OB/GYN and public health student originally from Kazakhstan pushed the group with questions about why the U.S. government is allowed to slash funding for international and domestic family planning programs, and to implement policies like the Global Gag Rule and the Helms Amendment.

She expressed utter shock that, in a country like the U.S., where we’re afforded so much freedom, these policies have public and political support. She noted that “in Kazakhstan, there are other human rights violations, but abortion rights are respected, because the country is held to international human rights standards regarding reproductive health.”

Her disbelief that anti-women’s health policies are acceptable in the United States, in 2015, resonated with everyone in the room. Following the event, Marie Lina said “both the audience and the UNC groups were pleased with the outcome and look forward to further collaboration with Population Connection toward the goal of promoting health equity.”

While in the Research Triangle, we also had the opportunity to host a well-attended film screening and discussion of Blessed Fruit of the Womb with several groups at the UNC School of Medicine, as well as conduct a grassroots advocacy training with the Partners in Health Engage organization at Duke University.

As always, we were encouraged by the strength and commitment of our supporters in North Carolina, and look forward to our future collaborations with these groups and other volunteers in the state.

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