Last week, the ACLU caught up with physician Yashica Robinson, an abortion provider from Alabama and recipient of the 2017 George Tiller, M.D. Award from Physicians for Reproductive Health.
Dr. Robinson is board-certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and is a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She is the owner and founder of Alabama Women’s Wellness Center and provides reproductive care at Alabama Women’s Center. Dr. Robinson is one of the only abortion providers in the state of Alabama. The ACLU represents her and the Alabama Women’s Wellness Center in their ongoing legal challenge to multiple restrictions aimed at making it difficult or impossible for a woman to access an abortion in Alabama.
We talked about what motivates her to provide abortion care, the challenges she’s faced, and the women who inspire her. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Jennifer Dalven: Why do you provide abortion care?
Yashica Robinson: I made a decision that I wanted to do women’s health care, first and foremost. And in my mind, I never separated the two. Abortion is a part of women’s health care. By the time I realized that some people do not agree with a woman’s right to choose abortion as one of her health care options, I had already fallen in love with the work that I do.
When I think about it, once I’ve decided to do something, I go back to what my mom told me, “If you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all.” I think that offering a portion of women’s health care and taking out some parts of it because some people have a problem with it — that would be against everything that I’ve been taught.
JD: What’s your typical day like as a women’s health provider?
YR: Most of my days are split between two offices, so I try to start early. I get my daughter off to school. I make rounds at the hospital. Because I hold privileges at two hospitals, that may mean two stops. Then I head to the office. Usually, I go to the Alabama Women’s Center first. We will have 10 to 20 patients scheduled for procedures, not including patients there for Day 1 abortion counseling, abortion follow-up, contraception, or other gynecologic concerns.
If I am lucky, I have a quick lunch. Otherwise, I eat in route to my private office and begin seeing patients at 1 p.m. My afternoon schedule will have 18 to 25 patients for prenatal visits, annual exams, various contraceptive procedures, and other medical concerns. We finish around 5 or 6 p.m. if all goes as planned. However, since I am an obstetrician with a busy practice, occasionally, deliveries can change my schedule. I have to be flexible and make it work.
JD: You’re being honored by Physicians for Reproductive Health with the 2017 George Tiller Award. What does this award mean to you?
YR: It is a great honor to be recognized for the work I do, especially in the name of a man who has made the ultimate sacrifice for women’s reproductive rights.
When abortion clinics shut down, it decreases access to health care.
As a physician that provides abortion, receiving this award helps to empower me in my work. To have someone recognize you for the work that you do, for the fact that it is brave to do something as simple as respecting a woman’s right to make a decision that is best for her and her family just brings honor to me. And it helps to bring some positivity to an area of medicine that often has a negative light shone on it.
JD: In October, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson blocked an Alabama measure which forbade any abortion provider from operating within 2,000 feet of a public K-8 school. What did that decision mean for you and your work?
YR: It’s sad that we constantly have to overcome these obstacles when it comes to something as basic as women’s health care. When a judge strikes down these laws, it allows us to continue to do the work that we believe is so important and it continues to empower women.
JD: What happens when abortion is pushed out of reach?
YR: When abortion clinics shut down, it decreases access to health care. A lot of women may lose the power to make that decision for themselves because it can place additional financial strain on families that are already having a hard time. When you lose a clinic in a community, patients will have to travel farther or arrange for the travel. It can delay the time it takes for a woman to get into a clinic.
Each time they pass these laws that shutter the doors of clinics, when they take away access to competent providers, it doesn’t make it safer for women. Indeed, it makes it more unsafe and less accessible.
JD: What’s the most rewarding thing about being an abortion provider?
YR: The most rewarding thing is a simple thank you from our patients, when they say we’ve made this experience as positive as one could expect it to be even in a very difficult time. And then there’s the sigh of relief they breathe once their procedure is completed.
JD: You’ve talked previously about your mother and your grandmother’s influence in your life. How did they shape the person you are today?
YR: They helped shape the person I am by always reminding me to continue to be strong and to hold my head up, even in the face of naysayers. I was a teen mom, and a lot of times in that situation, it is difficult for people to continue to pursue their goals. My grandmother and my mother both allowed me to make a decision and then supported me in that decision.
My grandmother gave me a strong constitution. She encouraged me to never quit, even in the face of adversity or dismal odds. My grandmother cared for many generations of people. I was always amazed to see how she did so much with so little and remained positive through it all.
So despite nights when I finish my third delivery after 2 a.m., knowing that I have only a few hours to sleep before I am due back in the office, despite all the obstacles imposed by anti-choice groups, and despite the protesters who harass my patients and me daily, I find the strength to persevere.
JD: How can people support abortion providers?
YR: They can go to the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives website, follow us on Twitter, and access our GoFundMe to make a donation as well as by making donations to organizations like the ACLU. Without the legal support of the ACLU, we couldn’t have fought the 2,000-foot restriction alone.
JD: What would you say to a woman who has had an abortion and is feeling the shame and stigma that is unfortunately often used against women?
YR: I would tell her the same thing my grandmother and mother told me, to hold your head up in all that you do, be confident in the decision that you’ve made, and understand that it’s no one’s place to judge you.