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Standing Up for Reproductive Rights in Kentucky

Derek Selznick,
ACLU of Kentucky
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November 3, 2008

Little known fact: there’s a long, strong, and proud history of brave men and women fighting for reproductive freedom here in Kentucky, one of the most restrictive states for reproductive rights in the nation. A recently-released history called Standing Up for Reproductive Rights: The Struggle for Legal Abortion in Kentucky, by Fran Ellers, documents the struggle of local activists to promote women’s health and prevent the erosion of reproductive rights from the 1930s through the present day.

I am proud that Ellers highlights the origins and accomplishments of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project in her work. Some of the Project’s major accomplishments since its inception in 1989 include defeating a proposed abortion ban in 1990, organizing a court system to help teens seeking abortions, and blocking a bill that would have chipped away at Roe v. Wade by granting full legal rights to the fetus. And believe me, it’s been an uphill battle waged not only by the ACLU but by a whole cadre of doctors, women seeking reproductive health care, lawyers, politicians, and concerned citizens as well as a new generation of activists who believe in preserving personal, private medical decision making.

I had the pleasure of attending one of Ellers’s recent book readings and watching her fire up the audience with stories of people’s uncommon courage and passion for justice, even against the odds. Dona Wells followed with a talk that powerfully detailed the recent history of how our state legislature has slowly and methodically chipped away at women’s rights and reproductive freedom. Wells should know: she’s been an abortion rights activist for 30 plus years, some of which she spent as an abortion clinic director; she’s also been president of the National Abortion Federation’s Board and served as a longtime ACLU of Kentucky board member.

Finally, Suzy Post, former ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director, described her efforts to bring reproductive freedom to the forefront of the ACLU’s agenda. Once the national headquarters had its Reproductive Freedom Project up and running, Suzy went on, with characteristic Kentuckian can-do spirit, to create the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Why? “Because nobody else was doing it,” Post explained.The room warmed to Post’s fervor as she lauded Ellers’s book and the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project: they are, after all, living embodiments of her legacy and that of generations of other courageous activists.

As the latest Reproductive Freedom Project director for Kentucky, and a 30-something who has always lived in a historical period where abortion, however constrained, remains an option, I’m inspired by Ellers’s book, as well as by living legends like the women who spoke at her reading. Their stories and the stories of all of the men and women in Standing Up for Reproductive Rights — their challenges, setbacks, and triumphs as they fought to preserve reproductive freedoms in this same state where I now work — are both my education and my touchstone, a continual source of strength and motivation.

Fran Ellers’s book affirms Kentucky’s long and illustrious history of fighters — of individuals willing to risk harm, status, and even legal consequences to ensure that every citizen has the right to govern his/her reproductive choices. I am honored to be a part of the Reproductive Freedom Project’s rich legacy and its future. I have great hopes for us.

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