Brattleboro Groups Partner With Planned Parenthood To Improve Access To Abortion Services

Nov 1, 2017

Two groups in Brattleboro are working with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to improve abortion services in Windham County.

Willow O'Feral is a filmmaker and photographer who lives in Brattleboro, and she says after the presidential election, local activist groups met to talk about how they wanted to protest the agenda of the incoming administration.

O'Feral says she didn't see enough focus on women's health issues, so she helped start a new group.

"We formed in the wake of the Trump election and formed the Women's Action Team with the explicit purpose of advancing reproductive justice and combating rape culture and misogyny," O'Feral says. "And so we are here to say, 'we are not going to take this. We are fighting back.'"

On the other side of town, Lisa Ford saw Trump's win as a direct assault on abortion rights.

And so she started a group she called Planned Parenthood Defenders, to directly support abortion rights in Windham County.

"This is a legal medical procedure that every woman has a legal right to access," Ford says. "And even if one woman cannot access this service, that's too many."

Ford reached out to the Planned Parenthood office in Brattleboro, originally to find out what she could do to support their work.

And she says she was surprised to learn that they did not provide abortions there.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Brattleboro does not offer abortion services.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

Two medical clinics in Brattleboro do offer abortions. But if a woman prefers service by Planned Parenthood — which has a fund that can help low income women — she has to go to Keene, New Hampshire.

And so, Ford says, that creates a few different challenges.

New Hampshire has a parental consent law for minors, and there are also barriers to transportation.

"I think this is an opportunity, in a political climate when so many states around the country are looking to limit access to abortion services, that we can shine as a community and show the rest of the country that there are people here who want more access to abortion services." — Lisa Ford, founder of Planned Parenthood Defenders

Ford says the two groups are now working together, to raise money for a transportation fund, and also to work with Planned Parenthood to expand services in Windham County.

"I think this is an opportunity, in a political climate, when so many states around the country are looking to limit access to abortion services, and to birth control, and to Planned Parenthood, that we can shine as a community and show the rest of the country that there are people here who want more access to abortion services," Ford says. "We want more Planned Parenthood in our villages. And we want reproductive health care to be accessible to everyone."

O'Feral is directing a film, "Break The Silence," where she interviews women about their reproductive and sexual health histories.

The film, which is still in production, showed this past weekend in Brattleboro and the proceeds are being used to support the transportation fund.

Ford says the groups also want to start a program that would provide emotional and practical support to women who have to travel to get an abortion.

Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England-Vermont, says the organization has been looking into expanding abortion services in Brattleboro.

Leriche says Planned Parenthood is now working with the two Brattleboro groups to assess the level of care it offers in southeastern Vermont.

"It is very unusual for a community to approach us and ask for abortion care, or any services, really," Leriche says. "This is an extraordinary circumstance. And so we absolutely welcome this partnership, and these individuals bringing this concern to our attention. And we really hope that we can work together to meet the goal of providing the abortion care that's being requested in Brattleboro."

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is now doing a feasibility study to see if abortions could be offered in its current space, or if the group needs to find a new facility to expand its services to women in Windham County.

Clarification 1.00 p.m. 11/02/17  The money that was raised at the event in Brattleboro went to Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom, which provides financial assistance to people all across Vermont to cover the costs of abortion procedures - which includes helping to cover the cost of transportation when requested.