Walking into the UNT Law School conference room for the ACLU of Texas’s first Reproductive Freedom in Action conference, I was excited and almost in disbelief that such an event was taking place in my home city. And when I moved back to Dallas two years ago to start at UTSouthwestern Medical School, I certainly would never have dreamed that I would be involved in the conceptualization and organization of such an event.
In August, as president of Medical Students for Choice at UTSouthwestern I had met with the ACLU of Texas to discuss possible collaborations. We came up with the idea of an interdisciplinary reproductive freedom conference for students across Texas. Last week, more than 80 students and young professionals filled the room representing an array of disciplines that impact women’s health: medicine, public health, law, social work and policy, and the excitement was palpable as the sessions began. Our vision had come to fruition!
Throughout the day, workshops allowed attendees to explore topics ranging from reproductive justice to learning how to best harness social media to promote reproductive rights. We heard from legal, policy, and medical experts about the evolution of anti-choice legislation. We were encouraged by ideas about how to organize as future professionals to make our voices heard to protect reproductive rights. During the event, attendees gathered with colleagues and posed with #SupportHer signs pledging their support of choice. My pledge read "#SupportHer because she knows what is best for her family."
During the closing panel Lynne Machado, a mother from Fort Worth, shared the story of her daughter's loss of control at the end of her life due to pregnancy. Hearing about the "pregnancy exclusion" in end-of-life laws in Texas was an important way to expand the conversation about reproductive justice. While access to abortion being under attack is a central issue, it is essential for us to realize that we need to reclaim women's bodily autonomy throughout the life course. Access to preventative health services, contraception, abortion, and end-of-life care are all issues of reproductive justice that Texans need to protect.
Conference attendees finished the day excited to continue collaborating with interdisciplinary colleagues throughout the state and utilizing resources and skills learned at the conference. There was also talk of next year's Reproductive Freedom in Action conference!
Leslie Johnson is a medical student at UT Southwestern Medical School and president of her school’s Medical Students for Choice chapter. She lives in Dallas, Texas.