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The reproductive-rights battle is never-ending. In Iowa and elsewhere, there is hope.

I come from a long line of storytellers. Black women who hail from the South. Women who have been through things. My great-grandmother was a granny midwife, my grandmother a sharecropper, and my mother a child worker in the cotton fields of Mississippi.

Growing up, I heard their stories about accessing essential reproductive health care in the segregated South and confronting unjust health care policies and sinister inhumane practices that denied the dignity of their full humanity. Practices that harmed and humiliated and, ultimately, sought to control Black bodies.

It was these stories and testimonies of their stress, their pain, their joy and their hopes for a better future that inspired my own walk with purpose that led me to Planned Parenthood.

When I walked into Planned Parenthood North Central States as its new president and CEO a year ago, I wasn’t known for taking easy jobs or the paths of least resistance. As each state across our five-state affiliate faces unique challenges that have only intensified after the fall of Roe v. Wade, I knew this role would be no different.

What some may see as a job, I see as a calling to address health inequities with roots that go past the racist Jim Crow era to the brutal institution of chattel slavery. This was my opportunity to build a better future in which people can access affordable, high-quality and affirming health care, including abortion care.

I had two very different abortions. There's no one-size policy for reproductive health.

Abortion bans, fetal heartbeat laws restrict access to health care

A lot changes in a year. The highs have been high:

The lows have also been low:

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs a six-week abortion ban in Des Moines on July 14, 2023.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs a six-week abortion ban in Des Moines on July 14, 2023.

We know at this moment that we are on the right side of history. And that a growing majority of people are with us. We know this not only from polling, but also because people are showing up to fight for the right to control their bodies and their futures.

So much of this work is filling people’s cups with the hope that tomorrow will be better than what we are experiencing today.

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With Roe v. Wade overturned, an already challenging landscape becomes even harder

We know that there is an unrelenting campaign seeking to steal our hope and our joy, replacing it with hopelessness, exhaustion and despair. But I refuse to relinquish my joy, faith and hope – because hope is key to sustaining us throughout this fight.

Protesters hold a rally for reproductive rights in the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines on July 11, 2023.
Protesters hold a rally for reproductive rights in the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines on July 11, 2023.

I find hope in the progress and innovation at Planned Parenthood North Central States. We are in the process of expanding abortion access in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. We have increased our investments in telehealth and are working to address barriers to access in an environment where we are surrounded by growing reproductive health care deserts.

Our patient navigators are breaking down these barriers and connecting patients with care and the resources they need, while our LGBTQ+ care coordinators are providing supports to patients facing growing barriers to accessing lifesaving gender-affirming care.

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We are in a transformational space. The powerful testimonies of my ancestors – their experiences, their hopes and their dreams – guide me in the most difficult of circumstances. With Roe overturned, we know that an already challenging and inequitable landscape has become even harder.

But with that conflict and tension, there is an opportunity for rethinking and reinvention to build the landscape we want to see. The landscape we and future generations deserve.

It is my greatest hope that the storytellers of the future will look back at this time and see that we worked to reimagine and redesign health services. That they will tell the story of how we focused on recognizing our universal humanity and built toward a future where everyone has the opportunity to attain their optimal health.

Ruth Richardson
Ruth Richardson

Ruth Richardson is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. This column first published in the Des Moines Register.

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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Abortion-rights battles are plenty in Iowa. The majority is with us