Amy Hagstrom Miller of Whole Woman’s Health is on a mission to make abortions safe and stigma-free. The journey has taken her to the Supreme Court.
Amy Hagstrom Miller: The Abortion Provider
SOT Hi, Amy!
-Hi, how are you? Here I come.
Amy Almost 40% of American women will have an abortion at some point in their life. For most women abortion isn’t a struggle. For most women they’re relieved and they’re happy to, you know, step into the future of their life.
SOT Super good to see you!
-Good to see you!
Amy And for some women there’s a struggle that mainly comes from the outside, the shame and stigma that comes from sort of what people have told them they’re supposed to feel, or what people have, have told them the kind of woman that has an abortion.
TEXT Amy Hagstrom Miller – Founder + CEO – Whole Woman’s Health Clinics – Dallas, Texas, USA
SOT Hi, how are you?
-Good, how are you?
-Good. My name is Angel, I’m going to take you down to the lab.
Amy Facing an unplanned pregnancy and the ability to control our fertility is really integral, not only to our ability to exercise our full humanity as women but it, it is integral in our ability to realize our dreams and to have a future that we can plan for.
TEXT Amy was born and raised in Minnesota, the youngest of five children.
Amy I was born and raised in a really liberal, Christian tradition. The expectation was “excel at all the things you do,” so academic honor roll, I was also a swimmer and a cross-country skier.
TEXT Amy studied religion at Macalester College.
TEXT In 1986, as part of her degree, she spent a year in India and lived with a
Amy India was really formative for me. It was one of the first times I really poked deeper into, what do women need to really be equal citizens in a society?
TEXT After graduating in 1992, Amy married her college boyfriend Karl Miller.
TEXT That same year she walked into her local Planned Parenthood and asked for a job.
Amy In the early Nineties clinics were being bombed. Clinics were being blockaded. It was almost like a nexus of what, what was happening in our culture at that time. This was a political moment in our time where you could really have meaningful work.
TEXT At Planned Parenthood, Amy began doing office work and then trained to be a counselor.
Amy I was drawn to the direct services part of it, to sitting with a woman at a time when she looks at all of her values, and her hopes, and her dreams and tries to make a really big decision.
TEXT Over the next 2 years, Amy learned to manage a clinic.
TEXT When she was just 27, a group of doctors asked her to start the West Side
Woman’s Clinic in New York City.
Amy The abortion experience in New York was completely different than in
Minnesota. The procedure, of course, is exactly the same, but people’s experience, the culture, the values show up really differently in different parts of the country.
TEXT For 5 years Amy managed patient flow, finance, health insurance,
Medicaid and staffing.
Amy It was a great experience. But I felt that this sort of human rights,
injustice activist peace wasn’t really needed in New York and that women’s access to abortion care services should be the same whether they live in Indiana, Louisiana, Alabama, or Massachusetts.
TEXT Amy found a doctor in Austin, Texas, who wanted to sell his clinic and
TEXT A college friend loaned her the money to buy him out.
TEXT In 2003 Amy opened her first Whole Woman’s Health Clinic.
SOT You can relax your arm.
SOT Part of what we’ve done is really intentionally creating a physical space
that’s really comfortable and warm, and then I’ve named each of the rooms after different women throughout history. So it really sort of changes how you might feel.
TEXT Two years after opening her first clinic, it was profitable. Amy quickly
acquired two more.
Amy Most of the clinics I bought from that point forward I was able to do
seller financing. So the doctor would contact me and be interested in selling their practice, and then usually they thought it was worth a lot more than it is worth ’cause, you know, buying an abortion clinic in Texas, not really, you know, not that many people interested, right.
TEXT By 2013 Amy had five clinics in Texas.
TEXT That year the Texas legislature, in spite of huge protest, passed House
TEXT The bill imposed severe restrictions on the state’s 44 abortion clinics.
Amy HB2 required doctors who provide abortion services to have admitting
privileges in a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. It required all abortion facilities to become ambulatory surgical centers, which is like a mini hospital; completely unnecessary for abortion services but here again, making that requirement basically trying to shut all the facilities down.
TEXT Amy and several other independent providers decided to sue the state of
Amy These laws needed to be challenged. The misinformation that they were
based on, erroneous, you know, health and safety kind of claims that they made were completely unsubstantiated. So there was no question that we needed to bring a lawsuit and try to make it right, but the odds were very much against us.
TEXT Amy became the lead plaintiff in a battle that went all the way to the
Amy It cost us well over $1,000,000. The lawsuit took at least three of our
highest-trained staff to prepare for, both in preparing all the documentation. Our facilities got shut down and we still had rent and mortgages to pay, we had staff to layoff, we had equipment leases we were still paying.
Question Did you ever think you might not make it through this time?
Amy Yes. Yes, multiple times. The money losses were really difficult
especially when I personalize it and I realize like, “Oh, there went the college fund for my kids, et cetera.”
TEXT In June 2016, after 3 years of litigation, the Supreme Court ruled in
favor of Whole Woman’s Health.
SOT Oh, man. I am beyond elated. Every day Whole Woman’s Health Clinics
serve women with respect and passion and dignity and compassion that they deserve. And today the Supreme Court did the same.
Amy Our victory in the Supreme Court has changed the game like
fundamentally. It’s changed the whole field way beyond Texas’ borders.
TEXT But during the tough legal battle, more than half of Texas’ clinics closed.
TEXT Amy now has three clinics in Texas as well as one in Maryland, Illinois
Amy I’ve learned a lot about medicine. I’ve learned a lot about business. I’ve
learned a lot about law. But all of that is at a byproduct of that central commitment that I have to sitting with a woman at a time of need and really advocating and supporting her to choose a course for her life.
Posted: September 28, 2017