On a really bad day, a small business owner might grumble that someone — a disgruntled client, a competitor or maybe the world, in general — is out to get them.
In Amy Hagstrom Miller’s case, someone is literally out to get her, pretty much 24/7. As an abortion care provider for nearly two decades in the state of Texas, Miller has been the target of an aggressive pro-life movement that has repeatedly won legislative victories forcing her to restrict services and even shut down locations of her company, Whole Woman’s Health. Somedays, “I think, wow, what would it be like to work in a business that doesn’t have so many barriers?” Miller says.
The Abortion Clinic Owner
Listen to our podcast episode for more of our interview with Amy Hagstrom Miller.
The latest salvo came a few weeks ago, in the form of a high-stakes turf war. Miller’s flagship clinic, which had spent 16 years in its North Austin location, lost its lease to another company that outbid her. But it wasn’t just any company: It was Austin LifeCare, a Christian anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. According to Spectrum News, Austin LifeCare wanted to “shine light upon a very, very dark place.”
The Story Exchange has been following Miller’s dramatic ups and downs for 3 years (watch our video or listen to our podcast, above). When I caught up with Miller over the phone, she seemed fairly unperturbed about the situation. “This has happened to us more than once by anti-abortion groups,” she says. The “sneaky” part was that Austin LifeCare, as confirmed by Spectrum News, offered to pay the building’s landlord a five-year lease up front, for the whole building. “We only leased half the building,” Miller says, so competing on price wasn’t an option. “We can’t afford that.”
While Whole Woman’s Health was forced to vacate its longtime location in February — an event chronicled in news media — Miller had been aware of the situation for quite some time. The end result is that “we survived it,” she says. “We managed to turn lemons into lemonades.”
[Related: Marje Isabelle Aims to Guide Women Through Fertility, Menopause]
After an exhaustive search, Miller moved her flagship clinic this month into a new location, not far from where Apple is expanding its new campus. “It’s gorgeous, which is awesome,” Miller says of the new clinic, which at 2,700 square feet is slightly smaller than her previous location. Exam rooms, as they were in the previous site, are named after female trailblazers and designed to make clients feel “warm and comfortable.”
Finding the property wasn’t easy, though, and Miller says she visited 80 properties over the span of 8 months. While Austin is a progressive community, landlords were often sympathetic but wary. “We’re very upfront about what we do,” she says. “Every single landlord was too nervous to lease to us because of abortion.”
Given that Miller’s flagship was shut down in 2013 as a result of a Texas law called HB2, it’s not hard to see why a landlord might be nervous. That said, not all tenants are Miller — who not only appealed HB2 all the way to the Supreme Court, but successfully won the case in a monumental decision and re-opened her flagship.
The landlord who finally agreed to lease space to Miller is a female OB-GYN who is a fan of Whole Woman’s Health. “She wanted to lease us because of what we do, not in spite of what we do,” Miller says.
Whole Woman’s Health is already seeing patients in the new location, so disruption — to a certain degree — has been minimal. The move has cost Whole Woman’s Health about $100,000, which the company is trying to offset via fundraising. Miller says she’s come to expect disruption, not just in Texas but in the other places she practices. She now has 7 clinics in 5 states. “Part of the work is always people trying to put an end to what we’re doing,” she says. “I’ve worked to not have this be a surprise.”
As the founder of a company that provides women’s reproductive health care, Miller says she’s different than most entrepreneurs. “I’m driven by this quest for human rights and justice,” she says. “If profits were my driver, I would not be in this business.”
Resilience comes from doing work “that I believe in so deeply,” she says. “Patients are always so grateful, and people’s families are improved by the work we’re doing. I just have a tangible sense of making the world a better place.”
[Related: Read about an entrepreneur who’s health app is designed to keep millennial women in the workforce.]