Today is Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.
To celebrate, I called up a provider that I recently had the pleasure of spending time with on the steps of the Supreme Court at the big Rally for Abortion Access. Amanda Kifferly is the Director of Patient Advocacy for the Women’s Centers, an affiliated group of independent providers who specialize in abortion care, with two Centers in our area.
As we were chatting, it struck me: Even though Kifferly and I work together as partners in the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, and even though our respective organizations work together–as the only public interest legal center in the state devoted to protecting and advancing women’s rights, the Women’s Law Project serves as legal counsel for many independent abortion providers in Pennsylvania including the Women’s Centers—I realized that I didn’t really know the logistics of what went into the work of advocating for patients who need abortion care.
So I called her up, and we talked about it. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
WLP: In DC, I heard you refer to yourself an “abortion provider,” but you’re not a doctor. Can you break down the vocabulary? Who calls themselves abortion providers?
Kifferly: Thanks so much for asking that question! Within the movement, and by the movement I mean the abortion movement, a clinic worker is anyone who works in a clinic that provides abortion services. In the independent provider world, we routinely refer to each other as abortion providers, and that doesn’t distinguish between a physician, a telephone advocate or a medical assistant. It’s a great way for us to build a sense of pride and partnership about the work we do, and acknowledge in our own way that it takes a group of talented passionate people to provide the excellent care that we all strive to give.
WLP: I’ve heard you refer to some of your colleagues as “frontline staff.”
Kifferly: Frontline staff are the folks who have the first line of communication with patients. So in my particular world, that’s the staff of the advocacy center–in outside terms, a call center–where people seeking general information, calling to make an appointment, or trying to reach specific staff all call the same number. Our telephone advocates triage those calls, and work to get the patients what they need. That could be anything from scheduling appointments to answering questions about abortion, helping people fundraise for their abortion, or helping people navigate restrictive abortion laws.
WLP: That is a lot of work and coordination before even making an appointment. As the director of patient advocacy, then, what does your day-to-day look like?
Kifferly: My job is to be the voice of the patient. This job was built out of the necessity to help patients before the day of their appointment. People don’t just call to say, “I want to have an abortion.” Most of the time, in order for them to make an appointment, we need to educate them on state laws, which requires proof of compliance on the patient’s end, not to mention the general stuff like payment and, unfortunately, the heads up about the harassing they may experience from the protesters who camp outside our Centers.
We need to help them gather the necessary paperwork… that may be whatever they need that’s related to their insurance, or in Pennsylvania, the Abortion Control Act. There’s a need for someone to be in charge of the advocacy work in navigating what’s necessary to schedule an abortion, to help identify the barriers that our patients experience, to identify populations in need within our communities, and what the unique needs of those patients are.
WLP: So you’re talking to patients, and potential patients, all day long.
Kifferly: Yes, I’m talking to patients all day, but also institutions. It’s not uncommon for me to be on a call with maternal fetal medicine specialists, or genetic counselors. I often coordinate care for a patient with local hospitals, because the hospital is not able to care for that patient internally due to politics, scheduling, bureaucratic red tape, or access to funding. We also work with hospitals because we’re known in the community for giving compassion care when people are experiencing abortion as a grief.
On any given day, I might be talking to law enforcement about ways to cut back on harassment outside out office, so that patients experience less harassment when they’re coming in for their appointment. I also spend a lot of time talking with different funding organizations that are members of the national network of abortion funders who help our patients afford their care. I’m also the point person for media, so when the media community at large wants to learn about abortion, about providers, or are curious about how we are responding to politics in Washington, DC or in Pennsylvania, I help set them up with the experts within our organization.
WLP: So much of the work of accessing abortion is from hidden from public view. I work with you on the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, and I have to admit, I didn’t realize how much work you had to do behind the scenes to coordinate patient care. What do you want people to know about your work?
Kifferly: People should know that abortion isn’t a separate issue, that it’s a part of a woman’s spectrum of care, and that you never know when you may need an abortion or want to have an abortion, because it is often an unexpected life experience, a decision that you suddenly have to make. I also want people to understand that you may not have the resources to have an abortion, even if you’re doing it because it’s going to be a fatal delivery or under unexpected circumstances, it is the best decision for your family. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, you’ve got to pay out of pocket. Abortion isn’t always about 14-year-olds who didn’t use birth control. It’s usually not.
WLP: What made you get into this field?
My mom had two illegal abortions outside of the United States before Roe v. Wade, and she shared those stories with me. I think of my mom, and how good women have abortions, and I think abortion should be easy to access in the same way other healthcare is. That’s what motivates me to identify barriers for other people, and makes me so passionate about removing them for our patients.
WLP: You mentioned money as a barrier a few times. I’m curious how often you hear of that as a factor given the current strategy to drive up the cost for low-income women.
Kifferly: People should be able to access quality healthcare regardless of what their insurance is, so it’s a shame that we put up those barriers for people. I’m always proud to be partnered with the many local funds that enable women to afford it.
I love my job. I couldn’t think of anything better—okay, maybe a tropical island–than to know that each day I am honored by the women in my community to serve as a partner in their healthcare. I am always challenged by my work and humbled by my colleagues who also work from a place of passion and dedication to our community.
Counting the tragedy in Colorado Springs, there have been 11 murders and 28 attempted murders in attacks targeting reproductive health care providers in the US and Canada. The Women’s Law Project and the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health supports state legislation that would protect doctors, staff and patients at facilities that provide abortion care.
The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.
Text: Tara Murtha