BRATTLEBORO—Two local organizations, Planned Parenthood Defenders and the Women’s Action Team, have teamed up with Latchis Arts — which is offering theater space at no cost — to present a fundraising event to support access to reproductive services.
The event, on Sunday, Oct. 29, begins at 4 p.m., with a screening of the documentary film Break the Silence.
The film, directed by Willow O’Feral, features interviews with 17 Brattleboro-area women about their sexual and reproductive-health histories.
A facilitated question-and-answer period follows the film, featuring O’Feral; Dru Roessle of Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom; Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England; a Women’s Freedom Center representative; and six of the film’s interviewees.
All proceeds from the film go to VARF, “a grassroots organization that works to ensure women have the right to control what happens to their health and bodies, this includes access to abortion,” according to its mission statement at www.vermontaccess.org.
After the film and panel discussion, the event organizers invite attendees to join them at The Lounge at Duo Restaurant. The Lounge staff is creating a special cocktail for the event, and proceeds from the sale of the drink will go to support access to reproductive services.
Lisa Ford said she formed Planned Parenthood Defenders after the 2017 Women’s March on Washington to advocate for Planned Parenthood.
“I started it as a Facebook page as a resource for who to write letters to, starting with the state legislature, to ensure support for Planned Parenthood,” Ford said.
Since then, PPD has grown to approximately 40 local women. “It didn’t take long to get people interested. It’s an easy sell. Many women think it’s important to do what they want with their bodies,” said Ford, who added, “we also welcome men.”
“Almost every woman I talk to has gone to Planned Parenthood. We need more Planned Parenthood, not less. They are a model for health clinics,” Ford said. “They do so much more than reproductive health. They do primary care, services for men, vaccinations."
“Our goal is that the Brattleboro clinic would stay strong and be accessible to all, no matter what happened on a federal level,” Ford said. “Congress was threatening to deny poor women access” to reproductive health care, she said.
But, Ford said, when she learned the Brattleboro Planned Parenthood clinic didn’t offer abortions, “we asked questions about where women are going [to get abortions] and how they get there."
Range of reproductive health care
Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy for Vermont at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, confirmed the Brattleboro Health Center does not offer abortions.
“Providing the whole range of reproductive health care is central to our mission,” Leriche told The Commons. “We were recently approached by members of the Brattleboro community with a request to add this service. We are grateful for their concern and are working in partnership with them as we undertake an internal analysis to see how we can accomplish this goal,” she said.
This knowledge caused Ford to shift the focus of PPD and form an Abortion Access Team to make sure all women and girls who need or want an abortion can get one, can afford one, and can get to a medical facility where abortions are available.
To further assist girls and women who have abortions, PPD started an Abortion Doula Program. “The doulas will attend abortion procedures with clients, and provide follow-up calls and visits,” Ford said. They currently have three trained doulas who are ready to volunteer their time.
In talking to locals about healthcare, Ford said, “I kept hearing that people wanted to support women who were having abortions. That’s what inspired me to start looking at abortion access. What I saw that was immediately needed was transportation, and money to help pay for these services."
“Vermont Medicaid pays for abortion with state dollars, as federal law prohibits any federal dollars from paying for abortion care. Thanks to the generosity of PPNNE donors, we do have resources available if assistance is needed,” Leriche said. “Planned Parenthood does have resources that can be used for transportation when cost is a barrier to a patient."
“I don’t think of myself as an activist,” Ford said, “but this came easy to me. I believe in Planned Parenthood. I was outraged [after the elections], but with this I could focus on one thing: make sure our clinic stays strong."
PPD’s work with the Women’s Action Team to produce the fundraising event “is a natural collaboration,” Ford said.
WAT “was formed in the wake of the election,” said co-founder O’Feral. She and four other local women started the group “specifically for reproductive access and fighting rape culture,” said O’Feral.
O’Feral noted WAT “thinks tactically and strategically” about these issues. “Other than creating solidarity and unity, marches don’t do much. We need to change opinions,” she said.
‘Local listening project’
WAT is inspired by the LGBTQ movement, O’Feral said, especially the fight for marriage equality. “Telling their stories was really effective. They combatted ignorance by storytelling. They put the message out that everyone knows someone who is LGBT, they just might not realize it. It’s powerful.
“We need to do the same thing about reproductive issues. It’s so taboo! Getting your period, [sexually transmitted diseases] testing, abortion. If we stood up and told our stories, nobody would be able to legislate away our access."
WAT decided “a local listening project” was needed, O’Feral said.
This inspired O’Feral, a filmmaker and photographer, to make Break the Silence, a documentary film where she and others interview people about their sexual and reproductive histories “with the aim to demystify and destigmatize all areas of health,” she said.
In choosing interview subjects for the film, O’Feral selected women — trans- and cis-gender — of different races, ages, socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations. “The only people who aren’t legislated and controlled are cis-gender men,” she noted.
Because of the intimate subject matter, O’Feral was “terrified at first” about asking women to participate, she said. But, “people were, like, ‘F— yeah! This is awesome!’” she added. “Because this project is [about being] vulnerable, and it’s built on trust, the people interviewed are [...] incredibly brave. It’s a really uncomfortable place.”
In the film, each of the 17 subjects is interviewed against a plain, white backdrop, with the interviewer off-screen and rarely heard. The focus is on one woman at a time and her story, without any music or special effects.
The news release notes the film is a sneak preview and a work-in-progress.
“You listen to these stories,” O’Feral said, “and it renders any argument against abortion access irrelevant, because these are fundamental human rights.”