The loss of a reproductive health clinic that provides abortions affects various communities as discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. What about the professionals who staff these clinics? To a clinic staffer, this loss is personal. Beyond losing a job and source of income, a unique and caring environment vanishes.
Shireen Whitaker worked at the Sacramento location of Women’s Health Specialists until it closed in May 2017. Whitaker was initially involved with the clinic as a volunteer clinic escort, joining her mother-in-law who has escorted for over 10 years. Following the creation of a buffer zone at their clinic, Whitaker was hired by WHS as a legal monitor in 2013. During her tenure, she handled Outreach, Education, and Clinic Defense, coordinating security and escorts.
Multiple locations of WHS were closed this year due to reimbursement shortfalls in the California Medicaid system, Medi-Cal, following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Anti-choice protestors in California are framing the closure of these clinics as a victory, but the truth is more bland and bureaucratic. WHS Sacramento relied on providing a full-range of reproductive services like birth control and Pap smears in addition to abortions. Other area clinics were receiving more money in reimbursements and WHS couldn’t compete. According to Whitaker, the Sacramento clinic was a “sacrificial lamb” to California’s health system.
Working at her clinic was more than just a job for Whitaker. It was a “biosphere…a home away from home.” The loss of the clinic has had a huge emotional impact and Whitaker has blocked it in some ways. “I have all this stuff the clinic gave to me and it’s still sitting in my car. It’s like I can’t take it out; I can’t make it real.” WHS provided a space that was accepting and losing it has been “horrible.”
Handling security for WHS Sacramento meant monitoring the media and social media activity of anti-choice activists, something that became “toxic” for Whitaker after awhile. Now, their sites are something she can’t bear to look at. Anti-choice websites are claiming the closing of WHS branches to be a major victory and a vindication of their tactics. The truth isn’t nearly as exciting. The bureaucratic reality for the loss of WHS makes the facilities a casualty of a broken healthcare system. Still, the gloating on anti-choice websites has only made things harder on Whitaker.
At its height, WHS had 11 clinics; now it has 3. Whitaker still works for the remaining WHS clinics in a volunteer capacity and is currently seeking other employment in reproductive health. “I’m really hoping to find a similar space. I should be so lucky.” Most staff members from the clinic have moved onto other medical jobs unrelated to reproductive health. Many staff members retired, including the executive director who had been with the group for 40 years.
The closing of WHS Sacramento, and indeed, any reproductive health facility, has far-reaching consequences for a community. Patients must seek other options for care, often with greater expense and difficulty; other reproductive facilities face emboldened anti-choice protestors; and staff members are left without jobs that provide both income and an accepting environment for important, necessary work. If anti-choice activists are successful in closing EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic, the state as a whole will be poorer for it.