Michiana Chronicles: Public Health - If we can keep it
Who owns public health? Or, to ask it another way, why should those of us with no medical expertise publicly support the experts who care for us?
Well, as when we share ownership of public schools, public pools, and public libraries, we all benefit when folks in our communities are educated, healthy, and know they belong. Right? But simply agreeing doesn’t translate into the advocacy needed to keep these public goods.
Public health is front of mind for many of us, since eight members of the St. Joseph County Department of Health recently resignedover restrictions to grant funds they’d relied on to improve health equity. And on August 1st, Indiana’s near-total abortion ban was set to go into effect – held off temporarily by an injunction– despite thewell-researched fact that the majority, yes, even in Indiana the majority of people support access to abortion care. Follow what’s happening in states with bans, like Texas, and you’ll see the devastating impact bans have when complications arise even in deeply desired pregnancies. Public health policies affect us all.
When I learned in June that Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend would be forced to close after serving four years as the region’s only abortion clinic, I thought of how out of step this was with majority opinion. And I also thought of the years volunteers like me have ensured this care was not just available, but was visibly supported by the community. For me, a gardener, and for other reproductive health advocates whose love language is flowers, we made our support public in spectacular flower beds grown from our home gardens.
Over the past four years, volunteer gardeners from age 20 to 70-something spaded up perennials from our backyards and transplanted them along the walkways of Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend to show our support: Ellyn’s purple and white coneflowers bursting color at the foot of the lamp pole; her fall-blooming clematis perfuming the wood fence; Meg’s burgundy-leaved penstemon with tall white spires, and tufts of valentine-pink dianthus dug into the decorative rock alongside the clinic; the pastel tulips and sunny daffodils that naturalized around the mailbox; and the sunflowers and milkweed that attracted pollinators and butterflies in mid-summer. I thought of the hours Karen spent keeping the grounds mowed and well-trimmed, and her commitment to keeping the front planters spilling over with purple petunias. I thought of the barberry and holly and gooseberries that Molly and others planted and kept watered — shrubs so tough and beautiful and fruitful that if they could sing, I imagine they’d sound just like Sinead O’Connor.
Now that Indiana law is set to close all the state’s abortion clinics, I particularly mourn leaving behind the three Jane Magnolias, with their joyous fuchsia blooms, planted by an ally who found a botanical way to express her support without risking her employment. She told me that when she planted the trees, she spat into the freshly-dug holes, “so that my DNA would be part of them,” ensuring that, however metaphorically, she could support the patients and doctors at the clinic. All of us need bread to survive, as the old revolutionary song goes, but we need roses – or hot pink magnolias – too.
At an event on Monday night, Indiana State Representative Maureen Bauer, who opposes the abortion ban, reported that medical experts she has spoken with say Indiana is “not ready” for the health care chaos that is coming. To understand that grim prediction, you can follow author Jessica Valenti who writes “Abortion, Every Day” posts. Or, you can be inspired by learning about the successful “green wave” movement of global activists whose green bandanas helped make majority opinion visible and led to decriminalizing abortion in Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico.
Like democracy, public health belongs to all of us – “if we can keep it.” Our silence will not protect us, as Audre Lorde forever reminds us. Let’s start talking.
Music: "The Emperor's New Clothes" by Sinead O'Connor