Raised by an outspoken, lesbian, feminist mother who started Olympia, Washington's first women's health clinic, my sisters and I grew up in a busy house filled with stories of confrontations with dominant culture. With charisma and charm, Pat Shively, my courageous and visionary mother, taught us to follow our hearts, question authority, fight for the underdog, laugh loudly and raise hell. We didn't have many rules in our house, but the rules my mother did make were either purely functional—"do your dishes"—or political—we weren't allowed to eat Dominos pizza because the founder supported Operation Rescue, an aggressive anti-abortion crusade organization.
The fearless stances my mother took often led to blowback. Anti-choice protesters constantly surrounded her clinic and harassed anyone and everyone who came and went. People threw rocks at our house and sent death threats through the mail. One weekend, all the clinic employees reported rushing to an emergency veterinarian after their pets had been poisoned. Though we never let it stop us, the threat of clinic bombings and abortion provider murders loomed large in our lives. So much for the supposedly "pro-life."
My mother died on February 16, 2000, after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. A few months before her death, she warned us that we can never let our guard down on abortion rights for women. And she was right. A year later, someone threw a Molotov cocktail on the roof of the clinic. The new owners were able to repair the building, but the real damage was done when their insurance rate skyrocketed as a result, and they could no longer afford to provide abortions. They went to court and to the state legislature, and a law ended up being passed that insurance companies can't gouge their clients in response to acts of terrorism. But the new law wasn't retroactive and couldn't be applied to the clinic my mother founded. Luckily, by then, Planned Parenthood had come to town and could provide that service to the women of Thurston County.
It's not just about Roe v. Wade. Try as they might, anti-choice groups haven't been able to touch that—yet. Instead, they're chipping away at a woman's right to choose by legislating it out of existence with smaller weapons. Over-regulation of buildings and doctors, parental consent requirements and mandatory wait times have in effect shut clinics down and greatly reduced women's access to abortion. It all feels eerily familiar to me, but dressed up in politicians' suits this time around.
The struggle to protect a woman's right to choose is not just political, it's personal. Real women (and men) are affected and their voices need to be heard. The stories of my mother, as told by her friends and family, feed into a larger narrative for justice. But the political is also personal, and I want to pay tribute to my mother, whose radical life and raucous stories have allowed me to become who I am today.