Reproductive Justice:

About the Commission

Each year, provided with a theme representing an important grant making priority, photographers are given the artistic freedom to interpret it in alignment with their individual creative practice. What has emerged is a project unique in the photographic world, both in its longevity and purpose. In its over 30-year history, the Foundation has worked with many exceptional artists who, in turn, have partnered with a wide array of individuals and organizations to capture compelling images of people, places, and the remarkable work being accomplished. While the photographs are of Cleveland, the images stand in as a microcosm of the world around us. A sampling of the work can be seen throughout the website.

A complete collection of the commissioned photographs can be viewed here.


About the artist

Chrisse France


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Dr. Sri Thakkilapati

Interim Executive Director

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Women who had the means would leave the state to have a safe abortion, and women who didn’t ended up in the emergency rooms and in OB/GYN wards. Most of our physicians were obstetricians who were seeing these women come through the hospitals where they worked. They were dedicated to having nobody suffer. They knew there were safe alternatives. They carried on.

My trajectory towards reproductive justice began when I was in high school. My best friend got pregnant. This was 1973. I lived in a small Ohio town. Roe had just become the law of the land, but there was no clinic anywhere — none that we knew of. The was no place for her to go. Her options were to marry this man that she didn’t want to marry and have this baby, or get an abortion, which we didn’t know how to do. She had the baby in March. It ruined her life. She stayed married for a year or two and then left. She never really recovered. She had such limited choices. That stuck with me.

We made our clinic into a feminist workplace, a feminist culture. We are not governed by profit. There is a norm of compassion. The importance of our staff’s wellbeing is just as important as that of our patients. What do they need to survive? Can they pay their electric bills, their childcare bills? What if their kids are sick, or their mother is in jail? The system isn’t set up to support women in this way, which poses a challenge: how do we have attendance accountability and a consistent workforce when we know this is the system our staff is dealing with? When humanizing our workers is a priority? We made staff loans available.

We need to keep things running while maintaining our feminist values from the inside out.”

We offer a non-judgmental space. To talk to women about their decision, we validate their feelings, we ask them what they want their experience to look like. We acknowledge their emotional and spiritual knowledge. We operate against the idea that you can just treat the body, not the whole person. That idea, of not talking to the person, to whom you are delivering care, has been made normative. It stems from the colonial practice of medicine, one that was developed through experimentation on, and authority over, non-white patients. Medicine has not fully reconciled its origins, and the effect can be so alienating for a patient. We work to refuse this, to offer whole-person care.

Preterm was founded in 1973, shortly after the Roe vs. Wade decision; it opened in 1974 with a $50,000 grant from the Gund Foundation and a loan from Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Our founders were positioned to get to work on this right away because they had, in some sense, already been doing the work. A group of five women, including Mickey Stern and Sally Tatenal, had been doing abortion referrals out of state, usually to New York state, for several years. They Gave people a place to call, stewarded them to good clinics. They had two phones, which were always ringing. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like then — now we have had five decades of legal, safe abortion access – the level of fear and stigma that people had. They were so thorough, this group vetting abortion providers, making sure they were real physicians. They had a three-page checklist; they visited providers out of state and only referred to people who met these standards.

People face so many limiting forces

It is about race, class, access to eduction. So much more than gender. People face so many limiting forces. This is not a matter of individual people having a hard time. This is about how the system acts on people and the situations it puts them in. There is no support for people to have children. We see so many patients who have abortions because they cannot afford to have a baby. They don’t have a support system; their partner is in prison; whatever the case may be. That was a bit shift for me. I’ve gone from seeing this as an individual issue to a larger systems issue. There is no liberation from sexism without liberation from racism, without liberation from the oppressive economic system that we are embedded in.

“We are determined to provide the last safe abortion in Ohio. Our phones are ringing. If we do the last legal abortion in Ohio, that is what we will do. We will stay open for as a long as we possibly can. We will do abortions for as long as we possibly can.”

feel more frightened than I ever have about the future of abortion. We don’t know what is going to happen. We have national – and state-based lawyers, we have policy wonks, researchers, and advocates. But I am worried. I feel fear, and sometimes despair. it was always hanging over our heads, the horror of it. how do I keep going?”

“It is such a basic thing. It is everything.
Can you control your own body?”

I had the FBI call me one day and say that somebody that they were tracking was planning to come to Cleveland – for me. How do you go about your business when you get a call like that? I was living alone then. Another time somebody called the phone and said that he was coming down with a shotgun and he would kill our nursing clinic staff. The FBI got involved in that one too. When the Operation Rescue people were going to come to my house, the cops told me to tell everyone on my block, which I did; I went door to door. Once I could see someone walking up to my front door at night with a giant cross. I turned out all the lights, I left out of the back. Of course, it was scary, but I was undeterred. We all were.

“ I used to come up in the elevator with women who were clients. We had to pass through the protestors together. They would say to me. “They have no idea what life is like. How can they judge me?” It is so clear that they don’t value women and are threatened by our continued ability to determine our own futures. It is so painfully clear. That misogyny fuels so much of what is happening now. They don’t want to grant that agency.”

It is hard to stay positive knowing that there is a good chance we could lose abortion in Ohio. The political climate is so scary here. The gerrymandering, the rule changing, the partisan court. The fight sometimes feels daunting. You know what? They cheat because they are in the minority. They have everything in place now to do their worst. The most powerful people in the state think every single day about how they can shut us down, show down clinics. In moments like these, I think about what the women before me went through. What they built. They just figured it out, you know? How to make a feminist nonprofit in the mid-1970s in Cleveland, one that has lasted fifty years. How the fuck did they do that? They were so thorough, so determined. They had so much care and so much grit.