I’ve lived in the South my entire life. Growing up on the coast of eastern North Carolina with family predominantly hailing from Mississippi and Georgia, being a Southerner has always been a part of who I am. Adding to this, I attended graduate school in Birmingham, AL, started my career in the panhandle of Florida, spent almost a decade in Houston, and most recently landed in Nashville, making me a bona fide expert on southern living. (Note: I will always consider Houston to be the South, which may rile some people, but a quick Google search says I’m not alone in that sentiment.)
If someone were to ask me what the South is like, I would gladly tell them it’s full of beautiful scenery, ridiculously good food, and interesting people. It’s hot, and sticky, and full of mosquitos or water bugs the size of your palm. It also has an ugly history chock-full of racism, sexism, etc., and I feel like each new day brings another Southern state trying to do all it can to pass legislature filled with hateful rhetoric or strip away someone’s rights.
I’m not going to lie, being a reproductive genetic counselor in the South is hard. It was hard before Dobbs and the overturning of Roe, and now it’s just another level of hard. I have lost count of how many patients have been devastated by the diagnosis they received for their pregnancy, and then experienced a new level of devastation at the utter lack of options in our region – if there were any at all. Being the one on the other side of the table is life-changing to say the least (and quite frankly, sucks), and years of those conversations have absolutely shaped who I am as a genetic counselor and a person.
But you know what also sucks? People giving up – on this region, on our community, and our patients. After last summer, I saw numerous calls for major conferences that were slated to be in abortion-hostile states to be cancelled or moved. I saw suggestions for people to simply move to another state. The underlying sentiment was clear – abandon the South and other abortion-hostile states.
First, moving costs money – a LOT of money. The average cost for a local move is approximately $1,250, whereas an interstate move averages between $5,000 to $7,000. That does not factor in the emotional toll of building a new community, changing jobs, changing schools, and many of the hidden impacts a move can have on a family. And if we think of it from the lens of the provider, if every clinician who did not like the laws in their area moved away, our patients would have minimal support. I understand that for some patients and providers, a move is the change they need. For others, they cannot move or may not want to move.
Let’s also talk about the call to boycott conferences in states with restrictive laws. If you don’t want to spend your money on a conference that is in a specific city or state, that’s certainly your prerogative. However, I would encourage you to remember that only wanting conferences in states with more favorable laws is a privileged view and will increase travel costs for those in these restrictive states. In addition, conferences can positively impact local communities due to the increase in revenue. There are many businesses and residents within these communities that absolutely want change and do not agree with these restrictive policies.
The problem with these types of comments is that they are extremely privileged at their core.
At the time I am writing this, the Center for Reproductive Rights lists 25 states as having either hostile abortion access laws or a total abortion ban. You can see real time changes by using this interactive map. The reason I point this out is that it is half of our country.
While I have become hardened to these sentiments over the years, it can still cut deep and feel like my profession is not only abandoning patients in my area, but myself and other colleagues as well. It also completely invalidates the work that I, and many others, have done to try to help patients in our area, and ignores that we are still dedicated to this fight. It’s hard enough sitting on the other side of the fence knowing that my peers don’t have the same struggles around reproductive access for their patients that I do. Or that they don’t have to wonder every day what new law is going to be passed that threatens them personally, the people they care about, and the communities that need protection. It takes a special kind of courage to stay and do what you can as an individual. In a way, it feels similar to someone asking me “Why don’t you try to sleep more?” when I disclose I have narcolepsy. It’s not helpful, and just adds to the frustration.
So rather than suggest we blackball every restrictive state when it comes to educational opportunities or suggest patients and providers move, why not ask this instead: “What can I do to help these communities?” There will always be local groups assisting patients who need access to care currently being restricted, local business owners and employees whose values align with yours, and local clinicians fighting the good fight in that area. Make a group donation, organize a fundraiser, or try to get to know your colleagues in that area and learn how you can help.
I can only speak for myself, but I will always support getting together and telling it like it is if anyone wants to know what we are experiencing and what would truly help our community. Just come ready to eat some good food, possibly visit a weird dive bar, and be prepared to sweat.