Student Spotlight: How did volunteering as an abortion clinic escort shape the direction of Olivia Snow’s Master’s program?

Olivia Snow (She/her; MPH 2025) was one of two #UMNMCH students who received the Robert Ten Bensel Scholarship in 2021-2022. The scholarship is a one-time scholarship awarded annually by Epi to students who demonstrate outstanding potential for contributions to the principles of MCH, human equity, and community social justice. In spring 2022, we invited Olivia to author a Student Spotlight and share more about how her experience volunteering as an abortion clinic escort inspired her to pursue a Master of Public Health and how that experience has contributed to her coursework in Maternal and Child Health.

A Winding Path to MPH 

    As an undergraduate at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), pursuing a Master of Public Health was not on my radar. I was a political science and history double major, interested in the United States’ role in global politics. However, during my senior year, I had the opportunity to write an Honors Thesis and I chose to write about the Global Gag Rule, a policy that prevents organizations working in foreign countries from receiving financial aid from the United States if they provide services, referrals, or even information relating to abortion. I had always been passionate about abortion access, but writing my thesis showed me how elected officials weaponize abortion access to gain votes from their right-wing constituents. I realized abortion access was being used as a political football, with elected officials putting the health and lives of people across the world in jeopardy to win elections. After writing my thesis, I knew I wanted to support abortion access, but did not yet know how. 

A Volunteer Opportunity 

After I graduated from TCNJ, I volunteered for my local Planned Parenthood Action Fund, hoping to gain some connections and find direction for my career. My volunteer experience there connected me with the Women’s Centers, a collection of abortion care providers with a clinic near me. I signed up to become a clinic escort, volunteers that helped people seeking abortions navigate through a sea of protestors. As a clinic escort, I witnessed the obstacles people seeking care encountered. Because New Jersey has some of the more liberal abortion regulations, people would come from across the country to the clinic. Once they arrived, they would be met by protestors wielding graphic signs, yelling misinformation through speakers and megaphones, and harassing them for simply seeking healthcare. While experiencing the misinformation and anger from the protestors was exhausting, I could not imagine what the people seeking care felt. I was glad I could provide a calming presence and an understanding face, but I wanted to do more to remove the obstacles to accessing abortion in the first place. I wanted to work to help expand abortion access, so people from states with more restrictive laws would not have to traverse the country to simply receive healthcare. I wanted to learn about maternal and reproductive health so I could be an advocate for reproductive justice, specifically safe, expansive access to abortion. 

The Beginning of a Long Road

    My first year as an MCH student has been filled with setbacks for abortion access. States have been passing the most restrictive abortion laws yet, like Texas enacting SB 8 in September 2021. More recently, a draft opinion from the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade was leaked. While this is not the final opinion, most experts and organizations believe that while the justification may change, the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will not. Many people throughout this country have already been living in a post-Roe world, as abortion is not accessible due to already restrictive laws and financial obstacles. Nevertheless, Roe v. Wade is an important ruling that at the very least keeps abortion legal. As a former political science student, I am specifically interested in policy surrounding abortion access.  My goal as an MCH student is to address current and future disparities for abortion access to promote safe equitable access to abortion for all. 

Biography

Olivia is a part-time first-year MCH student. Olivia received her Bachelor of Arts from The College of New Jersey in Political Science and History in 2019. Currently, she works as a Community of Practice Manager for the American Society of Transplantation where she works with transplant professionals to advance the field of transplantation through research and advocacy. She also continues to volunteer as a clinic escort when she can. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her dog, Katie. After graduating, she intends to work for a nonprofit focusing on expanding abortion access and addressing disparities in access.   

References

Gerstein, J. (2022). Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion

shows. Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-    -draft-opinion-00029473

Planned Parenthood Global. What is the Global Gag Rule? Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/communities/planned-parenthood-global/end-global-gag-rule 

Texas Heartbeat Act, Texas S.B. 8 (2021) https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/pdf/SB00008F.pdf

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