How a Planned Parenthood advocacy strategist is connecting with rural Nebraskans
Tucked away along I-80 lies my rural hometown, Gothenburg, home to 3,600 Nebraskans. The town’s biggest attraction is the Pony Express Station museum. If you’re a coffee fiend you can find two coffee shops, but no big names like Starbucks are in town. There are few health clinics in the area, with the nearest Planned Parenthood 194 miles away in Lincoln.
Even though my town is small, there are tons of other towns just like Gothenburg all over the state. In fact, almost 35% of Nebraskans live in rural areas. Even though that is a significant number, we have been pushed aside for far too long.
The thing is, rural Nebraskans want to make our voices heard. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year—making the possibility for abortion to become illegal more real—I was living in Gothenburg. Protests and rallies erupted all across the urban centers in Lincoln and Omaha, but they felt so far away. I wanted to get my sign ready, dust off my pink Planned Parenthood shirt, and shout for my abortion rights with my fellow Nebraskans, and I know I wasn’t alone. Rural Nebraskans want to join the movement, and when our communities are left out of the equation, our movement hurts.
Gothenburg isn’t unique in being an abortion desert. People living in rural areas across Nebraska and the United States struggle to access sexual and reproductive health care. The lack of health care access is creating negative health outcomes for so many people. We need to address this systemic issue.
Earlier this year I joined Planned Parenthood to expand our advocacy work specifically in rural Nebraska. My position exists because there is a dire community need, and thanks to the Planned Parenthood coalition of donors, partners, and supporters, we can fill it.
Planned Parenthood is expanding our sphere to reach more Nebraskans, and we’re building new relationships through coalition building and grassroots organizing to make that happen.
Nebraskans shouted “no bans ever” during the LB 626 Hearing
When I joined Planned Parenthood, I knew that the work was going to be uniquely challenging without Roe, given the raw new landscape for abortion access. I wasn’t surprised that abortion and our bodily autonomy faced a seemingly never-ending list of attacks. But I was taken aback by how cold and apathetic anti-abortion supporters were.
Despite the attacks, when the day of the hearing came for the 6-week abortion ban in April, I was reminded of the strength of my community. Hundreds of supporters filled the rotunda. They showed up with a sign in one hand and a megaphone in the other. Our community partners within the Nebraskans for Abortion Access coalition worked together harmoniously to get the job done.
The day was exhausting but incredibly worth it. Supporters were there for hours, making their voices heard.
The opposition needed 33 votes to pass the bill. By 4:30 pm that day they had only gotten 32 votes. By just one vote the bill was squashed—a close call that wouldn’t have been won without the support of the community, supporters, partners, and donors.
When the voting ended, I could see the relief fill the room. The rotunda shook and the walls vibrated from all the stomping and shouting. We won! What I didn’t know at the time was that the win would be short-lived, because not too long after, the unicameral rushed to pass a 12-week abortion ban.
We’re building power across the state
Being a part of this movement is not easy. The highs are high, and the lows are low. Seeing Nebraskans show up for abortion rights—and win—felt refreshing and exhilarating! But then facing a huge blow a few weeks after gave me emotional whiplash. Our community was hurt, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the rural communities and how uniquely impacted they would be from the ban.
Shortly after the 12-week ban passed, Planned Parenthood North Central States sued the state, arguing that it was unconstitutional. I don’t know how the case will play out in the courts, but one thing is certain: when Nebraskans work together and foster relationships, we are a force to be reckoned with. In the end, we will win.
Last election and legislative session, volunteers racked up over 19,000 hours of organizing. We expect this number to only increase as our work grows, especially since the majority of Nebraskans support legal abortions.
So, we’re harnessing the power from the legislative session and growing our coalition for the upcoming 2024 election campaign work.
PPAN launches a new rural initiative
Nebraskans can create lasting change when we work together across communities. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska is already kickstarting our campaign work by launching new rural outreach initiatives.
Seeing Nebraskans show up for abortion rights—and win—felt refreshing and exhilarating! But then facing a huge blow a few weeks after gave me emotional whiplash.
As an advocacy strategist, I’m getting in touch with rural community organizations, like existing college groups to reach rural youth. And we are launching a legislative advocacy training in rural towns to spark confidence for residents to get involved.
This training focuses on educating rural Nebraskans about the legislative process and the role of the citizen. Often, pro-abortion supporters and advocates for sexual and reproductive health want to get involved, but they don’t know how. This training is meant to target that issue and empower people to push for positive change.
Each session will cover what the legislative process is like, such as how a bill moves through the unicameral, how to navigate the official unicameral website, how to shape your message, and how to contact your senators.
When Nebraskans are educated about the legislative process, they can make their voices heard and vote Planned Parenthood champions into office. It’s about time we hold politicians accountable to the will of the people—and what the people want is bodily autonomy to dictate our own futures.
Our goal at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska is to mobilize more rural supporters to plug into the fight for sexual and reproductive rights for all.
Consider supporting our rural mobilization efforts by donating to PPAN here.