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As a teenager in the 1960s, Kathleen’s family moved from Texas to Minneapolis. At the time, Kathleen had little sexual education and no access to birth control—and she found out she was pregnant. Ashamed about her pregnancy, Kathleen’s family sent her to a group home for pregnant teens and, to avoid suspicion, they told neighbors and family that she had gone off to college.

“There had never been a connection made between having intercourse and getting pregnant,” Kathleen remarks. Once at the home, Kathleen found herself in a space where she was able to talk about sex with girls her age. As they shared stories, Kathleen realized many of the women were in a similar situation: they had no factual information about sex and pregnancy.

 Kathleen decided to give her daughter up for adoption and start college. Embarking on the next stage of her life, she knew she wanted to take control of her reproductive health. Her family had made her feel “bad” and “stupid” for her pregnancy. “The ‘bad girl’ part did not stick with me very long. The ‘stupid’ part did for a while.” She decided to visit Planned Parenthood for a birth control prescription and answers to her reproductive questions.  After visiting, she had a realization: “I wasn’t stupid. I was ignorant. Just ignorant.”

Around this time, one of Kathleen’s friends had an illegal abortion and passed away from complications from the procedure. Between her own pregnancy and her friend’s death, Kathleen became impassioned about sexual education and access to reproductive healthcare. She spent the 1980s participating in marches for reproductive health and volunteering at Planned Parenthood. But, after giving birth to two sons, she stepped away from her political work.

Now her sons are grown and she recently retired. Without work or kids, she felt an emptiness in her life. “I caught up on some of the projects around the house: the garden, I weave, I sew. I had all of that stuff. Then we had the election and it was like ‘Ok! You needed a kick in the ass?’” Suddenly, she knew how she needed to spend her time: volunteering at Planned Parenthood.

Kathleen shares her passion about reproductive health with friends and family in an attempt to get them involved politically, too. “The biggest thing that I’ve been saying to them is ‘if this matters to you, you need to get up and do something.’” After the election, she invited her daughters-in-law to her house and told them, "Pick one thing to do. That does not mean posting on Facebook. That does not mean whining in my ear. It means what are you going to do?”

 “Sitting back isn’t going to accomplish anything,” Kathleen says. And we couldn’t be more grateful that she feels that way!

Tags: minnesota, story