Cats and reproductive rights are Amanda Patton’s two primary passions, and, using the internet’s obsession with funny felines, she was able to combine the two and start a locally minded online social movement. Pro-Choice Cats (prochoicecats.com), the organization she founded, is an advocacy group that raises awareness for abortion rights and access in Columbus, Ohio. Through social media, sales of her products (t-shirts, cross-stitch art, stickers, etc.), and word of mouth, Amanda raised enough money to support a pro-choice billboard in Columbus—strategically placed along the only route to the Ohio Statehouse. The billboard first made its appearance in November 2015, receiving a lot of support as well as a lot of backlash (anti-choice groups would park their slogan-covered trailer under the billboard in protest).
“Our main point was to send the message to our state legislators that there are pro-choice people in the community paying attention and voting.” Amanda hopes to put the billboard back up in September when legislators return from their summer break. “Our aim this year will be to spread the word about being pro-choice and throwing this in front of the face of the state legislators so that they can’t ignore us.”
Amanda attended Capitol Hill Days 2016 after attending a Population Connection-sponsored documentary screening in Ohio. At the end of her Capitol Hill Days experience, she lobbied her elected officials—Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Amanda left Capitol Hill Days with a greater understanding of how much the Helms Amendment and the Global Gag Rule hurt women in developing countries.
For Amanda, Population Connection wasn’t a first introduction to reproductive rights or social and political activism. After receiving her BA in Communications from the University of Toledo in 2010, Amanda moved to Columbus to begin working as a Legislative Fellow for the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. “I was assigned to work within the offices of four Senate Republicans and that was when I learned so much about the conservative strategy to limit abortion access,” Amanda explained. “After nine months, I was so appalled by the Republican strategy that I left the fellowship early.”
In 2014, Amanda received a photo of anti-choice protesters harassing women outside of a Toledo abortion clinic. Shocked and outraged, she found herself inspired to protect women seeking reproductive healthcare. Soon after, Amanda began volunteering at the Founder’s Women’s Health Center—the last independent abortion provider in Columbus. “My friends and I would walk patients from their cars to the front door of the clinic to help them feel safe in the face of the aggressive anti-choice protesters. After a few months, I quit my job in the tech industry and began working inside Founder’s as a patient advocate.” Amanda’s commitment as an ally of choice has opened her eyes to the struggles of reproductive healthcare clinics.
Still, Amanda felt she hadn’t done enough for the women in her community. “Over time,” Amanda explained, “it became clear that the current laws are not enough to hold these aggressive protesters accountable for their actions.” In March, Amanda approached Elizabeth Brown of the Columbus City Council to ask if she would introduce a clinic protection ordinance. A few weeks later, Amanda got a call saying that the Columbus City Council had worked with NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and Planned Parenthood to draft an ordinance that would increase protection for patients, volunteers, and employees of Founder’s Women’s Health Center, without limiting protesters’ right to the First Amendment.
Shortly after, the ordinance passed. Brave women who had suffered verbal harassment and physical trauma at the hands of protesters outside of clinics offered statements and stories to support the clinic protection ordinance. In some instances, Amanda recalls, women—patients and volunteers alike—were grabbed, had their clothing yanked, were followed to their cars, and were aggressively shoved. In one case, when a victim was asked if she wanted to press charges with the police for harassment, she declined because she did not want it publicized that she had been at an abortion clinic. Ultimately, the appalling stories of these victims helped to pass the clinic protection ordinance.
Amanda says, “It shows that Columbus City Council takes the harassment of patients and staff seriously. It gives our police the tools they need to address harassment outside of clinics. And it increases the penalty for disorderly conduct within 15 feet of a reproductive health clinic.” The ordinance makes it a first-degree misdemeanor for anyone to block or obstruct a person from entering or exiting a reproductive health-care facility. Violation of the ordinance carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
As Amanda continues her work with Pro-Choice Cats, she hopes to make a lasting change in her community. By using her political background to anticipate the anti-choice agenda and her personal experiences advocating for patients to relate to their circumstances, she has overcome countless roadblocks to help women access reproductive healthcare.
“A big motivator is seeing people want to take our rights away,” Amanda said. With the support of her allies and fans of Pro-Choice Cats, Amanda will continue to defend those rights and fight for improved access to the full range of reproductive healthcare services in Ohio and—as a constituent lobbyist—across the country and world.