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Fighting for reproductive rights

GRJAN help underprivileged receive women’s healthcare

Staff Reporter

Published: Friday, September 21, 2012

Updated: Friday, September 21, 2012 10:09

Ceylan, Melinda

Mike Eden | The Signal

Ceylan Odunkesenler (left) and Melinda McKew (right) fight to make healthcare accessible to all wome

Years ago, as a young high school girl, Georgia State masters student Melinda McKew faced a crossroad of a lifetime— she chose to have an abortion. The cost of an abortion was beyond reach and her mother paid for the procedure on credit, adding to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt with which the family was already saddled.   

The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, bans federal money from paying for an abortion.  This included Tricare, the insurance provider for members of the U.S. military, and by extension, the insurance provider for the children and spouses of servicemen and women, like McKew.  Since the federal government provided her health insurance, Melinda’s abortion, which  may have cost between $500-$8,000, would not be covered.  

McKew now serves as a board member of the Georgia Reproductive Justice Access Network (GRJAN), a non-profit, grassroots organization founded in 2011 to help low-income women of northeast Georgia access abortions through funding and practical assistance. GRJAN said the term “reproductive justice” signifies a movement beyond pro-choice or pro-life ideology.  

“It’s a much broader movement which argues that rights don’t have any meaning unless you can have access,” McKew said.  

 This election year, both parties have heavily discussed women’s health.  The Republican Party has proposed both defunding Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood, though stigmatized as an abortion clinic, provides many other services, including STD testing, cholesterol and diabetes screening, physical exams, vaccines, birth control, testicular and colon cancer screenings, male infertility screenings and more.  

Planned Parenthood is also where McKew had her abortion as a teenager, and where she later interned as a graduate student with Planned Parenthood Southeast.  

“People forget that so many people are uninsured and low-income and they don’t have access to other types of healthcare so Planned Parenthood is sometimes the only place they can go,” McKew said.      

According to the Center for Disease Control, pregnancy rates among teenagers have dropped 40 percent from 1990 to 2008.  

Planned Parenthood, in a statement released June, attributes this historic decrease to an increase in sex education and access to birth control.  Planned Parenthood provides affordable birth control and sex education to clients.

“Planned parenthood does a lot, a lot, a lot of good,” McKew said.  

    According to his website, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.” 

This would allow individual states to determine abortion laws rather than the federal government.  Prior to the passage of the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, many women sought illegal or even self-performed abortions, often performed with household objects such as coat hangers.  

“There are lots of doctors and people who talked about their experiences before Roe v. Wade and just seeing women coming into emergency rooms butchered,” McKew said.  

Although abortion procedures were legal at the time of McKew’s pregnancy, it still left a permanent mark.  

“My abortion experience was a complex one,” McKew said.  “On the one hand it gave me a second chance at doing all of the things I wanted to do, but on the other hand it was still a sad procedure.”


After the experience, she continued on with her high school career pretending that it had never happened.  

“It was a very difficult time in some ways,” McKew said.  

It was through her experience in women’s studies and feminism courses that McKew found the courage to open up about her experience.  

“I started to realize that my experiences weren’t just my own experiences, that they were larger than me,” McKew said.  

 GRJAN was founded in Athens by a group of individuals concerned about the lack of abortion access for women in northeast Georgia.  At the time, there were no abortion providers in the northeastern corner of the state, forcing women to drive as far as Atlanta or Augusta for the procedure.   

Georgia State Senior Ceylan Odunkesenler became a volunteer with GRJAN shortly after its foundation last year.  Odunkesenler has hosted five women in her apartment and driven several more to clinical appointments, even sitting with women in waiting rooms, helping them fill out the necessary paperwork prior to the procedure.  

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