Eastern Kentucky women lead reproductive health project

In the summer of 2009 a group of young women in Letcher County sat down with Gabriela Alcalde, then director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, to talk about reproductive health experiences they had growing up and living in east Kentucky. Conversation ranged from the limited sex education offered in school to lack of information and access to reproductive health options to concerns about confidentiality and privacy when visiting local health care providers.  

From that discussion came the East Kentucky Reproductive Health Project, originally a collaboration between Appalshop’s Community Media Initiative and Appalachian Media Institute and the Kentucky Health Justice Network. EKRHP uses peer-produced media and community outreach to give voice and visibility to the reproductive health experiences, concerns and needs of women, especially young women, in Appalachian Kentucky. Short videos on a wide range of reproductive health topics created by AMI Correspondents (young woman trained through EKRHP) are posted on www.ekrhp.org along with discussion guides, detailed information on our bodies, and an extensive listing of resources regionally and nationally. EKRHP also has an active Facebook page. Like us!

Many of the young women who participated in EKRHP are also members of the Letcher County KFTC chapter, so it was no surprise that after creating all this media, the chapter suggested strengthening language in KFTC’s statewide platform plank to express “We demand quality, affordable and preventative health care, including reproductive health, for all Kentuckians, and support a single payer health care system.”The Central KY KFTC chapter suggested similar changes and this addition was approved at the 2012 Annual Membership Meeting.

In the past year, women in the Letcher County chapter have hosted potlucks around reproductive health issues, revised and updated the EKRHP brochure, and created DVDs featuring the short videos they created. They have also hosted two one-hour “Mountain Talk” radio shows on WMMT FM in October in observation of breast cancer awareness month. Those radio programs can be heard on WMMT's website here and here. Reproductive health was even the topic of a Letcher County Democracy party in November. 

The chapter has learned together that Kentucky has some of the most restrictive laws on sex education and reproductive rights in the nation. While known as the birthplace of midwifery, midwives cannot currently be licensed to give in-home care in our state. Kentucky also has high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Voter Reg booth at HCTCAn important goal of this project is to build consciousness and expand the constituency of support for better informed state policies and improved reproductive health services for women in eastern Kentucky and across the state. Chapter members hope to lobby in the spring with the Kentucky Home Birth Coalition for a bill to license direct-entry midwives using the Certified Professional Midwives (CPM) credential in Kentucky.

The project sponsored a Reproductive Health Fair in Hazard in 2012, where KFTC registered many new voters and hundreds of students from area high schools made reproductive health plans and shared their experiences and concerns.There is interest in organizing a follow up event in the coming year, as well as using EKRHP media productions for presentations and open discussions in classrooms, shelters, churches, health clinics, community centers, and anywhere people are interested. Contact ekyreproductivehealth@gmail.com for more discussion or a presentation in your community!

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