“There is no other place like All-Options that welcomes people’s real stories and struggles with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption, without judgment or agenda.”
Ten years ago I became the first executive director and first full-time staff person at this special little organization, then known as Backline. At that time our annual budget was just $95,000 and our Talkline answered about 600 calls in a year. We had two staff (including me!), about 25 volunteer advocates between Portland OR and Bloomington IN, and a big vision for providing unconditional, judgment-free support to people in all their experiences with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption.
Side note: I’ve been an executive director three times in my career – at ACCESS Reproductive Justice, the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, and now All-Options – and in all three organizations, I followed the founder. I love coming into an organization with a vision and values that I believe in, and helping to bring it the structure and resources it needs to grow and thrive. I always try to bring my doula and options counseling mindset to my leadership: listening, supporting, making connections, trusting the process, and learning as we go.
I was the ED at ACCESS RJ when Backline was first founded in 2004. When I met our founder, Grayson Dempsey, at a conference in 2006, we bonded over our shared belief in standing for abortion rights while also holding space for the messy complexity of people’s feelings about their pregnancy and parenting decisions. That was – and still is – a rare approach to take in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements.
For so many reasons, our movement stays on the defensive, and it’s hard to make space for nuance and complexity when you’re in a reactive place. We prioritize arguments that will help win policy even if that means oversimplifying and sanitizing people’s needs and experiences. We’re afraid to admit that lots of people have complicated feelings about abortion (including people who have abortions), or that crisis pregnancy centers sound like a good idea to most people because they know parents need more support. We’ve focused on preventing pregnancy and defending abortion without examining our implicit bias about who deserves to be supported and celebrated if they want to parent – and we’ve allowed anti-abortion groups to take up way too much space in pregnancy loss, parenting, and adoption.
I believe that real change can happen when we make space for the nuance, for the both/and. Everyone should be able to have an abortion when they want or need one, without barrier or judgment, and with full support for all their feelings about it. And, no one should feel that abortion – or adoption – is their only choice because they are not supported to parent a child they would otherwise welcome. Holding both of these truths makes us stronger. It honors people’s lived realities and builds community. And it’s part of how All-Options aligns our work with reproductive justice values.
That’s why I’ve always loved this organization. There is no other place like All-Options that welcomes people’s real stories and struggles with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption, without judgment or agenda. We are there for each person who is agonizing over a pregnancy decision, or healing from a miscarriage, or considering abortion for the sake of the children they already have. The person who terminated a pregnancy after a devastating fetal diagnosis but isn’t welcomed in the pregnancy loss community. The person for whom being adopted adds layers of complexity to deciding to become a parent. The person who is certain abortion is the best choice for them, and needs a safe place to feel both their sadness and their relief. The person who needs abortion funding and diaper support to take care of themself and their family.
It has been such an honor to be part of this organization for so many years. During my tenure as Executive Director, we’ve changed our name to better reflect our mission, opened the nation’s first All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center, adopted the Faith Aloud program, and grown to a team of 14 nationally distributed staff and a budget of $1.5million. Last year alone, we supported 1,511 Talkline and 117 Faith Aloud callers, funded abortion care for 3,300 Hoosiers, and provided 9,800 packs of diapers to 560 Indiana families. We also created new trainings, built the skills of 294 providers who work with pregnant people, and launched an organizing program in Indiana to build power and work toward the compassionate and just future we all deserve.
Throughout all this growth and change, we’ve stayed true to our mission and values – supporting people without judgment and with compassion and dignity, in all their feelings, decisions, and experiences with pregnancy, parenting, abortion, and adoption. In a world where it’s often easier to say what we’re against than what we’re for, I’m proud that All-Options is an inspiring model of what’s possible.