WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:
As the executive director of CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, Rebecca Terrell daily faces the ever-present danger that accompanies leadership of an agency that, in addition to its other activities, offers abortion counseling and services.
Despite great opposition, she has campaigned to make conversations about women’s health, teen pregnancy, comprehensive and evidenced-based sex education, and the rights of women to safe abortion care a reality in our community. To an already challenging list, she has added providing services to the LGBTQ community including transgender people. Rebecca consistently works here and nationally to make her vision of open discussion and effective delivery of reproductive healthcare a reality
With a Masters in Public Administration and after years as a dancer, Rebecca spent 15 years as executive director of the Florida Dance Association. Her husband’s work brought them to Memphis in 1998. Here she spent the first five years at home with their twins. When she was ready to reenter the workforce, she talked her way into a part-time job at the Center for Research on Women at the University of Memphis. She was there 6 years then started looking for fulltime work. A friend mentioned that the position of executive director for what was then Memphis Center for Reproductive Health was open. Her first thoughts: “No way! Too intense! Who’d want to do that?” But she kept thinking about the job. Finally she called the director at that time and was told that what MCRH did was abortions. Out of an old house in Midtown.
Rebecca had a vision about sustaining and widening this long-standing feminist women’s center and almost before she knew it, she’d applied and been hired. The job came with both local and national opponents but Rebecca was up to the challenge.
Rebecca’s long-range vision was to transform MCRH into a healthcare facility providing a broad range of services from fertility assistance to a birthing center, STI tests, PAP tests, and breast exams to very specialized services for people living with HIV, the lesbian and gay community and transgender patients. She oversaw the move from the old house to an updated clinic space. MCRH became CHOICES. In 2011, the agency celebrated the new name at the new clinic located at 1726 Poplar. The location has a large, pleasant waiting room filled with information on reproductive health and jars of free condoms. CHOICES now serves more than 3,000 women, men and teens each year and is already outgrowing the space.
Rebecca knows that CHOICES changes peoples’ lives. This is obvious in notes sent thanking staff for kind, competent, non-judgmental care. Many are hand-written and include hearts. Some are from mothers saying they are glad their daughters have been able to make choices different from their own. One young man in transition said, “Each one of your jobs is changing lives, from the receptionist that tells me to sign in, the nurse that walks me to my room and even the lady who always greets me with a warm hello and says ‘I’m going to need you to pee in a cup today.’ ”
Rebecca knows that reproductive rights are always in danger. With that in mind, she is constantly looking for ways to bring allies to the fight.
In 2009 Rebecca served as chair and founding member of Memphis Teen Vision (MemTV). This coalition of 250 local agencies is dedicated to being comprehensive and inclusive of all members’ perspectives. The shared intention is to create a future where all teens are taught comprehensive sex education, teens’ onset of sexual intercourse is delayed, teen pregnancies are reduced/eliminated and teen parents are provided assistance. Rebecca’s confident voice leads the way.
In 2012, Rebecca became the founding member and chair of a statewide coalition: Healthy and Free Tennessee. The group now has over 40 member organizations statewide working together to promote and protect sexual health and reproductive freedom. The Coalition includes individual members and has regional and national partners. In her leadership role, Rebecca speaks out on legislation, leads rallies, and stands up for full and accessible reproductive health care for all.
Today Rebecca is leading the charge to raise $4 million to build a new clinic for CHOICES. The next expansion includes three birthing suites for midwife-assisted births. The facility will be the only non-profit in America to offer a full range of reproductive services.
Rebecca shared this idea of full-service comprehensive reproductive care at a recent national conference of the Abortion Care Network. She believes expanding reproductive services beyond abortion is the way forward.
We know that those who speak out and take action around reproductive rights have been harassed, stalked, even killed, yet Rebecca says that she is not frightened. She purposefully has an office with windows looking out on a busy street. She refuses to be afraid, she refuses to sit down and she refuses to be quiet.
Her heroic spirit is a model for all.