Big Bend Reproductive Coalition launches community needs assessment with inaugural town hall

Big Bend Reproductive Coalition organizers and Marfa Public Radio journalist Annie Rosenthal listen as attendees of the coalition’s first town hall share their concerns around access to reproductive healthcare in the region. Photo by Sam Feldstein.

ALPINE — On Monday evening, residents of Alpine and the surrounding region gathered at Cedar Coffee & Supply to attend a town hall hosted by the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition. The meeting marked the inauguration of the BBRC’s latest initiative: a community needs assessment of the Big Bend region.

The assessment aims to gather direct feedback from the community in order to find out what gaps exist in the existing reproductive healthcare and support network. “We know what we want and need, but we don’t necessarily know what other people want,” said Lisa Kettyle, one of the founding members of the BBRC. “The goal is to distill that information, and then it’s going to guide how the organization grows and changes.”

In other words, the BBRC organized the town hall not so much to give out information as to glean it. The meeting took the form of a Q&A, but instead of the crowd posing questions to the BBRC organizers, it was the other way around. Pens and paper were provided so those who did not feel comfortable speaking in public could write their answers down and give them to the coalition after the fact.

The exercise revealed a number of common experiences, mostly pertaining to the barriers facing those seeking reproductive care. The fear and anxiety around seeking out and going to an OB-GYN was mentioned several times. It was pointed out that one bad exam can be traumatic and make a person less likely to seek care in the future.

These anxieties have been exacerbated by a lack of familiarity with local reproductive healthcare professionals. “Almost every single person we’ve reached out to in that regard has either moved away or quit since we started,” said Kettyle. “So we’re kind of back at square one.” 

A majority of attendees said they went out of state — mostly to New Mexico, but some to Mexico as well — even for basic reproductive healthcare needs. When asked who they would turn to for support or advice if they had an emergency, such as an unexpected pregnancy or a miscarriage, many of the attendees did not have an answer. In the eyes of the founders, the silence underscored the need for the BBRC’s existence. Of those who did answer, many said that they would most likely, under such circumstances, contact the coalition itself.

The organizers did express concern that they had not reached the broader community. Most of the attendees were already familiar with the BBRC or its founders. The coalition plans to extend its reach via surveys and door-to-door canvassing, a job for which they are actively seeking volunteers. But they recognize that the change won’t happen overnight. “It’s going to take time to form connections and provide opportunities for people to hear about us and want to get involved,” said Shea Cadrin, a co-founder of the BBRC. “That’s why the pronged approach is cool. The survey will be for people who are engaged in one way, and then a door-to-door could engage people who have no clue that we even exist.”

The coalition also plans to host more town halls. The next will be held at the Sentinel in Marfa on August 29, and additional meetings will be held in the coming months in Fort Davis, Presidio and Terlingua.

Once the community needs assessment is complete, the BBRC plans to take the results and compile them into a report, something codified and reproducible that they can share with other reproductive rights organizations, who may then incorporate that knowledge into their own efforts. The coalition also plans to use the results to create a more focused budget and assign volunteers to the areas where they’re needed most.

The town hall served as a place to exchange information, but also as a space for people affected by reproductive issues to talk about them in a safe and supportive environment. As Cadrin put it, “So many people in the room said, ‘I don’t have healthcare because I don’t feel like I’m being listened to.’ So sitting in a room and listening to each other is radical and something that people are missing out on. That’s why I felt like, ‘Oh, this is cool. This is productive.'”

Editor’s note: Updated to clarify that residents outside of Brewster County were also in attendance.