While Colorado continues to guarantee access to reproductive care amidst a growing national trend of bans and restrictions, our state’s abortion care landscape has experienced significant changes. In 2022, Colorado saw a 33% increase in abortions with demand being driven by out-of-state patients.
Ona Marshall and her husband, Dr. Ernest Marshall—an obstetrician-gynecologist in Louisville, Kentucky—founded the Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Fund in response to escalating attacks on Kentucky women’s reproductive rights in 2018. The Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Fund is dedicated to ensuring access to safe, dignified, medically accurate reproductive care, including contraception and abortion care. They educate the public, work with media, act as the plaintiffs in all Kentucky litigation, and advocate for protection of reproductive healthcare in Kentucky and nationally.
In addition to being the focus of their philanthropy, the Marshalls have dedicated their lives to advancing reproductive justice. They are the founders of EMW Women’s Surgical Center which has provided comprehensive reproductive care for over 40 years.
“We’ve been the plaintiffs in cases for reproductive rights since the 1980’s,” says Ona. “Our work is amplified now, and has been for the last 10 years, because there has been an onslaught of cases that we have had to fight in the Kentucky State Legislature.”
In May 2022, Rose Community Foundation published a guide on “How to support abortion rights and access” in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion. The guide caught the attention of the Marshalls who were considering moving the Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Fund from Kentucky to Colorado. Hoping to distance themselves from the regressive and repressive environment in Kentucky, Ona looked to partner with an organization that was actively engaged in protecting and advancing reproductive rights.
“There are many silent supporters that don’t speak out—in a quiet room or in a meeting they’ll say they are a supporter, but we wanted an organization that is not only vocal, but is also taking concrete action,” says Ona. “We were drawn to Rose Community Foundation because the staff and the board were willing to take a stand on this issue. I appreciated how the Foundation had taken action by compiling a list of local and national organizations working to protect reproductive rights.” Ona and Dr. Marshall now house the Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Fund at Rose Community Foundation while continuing to advance reproductive rights in Kentucky and the United States.
Abortion is currently illegal in Kentucky, with no exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies, lethal fetal anomalies or threats to a person’s health or well-being. This has resulted in a variety of challenges for a state already suffering from high infant and maternal mortality rates. “We know the harm that abortion bans have on people because we’ve been providing care for years— the bans impact people’s health, safety, education, and lives in so many ways,” says Ona.
Ona attributes her dedication to reproductive rights in part to her experiences growing up as an African American woman. “I was born in the 1950s and grew up with many of my family members being part of the NAACP,” says Ona. “We were always dealing with issues of discrimination and justice. Like our belief in racial equity, Ernest and I deeply believe in women’s equality and that they should be able to make their own choices and direct their own lives.”
As for the future of the Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Fund’s work in a post-Roe nation and with a new home at Rose Community Foundation, Ona and Dr. Ernest remain more committed than ever to fighting for reproductive rights. “We are in a changing landscape, but this is a major shift in the loss of federal protections and we must continue to work to restore the right to comprehensive care,” says Ona. “Our goal always is to maintain and expand access to care in every state, across the United States.”