When women have a financial barrier to accessing abortion, the H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia is there to help. Standing together for choice, the group, whose name stands for “Hand Over The Decision it Should Be Hers,” continues to raise money and awareness for abortion access while new laws relating to abortion are being legislated around the country.
The group’s main two fundraising events include an annual “Bowl-a-Thon” in the spring and “Hotdish Bake-Off” in the fall. A total of $25,364 was raised at the most recent Bowl-a-Thon on April 13, setting a new record for their events. The first Bowl-a-Thon three years ago raised about $10,000.
“It felt magical. It was unbelievable that we raised that much money,” said Haley Spohn, who started helping the group about six years ago when she started working as a nurse at the Women’s Health Center. “And I just think about what a difference that really can make in somebody’s life. I’ve seen that impact on those who can’t pay when you’re able to say ‘here, I can give you $300.’”
The H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia frequently partners with other organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Action Collective, the Feminist Justice League, local businesses and college student groups for demonstrations and fundraising efforts. Recent collaborations include a “Show for Roe” demonstration held on May 25 and “Chalk for Choice” outside the WE Health Clinic on May 28.
Money raised by the H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia is used at WE Health Clinic, formerly known as the Women’s Health Center. At the end of last April, the clinic changed its name.
“We wanted to be more inclusive of the populations that we serve,” said WE Health Clinic excutive director Laurie Casey, “males, transgender and non-binary identifying individuals.”
In her role at WE Health Clinic, Casey helps with client intake to determine how much money is available to them. Assistance is need-based, regardless of income level. In addition to help pay for abortions, funding is also used for miscarriage management, STI testing and other services that the clinic offers.
“The intake survey isn’t to gauge whether or not you should or shouldn’t get money, it’s more so we have some information about where and who is receiving this money so that we can better meet the needs of people in our community that need assistance accessing abortion,” Spohn said.
WE Health Clinic is the only facility north of Minneapolis and St. Paul that offers abortion services and is not a network within most employer insurance. Heather Bradford, an organizer of the Feminist Action Collective and Feminist Justice League, explained that “it might seem like only low-income people need the funds, but most employer-based insurances don't cover abortion, and most people in the U.S. don't have emergency funds for an extra $700 expense that month.”
Currently, H.O.T.D.I.S.H. funds can be used only at WE Health Clinic.
“It’s a future goal of ours to be able to look into expanding and being able to assist people who need to seek services not in Duluth, but maybe need to travel,” Spohn said. “We just haven't had the ability to do that yet. The logistics would be tricky. A lot of funds are run by paid staff nationally that have paid boards, paid staff, people to answer the phone, things like that. We are the opposite of that.”
Rather than having set leadership roles, the fundraising and advocacy group is run by volunteers in a “do-it-yourself and grassroots” organizational style. “One of us will have an idea or dream they want fulfilled and will take the lead on that project, then all of us will be able to help,” Spohn said. “That’s what’s really cool about working with this group. We’re all really passionate about reproductive justice.”
The group’s formation started Oct. 25, 2002, on the day of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone’s death after a two-day feminst conference at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
“We got the news the second day during lunch that their plane had gone down. And many of the people had worked hand-in-hand with Paul and Sheila (Wellstone). I connected with one of the organizers afterwards, aware of the power and energy in the room” said Erin O’Daniel, people who wanted to “carry that power forward.”
O’Daniel continued to work together and sit down with another conference attendee, Beth Olson, to continue efforts for reproductive health care and ran the first Bake-Off in 2004. Each Bake-Off is a competition to see who can create the best hotdish and includes guest judges, about four food categories and “local foodies and celebrities.”
One of the group’s first demonstrations was a day-long performing arts piece at the Duluth Civic Center, where they put up nearly 100 hand-carved gravestones on the lawn to represent people who were being affected by “sweeping cuts to social services” that happened “between (the militia’s foundation) and when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty took office.” O’Daniels said she was later asked “to bring them to the capitol lawn” and that she “got to dress up as the Grim Reaper.”
Earlier fundraising events also brought a group of people from Duluth to Washington, D.C., for the March for Women’s Lives in 2008. Organizing efforts increased around the time that Donald Trump was elected president and the group has gained a “resurgence,” or what some members have been calling “H.O.T.D.I.S.H. 2.0.”
Megan Halena is one of the members who joined during this surge and said, “I joined after the last election, and Trump took office. This has always been such a core issue to me, but I've never really taken action before. And I think the threads just felt too real this time.”
Halena said she feels passionately about reproductive justice because “that control of your own body is so tied to the control of your life and where your life goes — what shape it takes and the ability to feel good and have good mental health. I don’t know how you could not control your body and still be a happy person.” Halena also described that “abortion will never go away. It will just be safe or unsafe, or how much you might pay to have it” and that “safe, legal, affordable abortion is what we’re going for.”
O’Daniel described that one of her reasons she continues the work “boils down to bodily autonomy. There's a history of policing women's bodies, and it goes well beyond and spans the gender spectrum. It's such a stigmatized issue in our culture.” Commenting on recent bans, she said “it's interesting right now to watch our community be shocked and in pain about what's happening state by state. But that happened a year ago, with the retirement on the supreme court, and “when there's fear and we’re the group that people go to.”
Jessica Morgan is a Duluth freelance writer and musician. She also runs the Duluth chapter of the League of Minnesota Poets nonprofit. In the summer of 2017 in 2018, Jessica volunteered as an intern for the Reach One, Teach One education program at Planned Parenthood.