Mary Bowman Advocates For Reproductive Justice In Chicago’s Queer Medical Community
Written by Vocalo Radio on June 9, 2023
Mary Bowman is a Chicago-based healthcare provider, associate professor and reproductive justice activist.
Reflecting on their own experience receiving an abortion, Mary Bowman became passionate about expanding access to those in need. Now a healthcare provider specializing in reproductive and gender-affirming care, including abortions and hormone therapy, they feel passionately about expanding the U.S. healthcare system’s accessibility and practicing healthcare through a social justice lens. As an associate nursing professor at DePaul University, Bowman hopes their students will go on to practice healthcare with the same attention to social justice and concern for the individual rather than the system as a whole.
“I think all of my students that I’ve had over the years, in one way, shape or form, are going into healthcare, because they have the hope, and the vision for healthcare to improve,” they said.
Bowman feels at home in Chicago, and notes they can’t imagine practicing their work anywhere else. As a trans-identifying person, they’ve been welcomed with open arms into the city’s queer medical community.
“Chicago is fierce, and fights hard, and loves hard, and is welcoming,” they stressed. “Those are all essential parts of how I identify as a provider.”
For this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Mary Bowman discusses why they feel passionately about reproductive justice, the impact of the movement as a whole and finding home in queer healthcare spaces.
What’s it like being an abortion provider?
Being an abortion provider, when it’s just me and the other person, is magical. I feel so grateful to get to do what I do. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, now abortion has been criminalized in about a third of the United States. It’s wonderful to be an abortion provider, when I just get to do my job. My movement is the vast network of people who want to protect me, so that I can do my job and protect my patients so that they can get health care safely and without their lives being put in jeopardy. The importance of the movement, I mean, the movement is everything. And we know that the health care system in the United States is broken. Health care in the United States is not something that people are eager to get. Because it doesn’t respect people as whole people. It requires an absurd amount of time, money and effort. And I don’t want abortion to just be more U.S. healthcare. I want abortion to be the freedom and revelation of someone’s life, where they can get exactly what they need at the time that they need it, so that the rest of their life can flourish. And that’s only possible if we have a fighting reproductive justice movement.
How long have you lived in Chicago?
I think I’ve lived here for about 20 years, and I can claim Chicago is where I’m from. Chicago was the place where all my friends lived, and that’s why I wanted to stay here. There was instant community, and it just seemed like Chicago was where all the fun stuff was going on so I wanted to hang out here more.
How did you become an abortion provider?
I was actually working at the High Ridge YMCA in West Rogers Park, and I was working as a lifeguard. And I had an abortion. I was really loving doing a type of work that was meaningful to the community, and skills-based. And so when I had my abortion, it just kind of all clicked in that moment, of like, “Oh, I care about people who find themselves in this situation. And not everyone can do this kind of work, but I think I can.” I thought I was gonna do public health focused stuff. Dr. Tiller was an abortion provider who provided third trimester abortions, one of the only providers in the country to do so. And he was shot in the head on a Sunday at church. And when Dr. Tiller was assassinated, it was like a lightning bolt hit me. And I was like, “Oh, no, I have to be a provider.” Given the political landscape in the country right now, I don’t just get to do my job. I have to acquaint myself with legal changes every day, legislative changes every day. I am a telehealth abortion provider, and I work in six different states remotely. The abortion rights and reproductive justice movements are doing some really incredible things in the face of that.
Do you provide other kinds of services?
I also am a gender-affirming hormone therapy provider to trans and non-binary people. I’ve always wanted to provide care to the people who struggle the most to get it. So, as a provider, it feels tremendous to have a movement behind us, even as we witness these really terrifying attacks.
Why is abortion so heavily regulated?
The reason why abortion is heavily regulated and restricted is because the state uses gender as a way to categorize and oppress people. A lot of people think that it’s just because society hates women or hates people who can get pregnant, and, partially … hatred implies some sort of value. The truth is that it’s not about hating people who can get pregnant or hating people who are not cisgender, it’s about needing there to be a second class of people that can be exploited in different ways. And that is valuable to the capitalists in power.
In addition to being an abortion provider, I am an associate professor at DePaul University in the School of Nursing. I feel very privileged to teach people who are becoming nurses, how to be a nurse who has a wider social justice lens, and framework from which you are providing care. It’s a big job, but it’s fun. And I think all of my students that I’ve had over the years, in one way, shape or form, are going into healthcare, because they have the hope, and the vision for healthcare to improve.
I’m actually doing some research on the history of U.S. nurse unions. Chicago is a union town. Chicago is fierce, and fights hard, and loves hard, and is welcoming. Those are all essential parts of how I identify as a provider. Especially as a queer and trans person, that has been such a formative aspect of my career in Chicago, is being welcomed by other queer folks into queer healthcare spaces, regardless of how the world sees them. Holding a space where people can feel safe and feel listened to and feel valued. I’m committed to doing that, especially as a queer and trans person, that has been such a formative aspect of my career in Chicago, is being welcomed by other queer folks into queer healthcare spaces. Chicago has made me who I am, and the provider that I am. I can’t imagine doing the work I do anywhere else.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview, audio production and photography by Ari Mejia
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