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June 06, 2023

Day of celebration’ held for new Women’s Health Center of Maryland

Credit: Cumberland Times News

RAWLINGS, Md. — Naomi Cohen recalled taking part in a women’s health care march 20 years ago in Washington, D.C.

Looking back at that time, she never would have dreamed that in 2023 there would be a need to fight for women’s reproductive rights, including access to legal and safe abortion.

Then again, today she’s also astounded at the growing need to advocate for civil rights — a plight she undertook as a high school student.

“We’re right back where we started,” she said. “We need to keep fighting. Don’t give up.”

Cohen, of Gap Mills, West Virginia, was at a ceremony Monday for the new Women’s Health Center of Maryland, 17202 McMullen Highway, which is set to open in the coming weeks.

The facility will offer medication and procedural abortion into the second trimester, as well as comprehensive contraception and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.

Within the first six months, the center expects to introduce additional services including annual exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings and gender-affirming hormone care.

A patient assistance fund is planned to help people pay for abortion care and offer preventive health care on a sliding scale.

For 45 years, Cohen and her husband have been supportive of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia.

The facility stopped performing abortions due to West Virginia’s near-total abortion ban that became active in September.

“We used to live near Charleston,” she said. “I used their services many, many years ago.”

Cohen, who has served for 19 consecutive years on the board of directors for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said the new Western Maryland center will provide high-quality health care for women.

“It’s not just about abortion,” she said.

The event featured speakers including Katie Quinonez, executive director of the new center.

“Abortion bans are about control, plain and simple,” she said.

Quinonez recalled seeing the McMullen Highway building, which carried a nearly $700,000 price tag, for the first time when her Realtor pointed to mountains and said “that’s West Virginia,” she said.

She talked of driving through the mountains over the winter to sign paperwork that closed the deal on the new Women’s Health Center of Maryland, and tearfully texted her team, “We did it.”

“It will be a regional access point,” Quinonez said.

Cresta Kowalski, chairperson of the Mountain Maryland Alliance for Reproductive Freedom, said initial plans for the center “became a six-month hurry up project.”

Her voice quivered as she talked of gender-affirming care the new center will provide.

“This day is a day of celebration my friends for Mountain Maryland,” Kowalski said. “Our tears are tears of joy.”

U.S. Rep. David Trone talked of the Donald Trump presidency and asked, “how did we go backwards?”

The wrong guy stacked the Supreme Court with the wrong people, he said.

“Abortion rights are human rights,” Trone said. “Voting matters.”

Roughly 80 people were at the event.

Many in the crowd were there to cheer the center’s opening.

Frostburg resident Carmen Jackson said she felt “overwhelmed” that enough people in Mountain Maryland united to bring the Women’s Health Center to fruition.

“I’m proud of these women … who made this a reality for our communities,” she said of the greater Cumberland area.

“This is a human right that we cannot allow to be sabotaged,” Jackson said. “I don’t want men dominating my rights.”

Angie Luvara coordinates the women’s studies program at Frostburg State University where she is a professor in the sociology department.

“Abortion is necessary health care,” she said and also talked of the area’s need for gynecological care in general.

“I wish that people who oppose (the center) knew more of the facts around abortion access and abortion care along with gender-affirming care,” Luvara said. “These are all life-sustaining forms of health care.”

LaVale resident Antoinette Royster said the center will provide much needed services.

“There are women dying, especially black women, from diseases,” she said.

“I just want to weep,” Frostburg resident Joy Kroeger-Mappes said of her feelings about the new center.

Every single life is valuable, and resources are needed to help those lives thrive, she said.

Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery) is recent chair of the Women’s Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly, and has also entered the race to replace Trone, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2024.

She said she attended the event to show her support for the new center.

The Women’s Caucus backed four bills related to reproductive health.

“I felt really moved to come out here,” said Lopez, a mother of two children under 3 years old.

She talked of the “sweat equity” required by folks including Quinonez to create the Women’s Health Center.

“I was feeling enormously proud because I know the amount of work it takes,” Lopez said.

About a dozen men stood along the highway and held signs to protest the new center.

Cody Butler of Accident was one of them.

When asked why he was protesting, Butler first cited a section of the Old Testament.

Then he got personal.

“As a father of five and soon to be six children, I’m surrounded by love,” he said.

Butler’s kids are ages 2 to 12, and his wife is roughly 10 weeks pregnant.

“It’s important to me to protect the most vulnerable in our society — the pre-born children,” Butler said. “The only difference between my children and the ones in the womb are their location. … We simply cannot kill because of the location of a child.”

Andy Sommers drove from the northern Pittsburgh area to protest the center.

He’s a pastor at Harvest Church in Kittanning, Pennsylvania.

Sommers, the father of four kids between ages 5 months and 9 years, said if more people knew about the center, they would oppose it.

“I believe with all my heart that these are babies being killed,” he said of abortions. “That’s a grave injustice.”

Ryan Graber is an associate pastor at Deep Creek Baptist Church.

“The murder of the pre-born is going to be taking place here,” he said and added he and others will work to offer an alternative including adoption to women with unwanted pregnancies.

“We’ll peaceably be here,” Graber said of plans to “plead with mothers to choose life.”