Rosa Valderrama, director of the Broward Women's Emergency Fund, remembers being passionate about reproductive health issues from a very young age. “When me and my sisters were growing up," she says, "I would show them diagrams of the vulva and vagina. I was trying to give them the education we weren’t getting in school."
Valderrama, the eldest of four sisters, says her parents encouraged her to educate her siblings in that regard. "My parents are from Peru and have always been very progressive and supportive of us learning more about our bodies and our health."
Valderrama took that passion into adulthood as the director of the Broward Women’s Emergency Fund (BWEF). The organization helps acquire funds for people who need access to abortions within the community. This Thursday, BWEF will host a "ReproHangeo" at Fort Lauderdale's Gulf Stream Brewing Company. The relaxed hangout is designed to gather supporters and anyone looking to get involved in the group's mission to discuss abortion and sexual healthcare over beer and light bites. As an added incentive for attending, the first 15 people to arrive will receive a free pint of beer.
BWEF, which operates under the National Network of Abortion Funds, has been helping to fund abortion care in South Florida since 2003. Its mission is to make care accessible to all, regardless of income, race, age, ability, gender identity, or immigration status.
Valderrama says that goal has become more difficult since the Trump administration came into power, and she's hoping the event will serve as an outreach to find more volunteers and keep the organization going. BWEF is entirely volunteer-based, and the organization is looking to expand its network to include graphic designers, attorneys, and immigration experts.
Under the administration's Title X rules, any organization that provides or refers patients for abortions is ineligible for federal funding to cover STD prevention, cancer screenings, and contraception. Federal funding for abortion is already illegal in most cases. That’s why BEWF counts on private donor funds to provide necessary aid for its patients, and even then, its efforts are limited.
Valderrama says the organization can often only provide $50 per patient per service, depending on the circumstances. Patients can appeal if their request for funding is denied. BWEF works directly with the clinics that provide client services. A list of partner clinics is listed on its website.
In addition to Title X restrictions, Valderrama says the organization's work is also hindered by parental consent laws and crisis pregnancy centers; faith-based establishments that appear to be reproductive healthcare centers but fail to provide abortion care as an option.
“Everyone has a right to make autonomous decisions about their bodies and should have access to accurate information and clean facilities," says Valderrama. "Now, more than ever, we’re fighting administrations and faith-based organizations that outright lie to people. At The Broward Women’s Emergency Fund, we’re going to continue to do the work so our community is healthy and educated when it comes to making choices regarding their bodies.”
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To keep reproductive healthcare at the forefront of people’s minds beyond the ReproHangout, BWEF is launching its Taco or Beer social media challenge. Participants are asked to post a photo of themselves eating a taco or drinking a beer, donate to the organization, and then tag three friends to do the same. BWEF will also host another ReproHangeo in late August. At Thursday's edition, participants will be able to purchase t-shirts, stickers, pins, charms, and necklaces hand-crafted by Miami artist and activist Alessandra Mondolfi, with 100 percent of proceeds going to BWEF.
For Valderrama and her team, it’s about creating a safe environment for open dialogue with allies and supporters of their work.
"There’s a lot of people that I love who needed access to reproductive healthcare and who needed help finding it," she says. "We all know someone we love who has had an abortion, and it’s time to end the stigma.”
ReproHangeo. 6 p.m. Thursday, August 1 at Gulf Stream Brewing Company, 1105 NE 13th St., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free.