As the set was readied for the ACLU’s national Rights for All campaign kickoff, Jamie Miller’s hands were shaking uncontrollably.
In fact, they were shaking so hard she couldn’t hold her microphone. After she dropped it several times, an event organizer offered to trade it out for one that clipped on the lapel of her shirt.
The reading glasses perched atop her nose served two purposes; they helped her see her notes but more importantly, they blurred out the crowd that had gathered in Durham, New Hampshire, to hear her and other activists from across the country speak about the presidential election.
Her voice quivered as she delivered an unapologetic introductory statement:
“I remember it like it was yesterday -- buying a pregnancy test and hiding in a stall at the local mall, crying. A woman whose face I never saw spoke to me from behind the door. She said it would be okay, that I wasn’t alone, and she gave me the number to the Women’s Health Center. I will forever be grateful to her. I was 16. I called and scheduled an abortion. I was terrified. I scrambled to pull funds together, but I never once regretted that choice. I live in one of the poorest states in the country, and yet also one that just voted to take away Medicaid-funded abortion access. Forcing any woman to give birth because of her socio-economic status is barbaric and unjust.”
Jamie, a Charleston artist, isn’t afraid to stand up for people’s rights.
She’s endured multiple abuses including being followed and having her personal information posted on anti-choice websites because she regularly escorts patients in and out of West Virginia’s only abortion clinic. She uses an umbrella to protect patients from a crowd of bullies who scream at them and try to record their faces on Facebook Live videos. She was arrested for participating in a sit-in at Sen. Joe Manchin’s Charleston office over his vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. She even traveled with ACLU-WV to Manchin’s Washington, D.C., office to confront him face to face over Kavanaugh.
But taking on the role of spokesperson in a national campaign kickoff? That was a lot of pressure for someone so uncomfortable with the limelight.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “I cried every single time at practice. If it wasn’t for the ACLU, which carries so much power to help people, I probably would have said no.
“I was representing not only myself, but any person who has had an abortion, anyone who has felt so powerless in that situation.”
Jamie is a survivor of sexual assault. As a teen, she was assaulted at a party by a boy from another school. Jamie became pregnant and decided to have an abortion.
“He was a popular boy and didn’t even know my name,” she said.
In the years after, Jamie became politically active, protesting U.S.-led wars and other causes. But she never said anything about the incident or about her abortion.
But then she heard Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Ford’s story accusing Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were young stirred traumatic memories. When the smear campaign and death threats against Dr. Ford started, Jamie wasn’t surprised.
“People are scared of the power that truth holds,” she said. “Dr. Ford sacrificed herself in hopes she could stop this nomination. She’s a hero to me.”
Jamie knew she had to share her story, too. The first thing she did was call her four children and tell them for the first time about the assault and her abortion.
“I was bawling as I told them what happened to me and how similar it was to what happened to Dr. Ford,” she said.
Then she kept telling her story, and it started getting easier. In a matter of months, she found herself taking those actions against Kavanaugh’s nomination and eventually sitting on that stage in New Hampshire.
Jamie continues to volunteer at ACLU-sponsored events like the All Kinds Are Welcome Here Lobby Day at the state Capitol. In October, she traveled to Phoenix for the first-ever national ACLU training offered to our most dedicated volunteers.
“It was something that changed me forever,” she said about the training. “I have never been so uncomfortable. It opened my eyes, helped change my vocabulary and helped me grow. I am super thankful they asked me to attend.”
Jamie plans to continue working with ACLU-WV whenever possible.
“I want to be involved with the ACLU because for the first time in my life I feel like I am really working for change in a movement,” she said. “They have helped me strengthen my voice so that I am not afraid to speak up. I was literally scared to death to talk out loud about these issues before the ACLU entered my life and now I can put myself aside and know that I am using my voice to fight for others.
“There is strength in that,” she said.
Katie Quiñonez, Women’s Health Center executive director, called Jamie “a fierce advocate for patients.”
“As the state's only abortion provider, Women's Health Center of West Virginia has been targeted by aggressive, anti-abortion protesters who relentlessly harass patients and staff. She has fearlessly volunteered as a clinic escort for over a year now, and I have seen firsthand how she has positively impacted the experiences of our patients,” Quiñonez said. “She shows up for patients with compassion and understanding every single day that she is here. We are lucky to have her and our entire team of clinic escorts on our side."