“Women and children first!” It’s what ushers would holler when the theater caught fire; and it’s what the bos’n bellowed between piercing cries of his whistle when the ocean liner hit an iceberg and they were moving passengers to the lifeboats. For many the protection of society’s most vulnerable and their chief caregivers isn’t relegated to moments of high drama on Turner Classic Movies. For the women who are the main cogs (and it is largely women) in our social services industrial complex that do the caring for the castaway flotsam and jetsam of society, “women and children first” is a mantra. The one catchphrase that helps them make sense and order of the three-alarm fire that is every workday if you’re helping the addicted, the hungry, the divorced, the unemployed, the abandoned, the unhoused, and the unwanted.
And so it was for Ramona. She was a teen mother. Pregnant and married at 17, her shining Sir Galahad was soon shown to be little more than the father to her child. Caught up in an abusive marriage with a young daughter, divorce soon entered the picture. Fending for two led to a career in social services, where she found herself repeating that mantra of “women and children first” not just for the dangers her clients were facing, but for the uncertainties her own life and the needs of her daughter.
All in all she grew to love her work helping others. For many people reading this newspaper, they may never know the frustration of filling out forms, and the shame of having to apply for help, detailing what little you have on a tally sheet so that others can see if you “meet our criteria.” If you meet Ramona, you hear the love in her voice, she is not an officious checklist matron. Her work with the county WIC (Women Infants Children) agency was a pure joy. The people across the desk from her were just like her. Largely women who needed a hand up, not a handout.
When a friend told Ramona about a new job opportunity in social services with better pay and the title of manager, she jumped at the chance to prove herself. It was something different for sure. Planned Parenthood was not WIC, but she justified it in her mind because her office did not perform surgical abortions. Ramona thought maybe in this place “women and children first” means helping women in shaky relationships like her past bad marriage. “Maybe what I’m doing here handing out birth control pills is going to help her.”
That all started to change when people from a group called 40 Days for Life started praying in front of Ramona’s Planned Parenthood office in Sherman, Texas. She thought they were kooks. Simultaneously, an undercover video was released by a group called LiveAction which showed a Planned Parenthood facility in California ignoring a child trafficker who had brought in his victim for an abortion. Suddenly, the mantra of “women and children first” began to conflict with her lived experiences. One particular client and her father stood out. The “dad” had called on a Friday asking if his daughter could be treated without his ex-wife finding out. It was a convoluted tale of a “promiscuous” 15-year-old daughter who had contracted herpes on a weekend when she was staying with him. Ramona had personally assured him that she and Planned Parenthood would be open to help. Now looking back at this “dad’s” furtive and brooding interactions with Planned Parenthood, and the intense physical and emotional pain of his “daughter” during her appointment, Ramona wasn’t sure that man had been her father.
In the weeks that followed the 40 Days for Life Vigil outside her office door, Ramona thought clearly about her work as manager of Planned Parenthood for the first time. From her new perspective, abortion wasn’t too safe and it wasn’t too rare, and she was just helping to create more customers. One day, she signed a resignation letter, put her keys on the counter and closed the locked door of the Sherman Texas Planned Parenthood for the last time.
Ramona Trevino is still reporting for duty at Planned Parenthood though. She is now the national director of outreach for those peaceful, prayerful people she once found “crazy” on the sidewalk outside of Planned Parenthood. On March 23 at 6 p.m. at the Planned Parenthood in Boston she will be telling her story to a group of Catholics, Evangelicals, and others praying for an end to abortion at a 40 Days for Life vigil. I asked her if she had a message for the young women like herself working inside the clinic, she said “Often times our lives take a difficult path. I know a lot of the women working in the abortion industry never planned on working in the abortion industry. I would say God has something better planned for you.” Ramona is still putting women and children first.
Louis Murray lives in Boston and is a frequent contributor to the Boston Herald. He is the Chairman of Boston Catholic Radio 1060AM. He can be found on Twitter at @LouisLMurrayJr1.