This is one in a series of profiles marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Each week through December 2015 we will highlight the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
Beth Wilson, Eleanor Jordan, Kathy Stein, Mary Lou Marzian
In this month reserved for recognizing the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, we recognize the legislative work of former ACLU of Kentucky Reproductive Freedom Project Director Beth Wilson. We also honor the long-time commitment to women's equality in the Kentucky legislature by former Representative Eleanor Jordan, Senator Kathy Stein, and current Representative Mary Lou Marzian. In partnership with these legislators, and in coalition with reproductive rights advocates throughout the state, the ACLU of Kentucky's Reproductive Freedom Project has been successful in holding back most attempts to erect additional barriers to abortion services in Kentucky. Beth Wilson describes this work:
Beth Wilson’s civil liberties career took off in the late 1980s, when she covered violent anti-abortion protests as a newspaper reporter in Knoxville, Tennessee. “I got increasingly frustrated that I was sidelined and not in the thick of actually fighting for rights,” Wilson said. “I didn’t like being in the position of having to be a neutral observer because I didn’t feel neutral about it. I was very angry.” Wilson decided to quit the newspaper in order to pursue a master’s degree in social work and work part-time in an abortion clinic. After graduating, Wilson moved to Louisville and became the director of the ACLU-KY’s Reproductive Freedom Project (then called the Pro-Choice Project).
One of Wilson’s first experiences as RFP director was to continue work on a piece of litigation that her predecessor had started, which pressed for Medicaid funding for some abortions. Although the litigation didn’t result in a win for the ACLU-KY, Wilson said she “learned so much about how that process worked, and more importantly, we were representing real women who had a real need for a service and couldn’t get it because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.”
As RFP director, Wilson spent a lot of time lobbying in Frankfort against the many anti-abortion bills introduced in the state legislature. She recalled that she often worked closely with Maria Price of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance (an LGBT rights group), adding that because the two were both proponents for often unpopular issues, “it was a great opportunity to work on things that intersected and to find support from other lobbyists who were doing similar work.”
“I was fortunate enough to lobby on an issue during a time when there was a group of amazingly strong, incredible women,” Wilson continued, referring in particular to state legislators Mary Lou Marzian, Eleanor Jordan, and Kathy Stein. “I could tell story after story of when we’d be in their offices at night after a long session in tears because we had worked so hard, and we had just lost a pretty major battle,” she said. “But looking back, it was an incredible learning experience, I think for all of us, and I think it made incredibly savvy, smart politicians out of all of them.”
After working as RFP director and later as Executive Director of the ACLU-KY, Wilson now works for the ACLU’s Florida affiliate as its Deputy Director. “I think the ACLU is a really special organization, and I feel honored to now be in my twentieth year, still working for it,” she said.