Cheryl Negrin, a 70-year-old nurse practitioner, has dedicated her life to making reproductive health care accessible. Her passion began in 1967, when she was only 16 years old. She inadvertently got pregnant in her relationship with her first boyfriend.
Negrin was born and raised in a working class family living in the Sunset District of San Francisco. Her father was a Jewish immigrant from Egypt and worked as a printer. Her mother, originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey, was a housewife who worked in department stores and other retail jobs. When Negrin was a teenager, the counter-culture was in full swing in the city.
âI had strict parents. I was so innocent, but at the same time I was growing up in the midst of the explosion of change that was happening, âsaid Negrin. âWhen I realized I was pregnant, I remember how scared and desperate I was. I couldn’t go to my parents. We never talked about sexual health. I had nowhere to go.
Describing the painful days as the pregnancy clock started ticking, she explained that although abortion was not uncommon, few people spoke openly about it and it was difficult for her to find the information she had. needed.
âI made phone calls frantically,â she said.
That same year, California became the first state to allow therapeutic abortion for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or endangering the physical or mental health of the mother. The alternative was an illicit procedure given by midwives, by underground feminist collectives referred to as âJaneâ in Chicago, or even by organized criminals who regularly performed abortion as part of their prostitution activity. These illegal options were an open secret, often relatively safe but completely unregulated. At the same time, many women risked permanent injury or death by attempting to terminate the pregnancy on their own by using herbs, poison, a vacuum cleaner, or objects such as hangers. If a woman was arrested, she could be sent to jail.
Negrin was determined to find a reliable legal process.
Eventually, she found an abortion counselor who was able to help her.
âTo this day, I remember her name, Marjorie Ganz. She helped me breathe deeply and muster the strength to navigate the system, âsaid Negrin, recalling the deadly steps she needed to take. She first consulted a psychologist. Then psychiatrist. Finally, she had to appear before the hospital board to prove that she was not physically and mentally capable of carrying out the pregnancy.
âIt was tough. Nobody wants to admit that they can’t, but I was only 16,â she says.
By the time she was granted permission to have an abortion, weeks had passed and her pregnancy was more advanced. âIt was traumatic,â she recalls.
Negrin was the first of her friends to have an abortion, but one after another many of them also got pregnant. She found herself showing them the ropes and supporting them. Eventually, she began to help people beyond her circle of friends.
âI started working for Planned Parenthood even before Roe v. Wade, which constitutionally protects the right of women to choose to have an abortion,â she said.
Negrin was at the epicenter of a vast social uprising.
âThere was a lot going on. Civil rights. Anti-Vietnam War protests. We were holding signs and marching for women’s right to choose and we were talking in big rooms, âshe recalls. “I remember being laughed at by men standing next to it.”
At the same time, new birth control technologies such as the IUD and birth control pills were becoming available.
âI stayed very involved in women’s health because it was a new kind of medicine,â said Negrin.
She married, started a family, gave birth to three children and adopted one. While raising her children, she continued to work as a nurse, to speak publicly about women’s reproductive health issues, and to teach sex education classes in schools. She also became a registered professional nurse, registered nurse, and later a nurse practitioner.
âI don’t know how I did it all,â she said. âIt must have been pure determination. “
When Negrin moved to Petaluma in the 1980s, she noticed that there were few public health services. Thus, she advocated for the opening of health clinics in places such as the homeless shelter and the center for adolescents. Over the years, she has helped open four free clinics in Petaluma. For various reasons, all but one of these clinics have since closed.
The Phoenix Teen Center clinic was the last one left until the pandemic forced it to close in March 2020. Today, with the enthusiastic help of a young volunteer, Quinn Hyland, Negrin recently restarted the clinic. Phoenix Center Teen clinic, which will open once a week, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.
âWe offer free health and education services, various forms of contraception and free condoms,â said Negrin.
She finds that many parents today understand the importance of open communication and making sure their children feel safe when discussing their sexual health.
“They understand that it’s better to know what’s going on,” she said. âMany parents thanked us for the services we provide.
Negrin believes that women and girls shouldn’t be the only ones carrying the weight of pregnancy.
“It takes two for a pregnancy to occur,” she said emphatically. âPhysically and emotionally, pregnancy can be a great experience for girls. Unintended pregnancies are preventable if boys are also better informed and also make responsible choices. “
Reproductive health medicine has changed dramatically from when Negrin was young. Birth control is safer and more effective. Unlike the 1960s, young people can easily find information online, for example on the Planned Parenthood website.
On the other hand, there has been a backlash against women’s reproductive choice. Abortion clinics are closing across the country. Due to controversial laws recently passed in Texas, many women now have to travel out of state to access abortion.
âIn Sonoma County, Planned Parenthood is the only clinic you can go to,â Negrin said. âBefore, there were more places.
At the same time, it looks like efforts like Negrin’s are paying off. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of teenage pregnancy has declined in recent decades.
In 2020, California banned “stealth,” a slang term for the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex.
âIt’s a step towards empowering men and boys,â said Negrin, who also sees more men and boys showing up at women’s marches. âIt’s great to see so many men showing their support for women and for reproductive justice. “
Lina Hoshino’s “Another Perspective” appears on the third Thursday of the month in the Argus-Courier.