In honor of the most recent worldwide Women’s March, this Inspired Women profile features Colorado native, Ashley Wheeland, of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains. Ashley is the Senior Policy and Political Director at PPRM. I wanted to sit down with Ashley and find out more about the role of Planned Parenthood in Colorado, what they provide to the community, what challenges they face with the new administration and how people interested to get involved can help out at a local and national level. Ashley’s passion and commitment to social work and fighting to make the world a better place to live in is so inspiring. It is truly an honor to add Ashley to our Inspired Women series. Inspiration strikes us in so many places in our lives; both creatively and personally, as well as socially and in public service. It is up to the artists, the makers, the social workers, the mamas of the children of tomorrow and all of us women to stand together and protect each other and give each other a voice. Thank you Ashley for being part of us an important platform for women’s rights.
To learn more about how to help PPRM visit Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado.
Extra special thanks to LA Jennings of Train.Fight.Win for letting us use your gym for our photoshoot.
Inspired Women: Ashley Wheeland
Tell me about your background, both professionally and personally.
I am a Colorado native. I grew up all over the state – from Montrose on the Western slope, to Trinidad down South, to Aurora, to Fort Collins for college. My parents both worked in the social work field – working to provide support for people with developmental disabilities. I learned that the most important goal in life is to serve others and to support our communities. My dad is actually legally blind, and has always known what it is like to live with a disability. But he never let it stop him and he was one of a few of his classmates at the Blind and deaf school in Colorado Springs to go to college.
I love to learn. I saw (because of my parents too) school as an opportunity to learn how to understand the world and fight to make it better. I went to CSU and studied journalism/political science for undergrad and a Master’s Political Science with an emphasis on policy and administration in American Government. Through these studies I became passionate about changing the world through policy making, and knew that is what I wanted to work in. I even covered the state legislature as a student reporter. Following my Master’s I got a job working for the Ken Salazar Senate campaign as an organizer in Larimer County. From that experience I learned about community organizing and the passion of people. It was amazing to work with people who cared so much about how our systems work and fought for it through political organizing. Following that experience I got the opportunity to work for Senator Salazar as a legislative aide on health care, education, disability, and women’s issues. Working within the Senate was one of the most telling experiences of my life. I had studied how systems work, but working in it was different. I learned all about the importance of research, and messaging, and working with others – to move forward on policy. I also learned policy-making is not easy -there are times when it can be monumental but it is mostly incremental. And that is ok. It can also be devastating. For example, when I saw Senator Jeff Sessions (now the US Attorney General) block the chance to reform our immigration system to help millions of people.
I came back to Colorado in 2007 to go to law school. I graduated law school in 2010 and passed the bar, and since then have been working to further the rights of all people. This includes working at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative as the Health Policy Attorney – in that job I worked on legislation to implement the Affordable Care Act, the federal law President Obama fought for, which has resulted in more than 400,000 more Coloradans having access to health coverage. Following that I worked at One Colorado (and LGBTQ rights org in CO) as the Health Policy Director. In that role I worked on creating research, reports and policy to imrpove LGBTQ Coloradans access to health care, including advocating for a state bulletin issued by the Colorado Division of Insurancethat requires private insurers to cover transgender Coloradans health care needs.
Ha… in my spare time – I love to run (but need to do more as of late). Being out in Colorado sun is my place to feel alive and happy. I am also a news junkie. No surprise there.
Tell me more about your work with Planned Parenthood.
At PPRM I am the Senior Policy and Political Director, which means I oversee the legislative strategies for our organization in four states – CO, NV, NM, WY. This includes fighting against bills that seek to attack women’s rights and access to reproductive health care, as well as working on policies to improve all people’s access to the reproductive health and education they need. Every single person should be able to decide when and if they want to start a family – and have the tools to do so.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
The civil rights warriors around me. Like my parents. Like the people I work with at Planned Parenthood who go to work everyday with compassion and love.
My colleagues, who daily endure the systematic oppression for the color of their skin or who they love or who they truly are who stand up every day to fight back, who fight to win for all people, they inspire me.
How can people get involved with Planned Parenthood, both on a local and national level?
I would say getting involved here in Colorado is the best way to help Planned Parenthood. In Colorado to help advocate for Planned Parenthood people can follow Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado. PPVC fights for all people’s rights to access compassionate and non-judgmental reproductive health care, including abortion care. For those who want to volunteer at Planned Parenthood’s Health Centers in Colorado – they can volunteer for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. We have amazing volunteers who escort patients past protesters, who help in health centers, who volunteer with our education programs. These all can be found through on online search and filling out the application and signing up for our mail lists. Also following us on social media keeps you up to date too.
What motivates you professionally?
I am a passionate person, thanks to being raised by passionate parents. I am motivated to do what I love. And that is protecting the rights of all people. I am also motivated by love. Love and kindness are what make this world better. Not anger, not hate, not differentiating ourselves into separate groups with animosity. I believe we can get back to love – by all coming together and fighting for it.
What are other ways that people in Denver can get more involved with Planned Parenthood?
There are other ways to get involved. Every Wednesday people can join a lobby day run by a coalition of women’s groups to advocate for policies that support women’s rights and working families. It is called Women and Families’ Wednesdays and has a Facebook group folks can ask to join.
How can we help Planned Parenthood beyond Colorado, at a national level?
At the national level Planned Parenthood is in danger. Even though access to reproductive health care and abortion is supported by 70% of Americans, there are extremists in the Congress (and the Vice President) who want to take away that care. One way they are seeking to do that is take away the ability of people with public coverage like Medicaid to come to Planned Parenthood for care. Nearly 24,000 Coloradans with Medicaid coverage (because of the ACA) come to Planned Parenthood. If the Congress does this and the President signs it into law, those who count on Planned Parenthood for their reproductive health care like birth control counseling and dispensing, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, HIV care, transgender hormonal therapies, will be forced to find another provider. Not an easy thing to do with a shortage of Medicaid providers. We must fight back by telling our federal officials we need PP, so that people can continue to get the care PP provides.
What do you love the most about your job? Likewise, what is the most difficult part of your job?
I love the people I meet. The passion they have. I love those that I work with that work tirelessly to provide spaces for conversation, for action, for growth. Like Planned Parenthood Colorado’s advocacy and communications teams. They are tireless.
I also love the love of our partners fighting for all people’s rights. I can’t tell you how many times I have cried with happiness at the work being done by those I work with – including the ACLU of Colorado, the Interfaith Alliance, 9to5 Colorado, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, One Colorado, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Women’s Lobby of Colorado (of which I am on the board of), and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. And there are many more I don’t get to work as closely with that represent the mission of all people’s rights. This gives me hope.
What book(s) are you reading and/or looking forward to reading?
I love getting lost in novels and I love reading things I can learn from too. I loved political theory too, even though I have not been reading that as of late. I have been living it instead. I have to admit I loved Game of Thrones for an escape but also loved Ta Nahesi Coates and Roxane Gay’s books. The two books that changed my life as a young woman were Beloved by Toni Morrison and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. I had the best literature teacher in 12th grade.
What do you love most about living in Colorado?
The mountains are my home. I know I am back home when I see them. I love hiking in them and just looking at their beauty. I also love the Colorado sunshine.
What is on your music playlist currently?
I am listening to a lot of uplifting and invigorating music – stuff that makes me want to move and makes me happy. But I also love some women’s power music like Dixie Chicks, Stevie Nicks, Indigo Girls, Sia and more!
What does contemporary bohemian mean to you?
It means community – that you want to be part of a community and help it grow. It is about inclusivity, and that we can all listen and love each other.