January 2021 marked the exciting start of the latest term for PSI’s Board of Directors. So began the tenure of four new and returning talented Board members and new Board Chair Carolyn Brehm. We are conducting interviews with the Board members, delving into their backgrounds, personal and professional journeys, as well as their call to PSI and its mission to deliver consumer-powered healthcare.
Below, we welcome a fearless leader, chancellor’s professor and founder of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy, Michele Bratcher Goodwin, to the PSI Board of Directors.
PSI: What should we know about Michele Goodwin?
Michele Goodwin: My professional journey began when I was in high school in New York. I became the Chair of the Urban League Youth Council, which is where my concern for civil liberties and civil rights and racial justice began. I also became very concerned about the issues that impacted women’s lives. My professional journey was also part of a personal journey. I had the privilege of growing up in a very diverse family and was exposed to the horrors of the legacy of American slavery, as part of my family came from Mississippi, while another part of my family were people of privilege. And so, having a sense of the diversity in the world was really important to me but also having a sense of the oppressions that girls and women experienced. And I had the opportunity to see that up close in a really tumultuous relationship that my parents had, and I saw the way in which my father could wield his power over my mother.
In my teens, I became acutely aware of the dangers that women face with domestic and sexual violence, as well as aware of the fact that women lacked political clout. We can see that now—in how big a deal it is that the United States has a woman as Vice President. But in the 1980s, this historical point was so far removed. So, all of (these dynamics were) becoming clearer to me as a teenager.
Another defining point in my life was that I left home at the age of 15 and became emancipated at 16. I realized very quickly—once I no longer had all the privileges that I had before—just how fraught health care access was in the United States. It was something that I had never had to think about before, being a child in many ways of privilege. But once I was on my own, I realized that there were systems that we simply didn’t have in place.
PSI: How has your personal and professional journey led you to where you are today?
Michele Goodwin: The personal informed the professional for me, so when I was in college and triple majoring – becoming a sociologist, anthropologist, and even before going to law school – I was really devoted to recognizing the humanity in people—that is seeing people. My first field research was in Italy tracking African immigration into European countries. I took special interest in what was happening to women from Nigeria and Ghana lined up on the side of Italian roads, and I began talking about sex trafficking and elevating it in such a way that is far more common today.
Those were early journeys and my professional life led me to be a bioethicist and a health law scholar and to help to build out the field of health law. When I was in law school, there was really no such field as health law. In my first law teaching job, while teaching core subjects, I also had the opportunity to take over the first health law program in the country, the first ABA accredited one, and really make a mark in building out this field. And as part of building out this field, I focused on making central the concerns of women, girls, and people from vulnerable backgrounds. And that, combined with being a constitutional law scholar, has served me well. I work in health law, medicine, and constitutional law, and these issues overlap and blend together in ways for me that are seamless. And the under girth of all of that is the ability to see people.
PSI: What inspired you to join the PSI Board and what motivates you about PSI’s mission to make it easier for all people to lead healthier lives and plan the families they desire?
Michele Goodwin: In 1966, when giving a lecture in Wisconsin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responded to a reporter who asked, “why is it that you are devoting attention to issues that include family planning, the environment, and the war in Vietnam?” And Dr. King said, “I refuse to segregate my moral concerns.” And I learned so much from that, the refusal to segregate moral concerns. 1966 is also the year that Dr. King stated that “of all the injustices in the world, inequity in health care was the worst of them all”. So those two visions of the world situate my arrival at PSI because I refuse to segregate my moral concerns. To me it is a fundamental moral concern that girls, women, LGBTQ people, and vulnerable communities more broadly can live full and flourishing lives. And the reality for so many people in this country and around the world, is that joy remains elusive or something that is under attack. So, the extent to which I can place myself in service with an organization like PSI—I am all in. And the fact that PSI has done this work consistently and vigilantly without always seeking credit only speaks to the integrity of the organization and the dignified way that it carries out its mission and vision.
PSI: What does consumer-powered healthcare mean to you and how do you see it making change for the people PSI serves?
Michele Goodwin: Consumer-powered healthcare situates healthcare in such a way that destigmatizes what women and girls need and want. It normalizes the space and meaningfully engages equality. It is to say that when one seeks family planning medications or services, that that it is no different than anything else within the healthcare spectrum. There is no need for stereotyping, stigmatizing, or isolating people for wanting or needing reproductive healthcare. These are consumer-based goods, these are consumers, and I think it is an appropriate and timely strategy. We have too many examples that we could easily point to where there is stigmatizing and shaming with relation to reproductive health services. And it shouldn’t be, these are just basic, fundamental needs that people have and the ability to provide for those needs is a very good thing. We need to move away from the notion that there is something peculiar or something dangerous about being a consumer of reproductive health products. It is unfortunate that these have become such politicized issues when it is just basic healthcare.
PSI: What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Michele Goodwin: I am looking forward to furthering the possibilities of women and girls being able to bring their full selves into every space that they occupy. And chipping away at the notion that for a young woman to be smart, dynamic and articulate, that that is too much. I would love to see 2021 as the chance to further expand programs and opportunities for the most vulnerable around the world. That includes education, healthcare, access to political leadership; I would love to see girls and women have full access to those spaces and be able to thrive. And I would love to see that message lifted up by everybody. We will know we are doing a great job when it’s not just advocacy organizations saying we want to see women and girls in leadership, but when everyone says we see how this benefits our world.
PSI: Any final fun or interesting facts about yourself that you’d like to share?
Michele Goodwin: My daughter is like a mermaid. For years I spent time with her in the rough waters of Jamaica, being that strong mom so that my child could feel completely free being in the water. I find that there are so many things that I have done as a mom that I never would have done, only for the purpose of making sure that my daughter could feel free. Things I would not do now, which included jumping off a 35 ft. high bridge into the ocean when my daughter was eight. I had to jump before she could, for her not to feel afraid and to be able to do it well.