Robin “Rocket Woman” Rothrock, R.I.P.

After a valiant several-year struggle with breast cancer, Robin Rothrock, who ran an abortion clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana for many years, died peacefully at her home recently.  Robin’s death is a huge loss, not only, obviously, to her son and daughter in-law and other family and close friends, but also to the close-knit community of abortion providers who cherished her. Indeed, Robin was a central figure in creating this community. With the help of her son, Michael, about ten years ago she put abortion providers (and advocates, researchers, medical students, etc) on line, through the creation of an ever-growing number of listservs that moved thousands of messages a day. In doing so, she facilitated a 24/7 community of people separated by geography (and national borders) but who shared a commitment to quality abortion care.  

Robin will of course be missed enormously by her co-workers at the Hope Medical Group, the facility she established over 30 years ago. As a young social worker (and self-described surfer) in Florida, she was told by a colleague about a large area in the South, including parts of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, in which no abortion facility existed. She moved with her young son to Shreveport, and set about opening a clinic—only to be met on the first day with 1000 protesters (as well as six patients). The next 30 years brought periodic encounters with protesters of varying degrees of threat, including self-described militia men and in one especially unnerving case, an ex-psychiatric patient wielding a sledgehammer and shouting: “The Lord has sent me and this building is coming down.”  

But the most consequential adversary of all in Robin Rothrock’s 30 years of abortion care was the state of Louisiana, which repeatedly passed legislation intended to make abortion provision extremely difficult, if not impossible.  With the heroic help of lawyers at the Center for Reproductive Rights, Robin sued the state some 30 times, and she usually won.  Her last battle with the state before her death involved an unusually egregious attack, even by Louisiana standards.             

Late in the afternoon of the Friday of Labor Day weekend, the state without warning shut down Hope Medical Group, notifying the media first, and only then faxing the clinic of its decision.  Hope Medical was the first clinic to feel the brunt of a recently passed state law, which permitted the Louisiana Secretary of Health to close an abortion facility without prior warning.   In the midst of a round of chemotherapy, and with her CRR lawyers working throughout the holiday weekend, Robin fought the state, as she always did, and within a week Hope was re-opened.

In spite of these unending challenges, Robin never wavered in her commitment to the mainly poor and vulnerable women in her clinic waiting room.   Her nickname, Rocket Woman, originally stemmed from the fact that several of her family members worked in the space program, and until the end of her life Robin thrilled at the opportunity to watch rocket launchings.  But the name also came to represent her willingness to continually replenish her willpower and meet her adversaries, whether outside her clinic’s door or in the statehouse in Baton Rouge. 

Speaking personally, as one who has long studied the world of abortion providers, I have learned much from Robin about what makes people able to sustain this work over time, meeting challenges that most of us would find unendurable. One lesson Robin taught me is the importance of having interests outside this work, and she was an accomplished artist who had her own gallery.  Having both a strong sense of social justice and a sense of humor also seems crucial and Robin had no shortage of either. But perhaps her greatest lesson about what makes it possible to stay in such a beleaguered field is how essential community is to our efforts. And now the community in which she was such a central member both mourns and celebrates our beloved Rocket Woman.

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  • susanyanow

    Carole, thank you for writing this  tribute to Robin.  Her energy and vivacious leadership will be missed by so many, and her generous warmth and spirit are a great loss to the many of us who loved her. 

  • ahunt

    Thank You for this introduction to Ms Rothrock. It is stories like this that keep me determinied, commited and active. Wish I could have known her.

  • choice-joyce

    What a beautiful and eloquent tribute that captures Robin and her many facets so well. Thank you Carole. Before even reading it, I felt a rush of gratitude that you had written it, as if the tribute is not just for Robin, but for ALL of us who need and want to mourn and remember her. Thanks for doing that for us. My tears are flowing again.

  • billfalls

    Robin was powerful and sometimes a bit intimidating but she gave unendingly of herself through her e-mail lists, her art, and her readiness to fight for what she believed in. I’m shocked to hear she is gone. Thanks, Carole, for sharing the news and for your tribute to her.

    I can’t count the number of times I referred people to her over the years, providers who thought mistakenly that my office ran one of her lists. On one memorable occasion she reciprocated by referring someone to me who needed to stir up trouble; I caught a bit of heat as a result but felt honored just the same to have been chosen.

    Our world needs people like “Robin Red.” Along with all of you, I will miss her.

  • womantrust

    Thanks Carole for such a beautiful and informative tribute to Robin.  It shows how important it is to keep balance in our lives and how much difference one person can really make.  Over her 30 years as a provider, she saved many girls and women, and their families.  She also knit so many of us together with the listserves and truly understood and formed our community.

    We are diminished by her passing and the world has lost a truly remarkable and extraordinary person.  She represents the best of us and set standards we all strive to follow.  Her courage and determination inspires us to continue the work in her memory and spirit.  I think she’d like that.


    Rock on, Rocket Woman!

  • cristina-page

    Carole, Thank you so much for this wonderful tribute to Robin. She literally transformed the pro-choice movement into a network able to quickly share information and be a sturdy support in the most difficult times. Her legacy is unmeasurable. She will be greatly missed.

  • carole-joffe

    Thank all of you for your additional reflections on Robin and what an extraordinary role she played for the abortion rights community. Cristina’s use of the word “transformed” is particularly apt. carole