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ST. LOUIS — Upholding bodily autonomy as a human right and access to abortion being directly connected to individual freedoms, the European Parliament has recognized Dr. Colleen McNicholas as a finalist for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought of 2023 for her work to advance abortion access. Dr. McNicholas joins international abortion advocates Justyna Wydrzyńska of Poland and Morena Herrera of El Salvador. This is the first time since the Prize’s creation in 1988 that abortion rights advocates are nominated and are among the finalists for the Prize.

Statement from Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

“I’m honored and humbled to be nominated for such an important award, alongside two powerful women working for equality. As far right politicians try to ban abortion across swaths of the US and internationally, I’m thankful for the European Parliament’s nomination and spotlight on this critical issue of human rights. Let this be a sign to those trying to roll back access to abortion: the world is watching. In Missouri and beyond, we will not accept abortion bans, regardless of how innocuous some try to make them seem. My advocacy work is directly informed by the thousands of patients I have had the privilege of caring for. It is those stories that fuel my enduring commitment to the fight for just and equitable access to abortion. Alongside the many fierce advocates across the globe, I will not stop fighting until everyone who needs it has access to safe and legal abortion.”

Statement from Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

“The European Parliament’s recognition of Dr. McNicholas, Justyna Wydrzyńska, and Morena Herrera gives me enormous pride and hope for the future of reproductive freedom globally. The fight to make decisions about our own bodies without coercion or government interference requires the leadership and commitment that we see in these finalists, and I am privileged to work alongside one of them each and every day. You can only do this work when you have fierce advocates by your side — Colleen’s partnership, strength, and commitment to providing compassionate care and advocacy for her patients are inspiring and among the strongest I’ve ever known. 

“As the world deals with multiple humanitarian crises at once, it’s important to acknowledge those fighting for and defending reproductive freedom — including abortion — in the United States and beyond.”

Past Sakharov Prize winners include human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, civil society activists, writers, mothers, minority leaders, peace activists, an anti-torture activist, a cartoonist, long-serving prisoners of conscience, a film-maker, and future Noble Peace Prize winners, including Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and the Ukranian people. 

For more than two decades as an abortion provider, McNicholas has been an unapologetic advocate for her patients, fellow providers, and the movement as a whole. As a national leader in her field, Dr. McNicholas has testified multiple times before the US Senate Judiciary Committee and the Missouri Legislature. 

Dr. McNicholas, born and raised on Chicago’s southside, is the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. McNicholas has traveled to provide abortion care in states across the midwest including Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and currently in southern Illinois. In addition to providing abortion care, family planning services, and advanced GYN care to patients from across the country, Dr. McNicholas oversees the operational aspects of the Regional Logistics Center including partnerships with abortion funds, independent clinics, and other logistical resources.


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