Attacks on Roe v. Wade aren't new—so why does this time feel so much worse?
When Xandi Andersen, a pro-choice activist in Alabama, asked a group of friends what they would have done had abortion been banned during their times of need, there was a devastating similarity between their answers, one that is familiar to many of us:
“I would have done whatever I needed to do. Sad thing is it probably would have cost me my life.”
“Most likely, I would have killed myself. I was raped and pregnant at 13.”
“Either super dangerous shit to self-abort or continued the perpetual cycle of poverty.”
“I think the real story is what happens when we don’t have access,” Andersen says. “Because that is what we are facing.”
In the month of May alone, restrictive abortion bans have been signed into law (or getting close to it) in Missouri, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Ohio. They each have different specifics, but all either ban abortion as early as six or eight weeks (before many folks even realize they’re pregnant), or, in the case of Alabama, ban and criminalize abortion in almost any circumstance.
Thankfully, these law are not yet in effect, and pro-choice organizers are continuing tenacious work against constant abortion restrictions in hopes that they never will be. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t scary, devastating, infuriating, and overwhelming. And it doesn’t mean that we should relax and let others fight for us, so HelloGiggles spoke with pro-choice organizers on the ground in these states. They told us what we should know about the abortion bans, and how we can effectively join the reproductive justice movement.
This has been the anti-choice movement’s plan all along.
To put it simply, these attacks on abortion access feel different and overwhelming because we are seeing the result of a years-long plan by the anti-choice movement to disempower Roe through state legislation. Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes is the Director of Public Policy at Advocates for Youth, an organization focused on protecting youth sexual health and youth rights, and she breaks it down for HelloGiggles: “These bills are no longer chipping away at the right to abortion—they’re outright banning abortion. We’ve been seeing abortion restrictions move through legislatures and sometimes pass at the state level for a number of years. Since 2011, we’ve seen a definite increase.”
The shock so many of us are feeling right now, however, isn’t really because there are more restrictions being passed, Rhodes explains, “but [because] we’re seeing more severe bills. These bills across the country—this is a long-term and coordinated strategy that is designed to introduce and pass legislation that eventually will challenge Roe v. Wade, and eventually overturn it at the Supreme Court.” And now, with President Trump in office and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, a type of “cult environment” has been enabled, Rhodes says. One where “hateful, dangerous political rhetoric” around abortion can thrive.
You still have the constitutionally protected right to abortion care.
Since the most recent onslaught of anti-abortion bills began in early May, your social media feed has probably—and understandably—been teeming with articles and tweets about how our reproductive rights have been stripped away from us. You’ve likely seen posts comparing our reality to The Handmaid’s Tale and read conversations detailing why Roe v. Wade is officially a “goner.” Yes, these continued attacks on abortion access are terrifying. But when we’re bombarded by media describing reproductive rights as though they are relics of the past, folks in the impacted areas may forget an extremely important fact: These laws have not gone into effect. Abortion is still legal in all 50 states (albeit not easily accessible in many). Roe still exists. Even if these bills have been signed, as Time reports, they can’t “take effect for six months and legal challenges are widely expected to block [them] in the courts.”
Andersen is an abortion storyteller with Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign, publicly discussing her experience in order to normalize the procedure. On a phone call, Andersen points out that when we let panic dictate how we discuss abortion policy, we may inadvertently feed into the confusion that anti-choicers depend on. Describing what has happened in her state since Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill, Andersen explains, “We [have] to keep reminding people in Alabama that the clinics are still open and abortion is still legal. There’s been so much confusion here around the issue that it could be causing delays in care. There’s only a small window to find care [in Alabama] after a person realizes they are pregnant, and the anti-choice crowd will try anything to confuse or misdirect people.” So it’s important to recognize, own, and promote the fact that abortion is legal, as it should be.
But even if you’re well aware that abortion remains your constitutional right, walking into a clinic in this political environment is not easy, especially if pro-lifers have targeted the facility for a protest.
Jalessah Jackson is the Georgia coordinator for SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization uplifting Black women, women of color, and LGBTQ+ folks. If you’re anxious to go to the doctor, Jackson wants you to know that organizers—and much of the population—have your back. If you’re hesitant to go to your appointment, then let their support empower you. Jackson says, “We believe in the importance for folks to live self-determined lives without stigma and shame, and we want them to know that the majority of folks support them. We will do everything is our power to ensure that [abortion] remains legal.”
Rhodes echoes this message: “Know that there is an entire community and field behind [you]. There are advocates on the ground at the state, local, and national level fighting for their rights to continue to access care.” Finally she adds, “And then go get that care unapologetically.”
To fight back, start by having difficult conversations with people in our lives.
Some of the most immediate work we can do to defend reproductive rights is engage in uncomfortable conversations. The stigma surrounding abortion care persists because we’re taught to treat a common medical procedure that one in four women undergo as a secret. When you #ShoutYourAbortion, or even shout about abortion, you’re challenging that stigma. “We want to encourage folks to be brave, and to have intentional and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with people in their sphere of influence about reproductive health, rights, and justice,” says Jackson.
Andersen’s work as a storyteller with the 1 in 3 Campaign is based on this ideology. “We have to keep sharing our stories to normalize abortion and to let people know they are not alone,” she explains.“There’s a community of supporters out here and seeking medical care is nothing to be ashamed of.”
But pay attention to the language you use when advocating for abortion access.
When Andersen speaks with the 1 in 3 campaign, she describes seeking an abortion after getting pregnant by her abusive partner, hiding the abortion from him until she could safely leave the relationship, and facing anti-choice protesters, mandatory “counseling,” and waiting periods at the clinic. She also shares how, in the face of those protesters, the medical staff “was so welcoming and kind.”
What she doesn’t do is use well-intentioned but stigmatizing language that defends abortion care by claiming it to be “the worst moment in any woman’s life” in addition to being necessary health care. For a lot of people, abortion is not the worst moment of their life—it’s relief; it’s freedom; it’s having their future back. By assuming that folks who undergo abortions inevitably feel sadness and regret, we keep a simple medical procedure categorized as taboo and shameful.
“I do understand that late-term abortions can be extremely difficult, and the circumstances around those decisions could be incredibly painful,” says Andersen. “I can only speak for myself…The decision was easy for me, and to this day I have never regretted my abortion.”
Normalizing abortion means recognizing, as Andersen says, that “abortion is just like any other health care need…It was like going to the dentist—it was something I needed to do and I had the means to do it.”
And remember to defend reproductive rights all the time—not just when times are scary.
If this recent legislation was your initiation into the pro-choice movement, then welcome; we’re glad you’re here. But it’s important to recognize that these bills are not a surprise. “It’s great to see new faces and new energy around this fight, but where was all this support before?” Andersen says. “A small handful of us [in Alabama] have been doing a lot of work with very little resources and not much public support. The Alabama Democratic Party offered absolutely zero support to progressive women running for office in 2018…but now it seems like [every Democrat] who was so afraid to talk about abortion has come out in support of reproductive choice.”
That being said, if you’re new to pro-choice activism, Jackson “[emphasizes] the importance of people acting right now…We want to hear from you and we want to work with you.” The crucial point, says Andersen, is that you don’t stop supporting and you “don’t forget about this issue when things start looking easy again.”
Act locally and take care of each other.
Planned Parenthood, NARAL, ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights may be the first organizations that come to mind as you consider where to donate. These are all vital national organizations taking the necessary steps to challenge abortion bans in the courts, and these groups deserve our support. But when it comes to helping folks on the ground—ensuring transportation for abortion patients, helping low-income women afford care, etc—you must act locally. Unlike those great national organizations, these similarly great local groups don’t receive nearly as much money, despite that money going directly to the people who need it.
Amy Irvin is the executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund in a state that only has three clinics. Irvin tells me that, in their 2,000-plus days of existing, they have helped 1,250 clients access abortion care—whether by providing transportation, financial aid, child care, or informative counseling after sexual assault and abuse. Their office gets 30-35 phone calls per week, many from callers asking “if abortion is legal in Louisiana, and what the restrictions are” because anti-choice rhetoric is so prevalent and confusing in Louisiana.
“We are consistently in fundraising mode,” Irvin says. “We quickly run out of money in a day or two, so the rest of the week is for providing [those] resources to people who have questions or are dealing with assault.” Irvin emphasizes that abortion funds need your immediate help, but that “this is a stop-gap solution. We really need policy change. We are providing a service the government ought to be doing. This is safe and still legal health care. It should be covered by insurance—we exist because it’s not.”
In addition to donating, Jackson suggests seeking out the already existing reproductive justice groups in your area and connecting with their members. Again, she stresses that your presence will be very much appreciated and needed, so don’t feel intimidated.
For Alabama specifically, Andersen encourages people to set up a recurring monthly donation to the Yellowhammer Fund or ACLU Alabama—but that’s not all she advises. “If you do nothing else, check in with your friends who are close to this issue,” Andersen says. “Sometimes we need to be reminded to eat dinner or have a glass of wine—bonus points if you can provide either of those things, by the way. Caring for an activist—even if that activist is yourself—can be just as much an act of resistance as marching on the capitol.”