First-time moms Melissa and Kimberly Connelly of Cleveland planned for every detail of their daughter's arrival, from her pink elephant pacifier to the Korean American firefighter whose sperm they used to conceive.
But when the Supreme Court struck down the right to abortion just days after their baby shower in June, the life Melissa had dreamed of for her child suddenly felt threatened.
"I wanted to bring a daughter into the world knowing that she could be anything, and that starts with bodily autonomy," she said. "To have that right stripped a month before she's born, and then to know she has more rights as a fetus — it's absolutely absurd to me."
Filled with outrage, despair and pregnancy hormones, she posted a missive to her 30,000 followers on Instagram, joining scores of expectant parents across the country who are using maternity shoots, birth announcements and baby registries to stump for abortion rights.
"They say a fetus can hear at 27 weeks. Do I tell our daughter that right now she has the most rights she'll ever have?" Melissa wrote under a photo of herself beaming at her wife as the pair spread stripes of rainbow paint across her belly. "When is the right time to explain to her that her parents' marriage could be overturned? ... Must be nice not to worry about these conversations."
The post received thousands of likes and hundreds of messages of support. But it also brought backlash.
"We're talking about you being upset that your power to kill a baby like your daughter has been heavily limited now," one commenter wrote. "She doesn't possess value just because you happen to want her."
Like baby feet, pregnant bodies have become a metonym for antiabortion views. Those who oppose reproductive rights paint expectant parents who support them as unfit, baby-hating hypocrites.
Now, with abortion under threat, many of those parents are putting their bellies on the line for reproductive freedom.
"We've had [pregnant] people do social media campaigns for us for fundraising, and we have individuals list us in their registries in lieu of gifts," said Sylvia Ghazarian, executive director of the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, a national abortion fund. "People do it all the time."
Indeed, while opponents have long positioned abortion as anathema to motherhood, statistics show the opposite.
"For us, 74% [of patients] are already parents," Ghazarian said. "I have more and more patients in need."
Across the country, the majority of abortion patients have children. Many patients go on to give birth in the future. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, which reversed Roe vs. Wade, some families want to make that link more explicit. A growing number are using the arrival of a baby or wedding to raise money for abortion rights.
"Couples still want to have a KitchenAid mixer and a Le Creuset Dutch oven, but they also really want to register for cash," including funds for charity, said Emily Forrest, a spokesperson for the wedding registry website Zola. "We've noticed a growing trend over several years of couples wanting to add a charity fund option."
This year, the number of users registering specifically for funds to be put toward nonprofits that support abortion and other reproductive rights spiked almost 200%, she said.
"That’s a very large jump," Forrest said. "It was very directly correlated to the timing of the leaked [Supreme Court] draft and then the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade."
In May, the leak of a draft of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s majority opinion in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization sent shock waves through the country. Activists who'd long predicted the fall of Roe have nevertheless been stunned by other precedents that seem under threat, from marriage equality to contraception.
Since the leak, requests for donations to the Brigid Alliance and Planned Parenthood increasingly have shown up on baby registry sites alongside Lovevery toy subscriptions, Kanga Care cloth diaper kits and Uppababy stroller systems.
"When you have a baby, people do want to give you things — but she has everything she needs," said one expectant woman, who asked not to be named for fear she could be targeted by antiabortion extremists. As part of her registry, she's soliciting donations for the National Network of Abortion Funds.
"Please donate any amount you're comfortable with!" the D.C.-area woman wrote in her registry. She said a group of family members made a joint donation.
"I’ve always been really pro-reproductive rights, but pregnancy reinforced my commitment to them," she said.
Others became abortion-rights advocates on their journey to motherhood.
"I grew up in a very Catholic household in rural central Pennsylvania, where the collective view on abortion was that it was the result of being irresponsible or that it was baby killing — I had absolutely no concept of the healthcare element," said another soon-to-be mom, who asked not to be named out of fear she would be harassed.
She registered for donations for the Brigid Alliance, which offers financial support to people who must travel long distances to obtain abortions, particularly those whose pregnancies are far along.
She had long opposed abortion — until she needed one to treat a miscarriage last year.
"It struck a nerve with me that abortion is 100% healthcare," she said. "Until you go through the process yourself, you don’t realize the scope of abortion."
Photographer Chelsea Maras of Huntington Beach was already a supporter of abortion rights when she had an abortion to resolve her miscarriage in 2021. So when the Dobbs ruling was handed down June 24, it seemed only natural to use her new, growing baby bump to direct her Instagram followers to abortion funds.
"Pregnant people have a unique voice right now, because our lived experience that we're doing in real time is a talking point," Maras said. "I think it's very important to show up with a pregnant belly and make that statement."
So she popped on a T-shirt with "My body my choice" written in rainbow block letters, tucking it up to bare her belly.
"Bringing a child into this particular country that offers no paid parental leave, no healthcare, no postpartum support, no child care, can feel like an impossible choice," she wrote in the caption. "If you are looking for action steps ... donate to local abortion funds, give to the organizations that are on the ground assisting with care."
For many, using their own wanted pregnancy to fight the loss of reproductive freedom has been a way to reclaim power in a moment of both physical and political vulnerability.
"It was our way of coping, because we feel so hopeless and powerless," said Taylor Ecker, a Pennsylvania-based photographer who specializes in maternity and newborn portraits.
She described a recent maternity shoot that transformed into an impromptu photo protest when her client produced a black Crayola washable marker from her purse and asked Ecker to write abortion-rights slogans on her belly.
Motherhood should be a choice. Meanwhile our shelves are empty. In the USA there are 400,000+ kids in foster care.
The client posed in tall grass, wearing her cream, floral robe open to show her belly. In one image, the slogan "Bans off our bodies" is framed to include a tattoo on her thigh of Casper the Friendly Ghost flipping the bird.
"I told her, 'If we’re going to do this, it’s going to be a faceless shot, because I want to protect you,'" Ecker said. "We literally cried together doing this. For her to think her daughter would be born into a world with less rights on her body than her mom was born into — that was a very heavy burden on her heart."
Still, many women said they were nervous to protest, even as they felt compelled to speak out.
"Is someone going to attack me in a way that's also attacking my unborn child?" asked Riley Moos, 28, an attorney in Tacoma, Wash., who in June posted an abortion rights photo of her pregnant body. "Is someone going to say I'm a bad mother or a bad person?"
Moos worried she might offend her own mother, an adoptee from Costa Rica who the family believes was the product of sexual assault.
"But it's my body right now. Anytime I post a picture, the bump's going to be in it," Moos said. "People want you to think that I’m not my own person [being pregnant] right now. That's exactly why I need to make this post."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.