Solidarity...and Rage: The Fuel for Reproductive Justice and Destigmatisation
The leaked SCOTUS draft decision to overturn Roe v Wade has led to a surge in abortion news and for many of us some intense emotions. If you are anything like me, you have been obsessively consuming media about the leak over the past weeks.
This impending decision is frustrating and horrifying. Abortion rights in the US from Roe to now have been a war of attrition, where access has been gradually, seriously restricted in much of the South and the Midwest for mostly poor, undocumented and racialised people. But this decision is not the end. It can be used as fuel to fight for reproductive justice across the world. When laws or rulings are made that are unjust, they must be made untenable.
I have been so inspired by some of the activists delivering the strong message these past weeks that abortion seekers will continue to be supported with mutual aid and feminist and reproductive justice networks. There are some incredible American podcasters and bloggers that have turned their rage and frustration into some concrete actions, and at this exhausting time that is what we need. Here are a few of the actions:
It is clear the Roe v Wade decision will impact some demographics more than others. In states like Texas, which introduced the “Texas Heartbeat Act” in 2021, people are already being forced into making their pregnancy decisions by 6 weeks – if they even know they are pregnant by then. If they decide they want to access abortion services, they must then find a provider who is willing and be able to get the money together to afford it. For people in poverty this has all but banned abortion already, but for wealthy people who can take time off work, have access to information and can afford to travel out of State, if need be, this is a set of stressful but surmountable challenges. If Roe v Wade should be overturned, States would have the power to even make travelling out of State for an abortion a criminal offence. 26 States have signalled opposition to abortion services, of which 9 already have laws in place and 13 have ‘trigger laws’ which would come into play and almost immediately ban abortion. Some States will protect rights to abortion access, but there is no justice if all US citizens can’t access those rights.
We need laws globally that ensure reproductive justice. SisterSong defines reproductive justice as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities (SisterSong, 1997). In so few places is abortion access based on the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy (for example, the UK Abortion Act 1967 is based on medical autonomy and the US Roe v Wade ruling is based on a right to privacy). This must change. We need to reframe the pro-choice movement to a pro-justice movement, where people are given the right to both have and not to have children through broad social and political reforms that protect access for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Wherever women are not granted the right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, abortion rights will always be an issue of political power that can change at any time depending on the whims of those in charge.
Reclaiming the language of justice, families and communities
Pro-choice people need to reclaim the language of justice, families, and communities. In the reproductive rights framework, there has been a focus on individual ‘choice’ but often this leaves the complexities behind these choices out of the conversation. Where complex issues are simplified, stigma is created (Kumar et al., 2009).
All reproductive decisions are valid, but we have historically not heard from all the families that have been created, strengthened, or flourished because of abortions. We have historically not seen where incredible things have been achieved because of abortions. Sharing the complexities and nuances around abortion decision making and positive impact is humanising. It shows the multitude of situations in which abortion was the best option, or sometimes the only option – not because people are being selfish (something we hear a lot from anti-abortion organisations) but because they are already deeply committed to the wellbeing of their existing or future families and communities.
These are the stories we need to tell. The stories where lives have been saved because of abortions are important too, but we need to focus on all the good that will come from reproductive justice.
Digital privacy (and safety)
People in who live in States with existing bans or further ‘trigger laws’ in place will need access to abortion medication. Activists are figuring out how to get it to them safely. They will also need to figure out how to get information to abortion seekers in ways that will not compromise their safety and freedom as well. We have already seen threats to subpoena people’s data to prosecute them for seeking abortion services. Activists can lobby companies now to implement data minimisation (Bhuiyan, 2022). Organisations like EPIC and the ICO have more information about data minimisation and data brokers. Companies need to be limiting the amount of data they hold and making it easier for people to delete their data. People can do a few things to limit the data that companies hold: Repro Legal Helpline has a useful and simple website about VPNs, private messaging apps, secure emails and deleting browser history. Share this around and get this information out there, information is power.
Channelling rage into fundraising can be a productive way to use these emotions. The people who already face economic inequalities will be impacted the most by the eventual repeal of Roe v Wade. We need to ensure there is funding for organisations that can provide abortion medication and financial support to all the people that need it. Donate and promote these abortion funds where you can.
Restrictive abortion laws are caused by abortion stigma. We can help break down stigma by talking. Talk about abortion openly and factually. Listen to people’s emotions and opinions and challenge stigmatising myths with facts, with real stories and with ethical appeals about the need for reproductive justice.
If you have felt emotionally impacted by the news of what’s happening in the US and would like to talk, our Talklines are open from 7pm – 10pm (UK time) Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Our trained, pro-choice Talkline volunteers provide callers with one-to-one support and space to talk through their experience of abortion.
Together, we will destigmatise abortion for all abortion seekers and providers, for our families and communities, and for reproductive justice.
This article was written by Abortion Talk volunteer, Emma Parnham.