Hi. I see you are new here. For years you have been pro-choice, voted that way, and proudly tell tales of going to Planned Parenthood in your teens. But thanks to the way our country is set up, you have been overwhelmed by caring for your family, making enough money to pay the rent, and/or relying on those of us who are the backbone of the movement to ensure everyone gets to decide if and when they reproduce. I get it. That’s why I’m writing this guide to help you figure out where you can jump in because a lot of us have been working on this for a long time.
Before we dive deep into action, let’s get you caught up on some the terminology that you might be confused about on Facebook and at all the upcoming rallies. In an attempt to be inclusive, the movement has created new words so let’s get to them. And these are my super short definitions. There are some great sites & books for you to read through to get fuller definitions. And if you have a word you want defined, please leave me a comment or send me a note.
Reproductive Justice: You’ve been calling yourself pro-choice for years. I did too until someone pointed out that for many, there is no choice. For low-income people, the ‘choice’ is to carry a pregnancy to term or feed the children they already have. What kind of choice is that? Reproductive Justice is a term that takes into consideration our whole lives and identities. Reproductive Justice was born from Black women demanding a voice in the reproductive health space. It means that we fight for living wages, affordable housing, paid family leave, free college, and subsidized child care in order for us to all have a real choice to have a child. It also includes acknowledgement that if someone thinks, “I never want to have children,” they don’t have to qualify that statement. There’s a full stop there. Reproductive Justice is a movement that fights for more than access to abortion and birth control. Reproductive Justice is a movement for full body autonomy.
Cisgender: You know what transgender means, well cisgender is the term for people who were assigned a sex that aligns with their gender identity. I have a uterus and identify as a woman. I am a cisgender woman or cis woman.
And this is why you have been seeing statements like “people who can get pregnant” instead of “women” lately. I posted on Facebook that I didn’t want to hear stories from people who had abortions, but from those who benefited. It seems clunky if you are used to people saying, “I don’t want to hear stories from women who had abortions, but from the men who benefited.” It allows for the transgender men and non-binary people who have terminated pregnancies. It also made space for one friend to note that if her mother hadn’t had an abortion in her early 20s, her mom might not have met her father and had her. Given that “59% of women obtaining abortions are mothers”, there are a lot of children who are benefiting.
White Feminism: This is a term that encompasses a certain privileged liberal feminism. You do not need to be White to make White Feminist statements. If someone says you have reached “peak white feminism,” you have likely ignored history, your privilege, and/or the movement itself.
HOW WE GOT HERE
For ease I’ll start at Roe v Wade. But if you don’t know about reproductive health history in the USA pre-Roe, grab a whole lot of books & binge some documentaries. I’m also condensing this A LOT. Crash course a go!
Soon after Roe was decided, the US Congress acted quickly to restrict access. One way the courts allowed them to act was to pass the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prevents federal funds to be used to provide abortion care unless the life of the pregnant person is in danger or in the case of rape. For the most part, the feminist movement (peak white feminism) let this slide and did not mount a full defense of poor people’s access to abortion.
The Hyde Amendment began the chipping away of abortion rights in the USA. Over the course of the following years states began to add spousal notification, parental notification, parental permission, waiting periods (meaning you would have to visit a provider TWICE), medically inaccurate speeches, late-term abortion bans, and mandatory viewing of ultrasounds.
At the same time the far right began harassing medical professionals at their workplace and homes. Some providers have even reported that their children’s schools were targeted. And some providers have been hurt and killed by far right extremists.
On top of this the far right began to take over state legislatures. They ran for everything from governor to dog catcher. This is why we find ourselves in a moment where access to abortion is a popular opinion among voters, but states are controlled by people who view getting pregnant as a consequence for having sex and children as punishment for that sin. As the far right took over the states, they used gerrymandering to cement their seats. Recently in Georgia we saw them use voter suppression to steal an election.
And now here we are with a mishmash of state laws, including on what they will do if/when Roe falls.
WHAT TO DO NEXT…
The best of intentions are not enough today. If you have an idea, before you start a viral sensation, try checking in with your local feminist organizations, especially Planned Parenthood. Someone likely already has your idea in motion. And perhaps for years.
Don’t say that Christian Sharia law is in effect: This is racist. I get where you are coming from. You are trying to turn the anti-Muslim racism that conservatives spew back at them, but that’s like using a fire hose spewing shit and thinking it won’t get on ya. Just don’t.
Also don’t claim to be building an underground tunnel: It’s safe that if you are not African American, just stay away from claiming anything related to slavery is part of your story.
ALSO…There are organizations that already work to support people needing to travel to obtain abortion care. The Midwest Access Coalition has been supporting travelers for years. And if someone needs help paying for the abortion procedure, they can reach out to the National Network of Abortion Funds. You likely have a local fund that is always in desperate need of your money and energy. There is no need for an Auntie Network.
The Handmaids Tale is based on our history: Margaret Atwood has said time and again that she does not invent anything for her books. She takes things from our past or current topics. This means that she did not foretell the state subjugating bodies for reproductive purposes. She knew that slavery, especially after the slave trade ended in the USA, depended on forced reproduction. The fact she wrote a book about white women being subjugated is problematic at best. While the sight of Handmaids, as we just did at the Illinois capitol, is a swift and quick reminder of what may lay in front of us, it also is seen as ignoring women of color, particularly Black women in the reproductive justice history.
Get engaged by volunteering: Just remember that your local reproductive justice orgs are busy organizing marches and rallies, speaking to the media, and fielding calls from clients, not to mention all the calls from those of us ready to lend a hand. Also, many times volunteers do not work directly with clients — most of the work needed in the movement is not glamorous. That’s why a bureaucracy-loving gal like me is a pretty good volunteer. One way to volunteer on the front lines is as a clinic escort — DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ON YOUR OWN. First of all, always ask clinics if they want or need your support. Second, you should never engage antis on your own. Instead find your local clinic escort collective. The Abortion Care Network supports clinics and providers.
I began this out by welcoming you to the fight. And I do. I just ask you to respect the fact that many of us have been at this forever. We have structures that are in place. We have a plan that needs your involvement.
For some of us, we are fighting the good fight in states that have become punchlines. For others, we are fighting to strengthen our states’ laws because we know we will need to support other states, if not entire regions. My home state of Illinois is surrounded by states that are working to restrict access to abortion. We have needed you for years. So use a vacation day to gather up friends to lobby at your state capitol. Leave work early with coworkers to hit up the rally. Take your kids with you. And if capitalism keeps you from doing any of that, tweet your rage, buy clinic escorts materials, call your elected officials, and tell your friends who have the privilege to protest & lobby how much it means to you. Cause I gotta tell ya, I’ve been at this for over 20 years and your support is always welcomed.
Where to join the revolution:
National Network for Abortion Funds
* Search for your local fund or a fund in a state that you want to support.
I welcome feedback, especially from those new to the work.