Thursday, May 5, 2022

Speaking out About #Abortion

Image: A protest sign saying "Keep Abortion Legal"

Today, I'm sending out virtual hugs to everyone rocked by news of a leaked document about the U.S. Supreme Court overturning abortion rights. The possibility of the court overturning the Roe vs. Wade decision has been a key factor of every recent presidential election. It's not like we didn't expect this after Trump got three nominees confirmed to the court. Yet it's still upsetting to arrive at this day.

Now, it's time to rely on the experienced leaders in reproductive rights groups who have been preparing for this event. I am not one of those leaders, but I can share what I am learning...even if I'm hesitant to step up.

This is a tough issue to speak out about publicly. Our thoughts on abortion are often emotional & messy, but we must normalize talking about it. If we don’t, there are plenty of people willing to take up the space we leave them and fill it with fear and misinformation. Our silence is harmful as we know abortion bans hurt low-income folks far more than others. People struggling in poverty have fewer resources to travel to have an abortion, to raise a child, or to respond to maternal health care problems from a damaging pregnancy.

If you have the emotional bandwidth to do it, put yourself out there and take up your space in honor of those who cannot. At a St. Louis protest rally, Congresswoman Cori Bush told us, “It doesn’t matter what our insecurities are. Bring something to the table. We need you.”

Using my Microphone

It’s true that I haven't advocated loudly for reproductive rights because it’s not in my comfort zone. But the night of the draft opinion leak, I saw this facebook post from my friend Robyn saying, “I’m gonna need everyone who couldn’t be bothered to march for anything else, but said 'OK, but if they overturned Roe I’ll get in the streets' to kick their comfort zone to the curb immediately.”

Image: Robyn's facebook post

I had marched for other issues, but still I felt seen. I spent some time that night trying to collect my thoughts and shore up my empathy by reading A Complicated Choice, a book about real life abortion stories by Katey Zeh. I thought about the recording I had scheduled for the morning with Kathy Nelson of the Ordinarily Extraordinary podcast to talk about advocacy and STEM. Should I talk about abortion? What should I say?

The next day, I asked Kathy, “Are we gonna talk about last night or not? Because there are a lot of people without platforms to speak out and we’re two women looking at each other on zoom with literal huge microphones in front of us.” So, we did. We didn’t go into huge detail, but I like to think we did our part as two STEM educated women talking about abortion. We said the word out loud and came another step closer to normalizing the topic in conversation.

Image: Cindy and Kathy recording a podcast

Getting Out in the Streets

Later that day, I heard about a Pro Roe vs. Wade rally downtown. I couldn’t find any of my friends to go with me.

Everyone seemed to have pretty valid excuses except me. I had plans, but I thought about Robyn’s post. I felt I had to show up for the organizers who work hard on the issue all the time. Maybe I could take the place of my friend in therapy who was too emotionally upset to attend. All the drive down, I kept second-guessing myself and thinking, "But what good would I do there at this late date?"

Image: Mom holding a child with 
a sign saying
"Abortion is Health Care"
When I arrived, a storytelling session was underway. I drifted around listening to speakers who had abortions for different reasons. At the end, when protesters gathered for a picture, I noticed a woman sitting on the steps alone. I recognized her as a speaker who said she was sharing the story of her rape for the first time. I thanked her for sharing her story. She told me she was really nervous to do it and still recovering. I awkwardly said, “Would it help if I...can I sit with you?” And I did. 

We were just quiet for a long time, not even looking at each other. When she was ready, she told me she had come down from her apartment when she saw the rally on the news. She spontaneously shared her story when they offered the microphone to anyone with a story. Unfortunately, it made her relive her trauma and triggered her anxiety. We talked for a while and eventually laughed a while. When she felt able to go home, she did.

I realized the reason I was there was to hold space for her. THAT was the good I could do at that late date. I was not too late to be there for her.

What Are Protests For?

The experience made me think about the purpose of a protest. That protest, for me, was where I found connection and purpose. It helped me see I was not alone.

A protest is a place to find inspiration, community, and local organizers with concrete actions for you. I discovered this is the link to visit to sign up for future actions in Missouri. You may also find members of Congress there like Congresswoman Cori Bush, who has openly testified before Congress about her own abortion story.

Image: Cindy and Congresswoman Bush smiling after a protest rally

What do we do now?

Start by repeating to yourself what Congresswoman Bush had us say together: “I have a place! I have work to do!”

Image: a volunteer with a QR code 
for a pro-choice petition
There will be pro-choice activities going on all around the country in the next weeks. In St. Louis, there will be one on May 15 (details here). Make the time to go, especially if you haven’t been to one before. Try to bring friends, but remember it can still be a powerful experience going alone. If you don’t know how you feel about abortion, you should definitely go. Stand where you can hear the speakers’ stories and learn. It will expand your understanding and maybe clarify your position.

Even if you can't get to a protest, there are other ways to engage:

  • Call your members of Congress. Tell them that now is the time to codify Roe vs. Wade into law
  • Reach out to your friends who have had abortions. Hold space for them as they might feel upset and attacked right now.
  • Hop on a webinar. The National Council of Jewish Women are holding one on Wed, May 25 at 6:30PM CST with a panel discussion "Abortion All Over? The Personal Is Political" Register here:
  • Write a letter to the editor. Name your members of Congress in it to get their attention and encourage others to call them.
  • Donate to an abortion fund. Local abortion funds provide financial help to those who can't afford the full cost of abortion care. In Missouri, consider Missouri Abortion Fund.
  • Use your own microphone! Do you have a blog, a podcast, social media accounts, a book group, or just a group of friends? Talk about abortion. Say the word out loud.

I know this can be uncomfortable and maybe even scary. Remember, you are not alone! You'll make mistakes in your wording just like I do, but you will learn just as I'm learning. Let this post be your call to action like Robyn's post was for me. And then let your words be a call for someone else!

Image: Pro-Choice rally crowd in St. Louis