Roe v. Wade is overturned: What next?
Renee Bracey Sherman, award-winning reproductive justice activist, shares a proactive guide on how to mobilise alongside your community
Monday 27 June 2022 By Renee Bracey Sherman
The unthinkable happened: the United States’ Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and abortion has been criminalised across the nation. The minute the Supreme Court handed down the decision, abortion was banned in nearly a dozen states. Procedures had to stop, and patients were sent home. Within the next 30 days, half a dozen more will join them, and other states are looking for ways to join them in the coming weeks and months. We don’t officially know how far the bans will stretch for a while, but we assume half of US states will criminalise abortion – the same states with the highest maternal mortality rates, lowest wages, and worst health outcomes. And, of course, we still have a baby formula and tampon shortage, and no national health system or paid parental leave policy. All of this is compounded by racism, classism and other inequities in our society, leaving Black and brown people without adequate access to healthcare and facing criminalisation for their pregnancies.
Honestly, I still cannot believe I am writing this. Although I’ve known this nightmare was inevitable for a decade, it still feels unreal and isn’t any less horrific. If you’re like me, you’re feeling despair, heartbreak, and pain. I had an abortion when I was 19 years old and it put me on a path to create a life, career and future that I wanted, on my own terms. I have no idea where I’d be without my abortion, but I do know I wouldn’t be here at all without my mother’s termination, and her ability to decide to have me and start her family when she was ready. Abortion is more than a medical procedure; it’s freedom and a way for us to build our families as we need. Chances are, you or someone you love have had abortions, so you know how critical access is in this moment and beyond.
What’s scariest about this moment is what’s next. When a medical procedure is deemed a crime, anyone who has it, performs it or helps people to learn about it can be subject to surveillance, prosecution, and imprisonment. And, of course, communities that are already facing harassment from police will be disproportionately harmed; people of colour, undocumented people, poor folks, queer and trans people, incarcerated people, disabled folks, and more. This is truly a dark moment in our nation’s history and it will have a huge impact on our right to privacy, free speech, and all of the other freedoms we hold dear. After we wipe our tears, we must organise. But how?
I’ve spent over a decade organising for abortion access, and it’s not the easiest issue because of the near constant attacks and stigma, but I believe it is one of the most rewarding. There’s nothing like showing up for someone in a time of need to support them in receiving healthcare, especially at a time when their loved ones may not be supporting them in the way they truly deserve. To survive this moment, we must lean into our communities and change the way we think about abortion, and show up for the people who have them. Here are a few ideas of where to start.
Check out your community
First and foremost, see what’s going on in your community. I often hear people worry about abortion access in conservative communities, but they don’t realise that those in their own communities don’t have access either. Look around to see how you can get involved locally and build strong support for abortion. Remember: don’t try to create something new just because you’re lost in the chaos. Find out where the community building has already been happening.
Funding an abortion for someone is one of the kindest and most radical acts you can do. The majority of people have to pay for it because their public or private health insurance won’t or can’t cover it, and they struggle to do so. Nearly 40% of Americans do not have $400 on hand for an emergency expense and most people who have abortions are living in poverty. While the cost of the procedure may start around $400, it can increase quickly depending on how far along someone is and where they’ve had to travel to for care. A last-minute flight, hotel and time off work, plus childcare for the children they already have soon adds up and makes the cost of an abortion unaffordable for most. Donating to your community abortion fund ensures your neighbours or people travelling to your community for care can have their terminations regardless of cost. Setting up a monthly donation helps the abortion fund have a stream of income and allows them to plan their budgets better – many run out of funds before the end of the month and they have to turn people away. Funding abortions is even more critical in this moment. Find a list via the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Support your local clinic
We need abortion clinics in our communities. Most of them, especially the ones that went to the Supreme Court to try to save our right to abortions, are independently run by kind people in local areas. They’re small, family-owned health centres that employ our neighbours and friends. But they often don’t have the money to maintain their infrastructure or to respond to the targeted regulations from state governments. Donate to KeepOurClinics.org, a project of the Abortion Care Network, to help independent abortion providers keep their lights on, doors open, and workers paid. Our clinics showed up for us. It’s time we show up for them.
Open your car door, home, and heart
People who’ve had abortions have always had to travel for care because at no point have we ever had equitable access to them in every community. When I lived in California – often considered a bastion of access to abortion care – I began my work as a reproductive justice activist by volunteering to drive people in need of a ride to their appointments and opening my home, so they had a place to stay when they had multi day appointments. Yes, even in California, people must travel to access abortion care, and now more have to travel further – for a 10-minute procedure. It’s unjust. Consider volunteering with your local practical support organisation or donating so they can help someone afford their travel costs. It will change someone’s life and yours.
Get educated on self-managed abortion
Something I think people misunderstand about this moment is that it will be a bit different than the pre-Roe era. A coat hanger symbolises a dark moment of unsafe abortions in our past, but it doesn’t have to be our future. Put down the coat hangers and pick up abortion pills – they’re safer than Tylenol and can be taken without a doctor, although could be legally risky with the Supreme Court’s decision. Mifepristone and misoprostol are the two medications that make up abortion pills; they’re the same pills anyone would receive at an abortion clinic or via telehealth provision of abortion. Some people are choosing to have some on hand in case they’d like to have their abortion at home with loved ones as soon as they realise they’re pregnant. Learn more at abortiononourownterms.org.
Talk about it
I had an abortion and I talk about it because it frees me from the stigma – and when I share my story, someone always shares theirs back. Start discussing abortion with your friends and loved ones, include abortion in your art, use your platform to raise awareness. And actually say the word abortion. Whether it’s telling your own story when you’re ready or talking about your values and why you support abortion access for all, start the conversation. Challenge yourself. I promise, it’s easier than it seems, and you’ll be surprised by the stories you hear. We cannot continue to allow the silence and stigma to dominate our culture.
Elections are coming up, and of course it’s important that we all vote, but we should be clear on who we’re voting for and where they stand on the subject. In 2016, I created the hashtag #AskAboutAbortion to demand our presidential candidates tell us how they would protect and expand abortion access. Obviously, we all know the end of that story, but it’s critical that we call on our politicians to give us clear plans illustrating what they’re going to do in this moment. People who have abortions deserve elected officials who don’t just check a box, but have a real plan to solve this crisis. They must say abortion, they must support access to abortion for all, and they must call for its decriminalisation. And please don’t accept the line that abortion is too much of a complicated issue for a politician to talk about with voters. Most of the country supports abortion access. It isn’t a divisive issue, it’s a gerrymandered one. Let’s challenge our politicians to do more.
Examine your workplace policies
Most people don’t think about abortion access until they need one themselves, and sometimes by then it’s too late to learn that your health insurance doesn’t cover it. Check out your workplace policies – does your health insurance cover all abortions in all cases for all employees? What’s the paid parental leave policy? Does the sick leave policy cover people experiencing pregnancy terminations? If not, advocate with your HR department for better employee benefits. Does your workplace make donations to anti-abortion politicians? Organise with your colleagues to get them to stop. We must make it clear that abortion is healthcare and everyone deserves access – whether they work for your company or not.
The only way out of this is if we address the root causes. I’ve written about the racist, anti-Black history of the anti-abortion movement, which grew out of a backlash to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. At its core, abortion bans are about controlling Black and brown people’s ability to decide if, when and how to grow their families, and white conservative Christians’ fears about losing political power. That’s why they’re erasing Black history from schools, attacking trans people’s existence, and barring immigrants from moving here. The quicker we see the connections between all of these issues, the quicker we’ll be able to organise our way out of this and build stronger, loving, and welcoming communities.
Many people assume that the next step is to create secret networks, but in reality, the best thing you can do is to plug into what’s already happening. Make lots of small changes in your life that’ll lead up to a big one for someone else. What does it look like to advocate for abortion access and reproductive justice in all aspects of your life? We absolutely need people to join efforts to volunteer with their community abortion funds and clinics, and we need them to carry those values into other spaces such as workplaces and houses of worship. It’s the only way we’ll be able to liberate abortion for everyone, everywhere. Everyone has a role to play. What’s yours?
Renee Bracey Sherman is a reproductive justice activist, abortion storyteller, and writer. She is the founder and executive director of We Testify, an organisation dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have abortions and share their stories at the intersection of race, class, and gender identity. She is also an executive producer of Ours To Tell, an award-winning documentary elevating the voices of people who’ve had abortions, and the co-author of the forthcoming book COUNTERING ABORTIONSPLAINING from Amistad/ HarperCollins.