To say that the first few weeks of 2015 were an emotional roller coaster ride for reproductive rights advocates would be a major understatement. 2014 alone saw 27 anti-choice measures enacted at the state level, so it wasn’t as though pro-choice activists were heading into the new year carefree. While there were a few victories in November’s mid-term elections, like the failure of “personhood” measures to pass in North Dakota and Colorado, the Republican National Committee (GOP) still made monumental gains; getting control of both the House and Senate for the first time in eight years.
That’s why no one was surprised when Congress introduced a controversial 20-week abortion ban on its first day back in session. There was no surprise, but there was exasperation. The 20-week ban was a direct attack on the constitutionally-protected right to an abortion that lawmakers were making no attempt to hide. It was expected to sail through the GOP-controlled House and Senate before being vetoed by President Obama, wasting time and money in the process.
There was surprise, however, when the vote was canceled. Scheduled to coincide with the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the DC-based anti-choice rally known as the March for Life, the voting on the bill and its subsequent passing were supposed to signal a new era for reproductive rights in America, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. No one expected a sudden change of heart from some congresswomen who weren’t comfortable with the stipulations of the rape-exception clause, which would have allowed a woman to get an abortion if and only if she reported her rape to the police.
Those of us who had been walking around for weeks with knots in our stomachs just waiting for our worst nightmare to come true could suddenly breathe a sigh of relief… for a few short moments, anyway. Congress replaced the vote on the 20-week ban with a redundant and tricky piece of anti-choice legislation that, while not as jaw-droppingly despicable as the 20-week ban, is still indicative of how far our elected officials plan on taking their anti-choice agenda this year.
With attacks on Roe coming from all sides and news stories popping up left and right with conflicting messages about impending votes, canceled votes, and plain old bad news, it can be difficult for the average pro-choice American to keep up and stop from feeling overwhelmed. If you don’t work for a reproductive rights-defending non-profit or a political journal, you probably feel pretty helpless in this onslaught of legislation and propaganda. What is an advocate to do? How can you feel like you’re making a difference without quitting your job and taking up a permanent position on the protest line outside the Supreme Court or becoming a doctor or nurse?
The good news is you don’t have to be a sign-wielding, petition-holding, chant-leading activist to make a difference (unless you want to be, and we’ll get to that!) As NARAL Pro-Choice America was quick to point out on the anniversary of Roe, 70% of Americans are still in favor of the historic ruling made 42 years ago. We are hardly in the minority and we all have a role to play in the movement.
Here are just a few ways you can stand for reproductive rights. I encourage you to come up with and share your own!
It’s already been mentioned that a whopping 70% of Americans still stand with Roe, but that point was really driven home by Twitter users on the 22nd. The hashtag #7in10ForRoe was a national trending topic throughout the day, sparking conversations among users of the social network. Everyone had something to say, from activists…
Your body belongs to YOU. It doesn’t belong to the state, the church or an embryo. #7in10forRoe
— SJW LVL 100 (@Auragasmic) January 22, 2015
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 22, 2015
#7in10forRoe is a national trending topic. Any reports on how that March for Life is going?
— fleek on a leash (@lindseydawn_) January 22, 2015
One of the easiest and most effective things you can do to make a difference is to start a conversation. You don’t have to come right out and share your personal abortion story, although you absolutely can if you want to. Sometimes, however, it really is just as simple as making it known that you stand for something. Whether it’s posting a status or sharing an article on Facebook, or bringing up a conversation on the congressional votes on a break at work, engaging others and encouraging them to share their opinions and experiences is a great way to feel unified and maybe even open some friends’ or colleagues’ eyes to a new perspective!
Sharing articles or using a preset hashtag are effective ways to get involved in dialogues and even get your friends and followers involved, too, but there’s nothing stopping you from being the creator of one of those articles or hashtags! There are plenty of ways to add to the ever-growing conversation in a way that is meaningful and fresh. You can make videos, write blog posts, or start selling shirts to get a conversation going! You don’t need to leave it up to another writer or artist to represent your feelings or views. One of the coolest things about social movements is how each person involved has their own unique perspective on the whole thing, so share yours in a way that is distinctly your own and you’ll see just how powerful it feels to have your voice heard. When you get stressed out about particularly harsh opposition and legislation, sometimes writing down your thoughts can help you stay focused and calm, regardless of if you even share them or not.
Get involved on a local level
News coverage of abortion-related topics is pretty broad and all too often, so are those conversations we are having among ourselves and with others. While there is certainly a need within the pro-choice community for discussion of statistics, finances, legislation, and overall accessibility, we can’t lose sight of what we’re really fighting for: each individual pregnant person’s right to a safe and legal abortion, each individual’s right to contraception, each individual’s right to plan their family and control their body as they see fit. One of the most aggravating things about the abortion battles raging in our government right now is how generalized the discussion has become and how little room our elected officials have left for individual experiences. To reclaim them, we have to celebrate them. Don’t just advocate for reproductive rights on a national scale, but be sure to facilitate them in your own community. Check Planned Parenthood’s website for volunteer opportunities, including positions as a clinic escort. Clinic escorts usher patients back and forth from the sidewalk to the clinic’s entrance, shielding them from protestors and providing them with support. There are plenty of websites to use when checking for other volunteer opportunities, including the Pro-Choice Public Education Project and Simply Hired. Interacting with the women whose lives are directly impacted by either harsh legislation and cruel stigma or compassionate care and support is an eye-opening experience that is sure to remind you what we’re fighting for.
Get involved in demonstrations
In 2015, it can be pretty tempting to just retweet a pro-choice sentiment or sign an online petition and call it a good day for activism, and while those approaches are useful and do produce results, there’s nothing quite like some good, old-fashioned protesting and rallying. I know I told you that you don’t have to protest to get heard, but that’s doesn’t mean you can’t! The right to vote was won by our foremothers’ resolution in physically demonstrating, as were a number of other civil rights throughout history. As we’ve learned from the recent #BlackLivesMatter marches through Ferguson, New York, D.C., Berkeley, and more, the art of the protest is not dead. In fact, it’s been revitalized in recent years with the advent of Twitter and other social media platforms making it easier to organize rapidly and effectively.
If you have a computer or smartphone, you can be instantly connected to a network of active protestors and marchers who routinely disclose their location and invite the public to join them. You don’t need to do it every night or be outside of the Supreme Court for every major argument hearing, but your involvement is appreciated when you can spare it! The anti-choice crowd is no stranger to public displays and demonstrations. Think of how many graphic and bloody posters you see being held by the “sidewalk counselors” outside of your local clinic, how many misleading pamphlets they hand to passersby every day. There are anti-choice groups and individuals across the country who fundraise each year to journey by the busload to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life. They find unity and solidarity together, and if they are out on the frontlines, we must be, as well, whether at our own events or theirs.
So, @StopPatriarchy led a blockade of the March for Lies, which I and others joined—enough of us that the march started almost 2 hours late.
— ClinicEscort (@ClinicEscort) January 22, 2015
When you get involved, you make a statement. You lend your entire self to the movement and with your presence, you validate the choices and autonomy any woman who has been made to feel ashamed of her abortion experience. Making yourself visible reduces stigma and shame, chipping away at the unwritten statute of silence and submission women are expected to adhere to when it comes to their sexuality. Very few things are more powerful than fearlessly lending all of who you are publicly to a movement, and what’s more, being surrounded by others who are likeminded and also lending themselves to the same cause. It’s hard to feel hopeless when you’re surrounded by a group of five or five hundred of your allies!
If you can’t lend your time, your body, or your social media presence to the cause (or even if you can!), there is always the option to donate. There will never come a time when financial contributions aren’t appreciated in any movement, but one that involves a costly medical procedure and extensive lobbying is especially worthy and in need of monetary investments. You can donate to abortion funds, to providers, or to political groups. You can even turn your donation into a game of sorts! No matter how you do it or where you donate, however, you can feel good knowing that you’ve helped in some way, whether to provide expensive healthcare to an underprivileged individuals or to get just one more lobbyist to D.C. for a big event. Clinics and activist organizations need money to keep themselves functional, just like any business or organization does. Your support has a direct effect on those seeking family planning services in our country. If lawmakers’ bills are supposedly a direct challenge to Roe, your contributions are similarly a direct challenge to those bills. Now that’s powerful.
There are plenty of options that cover a range of availabilities and levels of commitment. You don’t need to pack your bags and relocate to D.C. to make a difference. You don’t need to run for office or get your medical degree. Everyone can do something and no contribution, whether of time, money, or page views, is too small. Thank you for your interest in keeping abortion safe and legal. Thank you for any benefaction you give.