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How to fight for abortion rights now and into the future
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You already know the bad news: A post-Roe America is coming. In just a few weeks, the basic right to decide for oneself whether and when to become a mother will likely be ripped away from tens of millions of American women.
Things are bad and they are going to get worse — unimaginably worse. The anti-abortion movement in the US is a minority, but they are motivated, they are generously funded, and they have a stranglehold on the Republican Party and the Supreme Court, and so things are going to get bad in ways that the world hasn’t seen and feminists haven’t dreamed up.
We’ve been here before. So have millions of women around the world. And activists in the US have been preparing for this moment. Here is what we can do:
Right now, get loud. Protest. Get angry. Write. The Supreme Court has not actually issued its opinion yet, and although it’s pretty obvious the way the winds are blowing, there is some tiny chance that one justice in the current majority will see that overturning Roe will delegitimize the Court and back off.
Make your outrage public and sustained. Even the Court doesn’t back off of its plan to overturn Roe — and I think it’s unlikely that anyone in the current majority will change their minds — mass public outrage has the potential to both push Democrats to act and make Republicans fear overstepping. The anti-abortion movement is, to use a term being thrown around a lot right now, the dog that caught the car. Public outrage will make the party that represents them think carefully about what comes next.
Demand more from Democrats, and demand it now. Enough with the mealy-mouthed promises to support gender equality. Democrats need to act right now to abolish the filibuster and enshrine Roe into law.
Learn about how to access abortion-inducing medications. These medications, typically a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, are available now. But to prevent a run on them, maybe use this time to learn about the various places to safely access these drugs, and how to use them safely and to avoid detection. The landscape of self-managed abortion is not what it used to be. Yes, some women, often poor women and particularly in the world’s poorest countries, still resort to ingesting dangerous substances or penetrative measures — that is, inserting a stick, root, or coat hanger into the cervix to induce an abortion. But increasingly, abortions done in countries where the procedure is illegal are done via pill, and if the pill in question is misoprostol, it’s overwhelmingly safe. Take the wrong dosage and it might not be effective at ending a pregnancy, but it’s really, really unlikely to hurt or kill you. So as we walk into an era of illegal abortion, emphasize that illegal doesn’t have to mean unsafe — that while legal abortions done under the guidance of a professional are the gold standard, self-managed abortion can be safe, too, if you have the right information.
Learn how to use abortion-inducing medications. Here’s a PDF of all of the steps, including exactly what medication to take and how to determine the dosage. This might be worth bookmarking, saving to your computer, emailing to yourself, or printing out. Even if you don’t need it, someone you love may.
Expand the Supreme Court. No, expanding the Court has not been popular, but since the news that the Court plans to overturn Roe broke, more people now support expanding the Court than oppose it. Moving forward with an expansion of the Supreme Court is as much strategic as it is practical: It emphasizes to the current Court that the stakes here are not just abortion rights, but their own institution. As you’re protesting and calling your representatives, put expanding the Court on the top of your list of demands.
Pass a judicial ethics law that applies to the Supreme Court. And while we’re making demands, know that the justices of Supreme Court are not bound by any ethical obligations. That’s why Clarence Thomas doesn’t have to recuse himself from cases in which his wife is a player. Enough is enough.
Call your representatives about the Women’s Health Protection Act. The WHPA would codify Roe and make abortion legal. Is it a long shot? Yes — but until recently, so was overturning Roe. If there was ever a moment when this could happen, it’s now. Pick up the phone. Here’s a directory, and here are some tips for how to make your call as productive as possible.
Emphasize that right now, abortion is still legal. If you are reading this newsletter, you are probably pretty plugged in to American politics. Most people, though, are not, and they are only hearing the headlines — or some mutated message gleaned from various games of news telephone. The Supreme Court has not yet overturned Roe, and most people in the US can still get legal abortions if they need them.
Join existing efforts. We all have busy lives and no one has the time or ability to be 100% plugged in to every movement all of the time. One outcome of that, though, is that when people are shocked and upset by a policy change, the impulse is to assume that because you haven’t heard about particular actions that those actions aren’t happening, and it’s on you to get started. Know that when it comes to abortion — including getting abortions to people in need no matter what the law says — activists are on it. But they need help in the form of money, volunteers, and advocates. Instead of asking “What can I start on my own?” ask “Who can I join? Where can I be of most use?” There are already activist networks getting abortion-inducing medications into people’s hands and ferrying people across state borders (and, outside the US, ferrying people across national borders). Consider how you can help — with money? your time? your professional expertise? — and search for groups in your area.
Give to an abortion fund, and make it a repeat donation. Abortion funds have long been crucial tools for abortion access even in an America with Roe’s protections, because in many states, insurance and Medicaid dollars won’t coverage abortions, giving low-income women far less of a choice. These funds will be even more necessary if Roe goes. They will help pay for procedures as well as transport from restrictive states to more liberal ones (as long as that lasts). Donate now, donate later.
Ask your employer and anywhere you spend money: What are you doing about this? Large corporations have successfully pressured reactionaries in conservative states on a slew of other issues, including LGBT rights. But when it comes to abortion rights — which directly affect half of the reproductive-age workforce — most companies clam up. Don’t let them. Demand they stop supporting anti-abortion politicians. Demand they reconsider doing business or setting up shop in states that are hostile to abortion. Demand that they cover abortion care, including transport and housing, for all employees who need it.
Read up. I recommend picking up Robin Marty’s Handbook for a Post-Roe America.
Keep an eye on Big Tech. The ability to safely self-manage an abortion requires having access to reliable and accurate information. If abortion is outlawed, information about abortion will be the next big frontier in this battle. The internet will almost surely be flooded with charlatans and scammers looking to capitalize on desperate people; conservatives may push for laws that limit what kind of information is even available online. And Big Tech companies don’t exactly have a great track record of fighting misinformation. What people in the US will need is accurate information about where to get abortion-inducing drugs and how to use them. Big Tech will determine whether or not we get that.
Refuse to be shamed into silence. Talk about abortion. Get in the ring. If you’re trying to persuade someone or have a conversation about abortion with a person or group who is perhaps uncomfortable with it, this toolkit from Ipas is really useful. Take particular care to talk to the young people in your life and let them know that you’re a safe person to come to if they get or someone they love gets pregnant — and then be that safe person if it comes to that.
Elect pro-choice representatives. I know, I know — our allegedly pro-choice Democratic Party hasn’t done jack when it comes to the Supreme Court and Roe. But there is still much to be done. At the very least, pro-choice politicians in Congress are a bulwark against a national law outlawing abortion. Pro-choice politicians at the state level can liberalize state abortion laws and cover abortions through state Medicaid. Quite importantly, pro-choice prosecutors can decline to bring cases against women and doctors. Any politician who isn’t pro-choice should not get your vote.
Invest in the next pro-choice generation. The anti-abortion movement has been excellent at targeting young people, mostly through Christian networks. Abortion rights proponents can do the same. Can you support pro-choice groups at your local high schools, colleges, law schools, and medical schools? Can you commit to talking about abortion rights with any young people you mentor — young women and young men alike?
Learn from activists overseas. The US is not the first country to outlaw abortion, and American abortion rights advocates can learn a lot from our comrades abroad. In nations that are hostile to abortion rights, feminists have created hotlines and apps that pregnant people can use to learn how to assess how far along they are and how to use abortion-inducing medication safely. Feminists have also pushed for freedom of information laws, which require their governments to at least allow women to access information about abortion, if not abortion itself — a crucial tool in keeping self-managed abortion safe.
Connect the dots globally. When you’re thinking about abortion rights, understand that the US is moving in the opposite direction of most other countries. Globally, the countries that are moving toward liberal democracy are also liberalizing their abortion laws. And they’re the majority: Among countries that have changed their abortion laws in recent years, most have make abortion more accessible, often because they saw first-hand what happens when abortion is outlawed. The countries that are moving rightward on reproductive rights are also the countries moving away from democracy and toward autocracy, and this is an incredibly clear pattern: Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Russia, and China have all become increasingly authoritarian in recent years, and have all also restricted women’s rights and curtailed reproductive rights. That’s who the US is joining. And it’s no coincidence that our own abortion rights rollbacks are happening along with the removal of other democratic safeguards and our own flirtation with authoritarianism. This should all make clear: You can’t separate abortion rights from other fundamentals, including the right to vote and the importance of democratic elections and representative government.
Demand more of men. Some men are out front of this issue; most of them are not. Where are the men in your life? Are they speaking out about how abortion rights have made their lives better, directly or indirectly? Are they only willing to support pro-choice politicians? Are they also protesting, making phone calls, talking about this with their friends, and donating their money? Are they as invested in this fight as you are? And if not — how much do they really value you, or women more generally? What role do you want them to play in your life? If you’re a man reading this, consider how abortion rights have affected you. If you got someone pregnant who had an abortion (and maybe that happened but you don’t know about it), how did that choice allow you to live the life you have now? If a loved one has had an abortion — and I promise you, someone you love has had an abortion — how did that allow her to live the life she has now? How have all of the ways in which abortion rights made women freer and safer improved your life and the lives of those you love?
Be willing to take a risk. You’ll have to decide for yourself what level of risk you’re comfortable with if abortion becomes illegal. But I’ll say this: I hope that those of us who have the greatest resources and have benefitted the most from feminist progress will be willing to give back. Sometimes justice demands breaking unjust laws. Think about how willing you are to do that, under what circumstances, and how you’ll protect yourself as much as possible.
And then be brave.
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