Part of the Series
“It is about 5:30 in Alabama on the first morning of there being no legal abortion when our clinic should be open. And it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that this is the point where I broke,” said Robin Marty, Director of Operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with Marty, as well as Rafa Kidvai, the director of If/When/How’s Repro Legal Defense Fund, and Ash Williams, who is an organizer and abortion doula in Asheville, North Carolina, about what happens next and what we can do about it.
Music by Son Monarcas and David Celeste
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. This week, we are talking about the end of Roe, the new terrain of criminalization faced by pregnant people, why the work of abortion doulas is crucial in this moment, and how the rest of us can help. To help us break all of that down, we will be hearing from Rafa Kidvai, the director of If/When/How’s Repro Legal Defense Fund; Robin Marty, who is the Director Of Operations at the West Alabama Women’s Center; and Ash Williams, who is an organizer and abortion doula in Asheville, North Carolina. We have published a number of episodes in recent weeks aimed at helping people understand the histories and forces at work in this moment, and how we can take action, on a personal and collective level. If you have not checked out those episodes yet, and you are trying to get your bearings in this moment, I recommend doing so. If you have been listening or reading along with us, you know a few things about how we got here and where all of this is headed, but I wanted to begin today by talking about the criminalization of pregnancy, and how some of those legal maneuvers might play out, because that topic just got especially urgent.
Now, I want to emphasize, before we go any further that, for now, abortion is still legal in a number of states where it ultimately will not be, so if you live in a red state and have an appointment for abortion care, please do not assume it has been canceled. Abortion bans went into effect in at least eight states the day Roe fell. As of this recording, 11 states have banned or heavily restricted abortion care. 13 states have trigger laws set to go into effect within 30 days of Roe being overturned. In 20 states and the District of Columbia, abortion is expected to remain legal. Some states are expected to revive dormant legislation or pass new abortion bans soon. If you are seeking care now, you can check the status of your state using the Guttmacher Institute’s interactive map, on their website. The map indicates what abortion policies are currently in place in each state, and also provides the distance to the nearest abortion clinic.
Even though we had all heard about the draft leak, and we knew to expect this decision, many of us were still deeply shaken when the ruling came down. Some of us are still grieving. Many protested, and I am so grateful that so many thousands of people took to the streets, because I see hope in that energy. But a lot of people are still trying to make sense of these events and to figure out what their role might be in this new and heartbreaking moment. Some people are still declaring “we won’t go back,” while others have pointed out that we are not being catapulted back in time to the days of back alley abortions, but rather, thrust into a new era, where medically safe abortions are more accessible outside the law, and the surveilance and criminalization that pregnant people face will be epic in scope. According to The New York Times, Republicans [in Texas] are discussing legislation that could allow district attorneys to prosecute people who are involved in abortions in neighboring counties and criminally punish anyone who helps a pregnant person get an abortion in another state. So we know we are going to see waves of criminalization, and that Republicans are eager to enact that violence. To get a better sense of what we are up against I wanted to check in first with Rafa Kidvai, at If/When/How, about the legal threats abortion seekers and the people who assist them may face in states where abortion has been banned.
Rafa Kidvai: Hi, Kelly, thank you for having me. I’m Rafa Kidvai, my pronouns are they and them, and I’m the Director of the Repro Legal Defense Fund. I’m a former New York City public defender. Specifically, I practiced in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Just really quickly, the Repro Legal Defense Fund is a fund that supports bail and bond for people that are criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes, specifically around allegations of having self-managed their abortions, which means we’re here to cover any costs of getting people out of jail and keeping them out of jail, and then any costs associated with litigation like attorneys fees, medical experts, social workers, all the way to phone bills; basically, anything that we think will make a strong legal defense for people that are being punished by the state. Then finally, when I say punishment by the state I mean that sort of expansively, meaning the criminal punishment system, the immigration or deportation systems or the family regulation, what I think we call child welfare and foster care systems.
The Repro Legal Defense Fund started a year ago because we anticipated what would be an increase in criminalization of pregnant people and abortion seekers. So while we knew that this criminalization was already happening, regardless of Roe … You might have heard this but people talk about Roe as the floor, not the ceiling, that Roe has never been enough functionally for a lot of communities, specifically Black and brown people, poor people, survivors, really anyone living under extreme duress. So while it’s never been enough, we have seen the criminalization of pregnant people before concerns about Roe being obliterated. And at the same time, I think we all know that criminalization will increase.
Criminalization of people who self-manage abortions, like all forms of criminalization in the United States, has affected some people more than others based on their identities, their circumstances, and where they live. So as you can imagine, Black people, Indigenous people and other people of color, immigrants, young folks, trans and gender nonconforming people, survivors of intimate partner violence, people living with disabilities, anyone experiencing economic insecurity — these folks are most at risk of being criminalized for self-managed abortion.
Now, until most recently, there are only three states that make it a crime explicitly to self-manage abortions, but the absence of the law has not stopped cops and courts from investigating and punishing people in over half the states. So the presence of laws doesn’t necessarily change or map on directly to where these prosecutions have taken place. And the way that they’ve looked is that prosecutors — you can call them overzealous prosecutors — have excavated antiquated laws like laws around concealing a birth, for instance, and then misapplied statutes that were never intended to be used against someone for self-managing an abortion or pregnancy loss, and just really throwing any law that sticks. Legal spaghetti basically.
If you are a public defender or you’ve practiced in criminal court, or have any understanding of prosecutors, you understand this is basically their job, to try to overcharge people and make anything stick so that they have more negotiating power, they can keep people in jail longer, et cetera. As of now, we know that at least 60 people from the year 2000 to 2020 … And these numbers, despite a lot of rigorous attempts at getting data, we know are very low and not necessarily the full picture, but that at least 60 people from the year 2000 to 2020 have been criminally investigated, arrested or convicted for allegedly ending their own pregnancy or helping someone else do so. 75 percent of these cases relates to the criminal investigation of the individual who sought to self-manage their own abortion, while 25 percent of those cases have been involving helpers.
Like I said, these cases have taken place across 26 states and really they’re not isolated to states with statutes designated to criminalize SMA [self managed abortion], which means that we’ve had people who are charged with homicide, with manslaughter, with child endangerment, really anything, and it’s basically police and prosecutors manipulating laws as they do to fit these cases without the legal authority to do so. And some of these charges are ridiculous, like conceal or abuse of a corpse, practicing medicine without a license, assault, really anything that they can.
In terms of SMA itself, 49 percent of people use medication abortion, which is pills, but it can include any form of abortion and so it’s not limited to pills. [Editor’s note: As of 2020, no less than half of abortions in the United States were medication abortions.] Then, in about 39 percent of these cases, law enforcement was actually alerted to the case by way of a health care provider or hospital worker who incorrectly believes they should report someone that they believe might have self-managed their abortion. A thing to remember is that if you take pills orally there’s really no way for the medical provider to tell that you self-managed an abortion or you had a miscarriage.
So often, these allegations are based on really problematic ideas of who is suspicious and who is not. And so then basically someone self-manages, is concerned that there may be bleeding too much, goes to a medical provider, and then that medical provider reports them because they incorrectly believe that they are required to do so.
While I can’t really predict the future, I can tell you that I believe criminalization will increase, at least initially after the ruling, that more and more people will need to self-manage their abortions because self-managing abortion is about a bunch things.
It’s about lack of access to clinical care. It is often about safety and privacy, maybe someone who is in an abusive relationship not wanting to worry about the consequences of having an abortion. It could be that it’s someone who doesn’t trust the medical system for valid reasons, like trans people who have been failed by the medical system, preferring to self-manage their abortions as opposed to going to clinical providers.
A larger group of people will need to self-manage their abortions and those folks will face extreme surveillance and targeting by the criminal punishment system. Even though many of the bans that are going to go into effect aren’t really targeting pregnant people themselves or abortion seekers themselves, I don’t think that really matters. I think abortion bans escalate stigma, they escalate confusion, and all of that increases the risk of criminalization for people who self-manage and prosecutors have never really cared about whether their prosecutions are legal to prosecute.
Prosecutions are often about culture. They’re often about what kinds of targets will receive traction for their communities because prosecutors are elected officials, and so in a culture where abortion is so stigmatized, it’s not politically costly for prosecutors to prosecute. They have maybe community support for that and so in many of our cases we find, even when we win or charges are dismissed, just the fact that someone, a prosecutor targeted somebody, the police targeted somebody, the judges don’t understand the law, means that people are charged with bonkers high charges like manslaughter and homicide. They then face immigration and deportation consequences. They then face separation from their children via the family regulation system, that they lose their jobs in the interim.
The higher the charges, the higher the bail, so often people are criminalized for a long time on half a million dollars of bail, for instance, and their lives are totally upended. Many people have to leave their communities and move. They’ve been in the newspaper. Journalists are often not super kind and replicate the narrative of the state, which is full of lies and holes. And so, even when you get a dismissal at the end of a trial or at the end of an appeal, that’s years and years of your life where you may have been incarcerated, where you may have had your whole life upended, and so I think we’re just going to see a lot of that.
KH: I have been asked by some people about whether aiding and abetting laws in a state like Texas will be used to target people out of state, who extend financial or practical support to people seeking abortion care. I know many of us are determined to extend support to people seeking abortions, even if it requires us to act outside the law, but I think we should expect aggressive efforts from Republicans to create a culture of fear around offering any assistance. From acts of vigilantism to laws that encourage private lawsuits against people who “aid and abet” abortion, we should expect intimidation, and some of us will have to be prepared to act in spite of it.
RK: I think we can’t really tell how things are going to shake out. Of course, I think we’re super concerned but there’s a lot of questions about how these laws could even be enforced. I think that they’ll be litigated but I think at the moment mostly the concern is the chilling effect that they’ll have on people, even if these laws aren’t enforceable or permissible. Laws that limit, for example, the banning of the mailing of abortion pills [will] really stigmatize abortion and confuse people, including law enforcement and prosecutors, about the state of the law.
I think, unfortunately, we’ll see a lot of people, at least initially, who are being swept up in prosecutions for a multitude of things. Helpers have always been the targets of abortion criminalization and so I think, once again, we’re going to see risks to helpers as well, which is why I think the RLDF really not only supports people who are abortion seekers, pregnant people, people who’ve been accused directly, but helpers also, community activists also, because we recognize that a lot of those folks could, at least in the beginning, be swept up in this wave of criminalization.
KH: There have been a lot of well-intentioned, panicked posts on social media ordering people to delete their period trackers. One viral tweet instructed people to use their calendar apps instead, and simply use code words, like “call mom” — but we need to recognize the fact that prosecutors are completely capable of arguing that a calendar note to call your mom every 28 days actually represents someone tracking their period. I also wanted to make sure people are aware of Euki, which is a period tracking app that does not store your data in the cloud or anywhere else. Only the user has access to their data, which can be deleted. The app also contains information about abortion and reproductive health, and is password-protected, which makes it more secure than using your calendar app. You can also create a fake password that will cue up a fake app, making the very function of the app covert in situations where that might be beneficial. I wanted to mention this because this is a time when people need tools and resources, and simply taking resources away from people could feel disempowering. People need tools that will empower them to care for themselves more securely, and they need to access information about abortion. I think it’s important to share those, rather than just telling people what not to do. Oftentimes, that is going to mean doing some research before we post advice or circulate someone else’s advice, even if it sounds good. Anyone can say anything on social media, so let’s make sure we are vetting information and empowering people as much as we can.
Unfortunately, when it comes to surveillance, pregnant people in states with abortion bans will be up against a lot more than apps they can simply delete or replace. Abortion seekers in states that impose bans will be faced with a massive webwork of surveillance in schools, hospitals and potentially, within their own relationships.
RK: I think the tools of surveillance are constantly increasing, and the same tools will apply in these cases as in other cases, so “what does the fourth amendment mean anyway?” is obviously a question every public defender contends with. The police will search people’s cell phones illegally and they will use data [from] searches that they did on the internet. We have cases where searching — looking for resources online about abortions during a pregnancy — is then used as evidence in a trial as sort of ambivalence of carrying that pregnancy to term and therefore evidence of potentially having self-managed abortions.
So, I think one needs to be really, really concerned about privacy and how we will have our privacy rights consistently violated as they have been for anyone that’s been criminalized. I think the additional piece that I would love to say is that … If you live in New York, you hear on the subway — they say, “see something, say something.” Maybe that’s not your specific city, but there is this idea that with abortion that we should be reporting our loved ones, that the surveillance will come from within us, that we will be surveilling and reporting each other and ourselves. And I think that’s the kind of surveillance that I’m most concerned about, where the most marginalized, vulnerable folks in our communities that have experienced the most trauma can’t rely on the safety of their communities and their providers to care for them, and instead, should be afraid of them because they could be the reason that they’re reported or they could be the people surveilling them. I think that’s what this culture of abortion stigma really does and that’s the kind of surveillance that I’m also really, really concerned about. Absolutely, I think there’s services like Delete Me that allow you to delete your data on the internet. Strongly recommend doing that. Strongly recommend talking to the Digital Defense Fund and seeing what is an option and what folks should do to protect their privacy. There’s an app like Euki, but I think even if you didn’t make all of those specific shifts, really understanding that the things you talk about publicly, that the things that are on the internet about you, your searches, et cetera, your text messages, all the things that cops usually do, they will do in these cases.
KH: I really appreciate Rafa’s advice about checking out the Digital Defense Fund. They are a team of organizers, engineers, designers, abortion fund and practical support volunteers “who do digital security work for the abortion access movement.” There are slide decks available on their website, and they also offer trainings and consultations. Government surveillance and right-wing infiltration and attacks, including digital attacks, are a very real concern right now, so please, take advantage of the resources that are out there. Secure your communications. Make a personal digital security plan. Start using an encrypted texting app like Signal. The government doesn’t need to know who you are meeting at a protest, or who you are meeting for coffee. Encrypt it all, and take whatever precautions you can, when it comes to preserving your privacy in these times.
I also appreciated Rafa’s focus on interpersonal surveillance and the threat that it poses. A climate that makes people afraid to express fear or uncertainty about a pregnancy, because someone might report them or submit evidence against them, tears at the very fabric of our communities. The idea that the people we turn to in a crisis could betray us, or leave us at the mercy of the state, is destabilizing and isolating, particularly for people grappling with potentially life-changing news. The fear and paranoia these kinds of laws foment serve as a form of punishment for sex and pregnancy and also as a form of social control, because it further atomizes the people it subjugates, making them increasingly vulnerable to both state and interpersonal violence. These dynamics also empower abusive partners whose victims self-manage abortions or experience miscarriages. It is not uncommon for abusive partners whose victims try to leave them to make vengeful, false reports about people to Child Protective Services. Because the state stands ready to scrutinize and assume the worst of Black, brown and impoverished mothers, the state’s violence, in the form of child removal and other interference, is available to those who opt to direct it. We should expect to see similar dynamics around interpersonal surveillance as it relates to abortion or supposed evidence of a person’s state of mind around abortion.
How can we address this? Well, for one thing, we need to build strong networks of support for people to turn to, not only when they are being abused, but also when they get news of an unwanted pregnancy. When people do not feel safe telling anyone about a pregnancy, they are more likely to forgo health care. Most deaths resulting from pregnancy and childbirth are preventable, and yet, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. increased by nearly 20 percent from 2019 to 2020. In a climate where people may not trust medical providers, or the people around them, people who are at-risk of complications are less likely to get the care they may need to survive their pregnancies. To address this, we need to build bonds and networks of trust within our communities that insulate people from the state, rather than exposing them. We also need to make resource maps. Who are the abortion doulas or other safe listeners that a pregnant person can discuss options with? Who are the most trustworthy health care providers in a given area, who are least likely to report suspicions of a self-managed abortion, or otherwise engage with the state? How can we safely share that information with those who need it? These are questions people are grappling with in states where abortion has now become completely inaccessible.
It is also important that we acknowledge how the enlistment of community members to spy and report back on the intimate and private medical matters of alleged abortion seekers is also part of the ever-expanding police state. People who are encouraged to surveil their friends, families and neighbors, and to report people, or to wage lawsuits against people who help abortion seekers, are being encouraged to act as covert agents of the state. The struggle to abolish prisons and police is incredibly relevant here, because this quasi mass deputization of anti-choicers did not come out of nowhere. We live in a society where schools, hospitals, clinics, and most professional settings have become sites of surveillance. Under the current system, doctors, nurses and social workers often do the work of policing, and help to criminalize the people they are tasked with helping. The sprawl of the prison industrial complex is indivisible from the rise of fascism, and it is essential that we understand that. Because right now, one of the many things our enemies have going for them is that most people who claim to care about abortion rights have been successfully conditioned not to think about victims of policing or about what happens in prisons, and that’s something people are going to have to overcome in order to wage this fight.
We will hear more from Rafa in just a bit, about what legal resources people can leverage in the face of these threats, such as the Repro Legal Helpline, which you will find linked in the transcript and show notes of this episode. But next, I want to turn to the state of Alabama, where a full abortion ban went into effect on Friday when Roe was overturned. That morning, Robin Marty, the author of The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America and the Director Of Operations for the West Alabama Women’s Center tweeted, “Plotting for a logistically complicated patient who will absolutely be forced into birth if we cant see her before the decision drops … honestly all I am asking for at [this] point is that it waits until Monday. If we can just manage to help that one complicated patient that we KNOW will have no other option, maybe I can find this worth it. If we have to cut her off… I don’t know.”
I saw those tweets and hoped with all my heart that Robin and her team would get one more day to help that patient, and all the others they would otherwise have to send home. But Robin’s team would not get another day, and about an hour later, Roe v. Wade was the stuff of history. Robin was the first guest in our recent series on abortion and bodily autonomy, and if you have not checked out our episode, “Are You Preparing for the End of Roe?“, I think this would be a really good time to circle back. It’s also a great time to check out Robin’s book, The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America, which is full of practical information that we all need in this moment. But for now, I wanted to check in with Robin about how she and her team are doing, and about what comes next for them and the people they serve. Robin has been incredibly busy working to crowdfund out-of-state care for the patients whose appointments her clinic had to cancel, so I did not want to ask her to try to schedule a call. So I asked if she could record us a quick voice memo, whenever she got a moment, and this is what she shared.
Robin Marty: It is about 5:30 in Alabama on the first morning of there being no legal abortion when our clinic should be open. And it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that this is the point where I broke. When the ruling came down, we all went into automatic mode because we’ve been preparing for it. We knew that we had to stop seeing patients the moment that the court said that Roe v. Wade was overturned. Everything happened just as fast as we were told it would, and we’ve just all been moving and moving and dealing and coping and trying to make this as easy as possible for all of the people who were in our clinic that day, who were supposed to be coming to see us this week. And I think at least for me, now that I’ve finally stopped, and now we’re into the real post-Roe, it’s devastating.
We are almost done calling the roughly 100 patients that had appointments that are going to have to go out of state now. My staff who are amazing, and literal goddesses are finishing up with Friday’s patients today, and that’s the last abortion patients that we will ever see. They have been working tirelessly, and yesterday we all met at the clinic and were all together for the first time since that ruling happened and we cried a lot and we tried to figure out what’s next. What’s next for us is obviously that as a clinic we’re not going to go anywhere until we are absolutely forced to. We know that Alabama has a total of two Planned Parenthoods in the entire state, one in Birmingham, one in Mobile, which is practically Florida, and that without those two, there is no place to get contraception if you are uninsured, unless you go to the one county health department in each county, and they are booked months in advance.
So we’re going to stay, offering birth control, helping people have healthy pregnancies, making sure that people have prenatal care that they can get to. We’re going to do all of that, but we don’t, in all honesty, know what the state will let us do. And that’s the thing that’s so terrifying right now, because we’re fine. We’re not fine. [Laughs sadly] I don’t know when we’ll ever be fine. We can cope with not being able to do elective abortions. What we can’t cope with is a state that refuses to allow us to do any form of sexual health care. We can’t cope with a state that believes that giving somebody the ability to prevent a pregnancy is as bad as ending that pregnancy before it’s a live birth.
We can’t cope with a state that only a little over a year ago stopped mandating that public schools have to tell students that if they’re gay, they are far more likely to die, but yet not explain that it’s their prejudices and their policies that are the reason why, if that is true, it is a possibility. So we have a plan. We’ve always had a plan. I make plans, that’s what I do. But we’re implementing our plan, and for this week we are focusing on those patients that we need to make sure still get care, even if it’s not here. And then everybody’s getting a very, very, very well deserved break, vacation, and then July is about these new services. It’s about us figuring out how to offer our sliding scale care without having the extra money from abortion, quite frankly, that we were using to give people cheaper birth control, to be able to have free annual exams and followups.
Now we have to find a new place to get that money. So it will be grants. It will be looking for donations. That’s my job from here on out. And we will be contacting the patients that we’ve surveyed over the last few months to let them know that we’re ready to provide them with preventative care if they are ready to receive it for as long as we can stay open, because we have to stay open. There is such a health crisis in Alabama, and every person who came to us in order to get an abortion came to us because the medical system had failed them somewhere. Whether it was being afraid to give birth again because of horrible birth experiences, or being pregnant because doctors would not allow them to have the type of birth control they wanted, or not knowing their own fertility because their own doctors wouldn’t give them the types of exams that they needed to understand why their bleeding was the way it was. The people who can become pregnant in Alabama, especially poor Black women, are terrified of the medical establishment in Alabama, and rightfully so.
And we’ve gotten their trust and we’ve earned their trust. And the one silver lining that I see to abortion being illegal in Alabama is our shackles have been removed. We have been quiet about the inequities in our system and the absolute, callous harmful actions that other doctors and other hospitals and other practitioners in this state have caused harm to patients directly. We’ve been quiet about that because we didn’t want to rock the boat — because we didn’t want to put our ability to provide abortion for them in danger — and we can rock the boat now. When we head into this new era in Alabama, we are tracking every complication from every patient who comes to us because they were let down, because they were harmed by the state, by their doctors, by their hospitals. We will mark every person that was turned away from their hospital because they were suspected of aborting.
We will make sure that every person who is wounded in delivery, in labor, in exams, in basic gynecological procedures — we will make sure that every time that happens, it is spoken loud and openly and everyone knows about it. And most of all, we are going to track every harm caused by a crisis pregnancy center because they have had decades to help these people, and they haven’t. And we’ve already seen the harm that they caused when we were here, and I can only imagine exactly how much worse it will be when they’re put out as the only choice for people who have no healthcare. But that’s all July.
For now we get through this hill, and we try not to cry too much, and we try to see how much money we can raise. And most of all, we are going to fight tooth and nail, hell or high water to get Medicaid expanded, because that is what the state owes us. If they are going to force people into birth, they have to give us health care, all of us, because anything else is nothing more than neglect.
KH: I am so grateful for Robin, her team and everyone who is grieving the work they are not allowed to do right now. Please know that we appreciate you. Personally, I plan to donate to help Robin’s clinic stay open, because the community needs all of the care that Robin described, and because people who are self managing abortions or experiencing miscarriages are going to need places where they can seek care for a miscarriage without being interrogated, surveilled or scrutinized for criminal conduct — and I trust the people at Robin’s clinic to be there for those people.
The maternal mortality rate for white women in Alabama is 5.6 per 100,000, while the rate for Black women in the state is 27.6 per 100,000. We cannot abandon pregnant people in states like Alabama, and supporting clinics like Robin’s is one way people can help.
Now, I would like to turn our attention to Asheville, North Carolina, where my friend Ash Williams extends community care as an abortion doula. Abortion doulas are trained to provide support to people before, during and after abortions. With the number of self-managed abortions expected to rise significantly now that Roe has fallen, the care that abortion doulas provide could become even more critical to frightened pregnant people, who may need comfort, or the input of someone who knows how much bleeding is normal, or how they can make themselves more comfortable. In a society where even confiding in the people around them could be risky for some pregnant people, abortion doulas are a crucial resource, which also makes them prime targets for law enforcement.
Ash is a member of the Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective. The group formed in 2019 as a grassroots effort to support people seeking abortion care in North and South Carolina. They support abortion access and offer care through a reproductive justice lens. Ash is someone I have known for years through his work as a direct action trainer. Long before most people had begun to reconcile that Roe would fall, Ash was working to educate people about reproductive justice, and leveraging his social media platforms to fund as many abortions as possible. In recent weeks, he and his collective have been working to train up and support doulas in other states, where self-managed abortions are expected to increase, and the support work of abortion doulas will be more essential than ever.
Ash Williams: My name’s Ash Williams, I use he and him pronouns, and I work with the Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective, and we work to provide funding as well as informational, emotional, and when we’re given consent, physical support before, during, and after different types of abortion. And we are located and serving people, both in western North Carolina, and throughout the so-called state, as well as the people that might need to come to North Carolina from outside of this state to access care.
This moment has been quite climactic. Even as we’ve known and been preparing for this moment in various ways, I would call how we feel and what’s happening around us, and what’s happening internally… it feels like such a climax, even though again, we knew that it was coming. It feels like, all right, that reality that we have been considering and also living in, naming how those of us, like under the Mason-Dixon line, we’ve already been feeling and knowing what it’s like to navigate abortion access under such restrictions, like waiting periods, and capitalism, and police violence and anti-Black racism.
And we are also responding. We’re responding by continuing to be grounded in the care and support that we provide and that we’ve been providing. And we are also doing more to level up our culture of security in the work that we’re doing. Like, now we’re having to implement certain agreements that we made previously to support us in the work that we have to do right now, which definitely looks like again, supporting the folks in North Carolina and South Carolina who need abortions. But also it’s going to look like, and it has already looked like, supporting folks from Tennessee and Georgia and Kentucky to have abortions here as well.
KH: In a recent piece in Prism entitled “Abortion doulas prepare for increased criminalization if Roe v. Wade falls”, Tina Vásquez described the “constellation of care” that abortion doulas provide, writing:
They accompany abortion patients to clinic appointments, connect them to local abortion funds, strategize with them about how to access abortion, give them abortion care packages, spend the night with them when they take abortion medication, provide child care, cook them meals, help them process their emotions over the phone or on long walks, pick up their medications, hold their hand through grief, and even give them massages. Sometimes abortion doulas are connectors, helping people in their communities find someone they would feel more comfortable with or someone who is better suited for their needs.
The strategizing and dynamic care that Vásquez described will be essential in states where many people will be acting outside of the law in order to manage their abortions. In fact, Ash and many other abortion doulas are intentional about describing their work as “aiding and abetting abortion.”
AW: So what we do in terms of that support that I named, that we provide, it does aid and abet abortion. And in some places, aiding and abetting abortion is illegal and is going to be illegal in 30 days or is right now. So while some of us are facing that threat of aiding and abetting abortion [charges], the reality is that is what abortion doulas are. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re trained to do: aid and abet abortion. And some of us have been called to continue, to provide the support that I named earlier. We have been called to continue to aid and abet abortion, even in these highly criminalized times, in these times where the restrictions on abortion, they’re shifting and changing. This threat impacts us at the level of perhaps not being able to do the work that we’ve been called to do and support abortion havers. And I believe that we will be able to continue aiding and abetting abortion, even as it’s super criminalized.
Many of us are trained and we have done our due diligence in terms of the threat assessments that we needed to do for this time. And we’re ready to respond and continue providing the support … sharing information, providing emotional support, funding abortions for some of us, even though it should be all of us. And then when we’re given consent, that physical support, I think that is going to shift, and maybe there’s a need for that to shift. And at the basis of what we will be doing as abortion doulas, that will continue to be the same.
One of the things that we’re doing is informing ourselves and our communities about these shifts that I’m talking about with the restrictions. Some of us are having to respond more quickly than others. I’m thinking about my friends in Ohio and the six-week ban that’s effective immediately. And I’m also thinking about my friends in Tennessee, who have a ban approaching in the next 30 days. Yeah, I’m working closely with partners and coalitions to make sure that we are able to continue to provide that support.
KH: Of southern states, North Carolina is presently the least likely to ban abortion, given that anti-abortion legislators do not have enough votes to overcome a gubernatorial veto in 2022. That could change after the midterms, given that all 120 seats in the state House and all 50 seats of the state Senate will be up for grabs in November. But given that most voters in North Carolina favor keeping abortion legal, many are hoping the state will remain a lasting option for people in the South who are forced to travel. North Carolina will likely be the nearest abortion provider for over 11 million people ages 15 to 49, in the southeastern United States, who could become pregnant. This is going to mean a lot of work for Ash and his co-strugglers, from care work to funding abortions and travel support, and beyond.
The work of abortion doulas is becoming more complex, and more dangerous. It is not lost on right-wingers or law enforcement that abortion doulas will be providing crucial training and advice, and that some may be operating outside the law, to help people self-manage in their own states, where abortion has been outlawed. As Lue, an abortion doula in Texas told Tina Vásquez, “It’s hot out in these streets.”
So it is going to be deeply important for those of us who can to support the work of abortion doulas with donations to help sustain their ongoing work, and by being ready to form defense committees and protest fiercely when they are criminalized or persecuted, because those are outcomes we should expect in these times. In terms of how we can all support the larger struggle for abortion access, Ash also had some suggestions.
AW: People everywhere can become familiar with what the status of abortion access is, where you are in time and space. People can reach out to the networks of support that already have existed, who are already providing that support to plug into what needs to be done. Again, I want folks to be paying attention to what their local abortion funds are saying, as well as their local reproductive justice organizations. I think that those are the places where we can find good information about what’s happening and what might affect folks where we live in the future.
I think it is always going to be necessary for us to continue funding abortions by donating to abortion funds where we are, and also to abortion doula collectives where we are. And overall making sure that if someone can access an appointment where they are, then they have all the necessary things that they need to do that, like the money, and a ride and the child care. We are still wanting to make sure that people don’t have to choose between a utility bill and the health care that they need and deserve. And I’m aware that a lot of folks might be concerned about the changes in information, and for a lot of folks, they’re still going to be able to make it to those appointments that they have this week and next week.
And so I want to also kind of speak to people having abortions right now, acknowledging that there are people out there waiting for their appointments. And I want to say, continue to follow up with the abortion clinic, continue to follow up with the abortion fund where you live, and those groups are going to have the most recent information about the care that they’re able to provide.
To do the work that abortion doulas have been called to do in these times, we need support as well, and we need the support of our communities. And that means that folks really need to think very locally and very at home about this issue right now, and make sure that we’re doing what we can to increase access where we are.
KH: Ash is also someone who I have been in deep conversation with about the connections between all attacks on bodily autonomy, which include legislative attacks against trans youth, the criminalization of trans health care, the criminalization of abortion (which is also trans health care), and how all of these laws are ultimately about exacting control over people’s bodies in order to exact control over communities — or in the case of trans communities, to eliminate trans people from public life. As we have discussed on this show, the liberal and leftist responses to attacks on trans young people have been underwhelming, at best. But regardless of whether the connections between all attacks on bodily autonomy are broadly understood or named, there are people living at those intersections, who are taking action, and taking risks, for the sake of what’s right in this moment. Ash, as a Black trans person who has already experienced state violence and criminalization, is not only extending care as an abortion doula, but also continuing to engage in public dialogue post-Roe, in an incredibly hostile environment, because he believes that dialogue has to occur. And I am just so grateful for that.
Before we close this episode, I do want to circle back to some resources that Rafa was kind of enough to highlight, because as we stare down this threat of criminalization, it is deeply important that we uplift these resources and that we fortify organizations that will be defending people who are criminalized by anti-abortion laws.
RK: I really want people to know about resources that exist, that we have a wonderful resource: If/When/How, which is the organization that is home to the Repro Legal Defense Fund called the Repro Legal Helpline. It’s reprolegalhelpline.org, and I think we can really assist folks who have self-managed or are considering self-managed or are concerned that they may be criminalized for self-managing or helping someone else do so.
If you have questions, call the Repro Legal Helpline and get the answers that you need. If you’ve already been facing surveillance, criminalization, state involvement, go ahead and contact the Repro Legal Defense Fund. We really try to think of this as like a relay race where we do warm baton handoffs so that people don’t fall between systems and the cracks in general. Reach out to us if you have questions about yourself or a loved one and we’ll try to really support you in fighting back against the state with all the resources that we do have.
KH: I want to encourage people to share the website and phone number for the Repro Legal Helpline widely. There is a lot of talk about self-managed abortion right now, and I think it’s crucial that people share that information and those resources, but please also be sure to share these legal resources alongside any other information about self managed abortion. And please also be sure to share the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline at 1-833-246-2632, which is a resource people can tap into if they are self-managing an abortion and need help or have questions. This moment is incredibly scary for pregnant people in red states who need abortions, but it’s also incredibly isolating by design. So one way that we can help create safety is by giving people safe numbers to call and places to turn when they are frightened, and when they have questions that cannot be safely asked of just anyone.
And speaking of safe harbors, I know that a lot of people want to extend that offer right now, by inviting abortion seekers to stay in their homes while they access care out-of-state. I know this point has been stated and restated, including on this show, but I am going to go ahead and plead with people to take the dangers of this moment very seriously. The right is actively working to infiltrate reproductive justice spaces, and has been for some time, which is why organizations and collectives have ramped up their vetting and internal security processes. We also know that the right has a long history of killing people, in their efforts to halt abortions, and that incidents of right-wing violence have rapidly escalated in recent years.
People who are deeply involved in this work are being so cautious right now, and I think we all need to internalize that. If you are already linked up with a trusted organization, or you are offering assistance to people in your personal network, I think that’s amazing. But public posts on social media, or Reddit, are not safe. If you are in need of help, there are practical support organizations and abortion funds that help connect people with places to stay, while they access care, and these groups have established vetting processes for hosts, and training, to help them navigate the complexities of providing direct support. They also have broader support networks, so that someone else can get involved, if something comes up that a host is not equipped to handle. I recently checked on the vetting process of the Auntie Network Reddit, which now has about 45,000 members, and learned that the lone moderator of the page checks for a 30-day post history and makes “a judgment call.”
As someone who has faked my way into many spaces, as an activist, for the purpose of gathering information, or for the purpose of disrupting, ruining or exposing activities, I can tell you that the Reddit moderator’s vetting process would be nothing for an even semi-determined person to overcome. I am really worried about the potential for right-wing infiltration, for purposes of entrapment, or worse. The right wants to chill our efforts and make us afraid to help each other, and we have to actively defend against those outcomes.
I know there is a lot of impatience in this moment, because the scope of this catastrophe is massive. But there is no immediate, redeeming solution that will somehow be commensurate with the crisis, that we can hastily will into being. To do things right, we are going to have to move thoughtfully, and with great care, and we will not be able to help everyone who is being denied care, and that is just heartbreaking. But moving too fast, and getting people hurt, will not help us to get more people care in the long run. As many people have emphasized, joining existing networks of care and action is best, if you have that option, so please look into what’s happening in your area, and do be patient with reproductive justice orgs, because they are swamped right now, and they have to do so much vetting, in order to take on new volunteers.
But it’s also possible that there is no local container for the work you want to do, or that no local organization will have the capacity to take on the sheer number of people who now want to get involved. If that’s the case, you may wind up starting something new. If so, I am excited for your journey, but please remember to do your due diligence. Make sure there’s no one else already doing the same work, in the same place, because you do not want to divert resources away from people who are already addressing your concern, and really, you most likely have a lot to learn from the folks who are already throwing down.
There’s no reason for us to reinvent wheels when there are people out here driving fully formed cars, so let’s be cognizant of that. But if you do find yourself out on your own, and in need of guidance, Abortion Access Front will be hosting a full-day of virtual training Sunday, July 17, starting at 11 am ET, and we will be including a link to the registration for that training in the show notes.
If you would like some guidance, in terms of slowing down and visioning, and developing a plan of action, I really recommend hitting up our last episode, with Tanuja Jagernauth, who walked us through why we cannot skip or rush the contemplation phase of our work. We all want to take action, and we will, but let’s remember that we are acting from a place of care, and that means protecting and defending each other. That’s painstaking work.
This is the final episode in our fourth season of Movement Memos. I will be away for the month of July, but I will be rejoining you all in August on a biweekly schedule. This season of Movement Memos has meant a lot to me, both in terms of whom we have had on the show, and the conversations we have been able to have. Over the last 21 episodes, we have put together material that has the potential to help people prepare themselves and each other for the difficult times ahead, and for the work before us. I hope people will revisit that content while we’re away and check out any episodes you may have missed. Because above all else, we hope this podcast serves as a resource to you, as people who want to make change and do good in this world.
Part of my personal practice of hope involves starting with gratitude. It’s like choosing a point to mentally pivot from. I don’t usually abandon whatever painful thought I am having, but I take a moment to remember a person, or a creature, or a force in this world, that I am grateful for, and that little whiff of gratitude can sometimes help me reshape my response to the problem at hand. Well, I am grateful for Rafa, Robin and Ash, and I want to thank them for talking with me about their work and what this moment means for them, and for all of us. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
- If you have legal questions about self managed abortion, or you are under scrutiny for a miscarriage of any kind, or for helping someone access care, you can contact the Repro Legal Helpline.
- The Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline, at 1-833-246-2632, is run by a team of pro-abortion clinicians with years of experience in caring for miscarriage and abortion. They can be reached by phone or text and can give expert advice on self-managing a miscarriage or abortion.
- You can learn more about efforts to keep Robin’s clinic, the West Alabama Women’s Center, open here. (You can also follow Robin Marty on Twitter at @robinmarty.)
- The Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective (MAADCO) provides compassionate, non-judgemental care to anyone seeking abortion in Asheville, North Carolina and surrounding areas. (You can follow MAADCO on Instagram. You can also follow Ash Williams on Twitter at @Ash_Bash23)
- The Repro Legal Defense Fund covers bail and funds strong defenses for people who are investigated, arrested, or prosecuted for self-managed abortion. (You can also follow Rafa Kidvai on Twitter at @rkidvai.)
- Plan C provides up-to-date information on how people in the U.S. are accessing at-home abortion pill options online.
- You can check the status of abortion laws in your state using the Guttmacher Institute’s interactive map. Users can select any state to see details about abortion policies in place, characteristics of state residents and key abortion statistics, including driving distance to the nearest abortion clinic.
- If you need help overcoming practical barriers to abortion, such as a place to stay while traveling, this site offers a list of all active practical support groups across the country, updated regularly, with their website when applicable. For a comprehensive list of all abortion clinics, funds, and practical support organizations, visit ineedana.com.
- July 17, abortion activists and experts with Operation Save Abortion are gathering for an all-day, virtual training experience that will be livestreamed “to guide you and your posse toward all the different ways you can join this fight.”
- Euki is a sexual health app that does not store any of the information you enter into the app in the cloud or anywhere else
- Want to text and make calls more securely? The Signal app’s end-to-end encryption keeps conversations secure.
- Need a personal digital security plan? This guide from Surveillance Self-Defense “will teach you how to make a security plan for your digital information and how to determine what solutions are best for you.”
- The Digital Defense Fund is a team of organizers, engineers, designers, abortion fund and practical support volunteers “who do digital security work for the abortion access movement.”is a team of digital security for the abortion access movement.
- The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty
- Abortion doulas prepare for increased criminalization if Roe v. Wade falls by Tina Vásquez
- As a Former Abortion Doula, Here’s How I’m Facing the Dawn of a Post-Roe World. by Miriam Zoila Pérez
- Now Is the Time to “Aid and Abet” Abortion by Emily Janakiram and Lizzie Chadbourne
- Treatments for Ectopic Pregnancies in Missouri Are Delayed Due to “Trigger Law” by Chris Walker
- Supreme Court Throws Abortion to an Unlevel State Playing Field by Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa
- Medication Abortion Now Accounts for More Than Half of All US Abortions (policy analysis, the Guttmacher Institute)
- The U.S. Maternal Mortality Rate Surged by Nearly 20% in 2020 by Steven Ross Johnson
- Addressing Black maternal mortality in the South by Elisha Brown
- ‘Call Jane’: Underground network helped women get abortions before Roe by Kim Bellware
- What does the Supreme Court abortion ruling mean for NC? 3 things you need to know by Paul Woolverton
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