Abortion storytelling as artivism

by Molly Burchins, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at NC State University

This November, as a Campus Leader at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, I received an incredible opportunity to work with Poppy Liu, founder of Collective Sex, and Amelia Bonow, co-founder of #ShoutYourAbortion, on bringing their abortion storytelling program to NC State.  This program was brought to communities and campuses across North Carolina in order to bring abortion out of the political realm by starting a new conversation.  These two organizations have both done incredibly important work around destigmatizing abortion, and empowering people to tell their own stories.

#ShoutYourAbortion was founded in 2015 after the hashtag went viral and enabled thousands of people to share their abortion stories.  SYA empowers people to tell their own stories on their own terms, and aims to humanize and normalize the experience of abortion.  Collective Sex is a storytelling initiative and an all-femme production company that aims to “decolonize storytelling” by destigmatizing stories about sex, body, intimacy and identity.  Their project, the short film Names of Women, depicts a first person account of an abortion experience, produced through the lens of healing and spirituality.

Their idea for this program was to give people a chance to hear and share abortion stories, and to discuss the complexities around abortion access in a way that increases compassion and empathy.  Along with their program, I also had the idea to bring Poppy and Amelia to my campus for an afternoon discussion with a smaller group of students.  Because my awesome professor let me hijack our class for the day, this discussion ended up taking place in my Feminist Theories class, and allowed students who were studying the theory behind this kind of advocacy work to see the theory in action.  This was a really exciting opportunity for my classmates, because they were able to talk to Poppy and Amelia about their work in a more intimate setting.  I couldn’t have asked for a better discussion, and everyone was able to walk away with a new perspective on this work.

 

Molly Nov 2017 blog 1

Later that evening, we hosted their 90-minute program, in which Poppy and Amelia discussed their respective approaches to creative abortion storytelling as a form of activism.  This program included a showing of the short film Names of Women, which was produced by Collective Sex, and a few of SYA’s digital abortion stories, and aimed to enhance creative storytelling as a form of “artivism” (art as activism) that helps to depoliticize and re-humanize discussions around abortion.  Because the program was about abortion, there was a lot of hesitation from university staff members to advertise this program to their students, and this really affected the program’s attendance.  Regardless of the small audience, we were able to modify the program and still create incredibly meaningful conversations around abortion.

Molly Nov 2017 blog 2

This program, along with the two incredible people who created it, will be returning for another Bible Belt tour in the spring.  I’m really looking forward to hosting this program again and making sure that these conversations reach more and more students!

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Reproductive Justice Week at UNC Wilmington!

by Becki Fernandez, 2017 Campus Leader at UNC Wilmington

This November, I organized and implemented a week of programming surrounding the theme of reproductive justice as part of my position with the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader program, aptly called “Reproductive Justice Week.”  I have been organizing for years with the UNCW Feminist Student Alliance around several feminist, social justice issues, but this was the first time that I organized a full week of programs coinciding with a week of awareness.

Becki RJ Week 1

The climate surrounding talking about reproductive justice in Wilmington, NC, is an interesting one, particularly around the subject of abortion.  I have noticed during my time in Wilmington that abortion rights is one of the few angles of modern, progressive social justice that the community has some trouble rallying around.  Just look at what we saw happening with the Democratic Party this year with the debate surrounding a litmus test on support of abortion rights.  In Wilmington, we have more fake clinic crisis pregnancy centers than actual medical clinics that offer abortion services. In fact, our one clinic that does offer abortion services can only bring in an abortion provider 4 times a month.  I am genuinely fearful of wearing any of my pro-abortion t-shirts in public here because of how antagonistic the community seems to be.  I know that I am far from the only person in Wilmington, NC, that is passionate about abortion rights and reproductive justice.  But, I am still aware that the community has a sizable, adamantly anti-choice community that will protest along the sides of busy roads and intersections to try and deny people access to their constitutional right to an abortion.  So at the very least, I set out to get a conversation started on abortion rights in southeastern North Carolina.

I also wanted to try and focus on a few reproductive justice issues that go beyond abortion rights. While abortion rights are an important battle in the reproductive justice framework, they are not the only pressing issue in today’s world.  The right to have children is also an important reproductive right, and the right to parent and raise these children in safe communities is also an important reproductive right.  Essentially, the right for you and your possible family to exist and live healthy, dignified lives regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, immigration status, ability, income, or any aspect of your identity is the ultimate reproductive right that should always be fought for.

I started off my week of action with a “How to Get an Abortion in North Carolina” toolkit presentation with Carolina Abortion Fund.  The presentation was very informative and went well.  Representatives from Carolina Abortion Fund came in and talked about the Becki RJ Week 2current state of abortion rights and access in North Carolina.  I am sure this is not exactly news for anyone reading anything off of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina’s website, but the current state of abortion rights and access in North Carolina is pretty grim.  So “Reproductive Justice Week” might not have started off on a happy note, but it definitely started on a call-to-action to help provide abortion funds, at the very least, to people in need in North Carolina.

The next event of Reproductive Justice Week was a discussion on LGBTQIA reproductive health and rights hosted with a fellow student organization on campus, Pride.  I felt it was dire to include a program about queer reproductive health because as many folks doing this work are aware of already, the reproductive rights of the LGBTQIA community is oftentimes left out of the reproductive rights narrative even though these rights are just as important.  Cisgender, heterosexual individuals are not the only individuals in need of abortion access.  Furthermore, LGBTQIA folk face larger disparities than some of their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts in finding access to general and reproductive Queer Trans Repro Justicehealthcare, which goes far beyond abortion rights.  Not to mention the struggles LGBTQIA parents face in fighting for their basic right to parent, on top of fighting for basic rights to employment, housing, and freedom from violence and discrimination.  During our discussion, we made sure to touch on many of these issues, as well as take audience feedback on LGBTQIA reproductive justice issues that are important to them.

Next, we hosted a small lunch and chat with representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina where we also talked about the current state of reproductive rights in NC, with a focus on fake clinic crisis pregnancy centers and all the legislative barriers that have been created for people trying to seek out an abortion in NC.  The discussion was vibrant, lively, and had great involvement from UNCW faculty and staff.Becki RJ Week 3

Our next event of Reproductive Justice Week was a screening of the documentary No Más Bebés.  This is a documentary about a group of immigrant women in Los Angeles suing county doctors, the state of California, and the U.S. government for coercing and at times even tricking these young, immigrant mothers into getting their tubes tied and becoming sterilized.  This was one of the most powerful events of the week of action for me, personally, as a Latina and child of immigrants.  I have witnessed firsthand what it is like for non-Latinx people to think your family is dirty because it is large and Latinx.  It was a profound, impactful documentary that was also deeply resonating.  The film also serves as a reminder to the reproductive justice community that this is a movement founded for and by women of color, and the specific needs of people of color that are found in the intersections of the reproductive justice framework need to be prioritized because they are the needs that have been constantly looked over for most of the reproductive rights movement.  The bodies of people of color have been used for centuries for experiments and torture to advance the reproductive rights narrative and that must be recognized in order for us to move forward.

After that, I, along with the Feminist Student Alliance, hosted a discussion on the Hyde Amendment and why it is our duty to support low-income folks’ access to abortion care.  A lot of people in the room for this event were not even aware of the current implications of the Hyde Amendment, which is great in a sense because I feel the entire purpose of holding events like these are to educate people who do not know as much about these issues as I might, as opposed to preaching to a choir of established reproductive rights activists.  The Hyde Amendment infamously prohibits federal funding from covering abortion.  This means that low-income people who may be relying on Medicaid/Medicare for healthcare coverage cannot use this coverage for abortion services unless they live in a state that explicitly allows it.  Making abortion care only Becki RJ Week 4readily available to people with middle and upper class incomes goes against the whole point of legal and safe access to abortion.  Access to abortion has to be affordable, too, in order for it to be a genuine right.  Sadly, this does not stop legislators from slashing funding for abortion care left and right, and there are even a few people who say they are “pro-choice” who agree that federal funding should not go towards abortion.  However, abortion is healthcare, plain and simple.  Placing insurance bans against covering the costs of abortion care should not be the one facet of healthcare that we won’t fight to gain coverage for.

Our last event of “Reproductive Justice Week” was “Storytelling as Activism” with Collective Sex and Shout Your Abortion.  Activists Poppy and Amelia shared their own personal abortion stories and emphasized how important storytelling is in activism.  Storytelling is what breaks barriers and stigma because it goes beyond the 24-hour news pundits, beyond the internet thinkpieces, beyond the debates on legislation.  Storytelling shows how even the most stigmatized of social issues affects real people and their real Becki RJ Week 5lives.  And that is just what Poppy and Amelia did with their presentation.  The entire room of people was deeply moved by what these two abortion storytelling activists had to say.  Additionally, I think it is safe to say that not just through the entire week of events but with this program in particular, I started an honest conversation about abortion in my community which is exactly what I set out to do.

Overall, I was impressed with the outcome of my “Reproductive Justice Week.”  Despite a few concerns of ours, no one came out to harass me, members of my student organization, or any of the presenters I had visiting during the week of programming.  Furthermore, we had great attendance from Wilmington community members, which is fantastic considering all the events happened on UNCW’s campus.  In this day and age, discussions about reproductive justice can be exhausting and tiring.  It is definitely an uphill battle to fight for these rights and have our voices be heard.  Nevertheless, we cannot stop until all of our rights are guaranteed!

UNC Asheville Activism and Exposing Fake Clinics!

by Kelli Early, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at UNC Asheville

One phrase that I use to guide my activism is “The best revolutions aren’t based in the hate of the oppressors, but the love of the people.”  I kept that phrase in mind duringKelli October blog 1 October as a Campus Leader for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina and while working with another student group, Planned Parenthood Next Generation, as we focused on identifying the actors working against full reproductive freedom in North Carolina.  This goal come to life through an avid petitioning campaign, canvassing, and direct action during the #ExposeFakeClinics week of action.  The month started with a campaign to educate and empower students to oppose the 20-week abortion ban.  While we gathered over 40 signatures and had multiple students join our student organization, there was push-back by conservative members of our community.  But the only thing these anti-abortion students and community members accomplished by yelling “murder” and other unoriginal slurs at my fellow organization members was we came together even more and gathered over 45 letters to Senator Richard Burr and Senator Thom Tillis telling them not to co-sponsor the 20 week abortion ban because of its illogical, anti-choice ideological nature.

This negativity continued to fuel our passion for advocacy, and the following weekend multiple students from our group went canvassing with Planned Parenthood of Asheville.  The canvass took place in different public housing communities to engage residents about questions they have about Planned Parenthood, in the hopes of breaking stigma around abortion providers and raise awareness of all of the services Planned Parenthood offers (the majority of which are not abortion).  While I would have liked there to be more conversation around the power dynamics of mostly white college students canvassing a low-income neighborhood, I was excited to see conversations were stigma was broken around our local clinic.

Lastly, the #ExposeFakeClinics week consisted of a teach-in about fake Crisis Pregnancy Centers, where I invited my PP organization and leaders among other student organization to learn the basics about fake CPCs.  In the teach-in, the group discovered Bethany Christian Services, which utilizes classic fake clinic CPC tactics to deceive young, low-income people.  For example, one example of this is that they provide “abortion counseling” to “help individuals reconcile their choice of abortion.”  All that this fake Kelli October blog 2“counseling” does is further the idea that abortion is shameful and regrettable–instead of a private choice that should be made between the person who wants the abortion and their medical provider.  On top of this highly stigmatizing “service,” their website primarily uses pictures of Women of Color; but, when reading through Bethany Christian Center’s online reviews, it came to light that a Woman of Color received racist remarks about her pregnancy when she went to Bethany Christian Services.  Due to all of this, our group decided to hold a direct action outside their office to expose this location as a fake clinic.

Reproductive Justice 101 with SisterSong

by Marie-Antoinette Sintim, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at UNC Chapel Hill

I’ve been learning about Reproductive Justice for a while and I’ve learned a lot.  You know when you feel confident about something that you forget that there’re still a million things to know?  Well, November 12, 2017, was that day for me.  Kate, my badass feminist friend, had worked really hard for there to be a Reproductive Justice training on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, and as the Campus Leader at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, I worked with her to get SisterSong to come and conduct this training.  It had been advertised not just to the UNC community, but to nearby communities, as well.  We had pizza and cookies!  I was very excited (I believe in food always).

Would we have students?  Faculty?  Neighbors?  A random protestor?  Luckily for us, the people that showed up were students, friends, and neighbors who were eager to learn about reproductive Justice.

Apart from a great crowd, Ash of SisterSong expanded the narrative of Reproductive Justice, choosing not to focus on just cisgender white women, but on trans people, non- binary people, and People of Color.  Attendees shared stories about their reproductive lives, in all forms.  The more I do this work, the more I am reminded that for many people these are stories that are hard to tell no matter how many times they are shared.  And that to be trusted with such a story is a privilege and should be respected.  There are never enough spaces to tell those things that we are afraid to utter ,but we had that space during this training (and because of the sacredness I won’t share other people’s stories here, but I’m sure we all have our stories or know those of our loved ones).

Founders of RJ

While teaching us about the Reproductive Justice framework, Ash allowed for questions, no matter how uncomfortable.  I learned that I won’t always be prepared for uncomfortable questions!  In my discomfort, I decided not to lead with my exasperation and anger with attendees who didn’t understand the importance of Reproductive Justice…maybe today I would lead with some compassion instead.  I started talking to myself like you do before you’re about to say something you don’t quite know how to say and told myself: “There are things that these people don’t know about Reproductive Justice and I don’t know everything, either, and I’m not right always and don’t always use the right language or phrase everything correctly.  I’m still learning, too.”  The mere fact that these folks had come to a teach in about Reproductive Justice meant something!

So, today I learned something new and so did they!

#BlackLivesMatter, and Black Health Matters, too: Reproductive Justice

by Anna Katz, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at Duke University

This November, I had the privilege of attending the first annual Black Health Matters Conference at Harvard University.  Given my work as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader and love for all things sexual health, I was particularly looking forward to Saturday’s panel Who and How: Sexual Health Activism for Our Most Underserved Communities.  As I ponder what shape my budding career might take, I am always thrilled to hear the varying ways activists approach this critical work.  With panelists working in academic, government, and the nonprofit sector, the event promised to offer several unique perspectives on sexual and reproductive health.

But perhaps most exciting was the opportunity to attend a reproductive health event that centered and amplified the voices of four Black women leaders in the sexual health field.  Mainstream reproductive rights activism historically sidelined women of color, trans women, poor women—virtually anyone who didn’t reflect middle- and upper-class white leadership.  Frustrated with this marginalization, a group of Black women created Repro Justice Repeal Hyde Art Projecttheir own movement, coining the term “reproductive justice” in 1994.  Now a national leader in reproductive justice, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”  To ensure that these rights are universally recognized, they believe, we must analyze power systems, address intersecting oppressions, center the most marginalized, and build coalitions across issues and identities.

In doing this work, we must first contextualize sexual and reproductive health activism within a history of reproductive oppression.  Our nation has a broad and shameful history of sexual and reproductive coercion of Black folks and other communities of color, contributing to an abiding distrust of health practitioners and organizations like Planned Parenthood.  From the forced reproduction of enslaved African and African American women to the coercive sterilizations of the American Eugenics Movement, from J. Marion Sim’s surgical experimentation on enslaved women to the non-consensual extraction of Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells, from contraceptive pill trials on Puerto Rican women to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” folks of color have continuously been stripped of bodily autonomy, often for the purpose of “advancing” reproductive science.  The generational trauma of such violating practices cannot be minimized; as activists, we must acknowledge our nation’s ugly histories and recognize where the mainstream reproductive rights movement has failed the most vulnerable.  The panelists echoed SisterSong’s push for centering those who have been marginalized and emphasized that paying lip service to historically subjugated groups is not enough. “Activism is a doing, not a saying,” explained panelist Jill Smith, HIV/STI Project Manager at the Maryland Department of Health.

I am proud to be working with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, an organization that is committed to serving all North Carolinians and prioritizing those disproportionately impacted by harmful policies.  In an attempt to echo this commitment on Duke’s campus, I am building partnerships with groups that tend to be excluded from reproductive health conversations.  I am thrilled to be kicking off next semester with a sexual and reproductive health trivia night in collaboration with The Bridge, an online community for Black and Latina women.  Through such coalition-building, perhaps we can build an on-campus reproductive justice movement that is truly inclusive and intersectional.