Defending Roe

When I saw the announcement that Supreme Court Justice Kennedy was retiring, paving the way for Trump to appoint another conservative extremist to the court, I got the hot, panic-anger feeling in my chest that I’ve come to associate with life under this administration. This adds to the growing threats already undermining reproductive freedoms and LGBQA protections in the U.S. The things that could happen if -- and unfortunately, but most likely, when -- Trump and his enablers in the legislative branch manage to get a new justice appointed make me ill every time I think about it.

In particular, it makes me worry about the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Trump campaigned on overturning Roe, and the last few years have seen major pushes by anti-choice organizations to restrict abortion access as much as possible. The possibility that we may see Roe overturned in the next few years is terrifying and also very, very real.

Roe was a hard-won and major victory for feminists and reproductive justice advocates. It’s since saved countless lives and given millions of people the chance to make the reproductive choices that were right for them, and it’s not gone yet. We cannot, and will not, let it go without a fight. Here’s what you can do to stop it from disappearing, to fight for our rights and to help protect yourself and others.


A World Before Roe: After about 1880, abortion was banned in the U.S. except in cases where it was needed to save a pregnant person’s life. We can’t be certain how many people died or suffered injury because of unsafe, illegal abortions, because many deaths were never officially attributed to unsafe abortion, but it may have been as high as 1.2 million annually by the 1960s. We know they happened, and we have accounts detailing the stress and danger people who got them faced. There are various accounts you can read, but a quote from this article is lodged in my brain, “It was a kitchen table, coat-hanger abortion. It took maybe six minutes. I got on the kitchen table. I think my stepmother gave me a drink of brandy or something, and she said, “Now this may hurt a little bit.” She held my hand and this woman stuck a piece of coat hanger into my vagina. And then my stepmother said, “Okay, now get dressed.” And what you were supposed to do was leave that in there until you started to abort. I remember walking out with this coat hanger between my legs.”

Read Up

We’ve been here before. As frustrating, aggravating, and disheartening as that may be, it does mean there are lessons we can learn from past struggles of pro-choice activists. A concise history of abortion access and activism can be found at Our Bodies, Ourselves. Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan is also an excellent read for those looking to brush up on feminist abortion activism.

It also helps to familiarize yourself with more recent trends in abortion restriction. If we understand how those trying to criminalize abortion operate, it’s easier to work together to counter those actions. NARAL offers a look at the different ways anti-choice groups and leaders have been working to limit abortion access and how they’ll likely escalate. There is also a legislative tracker produced by Rewire to help you stay informed about anti-choice legislation in your state.

Plan Ahead

Right after Trump was elected, there was a rush of people who could get pregnant getting IUDs or contraceptive implants installed. The thinking is that since these methods are long-acting, they can outlast an administration that would ban abortion and restrict access to contraception. If that option of pregnancy prevention sounds good to you, you’ll want to have that conversation with a healthcare provider sooner rather than later.

Plan B, a form of emergency contraception, has a shelf life of four years. We generally recommend having a pack or two of EC on hand anyway if you or your friends are sexually active, because then it’s right there within easy and fast reach if anyone needs it. If you’re unsure where or how to get EC in your area, this guide can help you find it so you can stock up. If Roe is overturned and abortion is banned in most places, having access to medication that can prevent a pregnancy in the first place will be incredibly useful.

If you’re sexually active (or planning on being so), now is an extra-important time to develop a plan for what to do if you or a partner becomes unintentionally pregnant and abortion is your desired option. A major component of that plan will include developing some kind of savings that can be used to cover medical and transportation costs. Those transportation costs are very important if you live in a state that doesn’t, or isn’t likely to, protect abortion access, because you will probably have to cross state lines in order to access care. Other factors to think about would be: who you could go to for support in this situation (friends, family, etc.); what kind of support you’d need from them (money, emotional support, transportation, help in recovery); and how you’d get to a service that required you to travel. Even if you’re someone who’s in a relationship where pregnancy can’t happen (for instance, if you and your partner both have vaginas), you can still make a plan like this. You may not need it, but if you have friends who might you’ll have a plan in place in case you need to help them get an abortion.


Four Reproductive Rights Under Threat In Addition to Abortion
• Birth Control: If Roe falls, or if an anti-choice majority controls the Supreme Court, access to contraception is at stake. The interpretations of privacy laws that informed the original decision on Roe were also used to grant access to contraception in a different court ruling, so whatever logic is used to overturn Roe could be used there as well. The court may also hear challenges to providing or covering contraception by religious hospitals and health care providers.
• Parental Rights: Conservative activists and judges have already made decisions stating that “religious rights” trump anti-discrimination status, especially when it comes to queer and trans people. A big fear is that the rights of queer parents (or queer people how want to become parents) will be dismantled under the new court.
• Queer and Trans Rights: Justice Kennedy was the deciding vote on the decision to legalize same-gender marriage. If a Trump appointee takes that seat, that decision could be challenged and overturned. Cases involving trans peoples’ rights in workplaces, schools, and healthcare settings are all likely to come before the Supreme Court soon, and a conservative court is likely to rule in ways deeply harmful to trans people.
• Parental Separation: The horrific treatment of families trying to enter the U.S has, rightly, already generated several lawsuits attempting to secure humane treatment for refugees and undocumented immigrants. If those cases come before a conservative leaning court, they are likely to uphold the Trump administration’s inhumane, racist policies. Meaning for some people in this country, they will not even have a right to care for their children or even know where their children are.

Show Your Support

If you’re one of the seven out of ten Americans who supports abortion access, now is the time to show it. If there are pro-choice marches or protests targeting the inevitably anti-choice Supreme Court nominee and you are able to attend, I encourage you to do so. There are people in power who are framing abortion as something unpopular, as something the average American wants gone. The more we can demonstrate that’s not the case, the more ability we have to sway people who are on the fence about the issue.

Protesting or marching is one effective form of activism, but it is not one available to everybody for reasons including disability, immigration status, or belonging to a demographic where police contact isn’t a risk you can afford. If marching isn’t an option for you, there are other equally valuable ways you to be involved. For example, you can try having conversations with the people in your life about why you support abortion access. You can find counterpoints to common anti-choice arguments at URGE. You can also get involved with online actions including blogswarms, Twitter chats, and outreach events.

Contacting your senators, who will be casting votes in the confirmation hearings for the new justice, and voicing your opinion about the Supreme Court nominee can be extremely helpful as well. 5calls provides scripts that can be used to call or write your senators, and Resistbot helps people quickly write their senators. Show your senators that you are paying attention to what they do and will hold them accountable if they contribute to the dismantling of Roe.

Shore-Up State Protections

If Roe is overturned, access to abortion will depend on state guidance, as was the case in the decades prior to Roe v Wade. In some states, overturning Roe will actually trigger an abortion ban, while others explicitly protect access to abortion. If the last two years under this administration has taught us anything, it’s that we need to prepare for the worst. That means focusing not only on removing anti-choice politicians at the national level but also at the state level and replacing them with people who understand the importance of reproductive choice. That means supporting and voting for candidates with those values.

Steps to take include:
Register to vote if you haven’t already done so. Then vote every chance you get, in every election you can.
• Read up on state and local candidates to see which ones are pro-choice. Both #VoteProChoice and NARAL have guides to help you do just that.
• If there’s a candidate running in your area who pledges to protect abortion access and other reproductive rights, see if there is a way you can support their campaign. That said, being pro-choice doesn’t mean a candidate is perfect. For instance, you may find you agree with a candidate about reproductive issues but their stance on racial justice is lackluster. There are ways you can navigate that situation that don’t leave you feeling like you’re forced to choose between two issues that matter to you. If you’re involved in a campaign, you could press the candidate and to explicitly address a race issue or consider ways that they could take intersectional approaches to issues. Or you may find it works best for you to support that candidate while also supporting organizations that excel where that candidate falters.

Support Abortion Access & Advocacy Groups

There are already many grassroots groups on the ground doing the work to ensure that everyone, regardless of location or economic status, has access to abortion. Some do that by helping people fund their abortions. Others work the policy angle, advocating for better reproductive health access and pushing back against anti-choice legislation. If you have a few dollars to spare, you can donate to support the work these organizations do (abortion fund organizations almost always reach their monthly funding limits well before the end of the month, leaving some clients without the funds they need to access care).

If you don’t have funds to donate, or doing so would tip off parents who wouldn’t support your actions, you can still help these organizations out by fundraising. Hosting bowl-a-thons is a popular abortion resource fundraiser, but you can choose an activity that works for you be that bake sales, car washes, or donkey basketball.

You can also volunteer with these organizations. Depending on the needs of the specific organization, that could include driving people to appointments, making phone calls, fundraising, etc. As with funds, every little bit of time you can contribute helps.

Organizations you can support include:
National Network of Abortion Funds (includes links to state resources you can support)
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Abortion Federation
Center for Reproductive Rights

Even if we each take as many of these steps as we can, it might not be enough. But I believe, deeply and truly, that we must try to save Roe. For the sake of ourselves and the sake of future generations, all of whom deserve a world in which they have full reproductive rights. I have never known a world without Roe. For a long time I saw it as something stable, a protection of my rights and autonomy that couldn’t be taken away. I was wrong about that, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say we aren’t powerless to save it. We will do what we can, and if Roe is overturned we will find new ways to work together to help each other and fight until we have reproductive justice for all.