Abortion is not a dirty word.
Since the beginning of time, feminists have been fighting for bodily autonomy. Abortion activists understand that abortion is essential to our autonomy, and are on the front lines volunteering as clinic escorts, fundraising for abortion funds, and taking up the helm in court cases like NILFA v. Becerra in California. A recent study found that the "states with the most abortion restrictions on the books had also enacted the fewest policies proven to actually support the health of women and children living there,” according to the Huffington Post—telling us what we already know, that restricting abortions goes along with restricting other aspects of women’s healthcare.
Many people would begin the history of abortion at Roe v. Wade, but abortion and the fight for reproductive justice has been going on since the beginning of time. You’d think the representatives we elected would understand this, but many focus their efforts on enacting unconstitutional, bewilderingly stupid, and restrictive abortion legislation—like attempting to ban abortion after six weeks, when most people wouldn’t even realize they’re pregnant yet. Independent abortion providers and activists have taken up the fight for safe, accessible and affordable abortions—because abortion is a human right. Nikki Madsen from the Abortion Care Network and Kwajelyn Jackson from Feminist Women’s Health Center spoke to BUST about the fight for abortion rights in 2018.
Kwajelyn Jackson, Community Education & Advocacy Director of Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, GA, explained that because FWHC has been around since 1976 and offers of plethora of services, “We’re somewhat unique amongst independent abortion providers, as many are only able to do clinical services and we try to have a holistic approach.” But...what is an independent abortion provider? As Nikki Madsen, Executive Director of Abortion Care Network, a national association of independent abortion care providers, explains, “[Independent abortion providers] are the clinics similar to your local independent book store...[they’re] based in their community and staffed by community members.” Connecting people to local independent abortion providers is what Abortion Care Network specializes in; that and development and resources for said providers.
Both Jackson and Madsen, as well as many more in the field, come to this work inspired by their family heritage a deep-seeded desire to help others. Jackson found inspiration in her mother’s youth advocacy work and the knowledge she gained while at Spelman College, a renowned single-gender HBCU. Madsen says the story of her grandmother’s illegal abortion continues to inspire her: "The way that these providers treat patients with dignity and respect, is really how I wish my grandmother had been treated.”
But the fight for reproductive justice can be ruthless, to say the least. Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), or “fake women’s health centers,” are popping up like weeds—they promise to help those seeking abortion care, but do harm instead. As Kwajelyn Jackson explains, “if you’re engaged in a clinical space, you want to know who is treating you. Often, this is a broad brush, but the services CPCs offer is a free pregnancy test and a free ultrasound. They’re often not equipped to provide any diagnosis.” Meaning, you can go to a CPC and pee on a stick and wait with someone who may or may not be a medical professional, but they cannot read that little pink line any more accurately than you can. Jackson reminds BUST that pregnancy is technically a diagnosis, and reading an ultrasound and understanding it requires medical training—which those working at CPCs do not have. That is why it’s important to find local independent abortion providers.
As Jackson explains, FWHC offers “medical and surgical abortion care, comprehensive gynecological care (like pap smears, breast exams, and the like) and STD/STI testing, HIV testing”—it’s basically a one-stop shop for reproductive health. Similarly, the Abortion Care Network works to “lift up the voices of independent abortion care providers and provide direct services so they can stay sustainable,” such as launching a billboard campaign in California featuring Dr. Monica McLemore, which works to directly combat “fake women’s healthcare centers [who] trap, misinform, and coerce women seeking abortion.”
Advocates for reproductive justice remain steadfastly optimistic, though. Madsen even takes a positive spin on the current administration, saying, “This is a wake-up call...[people] are volunteering in a way that is meaningful to them...collectively we will make it work, I have no doubt.” Jackson remains optimistic as well, saying that she sees a future of abortion providers “in a proactive posture, not simply a defensive one.”
Many people don't understand how common abortion actually is. As Jackson says, she wishes “people knew how common, and normal, and regular abortion is. I think there is so much that seeks to make it feel complicated, scary, tragic.” That may be the case for some, but it is not the case for all, or even most. Abortion is a normal medical procedure. Madsen says it point-blank: "Abortion is really core to our human rights.”
Jackson explains, “There are many ways reproductive justice as a framework touches all parts of our lives...our ability to decide how, when, and under what circumstances we grow our families and in what environment we are able to do so, abortion is one part in a larger framework.” It’s more than just the right to an abortion, it’s the right to a safe birth plan, a safely trained nurse to help you breastfeed, and the right to bring your newborn baby home safely. Abortion providers “completely understand that,” says Madsen. "This work is just essential to who we are as people and in our communities and what people deserve as humans.”
When asked what the world would be like if men could get an abortion, Jackson explains, "Well, we treat trans men [at Feminist Women’s Health Center], and there definitely are men who need abortions. But if cis men needed abortions, it would be as easy as getting a Band-Aid.” If that were the case, maybe abortion providers would “be as famous as Beyoncé,” Madsen adds.
What if Roe v. Wade was overturned? There are those who work to do this by ruthlessly propagating false information and endangering the lives of providers and patients at clinics that offer abortions. As Madsen explains, Abortion Care Network has “clinics in Maine, Ohio, Montana, Kentucky all serving as plaintiffs in lawsuits right now...our clinics are really holding down states. There are six states in the US with only one provider left, and in five of them it’s an independent provider.”
Which is why it’s so heartening and empowering to hear women like Kwajelyn Jackson say there’s “a lot of opportunity for hope” and Nikki Madsen brag that “our members [are] standing up...and fighting for their patients." It’s determined and optimistic activists like Jackson and Madsen that are leading the fight for our human right to safe and accessible abortions. Just like there’s no shame in setting a broken arm, there’s no shame in getting an abortion.
Follow these links for more information about locating, understanding, advocating for or paying for reproductive health services:
Abortion Care Network
Feminist Women’s Health Center
National Network of Abortion Funds
National Organization for Women, Volunteer
top photo by jordanuhl7 via Wikimedia Commons
Originally published March 29, 2018
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