Author’s note: During the summer of 2009, I talked to
dozens of young pro-choice activists and doctors about what motivated
their work for reproductive justice, what concerns them most about the
current state of abortion rights, and what they think the future holds
for legal abortion in the U.S. In the three interviews included here, four
young activists – a law student, an attorney, and the creators of a
pro-choice website – discuss these issues and also share their thoughts
about why it’s so important for their peers to not take legalization
for granted. The interviews will appear in my forthcoming book,
Generation Roe. Sarah Erdreich
Kyle Marie Stock: Third-year law
student, University of Texas; former board member, Lilith Fund for Reproductive
[The Lilith Fund is] a small, all-volunteer organization, we
have about ten people on the board now. We cover Austin and south to the border
and all the way west to El Paso, it’s a huge area. We have a hotline which is
twenty-four hours, people basically leave messages and then the volunteers call
them back. We actually have a relatively diverse board in terms of age, there’s
early 20s all the way up to 60s; relatively diverse in terms of faith and
different sexual orientations. We haven’t been so good with racial diversity,
that’s been difficult for us.
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We have people from all over the state call, from the big
metropolitan areas to the tiniest, little towns. A lot of people are already
parents; that’s definitely one of the things that come up often. People already
have children and they can’t necessarily provide adequately for another kid,
and they’re really trying to make sure that they’re able to raise their family
in a healthy manner.
The [story] that sticks with me, that I was like oh my gosh,
I cannot do this anymore, this is horrible, was a young woman who was in her
teens. Her mother had kicked her out of the house and she was living on her
own; the only thing she had to cook with was a microwave. She was in a
metropolitan area in Texas and she was relatively far along already, so it was
going to be a very expensive procedure. She told me that she had gone to her
boyfriend, the father of the child, and he basically told her, I don’t know who
you are, get out of my house. And to this day I don’t know what happened to
that girl. I don’t know if she got her abortion, I don’t know where she is now,
I don’t know any of that stuff. It was so heartbreaking because I wanted to
drive to the city and help her, do something for her. It was awful; I couldn’t
change any of this. I imagine that she probably had the child; it was one of
those several-thousand-dollar abortions.
On the other hand, I spoke to one woman who was in her
mid-30s, and she was so empowered by the process. We had this really fantastic
conversation about access to abortion, she was really grateful for my help and
so happy that she had somebody to commiserate [with]. She got her abortion. I
asked her to call me back and tell me how it went and she did, and she said
thank you so much, it was really helpful to have you to talk to. It was so
exciting, I was like I’m doing something good, I’m making a difference. It’s
really it’s an emotional roller coaster, it’s the kind of work that’s very –
one minute it’s really exciting, and another minute it’s heartbreaking.
One of the biggest challenges for small abortion funds is
that our resources are so limited that often we can not adequately train people
to deal with some of the hard cases. What I did [was], if there was something
that I [didn’t] know how to handle, I would often call one of my colleagues and
talk it out with them and debrief and care of myself first, to make sure that I
was available to my client, to make sure that I wasn’t doing them more harm
then good. I think that if we could do a better job training, people would burn
out less. I definitely got to a point where I was like, I can’t do this
anymore. The best thing to do is know your limits and use other resources when
you’ve reached that point. We certainly have people who answer the hotline who
have MSWs, people who do abortion counseling at clinics, people who are
extremely well trained, and then there [are] other people that are new. But
it’s really important to have as much new blood in the organization, to be
drawing people into the community and really having people participate as much
as they can, so it’s kind of a balancing act.
It’s interesting to me because Texas is so large, and there
aren’t a lot of abortion providers. Certainly they’re out there, but often
they’re in the metropolitan areas, so if you’re in a rural area you may have to
travel four, five hours. Especially if you’re in West Texas; there, you may
have go to New Mexico. It’s frustrating, and also because Texas is religiously
and ideologically conservative, the conversation itself is even hostile. I
mean, when you’re sitting in the Austin bubble, sure, people are more
conversant about it. But I remember speaking to someone on the hotline where
she was like, you are literally the first person I’ve told that I’m pregnant
and I’m getting an abortion. She would be horribly ostracized and probably
coerced, in terms of the way people present the argument, into not getting the
abortion at all. And like I said, a lot of these people are already mothers so
it’s not like they don’t want to have children, but they want to raise their
children in an effective manner so it’s really crazy. With the sex ed stuff, it
starts from the beginning: you don’t talk about any of that stuff, you’re not
supposed to talk about sex let alone abortion, that would just be the end of
When I talk about this issue with people, [they] have this
expectation that abortion is used as a contraceptive method, that people
repeatedly get pregnant and have abortions. It’s frustrating because that’s not
completely unheard of, but at the same time that’s not the typical story. There
are so many more factors and particulars of each story that if you are being
sympathetic or even open to hearing someone’s story, you realize that this is
never an easy decision. There’s always a host of factors that go into thinking
about it. One of the good things that I found, though, is that the Lilith Fund
makes sure that the clinics that we are working with are going to do a more
holistic look at the situation. They’re going to give people counseling,
they’re going to make sure they’re secure with the decision, they’re going to
treat the person respectfully. I think that is really lost in the discussion,
that even people who are funding abortion are really aware of people’s feelings
on the issue and we want to make sure that there’s support throughout the whole
process. People don’t get to that level of discussion often, though, because so
often it’s like oh, you’re pro-choice, well, you’re horrible.
I absolutely think most people are not aware of what the
realities are in terms of barriers to access. They aren’t worried about Roe, they’re not worried about Carhart, they’re not worried about any
of these Supreme Court cases that have chipped away at this right. They don’t
see it as an immediate threat. When South Dakota had that outright ban [under
consideration] most people were like eh, whatever, no big deal. And I’m like
no, you don’t understand, they did this on purpose so that someone would sue
them and then they would take it to the Supreme Court. This isn’t going to just
affect the people in South Dakota –
and even if it did, that’s horrible and we should really pay attention
to that because as it is they only have one abortion provider in that state.
It’s just frustrating because I think a lot of people don’t think about this
issue until if affects them, until that day when they have that pregnancy
scare, or their cousin gets pregnant and they’re like, what do I do.
think people who grew up post-Roe
take it for granted. So many people don’t know of the history, the stories
about women who died, the stories that about women who are dying now in other
countries because they can’t get an abortion. The conversation about abortion
in this country is so black and white, it’s yes or no. [That’s] something I
think that we as activists are failing to do, is putting real faces and real stories
with this issue. I’m not saying that that’s easy, because you start a
conversation and the word “abortion” pops up and all hell breaks loose.
[People] also take access to birth control and access to emergency
contraceptive for granted in a lot of cases. This is not a stand-alone issue,
it’s all interconnected. The reality is that rich women are always going to be
able to get an abortion; whether it’s legal or not, people with means will be
able to access it. It’s the marginalized communities that are going to be most
affected by any of the restrictions on abortion.
Another interesting thing that I’ve been reading about, and
a way to turn the conversation around, is when people say that they want
abortion to be illegal. Asking people what they expect the punishment should be
– saying ok, so you want this to
be illegal, so should we put the doctors in jail? Should we put the woman in
jail? Should there be fines? What are the consequences to the people who attempt
or perform abortion if it’s illegal? I think that is an interesting twist on
the question, what are the implications of this instead of just thinking about
this very abstract idea. This is not solved by criminalizing abortion, it just
sets off a whole new set of issues. But like I said, people stop at the first
question, they don’t dig deeper into the problem.
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