Culture & Conversation Media

How Gaming Is Helping to #ReclaimRoe

Shonte Daniels

As of this writing, the 2016 #Spawn4Good gaming fundraiser has raised $2,155 for abortions.

Very few people probably associate the fundamental human rights of abortion and reproductive justice with video games. But the efforts to challenge patriarchal norms in gaming are rooted in the same principles. For example, marginalized gamers, like people who identify as pro-choice, seek equality and an end to identity-based discrimination.

Game developers, however, have yet to fully understand how to meet these basic needs. When it comes to reproductive autonomy, few games, especially among the big-budget titles, show sexual acts with tact, and the ones that attempt to address pregnancy and abortion do so irresponsibly.

Thankfully, the gaming podcast SpawnOnMe, which highlights people of color within the community, is working to change that. This year, it paired reproductive justice with gaming activism to create its second annual charity, titled #Spawn4Good, to help raise money for the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). (Full disclosure: SpawnOnMe’s producer Kahlief Adams reached out to me prior to this year’s event for insight about the different ways in which women, particularly women of color, are affected by anti-choice attacks. During our brief email conversation I suggested he connect with NNAF about this event.)

Last year’s fundraiser, which sought to “provide a deliberate space for [gamers] to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement,” raised more than $5,000 for the Eric Garner Fund and the New York City Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild to continue supporting activists fighting against police violence.

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As of this writing, the 2016 #Spawn4Good gaming fundraiser has raised $2,155 for abortions. Raising money to help those who cannot afford to pay for their own abortions means more than paying for the procedure itself. For many people, particularly people of color, the cost of an abortion can include transportation, lodging, child care, or even staff time if the person is incarcerated. As more abortion restrictions are implemented, the cost of the procedure increases. And, as more clinics close, the distance it takes to get there increases as well (which can increase the number of hours or days a patient might need child care, lodging, and so on).

Abortion funds contributed in 2014 alone $3.5 million to assist 28,000 people nationwide, according to the NNAF.

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#Spawn4Good happened a week before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision by the Supreme Court to legalize abortion, which falls on January 22. Under the hashtag #ReclaimRoe, #Spawn4Good sought to educate gamers on the battle for abortion rights happening all across the United States.

I watched last year’s #Spawn4Good event and was inspired by the work that went into trying to educate uninformed gamers on the realities of being Black. Held during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, from January 16 to January 17, this year’s event felt no different. Gamers of color banded together to help raise awareness of the current abortion care crisis. The live stream, like last year’s, featured multiple people playing different, mostly nonviolent games. Streamers also shared videos from the 1 in 3 Campaign, a movement seeking “to start a new conversation about abortion,” led by women who have had an abortion.

SpawnOnMe wanted the fundraiser to help women of color in particular, who are disproportionately affected by restrictive abortion regulations, including the Hyde Amendment, the federal ban on Medicaid coverage of abortion. Not only will some of the funds raised support women of color, but I imagine the event helped raise awareness for gamers of color, who can share or use this information in their own lives.

Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of NNAF, spoke highly of #Spawn4Good and the gamers who worked to broadcast the need for reproductive rights to a different audience. “Both the gaming community and people supporting abortion rights are a broad, multi-racial and intergenerational group that are often not given the credit for being so diverse, both in terms of demographics and interests,” Hernandez said over email. “For some this may have seemed an unlikely pairing, but it was a reminder of how intersections come together in real life.”

Many gaming fundraisers tend to focus on highlighting medical issues, such as providing donations to cancer research or children’s hospitals. While these causes certainly need attention and support, social issues also affect many gamers and should not be overlooked.

Though the fundraiser did not reach its goal of $5,000, Adams celebrated the platform’s success on Twitter.

As successful as this fundraiser might have been, don’t expect any big-budget titles to tackle reproductive justice anytime soon. While movies and television shows have depicted stories with abortion plots, popular games seem to be too timid to break from the status quo.

Games may be lauded for their escapism, but the reality many people, including many players, must face is that abortion care is not accessible for all. Sometimes it feels so tiring to have to repeat the fact that games are not in a vacuum, or that all people have a right to reproductive health, over and over. That repetition, however, is crucial in showing that these issues should never be ignored, not in a real nor virtual space.

Gaming for societal good is a new norm, and SpawnOnMe is guiding that path.

Commentary Politics

Young and Far From Apathetic on Abortion

Lauren Rankin & Dr. Sarp Aksel

It’s easy to say that millennials aren’t actively defending abortion rights. But it’s not true. In fact, the wide range of young people’s actions to preserve and advance access defies narrow definitions of "political activism."

This election season has brought mixed messages about youth activism. As Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have attempted to woo young voters, there’s also been pointed criticism that millennials’ supposed apathy has contributed to the erosion of, of all things, abortion rights.

The most notable example of such criticism was Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s January comments that she saw “a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”

Schultz’s perception does not mirror our reality (nor the reality of a presidential campaign in which few candidates have given abortion rights any meaningful airtime).

We are the younger generation in question. Together, we are a 28-year-old abortion provider and a 30-year-old abortion clinic escort. Every day, we enable access to abortion care, and we aren’t the only ones. Our friends and colleagues work tirelessly to not only further the abortion rights movement, but to lead it.

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According to a 2015 Gallup poll, a greater proportion of people ages 18 to 34 identify as pro-choice than does any other age group. But what the statistics don’t reveal is the myriad manifestations our generation’s activism takes. We are abortion providers, clinic escorts, fundraising champions, writers, documentarians, and storytellers.

As an OB-GYN resident in the Bronx, one of New York City’s most medically underserved boroughs, Sarp bears daily witness to the vital role abortion care plays in pregnant people’s health and lives. Too often, he sees the devastating consequences of barriers to care, whether in the form of insurance coverage, gestational age limits, financial hardships, or support system struggles. Despite New York state’s more liberal policies on abortion, access remains a challenge for many of its residents and his patients.

Providing abortion care is an awesome responsibility, one that brings with it tremendous emotional rewards. Sarp feels it when a patient gently squeezes his hand immediately after terminating a wanted yet anomalous pregnancy. He hears it in the thoughtful thank-you notes he receives from patients long gone from his office. He sees it in the joyful tears of a patient whose abortion he performed six months ago, but who just found out she is pregnant with a partner who does not physically, emotionally, or sexually abuse her. He clings to these moments as he cares for patients and when he marches in support of their rights to choose when, whether, and with whom to be pregnant.

Sarp is a product of Medical Students for Choice (MSFC), an international nonprofit with a mission to create the next generation of abortion providers and pro-choice physicians. Students involved with MSFC take a directly activist role, working to destigmatize abortion care among medical students and residents, and to persuade medical schools and residency programs to include abortion as a part of the reproductive health services curriculum.

For Lauren, enabling access means being a support system and sometimes a human shield between patients and hateful, shaming protesters. Her Saturday mornings are spent on the sidewalk, escorting patients and companions from the safety of their cars to the safety of the clinic. Young people comprise a plurality of volunteers at Lauren’s clinic, and they show up every weekend to support those who need it.

Lauren has held sobbing teenage rape victims as they were retraumatized by the violent screams of the men outside the clinic doors. She has watched as a companion screamed at a protester, “You don’t know what we’re going through,” as he walked his partner into the clinic to terminate a wanted pregnancy.

Escorting patients means being insulted and even endangered. Lauren has been berated, harassed, threatened, and sexually harassed by protesters while volunteering. But she has also been hugged, praised, thanked, and supported by grateful patients, their companions, and even passersby.

The misconception that young people are complacent belies not only our lived experiences, but the experiences of our colleagues.

Young people are at the forefront of work with the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) and state-based grassroots abortion funds. “Well over half of NNAF’s member organizations are proud to have young people in leadership positions as board members, staff, and hotline volunteers,” said NNAF Executive Director Yamani Hernandez in an email to Rewire. “Abortion funds are a welcoming place for the power and brilliance of young people because we recognize our movement is stronger when we support and amplify their leadership.”

We see young people bravely sharing their abortion stories to shatter stigma. Amanda Williams, the executive director of the Texas-based Lilith Fund, and NNAF Policy Representative Renee Bracey Sherman are among many telling their abortion stories to the world, challenging a culture of silence and shame around this basic health-care service.

And yes, young people are a visible presence at rallies for accessible abortion care. In March, they joined older activists to support abortion access at the Supreme Court during oral arguments for the Texas abortion case (and we were among them!).

On a daily basis, we see young people embodying the second-wave feminist ideal that “the personal is political” by defending abortion on the ground. Youth are making abortion accessible by doing the hands-on, personal work of funding abortions, providing abortions, escorting patients into clinics, and in some states, driving and housing patients.

This is a directly political act, particularly in states where abortion is increasingly inaccessible. Rallies and marches are good and important. But they don’t mean much to a low-income woman in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley when she has two weeks left to obtain an abortion in her state and nowhere within hundreds of miles to go. She needs money, transportation, an escort, and a provider. She needs actual, tangible help. And that is what young people are doing.

Not only that, but young people are making the abortion rights movement more inclusive and more effective. In many ways, the abortion rights frameworks and tactics of the 1960s and 1970s don’t hold water for the movement today; our social movements have changed, and so has technology. Young people are demanding that the right to a safe and legal abortion be contextualized along all other reproductive rights, including youth-led campaigns like #NoTeenShame, which seeks to destigmatize pregnant and parenting teens. Young people are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for abortion care by engaging social and digital media, leveraging the support of our followers to make access a reality. And young people are pushing the movement to be more gender-inclusive, to reflect the fact that not everyone who has an abortion identifies as a cisgender woman.

Young people aren’t checked out. We are engaged. We are working to make abortion accessible in an increasingly hostile landscape. Given the opportunity and support, young people can be the difference makers. So the next time critics of millenials are looking to blame someone for the current state of abortion rights, don’t look at us. We have work to do.

Commentary Media

Anti-Choicers Are Trying to Convince Us That Reproductive Care Isn’t a Legitimate Need—and the Media Is Helping

Amanda Marcotte

Two of the major anti-Planned Parenthood talking points, which anti-choicers have disseminated through mainstream media, are about advancing the idea that any sexual health services that aren't about making babies doesn't count as real health care.

This summer, the anti-choice movement clearly had one goal: to see how far it could get in using lies and deceptive rhetoric to convince America that reproductive health care, particularly the service offered by Planned Parenthood, isn’t a real medical need.

This was all kicked off with a lie that got a surprising amount of traction for being a self-evident right-wing fantasy—that Planned Parenthood is somehow profiting off selling fetal body parts. Still, using that deception to try and snooker people into believing reproductive services aren’t legitimate is an enormous undertaking. Nearly all women, including religious conservatives themselves, use the kinds of health care in question: contraception, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, well-woman visits, you name it. Women know for a fact that these things are, indeed, health care. So anti-choicers have concocted a number of lies and confusing rhetorical ploys to try and overcome this well-established fact. And unfortunately, they’ve had some assistance from mainstream media outlets, which too often hesitate to correct right-wing misinformation out of fear of being accused of bias.

Conservative efforts to call into question the necessity of reproductive health care have taken two forms: Deny that there’s any reason women would need access to specialized gynecological care and imply that any gynecological care that is not prenatal care must therefore be “abortion.” (Obviously, abortion is also legitimate health care, but anti-choicers have been denying that for a long time. This is about everything that is not abortion.)

The first point is largely being accomplished by arguing that women don’t need Planned Parenthood because they can go to a “community health center.” In order to bolster this claim, the Susan B. Anthony List is circulating a map of these centers where women can go for alternative health care, a talking point that many legislators have brought up as well.

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Unsurprisingly, it all turns out to be utter nonsense. Community health centers are often already overworked and dumping a bunch of patients seeking gynecological care on them will mean less care for everyone. Jennifer Frost and Kinsey Hasstedt of the Guttmacher Institute dug into this claim even more deeply and found that when it comes to contraception in particular, there is simply no replacing Planned Parenthood:

In 68 percent of counties with a Planned Parenthood site (332 counties out of 491), these sites serve at least half the women obtaining publicly supported contraceptive services from a safety-net health center. And in 21 percent of counties with a Planned Parenthood site (103 counties), Planned Parenthood serves all of the women obtaining publicly supported contraceptive services from a safety-net health center.

Others have pointed out before that defunding Planned Parenthood results in a surge of unintended pregnancies due to unmet contraception needs, and were met with indifferent shrugs by anti-choicers.

It’s clear that anti-choicers aren’t circulating this map of “alternative” clinics—clinics that are usually good clinics, but are often overtaxed and not equipped for the levels of specialized care Planned Parenthood can offer—because they truly want women to get contraception somewhere else. They know women likely won’t be able to. So circulating the map is about creating the facile appearance of concern while actually implying that there’s no need for widespread specialized gynecological care at all: that services meant to allow women to have sex safely without getting pregnant should not be considered health care in the first place.

This is made even more evident by talking point number two: the claim, floated again by the SBA List, that 94 percent of “pregnancy-related” services at Planned Parenthood are abortion. Imani Gandy of Rewire thoroughly debunked this claim, and I recommend reading her takedown in its entirety. In addition to her analysis, what should jump out at you is the hidden premise that SBA List is floating with that statistic, which is that the only legitimate gynecological care for women is “pregnancy-related.” Cancer screenings, STI treatment, well-woman visits, pregnancy prevention, even just treatment for anemia? (Which is one of the things Planned Parenthood treated me for in college.) All of that is considered so unimportant that SBA List couldn’t even bother to take it into consideration. If a woman isn’t currently gestating, she apparently doesn’t even rate as a person deserving health care. Women are treated, openly, like nothing but baby buckets. If you aren’t pregnant, your care doesn’t matter enough to even be counted.

Unfortunately, the Washington Post’s response to this number was to run a “both sides do it” story debunking the SBA List’s statistical methods, but also arguing that Planned Parenthood was somehow underestimating their abortion services with their standard claim that it’s only 3 percent of what they do. (Gandy challenged the Post’s rebuttal, as well.) It’s a lot of fun with numbers, but what goes unquestioned is the extremely different assumptions bundled with each statistic. By pointing out that abortion is only 3 percent of their services, Planned Parenthood is trying to argue that their preventive services—contraception, STI testing, you know the drill—are legitimate forms of health care. By focusing strictly on abortion, prenatal care, and “adoption referrals,” SBA List is suggesting that non-pregnant women have no legitimate interest in sexual health care. It’s not a story of both sides “fudging the numbers” at all; it’s a very strong difference in opinion over whether the woman who surrounds the uterus is a person with any value beyond making babies.

This kind of false equivalence was also all over a recent episode of the Diane Rehm show, which aimed to broadly cover the various attacks on Planned Parenthood. The episode had anti- and pro-choice voices, but little effort was actually made to weigh the claims of either side against facts. New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes did point out, briefly, that the SBA List’s 94 percent number blatantly ignores the fact that women have sexual health-care needs even when not pregnant, but beyond that, the anti-choice voice, Carol Tobias, was able to push her myths hard without much fear of Rehm pointing out that she was, by an objective and truth-based standard, being deceptive.

For instance, Tobias claimed “the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood would go to other health service centers that would provide the same care.” But she then went on to argue, “We have thousands of pregnancy centers all over this country who will help women with the pregnancy, with whatever services she needs.” She is almost certainly talking about crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), almost none of which are actual clinics. Most CPCs don’t offer any useful services at all, but simply provide a pregnancy test you could buy at the drugstore and a lecture about how abortion and birth control are evil.

Unfortunately, none of the journalists on the show pointed out that a pamphlet telling you to abstain from sex is not an adequate replacement for actual medical care provided by actual doctors and nurses. Because of this, listeners who don’t know much about the issue might actually walk away thinking there’s nothing Planned Parenthood offers that women can’t readily get elsewhere. Imagine if Tobias was challenged on her nonsense! She might admit to believing that she disapproves of health care for women who want to have sex without getting pregnant. She might admit that she was just trying to bamboozle people by implying that a CPC is anything like an actual medical clinic. Members of the public might have learned that anti-choice activists have an ugly anti-sex agenda way outside of mainstream views. Instead, she went unchallenged, and listeners likely walked away incorrectly believing that these attacks on Planned Parenthood don’t represent the threat to reproductive health care that they actually do.

It’s hard challenging anti-choices lies and anti-choice radicalism. Anti-choicers whine and they fuss about being held accountable to even basic truths, much less being challenged on their values assertions. They lie so often that it’s exhausting just trying to keep up with it all. But audiences deserve to know what’s really going on with this debate over Planned Parenthood, and serving their interests—and serving the truth—means abandoning this attachment to narratives that treat both sides as equivalent, and equally factual, points of view.