This month, student organizers with URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity and partner All* Above All are declaring they are #AbortionPositive to counter state legislators’ narratives against abortion care.
More than one-quarter of the 1,074 abortion restrictions passed since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalizing the procedure were enacted between 2011 and 2015. Through the national tour, millennials on ten campuses in five of the worst states for reproductive rights are looking to stop that momentum in its tracks by ending abortion stigma.
Students, speakers from local reproductive health clinics, and abortion storytellers are empowering each other and their communities to declare: “We are Abortion Positive, are you?”
“While anti-abortion activists use gruesome and insensitive imagery to reach college students, we believe an empowering, honest, abortion-positive approach is more motivating to young people,” URGE Executive Director Kierra Johnson said in a statement. “Young people support access to abortion, and they are energized to start turning back the tide of anti-choice restrictions on our bodies and our choices.”
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The tour kicked off on April 5 at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa in time to further bolster support for the EACH Woman Act. The bill would end insurance bans on abortion like the Hyde Amendment, which greatly limits access to care for anyone with a federal insurance plan like Medicaid.
The tour’s reception in those states indicates more than just a willingness to hear what organizers had to say. Those who turned out enthusiastically signed petitions and asked how to get more involved.
“We had so many students come up to us and say how refreshing it was to see positive, uplifting ways to talk about this issue,” URGE Ohio State Organizer Allie Lahey said after the event. “We had a great turnout and response; over 250 students signed our petition in support of abortion coverage.”
First-year Bowling Green State University student and URGE canvasser McKenna Morrissey told Rewire that she was encouraged about the response from students who happened upon the event.
“The turnout was really awesome; we got a lot of support from people,” said Morrissey, who was wearing her “Abortion: I got 99 problems, but pregnancy ain’t one” abortion-positive t-shirt at the rally. Only one or two people questioned the sentiment behind her apparel choice. She took the opportunity to dispel widespread myths about abortion regret.
“They were asking, ‘Why do you have that? I support abortion, but that’s kind of not OK,’” Morrissey said. “So I asked why we shouldn’t be saying ‘abortion positive.’ [I told them] the most common feeling people have after an abortion is relief.”
Morrissey joined up with URGE almost the moment she stepped on campus. She said her mom had been abortion positive when she was growing up in Ohio, supporting her interest in learning more and getting involved in reproductive justice causes from a very young age.
When asked why this cause matters so much to her, Morrissey said simply: “Because it applies to me.”
URGE organizers have taken a bold, unapologetic stance on the tour page:
Abortion is a personal choice, but abortion access is also a public good. The world is better when anyone who needs an abortion can get one—easily, affordably, without stigma, and free from political interference.
But some of those who stopped by the Ohio rally didn’t want to talk about abortion, which Morrissey attributed to the stigma around the word and the procedure.
“A lot of people didn’t want to talk about abortion, period,” she said. “It’s the stigma around it—that’s the whole point of the tour, to say abortion’s not a bad word. That’s why I’m abortion positive, to get rid of the stigma.”
One of the speakers who stood out to Morrissey spoke about contraception sabotage—a controlling behavior abusers use to trap people in relationships.
“[She] spoke about how she worked really long hours, how she got pregnant without her consent,” Morrissey said. “Her partner had not been wearing condoms when he said he would. She was really strong.”
The other speaker Morrissey found powerful talked about their privilege, how easy it was for them to access necessary abortion care.
“It really touched me,” she said. “They spoke about their support network, raising awareness about the way it is for others. That was really great [for the tour goal]. When you’re abortion positive, you show you’re here for anyone who wants an abortion.”
That attitude—that the only reason someone should need to access abortion care is not wanting to be pregnant—is a hallmark of outspoken abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker, who was a surprise speaker at the #AbortionPositive stop at the University of Alabama.
“We have to deal with the reality that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime,” Dr. Parker told URGE organizers after the event. “Almost 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned. And unplanned doesn’t mean unwanted, but it means that when a woman has an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, she has to have access to services.”
When asked by an URGE staff why a tour like this is so important right now, Dr. Parker referenced the “hundreds of laws that have passed … at the local and state level from over 1,000 bills” over the past decade.
“[That] means that there are people who have a certain understanding who are controlling politics and they’re allowing politics to trump medicine. Abortion is health care,” he said.
“That decision [about an unplanned pregnancy], that access has been politicized, it’s been moralized. So it’s now couched in the frame of making vital health services for women illegal with regard to political activity. And … it’s made into something that’s stigmatized and shameful because people with a certain religious understanding oppose it.”
Dr. Parker explained that the only way to reduce the stigma and overturn harmful laws is for people to break their silence and complicity to engage in the political process.
“It is very important for people who understand that abortion is both moral and that it is health care and therefore it should be legal—that the voices [of those] who understand that need to raise a counter-narrative to the voices that are currently in the ascendancy,” he said.
The widespread notion that the millennial generation isn’t engaged in the way Dr. Parker called for is another inaccuracy Morrissey pushed back on when she spoke with Rewire. While she has heard some of her peers say openly they weren’t voting in the primary, the election and politics in general are frequent topics of discussion on campus. Even those who have yet to throw their support behind a candidate are plugged in online, and most of her friends are involved in civic causes like registering people to vote—another passion of hers. She encourages people to exercise that right and to get involved wherever they are.
“The way you can get involved is joining organizations on campus; there are a lot of chapters of URGE,” said Morrissey. “It’s no one’s job but your own—you do need to educate yourself .… If people start speaking out about [the 288 laws passed from 2011-2015], we can make a difference. I feel like our side needs to be unapologetic and loud.”
The #AbortionPositive tour has upcoming stops in Georgia, Kansas, and Texas.