Wednesday marked the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision protecting a person’s right to an abortion. And while that right continues to be battled and debated in courts, around the dinner table, media and street protests, the discussion often centers around pregnant people’s rights to privacy and bodily autonomy. But two organizations are collaborating to shift the narrative away from controversy.
Forward Together, a national organization that unites communities to win rights, recognition and resources for all families, and the National Network of Abortion Funds, which operates a network of 76 funds that support people wanting or needing abortion, are working together to highlight the power that can be built when people feel loved and supported in talking about and seeking abortions. Last week, they launched an artivism campaign sharing a powerful message popularized message by activist Renee Bracey Sherman: “everyone loves someone who had an abortion.”
The campaign features the art of Forward Together artist-in-residence Micah Bazant, known for their colorful explorations of issues such as violence against trans people, immigration justice and Black liberation. Micah’s artwork, which often centers people of color, is created in collaboration with others and provides a visual representation of a world where everyone takes care of and protects each other.
The new abortion messages the groups are hoping to push into the mainstream is centered on compassion and love—a radical shift away from both progressives’ laser focus on rights and anti-abortion rhetoric of shame and blame that can leave abortion seekers, providers and advocates feeling stigmatized and isolated.
Forward Together Executive Director Eveline Shen and NNAF Executive Director Yamani Hernandez talked to Ms. about the power of language to transform how we think and act collectively. The interview that follows has been edited for clarity and length.
Talk to me about the message everyone loves someone who had an abortion. What should we know about the history and relevance of this message?
ES: One in four cisgender women have an abortion by the age of 45. While we don’t have statistics on trans and nonbinary people and abortion, we know that they use abortion services, too. Abortion is happening, and we all deserve abortion care because it is a normal and necessary part of our lives. The message is connected to Forward Together’s value of family and places it within the context of abortion happens to people that we love, whether that’s our biological family or our chosen family. Micah’s art elicits a sense of love for the person who has had an abortion and that includes love for ourselves if we have had an abortion. The message and the art creates a critical reframing of the harmful narratives developed by our opposition that abortion is something selfish or even an act of violence. There’s so much stigma around abortion. This stigma results in people being isolated, fearful, ashamed, disconnected from their families and having to seek abortion care in secret. And so the message that “everyone loves someone who has had an abortion” flips the narrative to abortion happens within the context of our families, and it’s also about love.
YH: It’s a phrase that we started using after Renee Bracey Sherman joined the staff at NNAF. As an expert on abortion storytelling and as a communications strategist, she began to say it in every interview. From my perspective, it’s important to put love in a historic framework that defines it as the lionizing force it is. There’s power in love; there’s power in working to ensure there’s justice for yourself, for people you know and people you don’t. Love is the power source that keeps us moving and making the tangible wins in our communities that get people the abortions they need and want, that keeps us educating our friends and families about just what it takes to get an abortion, and keeps us steadfast in drawing the lines between abortion access and how the fight for bodily autonomy intersects with so many other fights for justice. It’s galvanizing.
It’s also a phrase we’ve seen resonate so much with people who surround abortion funds, whether they’re answering hotline messages, fundraising for their local abortion fund, writing their legislators, or breaking down stigma by talking about supporting abortion access in their circles of loved ones. People working to make abortion more accessible don’t always see their work framed as an act of love, and it’s time we claim that power. That resonance made it the right phrase to adopt for our individual membership program, which mobilizes individuals around political education and engagement in their local fund communities. I wrote about talking about abortion as an issue of love and compassion (here) where I discuss that talking about abortion through an economic frame is not about removing feelings from abortion, but about highlighting the many chains that bind our decision-making and oppression. To discuss these stories and realities and make a choice to extend compassion is justice in action.
Given our political climate, where the word love can be buried in divisive discourse and rigid ideas, why did you choose to lead with love?
ES: The current presidential administration leads with fear, lack of compassion, violence and hatred. It is the opposite of love. And when you govern with a sense of fear, people begin to stigmatize other people. Although we are in a terrible time right now, love is much more powerful than fear. Love is the only way through fear. Being connected to our loved ones is a way we can win by living our values.Love cuts through all our families, all of our communities no matter where you are from. We have seen love win, for example, through campaigns around same-sex marriage in the United States and in the 2018 Together for Yes campaign in Ireland where abortion rights activists were able to repeal the Irish constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which banned abortion. Together for Yes led a campaign around care and compassion, and they won. Leading with love is not only the right thing to do. It is the strategic thing to do.
YH: Taking a cue from the marriage equality and “love is love” campaign, we believe that love is an indisputable value and verb. The anti-choice framework is about shame, stigma and punishment. We refuse to start the conversation defending abortion against that framework. We take a different, affirming stance that believes in trusting that the person having an abortion knows best for their body, life and family. We know that there are infinite reasons why people have abortions and it’s no one’s place to judge whether, why, or how someone has one. We know it’s our responsibility to make those beliefs real, to put them into action and to claim the work abortion funds, providers and supportive friends and communities are doing as movement work that has the power to transform for the better how we talk about abortion, and the people who have abortions.
How did you show love to someone who has had an abortion or is considering one?
ES: It’s not any different than how you would show up for any other big experience that your loved one is going through. It’s being present with them, supporting and loving them unconditionally. I have people challenging family members or friends who are not supportive of a family member’s right to seek an abortion and educating them on the importance of trusting that people know what is best for their lives and families. Those who stand in solidarity with people who had or are considering an abortion create barriers so that the person getting an abortion doesn’t have to directly feel other people’s lack of compassion. Besides personal support, there’s also practical support, such as helping them get to their appointments, making sure they have a way home and taking care of them afterwards.
YH: For me, financially and emotionally supporting people who need abortions are a tremendous way to show love. I have done so many times. I entered reproductive justice work because I met a 14-year-old girl who was already parenting and when she became pregnant again, she offered to hire other young people to beat her up to terminate the pregnancy because she said her parents told her if she got pregnant again she and her baby would have to get out. She said that it was easier to explain and more affordable to get beat up than to explain having an abortion or trying to pay for one. This was when I first learned about an abortion fund when I was researching alternatives for her and trying to connect her to a provider and resources. It is also the thing that politicized me about abortion even though I had one at 19 myself. It was clear to me that she was navigating housing, parenting, finances, age and likely intimate partner violence (IPV) considering sexual coercion and contraception manipulation an adult partner. If this wasn’t an example of interlocking oppressions I don’t know what is.
Micah shared with me that a story from Bianca Campbell, Forward Together’s Movement Building Manager, about intergenerational healing and how many African women braided rice or seeds into their children’s hair as a way to help them survive slavery or the Middle Passage served as the perfect metaphor for love and resilience across generations. We can see this history represented in their art through the stars being braided into the mother’s hair and flowing down into the granddaughter’s hand. Who do you want to reach with this message?
ES: Forward Together has a rich history of working in partnerships with artists. After the 2016 elections, we created an artist in residence staff position because we know that art is the quickest way to convey images, messages and narratives that speak to our vision of the world we want. I imagine this piece of art in storefront windows, health-care clinics, schools and even in the offices of our legislators. I want this to be an image that everyday people walk by and see, causing them stop and pause. If they have had an abortion, they will affirmed from the image and the message. . And, if they know someone who had an abortion, it gives them a chance to reflect on how they can be more supportive of abortion access.
YH: We hope that our message of love and support around abortion is a universal message that would touch anyone who hears it. In particular, as a Black person I hope other Black people see themselves represented in this work. There are many myths about abortion and one of them is that abortion is for white women. Abortion is for anyone who needs it, just like birth and parenting should be options for anyone who wants to. We hope the artwork softens people and that instead of villainizing people who have abortions it moves people to think of loved ones. I hope that this message and art moves people, including people who have had or will have abortions, to seeing abortion as a personal, intimate, valid action that affects many of the people they know, and grows compassion and empathy enough to consider how it feels to hear shame and stigma, but less often messages of support. And I hope that anyone who is sitting in a clinic waiting for their appointment, or anyone who feels alone in navigating the barriers to get their abortion, hears it as a declaration of trust, support, and commitment. That they know there are people in the world that love them as they are in all their humanity, not in spite of having an abortion. And I hope that it inspires people as an entry point to supporting abortion funds, to understanding that saying love in abstract is not as powerful as putting love into motion through action. Those first steps are powerful, and this message invites people into this movement in a way that encourages them to first think about their values and how they look enacted.
What does this message make more possible for how people discuss abortion with their friends, families and communities? And, how else can we make positive discussions around abortion as common as the procedure itself?
ES: In 2013, one person who volunteered on our campaign to stop abortion restrictions in New Mexico came to the Forward Together Albuquerque and shared with us why she was there: “My cousin with whom I was so close to, had an abortion when I was really young; I watched her go through it and she didn’t get any family support and it was not talked about, and I felt really bad for her. I remember how she suffered and experienced depression. I’ve never done anything on abortion, at all because I’m a Catholic, but this gives me an opportunity to understand how this is about strengthening our families and being there for my cousin out of love.The way that Forward Together talks about abortion in the context of love and family and caring for each other brought me to this work.”
When we start with messages of family and love, which we did in the Respect Albuquerque Women campaign, it opens up possibilities of what we can achieve together. We know that when you come from a place of love, people are allowed to enter into the conversation by bringing themselves and their loved ones into the fight to keep abortion access. Traditional ways of talking about abortion leaves so many of our communities out, especially communities of color and faith communities when they don’t speak to our values and they don’t speak our language.
YH: It hopefully opens the door for more nuanced conversations. We have developed the “Heart-to-Heart” card deck to help people have more conversations about abortion. Anti-abortion policies often impact people experiencing involuntary pregnancy loss or miscarriage. The people who have abortions are largely the same people who parent and have lost pregnancies. We can’t pick and choose who is worthy of love. That would be unjust.
I want to close this interview with the powerful words of Micah and a call to action: Human communities have always used art to connect to each other and to our deepest values. Being moved by a piece of art can transform us and change our understanding of what’s possible. Art can take us beyond the narrow expectations of our political systems and the limitations of our experiences. Art helps us imagine the world we need to create together. People can share this art and declare their support for people who want and need abortions. Folks can download this free poster on our website and display it in a public place, or share the image online and with their communities. I invite you to use this art to help shift the conversation wherever you are.