The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has intensified barriers to abortion care in the United States. Anti-abortion elected officials have taken advantage by deeming abortions “non-essential,” limiting options and delaying care for people who do not want to be pregnant. Pregnant people are worried about risking exposure to the virus while seeking abortion care at a clinic. And while other medical services moved to telehealth, in many states, abortion care was prevented from following suit.
This led to increased public criticism of the unnecessary restrictions placed on abortion pills in the United States. Then, in mid-July, a federal judge in Maryland ruled that the FDA must suspend guidance that forced patients to obtain mifepristone, “the abortion pill,” in-person. This means that patients may now receive mifepristone from their providers through the mail.
Despite the ups and downs of abortion access during COVID-19, there continues to be little awareness of the existence of abortion pills, let alone that they can be used for safe and effective self-managed care. And yet, this is exactly the knowledge that people need and deserve during the pandemic—and always!
As the Ambassadors of Information program manager with Plan C—an organization that works in education and research related to self-managed abortions with pills—I am constantly looking for the best ways to educate the public on abortion pills and how they can be accessed.
Then, one day in May, I received an email from one of our ambassadors of information, Antonia Piccone. She, along with Anna Reed, had created “Self-Managed: An Abortion Story in Eight Parts“: a podcast that “centers real people’s stories in an effort to demystify the practice of self-managed abortion,” they say.
And it truly succeeds in this effort.
I had the opportunity to sit down (over a video call) with Reed and Piccone to discuss “Self-Managed”—what led them to create it and what they have learned since releasing it.
“This information has been gatekept and it shouldn’t be,” said Piccone, a doula. “How can we make information about our bodies and this process public, accessible and free?”
The answer to this question was to create a podcast, as audio provides a more “intimate quality” to the content. “It felt like the medium for the subject,” Reed added, nodding.
Reed, a sex educator and youth advocate, went on to explain that information about self-managed abortions tends to be “dark, intense and institutional.”
The goal of “Self-Managed” was to, instead, lightheartedly share frameworks for mutual aid, community-building and self-care.
“There is more curiosity for self- and community-care,” Piccone noted, particularly in light of the most recent uprisings for racial justice. “We are witnessing a global reckoning as people grapple with the ways in which COVID-19 and institutionalized racism have disproportionately thwarted Black people’s right to bodily autonomy.”
They situate their podcast in this broader context and acknowledge alongside their interviewees the “recent criminal prosecutions of people who have ended their own pregnancies have consistently come down on poor people and people of color.” This must be held central in education and activism on self-managed care.
Reed and Piccone make it clear that they do not see themselves as experts in self-managed care—instead, they say, they’re learning alongside listeners.
“How cool that we can make our learning process available to others!” Reed exclaimed. “The main inquiry was, ‘How can we learn?’ Which took us to ‘Who is doing this work? Who are the helpers?’”
“I think there is a Mr. Rogers quote about that!” I responded.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Through “Self-Managed: An Abortion Story in Eight Parts,” Reed and Piccone have shown us the helpers—from Susan Yanow, a long-time activist for self-managed access, to people who are helping themselves, by self-managing their abortion care.
As the ups and downs of abortion access during COVID-19 continue, we cannot stop educating ourselves and others about the option of self-managed abortions with pills.
Reed and Piccone have provided us with a timely, rich and approachable way to gain the knowledge that we need and deserve.
Self-Managed: An Abortion Story in Eight Parts and accompanying resources can be found in both Spanish and English on smapodcast.org, as well as on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. For more information about this podcast, please contact Reed and Piccone at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.