Activist and artist Jex Blackmore has never shied away from controversy in their work. In the past, they attended an alt-right march dressed as a clown, dragged a large cross dressed as a pregnant, female Jesus figure through anti-choice protesters, and were pelted by 100 pounds of rotten fruit while waiting for their second abortion.
Their appearance on Fox News Detroit on Jan. 23 was no different. In a conversation with reporter Charlie Langton and anti-choice advocate Rebecca Kiessling, Blackmore held up a mifepristone abortion pill and swallowed it with a sip of water. Then they explained:
Blackmore: “I want to show you how easy it is & safe it is by taking it myself.”
Langton: “You’re not pregnant, are you?”
Blackmore: “I would say … this is going to end a pregnancy.”
Blackmore’s Fox appearance went viral on social media, angering critics on both ends of the political spectrum.
Blackmore’s action was a part of a guerrilla campaign for mail-order abortion pills launched on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, by a group of Detroit activists affiliated with the group Shout Your Abortion.
Ms. spoke to Blackmore about their Fox interview and the social media firestorm that followed.
Carrie Baker: What was your goal in appearing on the Fox news program?
Jex Blackmore: The whole week I was working on a guerilla poster campaign with Shout Your Abortion. We think Roe v Wade is going to be overturned, or decimated in some capacity, which would then return the question of the legalization of abortion to the states. In Michigan, we have a trigger law on the books, so it would automatically become criminalized, which is very scary. I know that there’s a lot of people who are very scared of that.
There’s this amazing new-ish resource of mail order abortion pills, that don’t require you to see a doctor and are actually more affordable than going to a clinic. It also lets you work around state mandated informed consent and waiting period laws.
The poster campaign was focused on how we get folks who maybe aren’t on top of the latest abortion news to know this is an option should you want it. I pitched a story to Fox 2 and they asked me to come on to debate with Rebecca Kiessling, who’s a wildly radical anti-abortion speaker.
It was at that time that I thought, I want to not only talk about this resource, but make sure that folks know this is the process. This is how the process begins. And it’s literally this easy. I wanted to get the message out there to as many people as possible about the option and not in a theoretical way—in a real concrete way.
I wanted to get the message out there to as many people as possible about the option and not in a theoretical way—in a real concrete way.
Baker: What did you expect the response to be?
Blackmore: I didn’t even know if anyone was gonna notice what I was doing. Because there’s not a very big gesture involved. It’s so simple. That’s why I said, “This very pill is going to do it.” I was really trying to act it out.
I’m quite frankly pretty shocked at how much attention that it got. But I think it’s all good because people have been writing to me saying, “I would never have known about this had I not watched this clip.” I think that folks know there’s medical or surgical abortion, but not very many people know that you can just get it through the mail without seeing a doctor.
Most people know the way it has been, especially pre-COVID — that you have to go into a medical clinic where a doctor has to physically give you the pill. At least in Michigan, you have to take the first pill in front of them. If the clinics are shut down, and you have to potentially put yourself at risk legally to go see a doctor, having that risk removed is news to people.
Folks know there’s medical or surgical abortion, but not very many people know that you can just get it through the mail without seeing a doctor.
Baker: What has been the impact of your appearance on Fox?
Jex Blackmore: It’s been published in the U.K. and Poland, so some places that are particularly vulnerable and have inconsistent reproductive health care access. On TikTok, the video I posted reached at least 1 million people. I’m assuming that was largely the younger population. Social media has been fantastic. It was covered in the Washington Post, and there’s about to be an NBC article about it.
In the literal thousands of comments and messages I’ve received, people have said they’ve already ordered abortion pills just in case to have on hand. There was a doctor who didn’t know about it, just a regular physician who wasn’t aware of this. They told me, “I’m now going to share this with my patients if they need it.” There are teachers who have written to me as well. If it helps even one person get out of a bind and take care of themselves, then it was a success. I think it’s already been a really effective campaign.
Baker: Can you tell us more about the reactions you’ve received?
Blackmore: All of the feedback has been really interesting because there are criticisms on both sides, both from the anti-abortion and pro-abortion sides. There seems to be a concern that the process of taking the pill was not done with grave contemplation. People think it needs to be something that’s hard to do, and is traumatizing in some capacity. Some folks have been upset that it was “so callous.”
It’s interesting that there are people who totally support abortion but believe it should be something that’s private and serious with your doctor. There’s this culture around what abortion should be like, and how it should feel that really dictates the narrative about the procedure.
There are people who totally support abortion but believe it should be something that’s private and serious with your doctor. There’s this culture around what abortion should be like, and how it should feel that really dictates the narrative about the procedure.
Baker: How do you explain that reaction from reproductive rights supporters?
Blackmore: I have two thoughts about that. One is that for many people, abortion is a really big decision. And it’s certainly personal, no matter what. It can be really hard for some people. That’s the point—there’s a lot of nuance in the experience of abortion. People are at all different points in their life when faced with an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.
The other thing to consider is this real Catholic mentality of shame and guilt that we often feel that we must feel and becomes a necessary part of the experience. It’s embedded in our culture, and passed through generations, where it feels wrong to address one’s reproductive future in a way that doesn’t feel monumentally hard. This element of guilt and shame and regret is like a mandatory part of the process.
If you are an average person, you hear a lot of feminists say this is really serious, we need to protect this, and then you hear Republicans saying women are just using this as birth control. We know that they aren’t, but I’m also of the mindset that it doesn’t matter if they are. Fundamentally, this is a form of moral policing. It’s hard to actually see how pervasive it is in our culture.
Ramona Flores: When you’re creating performance pieces or artistic installations about abortion and reproductive justice, do you come to that work with more of an activist or artist mindset?
Blackmore: The way that I approach any projects or problem is to think, what is my goal? What am I trying to achieve here? Who am I trying to communicate with, and then what are the best tools that I have to meet that goal? I’m a person who doesn’t have a significant amount of financial resources, so sometimes I’m working alone or don’t have a large group of people to collaborate with.
I would say that I always start as an activist and organizer, and then the art really comes into play. Creating a spectacle or performance seems to be an extremely powerful tool to get people paying attention and can get a lot of press, rather than doing the traditional form of protest. Like building a massive sculpture, if it’s beautiful and compelling, it lends itself to communicating the message that’s behind it a lot better than some of the more traditional modes of resistance.
I always start as an activist and organizer, and then the art really comes into play. If it’s beautiful and compelling, it lends itself to communicating the message that’s behind it a lot better than some of the more traditional modes of resistance.
Flores: Can you tell us about your guerilla poster campaign with Shout Your Abortion?
Blackmore: I love direct action, I think it’s fun, effective and something that really allows you to build a community movement around getting something done. It can feel very frustrating when you’re trying to participate in the bureaucracy of large groups. We use wheat paste to put up posters. We’ve been doing it for years and years. It’s extremely effective because it’s very hard to get down. You can make your own paste in your kitchen with just water and flour.
It’s a really good way of saying this is what we have the resources and capacity to do and it fits into this history of direct action, especially surrounding abortion rights that has been happening all over the world.
Some of the feedback that I got was really interesting because people were really offended by the posters because they seemed too crass. They thought abortion should be something you take seriously. People really believe it should be hard to find out about abortion. It should be difficult to make the decision. And for those reasons, I think it was absolutely the right way to go because that kind of narrative does nobody any good.
Blackmore’s film, An Undue Burden, is a “24-hour endurance film” that follows a woman who is waiting the mandatory twenty-four hours after her initial appointment at a reproductive health clinic to receive her abortion.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.