On Fear, Abortion Access, and the Power of a Party
Content warning: this post references gender and sexual violence, and abortion restriction. Take care of yourself!
In recent weeks, the right to have a safe and legal abortion has been stripped from pregnant people in multiple states. This April, Ohio legislature passed the “Heartbeat” bill, also known as SB 23, which bans all abortion after a heartbeat is detectable on an ultrasound — meaning about five to six weeks into pregnancy, which is before the vast majority of pregnant people even know they are pregnant. The ban doesn’t make allowances in cases of rape or incest, and will only allow for the procedure to take place if the pregnant person’s life is deemed “immediately threatened” by the pregnancy. This ban targets multiple populations — especially low-income people of color, who are already targeted by discriminatory state practices regarding healthcare access.
And many other states have followed suit. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri have all recently passed severe abortion restrictions, and many other states are in danger of passing similar laws in the coming weeks. It’s scary. I feel scared, and desperate. I know I am not the only one to feel this way.
As I think about my time at Oberlin, I think about all the ways I’ve felt defined by my fear. Last Fall, I sustained a semester-long fight against an abuser on campus, ending with them transferring to another institution. In instances of stalking and general harassment like what I was facing, it is normal to feel paranoid and observed, like everywhere you go you are being watched. I’ve noticed aspects of PTSD showing up in my world since — a certain skittishness, a new temperament uncomfortably seated in distrust and nervousness. It’s been hard to navigate this reality while still working towards graduating, planning my life after Oberlin, and trying to serve the students around me in my support work roles at school. But as of writing this, I made it through. I wonder, though, about what it cost me, and about how much everyday violence vulnerable people are expected to endure on a daily basis. It sickens me, and makes it so hard to reflect positively or even neutrally about my college experience. It was so hard to thrive here sometimes. It is so hard to live safely, feeling loved, in a country like ours, and in a world that so consistently punishes us for speaking the truth. It is painful.
It was during my time at Oberlin that the MeToo movement kicked off, bringing gendered violence to the forefront of our national discourse. It was just this fall that Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her experience of Kavanaugh’s sexual violence against her, echoing Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony about Clarence Thomas’ sexual harassment against her. Every week, in social media, the news, and my coursework, I read dozens of stories of sexual violence, gendered abuse, and harm, with little to no recourse or accountability pursued. I read these stories, soak them up, and carry them with me everywhere I go. They weigh on me like layers of soap, a daily discomfort I can’t for the life of me shake.
I’m working to channel the fear, though: to live with it until I can fully work through it and process with a trained therapist. I’ve figured out methods of approaching the feelings, talking them through with myself, acknowledging that they are temporary and I have a steadfast network of support at my disposal. I’ve devised new ways to feel grounded, to mitigate the fear I feel walking alone at night; I call a friend, I count to ten, I comfort myself with gentle affirmation and repetitive odes. I give myself room to feel everything, and honor where it comes from. I try to let it pass through me without getting stuck.
Fear, fear, fear. At a certain point, it gets boring! It was taking up too much space in my body and brain. When the Heartbeat bill was passed, and as the posts I read online began to feel more and more like the panic of MeToo, I decided to twist my fear like clay, make it into a knot of power and solidarity. I decided to throw a party, a celebration knocking against all the terror and threats against my and my loved ones’ bodily, economic, reproductive autonomy.
Although Oberlin has sometimes been a painful place to be, I also know that the skills I’ve learned in communication, organizing, and rallying were all honed here. I followed the lead of the women of color who mentored me, the radical professors who nurtured me, and the friends who loved me, and I learned and learned and keep learning every day. It was because of my job at the Cat, my work as a poet with OSLAM, my readings in CAS and GSFS, and so many other places, that I was able to turn my rage about the abortion bans into concrete, historically contextualized information, and then collective action.
So. Thus was born the Abortion Access Party, a fundraiser concert for a local Ohio abortion fund. In the span of three days, I worked with a group of 15 other Oberlin students to plan a massive event with multiple bands, poets, local doulas, letter-writing supplies, and abortion history information, and lots of good food to be nourished by. We hosted the event on the national Day of Action to #StopTheBans, and raised money for Women Have Options — Ohio (WHO), which gets financial resources to people seeking abortion all across the state. They assist with transportation, lodging, abortion procedures, aftercare, doulas, and more. I thought about the way WHO channels fear into action and material solidarity and aid, and I felt inspired. We ended up raising nearly $3,000 in only one night for the group, all through small donations and food sales, and were also able to send some funds to Alabama-specific abortion fund Yellowhammer. It was a huge success!
Here is some more information about WHO, and after, I’ll share a short interview with two of my fellow organizers, Charlotte Andrews and Becca Chant, two lovely and badass fellow recent graduates who give me permission to honor my fear and my love of my community concurrently. I love y’all!
Women Have Options
“The mission of Women Have Options is simple – to connect those needing abortion to financial assistance so they can afford their reproductive choice. And just as importantly, it allows them to access that choice with dignity. Our current system tells those seeking abortion services, implicitly and explicitly, that if they cannot afford their choice, they do not deserve to have one. As supporters of Women Have Options, you’re not just providing financial assistance, but you are telling those in need that they deserve this support.
"Some of the patients we serve are single parents struggling to support their children, many are students determined to complete their education, while others are facing debilitating conditions such as domestic violence, illness, substance abuse, rape, or incest. All deserve to make their own reproductive choices, without jeopardizing their health or future.
"The cost of a first trimester abortion can be more than a low-income family lives on in a month. Ohioans forgo food, risk eviction, and pawn their possessions as they attempt to raise money for an abortion. Some are forced to continue the pregnancy, abandon their education, and stay trapped in poverty. On average, an individual woman receives about $100 from Women Have Options. Many women who receive WHO/O funds have managed to save almost enough money to pay for their abortion costs on their own but just need a bit more—just $10 or $20—to cover the total.
"While we receive grants from national foundations, most of our resources come from individual donors. Your donation can make all the difference by allowing women to afford the reproductive health care they desperately need. Every donation to WHO/O, no matter how small, has a tremendous impact on a woman’s life.”
A note about WHO’s name: “We know our name is exclusionary of these [non-cis] folks and we are sorry. As an organization, we understand the power in a name. While we have had to delay a potential name change discussion and process to focus on the current crisis, we make sure that we do our best to serve ALL who need access and embrace that in our messaging. Not only women have options. This is one of the challenges of being a 27-year-old organization. With that, we apologize to any NB or trans person who feels erased by our name and ask for grace as we not only grow in size and scope, but also deeper in our values."
Interview with my co-organizers!
How were you involved with the fundraiser?
Charlotte Andrews: My housemates and I had just agreed to host a concert at our house when I saw Hanne’s post about running an abortion access fundraiser with live bands. I thought it was the perfect time to merge ideas and turn that concert into the abortion fundraiser. It turned out my housemate Juna had the same idea and we had both messaged Hanne separately to host it at our house.
Becca Chant: I cooked snacks to sell at the event. My housemate Mackenzie is also baking and she saw Hanne’s post and suggested that we offer to help with food. We love cooking and are so happy that food can be a part of activism!
Why do you think abortion funds are important?
Charlotte Andrews: Even though abortions have been legal since Roe v. Wade in 1973, there have always been limitations for those who have access to abortion for several reasons not limited to: cost, travel, time off work, or lack of information/resources about how or where to go. Abortion funds do their best to break down those barriers. Given the current attacks on our rights to abortion, it is more crucial than ever that we work to keep clinics and abortion funds operating.
Becca Chant: There are huge financial barriers to abortion for so many people. I think it is really great that we are sending some of the funds to an Ohio-based organization, as so many Oberlin students are from out-of-state and many leave as soon as they graduate (calling myself out here too). Oberlin students also have a lot of resources (again calling myself out) and too often we don’t share those with the Oberlin, Lorain County, and broader Ohio communities that we’ve been so lucky to live in for four years! I feel like that is not phrased awesome. But yeah basically it’s good to give something back before you dip, you know?
What is exciting about this show?
Charlotte Andrews: It has been so amazing to watch everyone come together to think of ideas for how to fundraise. After one meeting we had people volunteering for set up, concert sound, band coordination, abortion information pamphlets, graphic design, promotion, and for cooking freaking LUXE snacks! Come through!!
Becca Chant: I’m so excited to hear some music, which has been one of my favorite parts of Oberlin. And maybe this will be the last time I hear some of my friends play at a show while I’m here! (As a student, I’ll be back, mwhaha.) I’m excited to learn more about the procedure for abortion, because I certainly do not know enough! As a triple cancer, I also LOVE giving people my food... it’s literally my favorite thing in the whole world so I’m really happy that I can cook and also have it go towards an important cause!
The party was a great success. Though we were gathered together out of fear, hurt, and anger, we were gentle with each other. The final band of the night, OBBO, which is composed entirely of women and nonbinary people, led the audience in song for their final number. We hummed and sang, swayed together, held hands and each other. There is a certain tenderness here that always seems to prevail-- the eye of the storm, perhaps, or maybe just a higher commitment to love amidst all else. Wherever it comes from, I am grateful.
I was struck by the ways that we made use of our "soft" skills -- cooking, playing music, speaking and writing and drawing. They are all integral to the bigger fights we're up against, and we cannot take them for granted. Our resistance has to be so much more than just attending a march or signing a petition. It has to be rooted in loving community, in song, in collective care. Last week, a party made me feel more hopeful than anything else in the last year. I think that really says something about the urgency of joy.
I am working every day to balance my fear with other feelings. In the soup that is life, I hope to balance the spices between love, anguish, compassion, creativity, sadness, an earnest hope. I hope never to let the tang of fear cloud out the rest of the flavors, ya know? So, the next time you feel overwhelmed, I really really recommend you throw a party. Sometimes you need to remember what you're fighting for, and sometimes it's a place to eat, cry, sing, groove, write, kiss, rage, and dance.
- Preterm (abortion provider & fund)
- Planned Parenthood Bedford Heights (abortion provider)
- Aid Access (safe online abortion pills provider, self-managed)
- Exhale (after-abortion support line)
- SIA Self-Induced Abortion legal team (legal advocacy/info)
- Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio (advocacy org)
- Women Have Options Ohio (statewide abortion fund)
- Agnes Reynolds Jackson Fund (Toledo abortion fund)
- Plan C (advocacy org & info on self-managed abortions)
- NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio (advocacy org)
- Sexual Information Center (free clinic ride service)
- Oberlin Doula Collective (info, referrals, doula support)