Discover more from Culture Study
You or Someone You Love
I don’t know what, exactly, I thought a book by an abortion doula would be like. I do know that I didn’t expect it to feel like an embrace. A call to action, absolutely, but also filled with tenderness. If that surprises you, as it surprised me, you probably don’t know enough about abortions or the people who have them.
Chances are very high: you know someone who’s had an abortion. Maybe it happened recently, maybe it happened decades ago. Maybe the abortion was yours, or your partner’s. Maybe — almost certainly — there are people in your life who’ve had abortions and you have no idea, because it’s something we’ve societally conditioned not to talk about.
Back in 2020, the Kaiser Foundation found that 63% of Americans personally know someone who’s had abortion — but most also have a pretty deeply inaccurate understanding of abortion. Nearly 70% thought most abortions occurred 8 weeks or later into pregnancy (around 2/3 of abortions are performed before 8 weeks) and one-third of women between 18 and 49 had never heard of Mifepristone (aka, medication abortion).
The problem isn’t just that we don’t know enough about when and how abortions are actually performed — it’s that abortion remains unspeakable. And when you can hardly say the word, you can’t understand how to be there for someone who needs one — or the myriad reasons why they would. You can’t understand why abortion access is essential.
I hope you read this interview and are surprised or challenged by it in ways you might not anticipate — but I especially hope you read the book, even if, especially if, you don’t think you need to.
As a way of starting this conversation, I’d love to hear more about what you call the “crisis of systemic abandonments” around abortion, just generally. We know about lack of access to reproductive autonomy. But how did we get here, and what does it look and feel like now?
When I was editing this book, the Dobbs decision came down, and the “post-Roe”, “life after Roe,” etc. language really ramped up, from book titles and subtitles to headlines of articles. And, of course, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is horrifying, devastating, and something that will create and accelerate state violence against pregnant people. No question.
But I also think that the conversation and language around Dobbs really illustrates a point that leaders in the Reproductive Justice movement have been making for decades — that only when something begins to harm and impact wealthy white women on a large scale do we begin to call it an emergency or a crisis, or say it’s unbelievable or unacceptable.
But since its inception, this country has been deliberately depriving pregnant people and people capable of pregnancy of the rights and resources that would actually free us to make choices about our lives and families. There has never been a time, before or after Roe v. Wade, when everyone (or even most people) in the US had real “choice” when it came to entering, surviving, or leaving the state of pregnancy, all of which are radical and revolutionary acts which deserve our reverence and respect.
In the introduction, you argue that we should resist merely imagining the the abortion care we need — and start thinking, too, about the abortion care we dream of.
How do abortion doulas fit into our current situation (and working to provide the abortion care we need) and how does that role expand when it comes to the abortion care we dream of?
Doulas — and all the people who don’t call themselves that, but who are doing doula work for their friends and families and communities — are increasingly going to factor into keeping our abortions safe and healthy, and moving through the world in the bodies that belong to us, in the ways we need to and want to. Funds and practical support organizations are often providing doula support in many ways, as are the health care providers who are now more limited in clinical settings. But learning to help support each other through our pregnancies — no matter what their outcomes are — is going to be more and more crucial as these bans and restrictions, and the increasingly aggressive criminalization of people experiencing miscarriages, still births, and other complications force health care providers working in clinical settings to withhold the information and care that is rightfully ours.
The role expands outward to the boundaries of any individual person’s circumstances, needs, and desires: someone to translate for you; someone to help connect you privately to people and organizations who can help you; someone to give you a ride to the clinic or the airport; someone to hold your hand and pray with you or do guided meditations or just talk and laugh and distract you; someone to help you manage any side effects and figure out how and when to seek any followup care you might need….and also someone to make or buy you food and treats, get your heating pad, provide a safe and comfortable space to stay or recover in, watch your kids. The role expands and shifts and changes shape constantly, and is so dependent on location, cultural context, our endlessly complicated bodies and lives.
As part of the book, you recollect your own abortion experience in extended detail. Not long after, you describe a meeting with other abortion care providers where you confront all of your own biases about people who might approach you — through text, in conversation, in a care center — asking for abortion care.
The first section felt incredibly intimate — like an implicit invitation to understand the process. The second, though, asks us to think very much outside of situations that feel relatable, to reside outside of “our individual contexts.” You write that doula work has meant continual work in becoming a soft landing place, in softening your harder edges and preconceptions, because being pro-abortion means “loving and fighting for the human right to bodiy autonomy.”
That’s a long wind-up to asking: What’s still really hard? What parts are you still working on softening? And how can we recognize the duality of wanting our own experiences to be recognized….and also thinking outside our individual contexts? I feel like this is also a great place to talk about grief, in all of its expansiveness, and why so many people have felt like they can’t really articulate it fully in fear of those grief expressions being taken up by anti-choice activists.
Oh, it’s all really hard. I’m a slow learner in some ways, and a tired one (I feel like my brain is working at 50% of its potential most days, if I’m lucky and the baby has slept through the night), so I mess up all the time. I have my own stuff I’m carrying with me all the time, trying to put down or work through, of course–people-pleasing, anxiety, shame, all my cis white girl bullsh*t, a lot of grief, behaviors with roots in pain or violence I’ve experienced. And I don’t expect other people to relate to those things, the same way I know I can’t relate to so many other things, but they’re in my body and in how I show up to any situation.
And it’s hard to remember that, I think, when we’re interacting with other people. In abortion care work, our job is to ask only the medically and logistically relevant questions and then mind our f*cking business after those are answered. But of course, those things are coming into the room with someone, into every conversation and interaction they’re having.
So even though pregnancy and abortion are themselves universal experiences, there’s no such thing as an expert in them. Because the only expert on a pregnancy is the person in whose body and life it’s unfolding. The only expert on any given abortion is the person having it.
I so appreciated the way that you write about the way abortion funds work in your daily life and the daily lives of so many others providing, facilitating, and receiving abortion care. I know a whole lot of readers here (including myself) have donated to these organizations in the past, or have recurring donations (shout out to recurring donations, no matter how small), or maybe have thought about donating to but didn’t really understand how they work. Can you do a small bit of service journalism here and talk about how abortion funds make your care possible every day?
I love this question! Thank you for asking! Abortion funds are holding us — our clinics, our communities, our families and lives — together with scotch tape. They are working tirelessly to ensure that the power over a reproductive life is where it belongs: not in the hands of a health insurance corporation or a doctor, but in the hands of the person who’s living it.
An abortion fund paid for my medication abortion and the aspiration I ended up needing, and abortion funds are often the sole safety net keeping my patients and doula clients from being turned away at their abortion appointments for lack of funds. Even if you have health insurance, they are likely to deny coverage of your “elective” abortion, or to charge you such a high deductible that you still need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars up front. And the vast majority of people just can’t do that easily, while they’re raising families or just trying to survive in this country.
Enter: abortion funds. There are so many ways to support your local (or national!) abortion fund or practical support organization (which often funds folks’ travel, lodging, etc.). Monthly donations are the way to go, because funds need to know exactly how much they’ll be taking in so that they can plan ahead and help as many people pay for their abortions as possible. But also: buying a piece of merch is great, because it pays for abortions and spreads the word that the fund exists as a resource in the community. I’ve had so many people say “cute shirt / tote bag / keychain / sticker / etc.” and then get so excited when I tell them about the abortion fund I bought it from. The average person — even if they feel rage and despair about the systematic destruction of our rights and our health — often doesn’t realize they can be instrumental in protecting their community members from these violent and hateful barriers to care.
If you’re exhausted or busy or don’t have capacity to show up physically, give an abortion fund money. If you’re broke, volunteer on their intake line or plug into their work wherever they need you. Abortion funds shouldn’t have to exist, and also their existence is beautiful.
Giving to, or doing work for, or even just hyping up an abortion fund is a very real and accessible way for us to love each other, protect each other, and show up for each other.
THE CHAPTER ON ABORTION AS JUSTICE IS SO GOOD — and I especially appreciated this very clear articulation: “While white doulas and care workers may aim to ground our care work in reproductive justice framework, the limitations of our whiteness make us, at best: RJ [reproductive justice] students, allies, accomplices. Not leaders.”
And then the next paragraph, where Tannis Fuller, the white codirector of the Blue Ridge Abortion fund in Virginia, explicitly calls out white leaders who keep wondering why their organizations stay so damn white — because they want to do everything but actually hire Black leaders and leaders of color. “The only way to fix it,” Fuller tells you, “is to fucking fix it.”
I’ve been repeating their brilliant words to myself ever since our conversation. As a white woman who is inevitably going to fuck up, overstep, miss the point, let my own ego and defensiveness and my personal stuff (fawning trauma response, a deep discomfort with conflict, fear of people I care about/respect being angry with me, for example) get in the way of what I’m trying to do — be of service to the doulas, RJ leaders, and organizations that have taught me everything, and connect other people to their wisdom — I often have to remind myself: The only way to fix it is to fucking fix it. There will always be an “it” to fix, and there will always be 1000 reasons, valid and otherwise, and excuses as to why that work isn’t happening.
I recently hung a banner in my son’s room that reads: MAKE MISTAKES, KEEP GOING. And I look at it all the time and think to myself, okay. Apologize or take the hint, do everything in your power to make it right, try to turn your shame and embarrassment into curiosity about why you made the mistake and how you can do better in the future. Keep going. Fucking fix it.
You make a moving and persuasive case for abortion as inherently queer — in your words, “Intentionality; self-creation, self-determination, and self-possession; bodily autonomy; keeping one another safe and healthy despite the best efforts of the state; building our own selves and communities and families and futures and lives from scratch. Consent. Having sex for reasons other than procreation. Decoupling femininity from pregnancy or womb ownership, womanhood from motherhood, the expectations placed on our bodies at birth and our sovereignty in and over those bodies. That’s queerness, baby.”
I get so, so frustrated by cis-people freaking out that simply using the far more inclusive term “pregnant people” is somehow suggesting that you CAN’T SAY WOMAN ever again. Elsewhere in the book, you make it clear that using the term “pregnant people” is NOT A BIG DEAL, so why don’t we just do it….but I’d also love to hear you expand more on why abortion is queer AND abortion care must keep working to be more queer.
The backlash would be funny if it wasn’t so hateful. Simply put: “pregnant people” is a much more accurate and specific term than “women” when we’re talking about reproductive health care. Many, many women are not and will never be pregnant, for so many reasons. And many, many cis pregnant people are not women. They’re children, or teenagers. A pregnant 12-year-old girl being called a “woman” is violent and I know I don’t need to explain why!
And I think, as more and more people come to understand queer as in “other” (not adhering to binary of Man and Woman, or to Sex as Procreation Only), they understand that their reproductive lives belong to them, just like the rest of their lives: who they love and how and when, the structures of their families, how they move and care for and dress their bodies. If you’re someone who doesn’t ~believe~ in queerness, then you don’t believe in those things.
I’m going to close the interview with a section of Hannah’s writing to highlight one of the most remarkable things about the book. It feels absolutely addressed to anyone who’s had an abortion or will have an abortion while also addressing itself to people who haven’t had abortions, may never have abortions, but also haven’t had models for the sort of love, care, and acknowledgment you can extend to those who’ve had them.
Here’s about the details of a medication abortion to show what I’m talking about:
“One to two days after taking these medications, there is a 98 percent chance that you are not longer pregnant. That you have been returned to an unpregnant state — yourself again, or still. Or maybe you are in a new, post-pregnant state. Maybe you are a new self. But regardless, you will probably be able to get up on that third morning, as you always do, to go to school or work, or to care for the children you already have. And when you get up on that third morning, no matter what circumstances brought you there, you are still whole, and worthy, and inherently good. You are still you. Or you are a new you and a different you. I love them both the same.”
Click here to find an abortion fund in your area (or in an area where you know needs abortion support).
And if you want to be more up-to-date on what’s happening in the fight for reproductive justice, I strongly recommend Jessica Valenti’s Abortion, Everyday: