The last few years (and really the last few decades) have seen an increasingly hostile environment for reproductive rights in the United States. Just under 50 years after we first saw Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that made abortion legal and the right to privacy the law of the land, leaked documents from the current court obtained by Politico on Monday night revealed what appears to be a preliminary draft of an opinion that would reverse the decision.
While this preliminary opinion isn’t the immediate end to Roe (and people who have appointments in states where Roe is vulnerable can and should still access their care until the real decision comes down!), it is, as many reproductive rights and justice activists have been saying for years now, a devastating and deeply dangerous moment for people who can get pregnant in the United States. The situation will be the most dire for people in states that have seen the most restrictive anti-abortion laws passed in their legislatures and those that have so-called “trigger laws “ — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — that would automatically ban the procedure when Roe is struck down.
TL;DR: People invested in safe and accessible reproductive healthcare — from abortion to birth control to IVF — are scared. And they have been scared. And many of those people are looking for proactive, productive ways to use their time, money and resources to look out for their communities. In times of stress, confusion and fear there’s a lot of knee-jerk (even if it’s well-meaning) advice floating around the Internet about where your donation money is best spent or just what to do with all of these fears and feelings — but it’s important to be strategic in these moments and make sure that fear, anger and hurt don’t get in the way of the work that can be done to protect people in this very vulnerable hour.
Among these often highly politicized ill-informed suggestions that never stops coming up? Running out to your local pharmacy and attempt to stockpile Plan B or encourage everyone in your life to get an IUD. For one, hoarding medical supplies of any kind (and especially during a time of crisis) is never a good look. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that panic-buying is a selfish, ineffective fix to systemic problems. Picking up a reasonable amount of Plan B for yourself (that you can have and potentially use to help your immediate network, given its shelf life), if you have the means, isn’t an issue — but it is not a fix that will help the people who would be made most vulnerable by further erosion of federal abortion protections. And it’s not really going to help anyone.
Plus, you do not want to be That Guy who makes emergency contraception harder for a person who needs it ASAP to get because your lizard brain decided you needed a personal stockpile.
The people who will most feel the effects of Roe v. Wade being overturned will be low-income women (most likely women of color) from states that do not have additional protections for abortion rights (particularly states with pre-1973 abortion bans that had gone unenforced or states who have passed anti-abortion legislation). Many of the uterus-owning people in these states are already feeling the heat of their reproductive rights being eroded — and have been for years. If you want to make the most impact and do the most good with the fear and anger you’re feeling, here are some better strategies:
Look for the helpers and, more importantly, become the helpers (but don’t reinvent the wheel)
If you’re already following activists and organizations in the reproductive health space, you probably saw this situation coming. If not, there’s still time to get familiar with some national and local groups doing some important work — and it helps to know that they are out there and that no one needs to start at square one. While national orgs do important work, the orgs that will benefit the most and do the most with your funds, time and energy are the smaller local organizations. Think abortion funds in states that have already been under attack, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Abortion Action Front (AAF) are also great resources.
On the local-level (where you know your money is directly working to do the most good in your community in the shortest time), you can donate to abortion funds. Like, right now. As the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) writes “Abortion funds are united as a network of local, autonomous organizations that are funding abortion and building power to fight for cultural and political change… Together abortion funds form a network of over 70 grassroots organizations that directly supported 56,155 people in fiscal year 2019. But that’s only 26 percent of the 215,573 calls our network received that year. There is great unmet need. As fierce as abortion funds are, they need more support from people like you who care about making abortion accessible.”
A cool part about abortion funds is that they recognize the power of local activists knowing what their communities need and help connect people to the experts who can do the most good in the most efficient way: “Abortion funds are autonomous in their structures and policies,” per NNAF. “Our collective power as a network is rooted in our community connections and localized expertise. Abortion funds are the experts in direct service across widely varying cultural and political geographies.” NNAF even has a handy map of funds, annotated with the work they do — from helping financially with abortion or emergency contraception to arranging transportation or lodging and educating about telemedicine options in different areas.
If you don’t have the money to spare, you can also donate your time and volunteer efforts to these groups. Defending reproductive rights is a team sport and there are all sorts of ways you and your individual talents can be useful.
Put pressure on the state level
The battle for reproductive rights (including the various attacks on Roe v. Wade) over the last few decades has been fought on the state level. Per the Guttmacher Institute, states have enacted 1,074 abortion restrictions since the 1973 SCOTUS decision for Roe v. Wade. Of those restrictions, 288 (that’s 27 percent of them) have been enacted in the last ten years.
However, there are a number of states that passed constitutional or statutory provisions that work to protect people seeking abortion care even if the SCOTUS overturns Roe. If you live in one of these states — or a state that hasn’t been able to pass such provisions — link up with your local reproductive rights and justice groups to see where your time and energy can best be used to get these kind of laws on the books elsewhere. It could be calling your reps or organizing within your communities or helping put additional pressure on your elected officials (who work for you!) to fight for these rights.
Likewise, as Manhattan District Attorney Candidate Lucy Lang wrote for SheKnows, other elected officials (including DAs) in the U.S. have the power to protect people’s reproductive rights: “Faced with the threat of Roe being overturned, prosecutors have the responsibility to honor the Constitution, fifty years of precedent, and the American public by declining to prosecute women and medical professionals whose decisions are protected by Roe,” Lang writes. “I know from experience how important it is to have the right to make this very personal decision, and I know we must do all we can to protect that right.”
Avoid unnecessary fear-mongering
A really important point many activists have been repeating is that it’s more helpful to emphasize the safe ways people can and should be able to access care rather than dwelling on the pre-Roe imagery (think: the clothes hanger image). It’s vital that misinformation about abortion care is dispelled swiftly and effectively and that people understand that accessing abortion — particularly medicinal abortion via the pill is incredibly safe and is something that can be accessed via telemedicine and self-managed at home. It’s when that access is threatened or criminalized that things get more dangerous.
Education and access are the name of the game right now.
Understand the fight doesn’t end at the ballot box
As a number of people who will be affected by any changes made to reproductive health access cannot vote or live in deeply gerrymandered states and counties where their vote or community GOTV efforts are not a silver bullet to these threats. While encouraging people to exercise their right to vote in ways that protect their rights and values is important, it’s not really the helpful thing to say right now.
(Also, telling disenfranchised people to vote in a world where the senators who voted against the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett (a key player in this majority) represent 13,524,906 more people than the senators who voted to confirm her is not effective.)
But, if you have the ability to take action on that level (particularly somewhere where your voice can support the voiceless?) in addition to the more grassroots, community-driven work, it’s a simple way to take care of your own on top of some of these more immediate actions.
A version of this story was published October 2020.
While you work to take care of others, take care of yourself too. Check out a few of our favorite (and more affordable) mental health apps to look after your brain:
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