Ann Marie Benitez of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice: “We must ensure that folks in our communities understand … abortion care is legal in the entire country.”

President Trump is leaving office having appointed three Supreme Court justices, with abortion rights in the balance, and abortion access severely limited in some parts of the country. Yet the reproductive health justice movement has been mobilizing to fight back. “There was a significant surge in state-level abortion restrictions starting in 2010 that has never really slowed down, so responding to these attacks on access in so many places is unfortunately the new normal,” said Julie Gonen, policy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

And this past summer, the COVID-19 crisis created an opportunity for anti-abortion lawmakers to halt abortions as “nonessential,” providing a “glimpse of what a post-Roe world will look like,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of Trust Women, an advocacy organization that has clinics in Wichita and Oklahoma City. Some governors issued executive orders banning abortion statewide, including in Texas and Oklahoma. Trust Women’s clinics were overrun, with staff working 12- to 18-hour days. “We saw a 400% increase in patients seeking abortion care, and we had people traveling from Houston all the way to Wichita to get an abortion,” said Burkhart.

The clinic closings due to the pandemic and the wave of extreme abortion bans in 2019 necessitated putting forward “the basic message that abortion is still legal in all 50 states,” said Ann Marie Benitez, senior director of government relations at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. “With all the misinformation, disinformation, fake clinics, and anti-abortion officials playing politics with people’s lives, we must ensure that folks in our communities understand that very crucial message — abortion care is legal in the entire country.”

Despite more than 450 state-level restrictions put in place since January 2011, organizations and activists have adapted strategies to not only sustain the movement to keep abortion accessible and available, but make it stronger. “Reproductive justice advocates have insisted on having a place at the table and pushed the broader movement to expand its vision beyond simply protecting the legal right to abortion,” said Gonen. “The voices of young people, people of color, and those who have had abortions have been better amplified. While we can’t stop advocating for better legislative and judicial protection of the right to access reproductive health care, we do better when we link arms with other movements, like those seeking to secure access to health care more generally and those, like NCLR, working to ensure equality for LGBTQ people.”

In addition to coalition-building and working to create a more inclusive movement, advocates have been amplifying the pro-choice religious community, promoting personal storytelling about abortion, and researching language around abortion care to create impactful messaging. There are also increased efforts to raise awareness about the nation’s 70-plus abortion funds, which are unified through the National Network of Abortion Funds. Cost and travel are major barriers to accessing abortion care, and abortion funds are an increasingly crucial resource for low-income women, especially in rural areas and in states with few or even one clinic.

“Abortion funds are mutual aid funds — we literally use money donated from people who believe in the right to an abortion and want to support people who are being denied health care by the government,” said Kamyon Conner, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, which provides funding to low-income women in northern Texas. “COVID showed us that we are in a unique position to provide a direct link between abortion providers and women seeking abortion care. And this spring, when clinics were being closed in Texas, abortion providers were relying on us for support to assist people in need of abortion care.”

Not only do the funds help cover the cost of an abortion, they can help with transportation and child care. “One of the beautiful things about abortion funds is how they have always been deeply creative and connected in developing solutions,” said Steffani Bangel, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund. “We have, for years, learned from each other about the best ways to continue to facilitate access for our communities despite political and structural attacks on our rights.”

Advocacy organizations have been putting resources into polling and research to better understand views on abortion. After conducting research in 2019, NARAL Pro-Choice America now uses “freedom to decide” rather than “right to choose” in their materials. “We found that language around freedom from political interference and freedom to make personal decisions resonated with people,” said Kristin Ford, national communications director at NARAL. “This messaging especially resonated with people who have personal conflicts with abortion but they feel uncomfortable with the government interfering in personal decisions. This language is more in line with what other political movements use — it’s not about personal identity, such as saying you are pro-choice, but around your beliefs. We are seeing a shift, and the broader Democratic party and progressive movement has now coalesced around abortion rights as a nonnegotiable position. Abortion is increasingly seen as foundational right and that it’s impossible to talk about a living wage, etc., without being able to make your own decisions about parenthood and pregnancy.”

A national survey of Catholic voters in the 2020 election found that they are nearly twice as likely to vote for a candidate who supports access to abortion care than candidates who want to make it illegal. “We were a part of the coalition that elected Biden,” said Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice. “What we have seen in this election is that the religious left is the sleeping giant of the pro-choice movement, and we saw a resurgence of it this year. There is a lot of activism among Catholics on the ground, and we are trying to organize people and engage them to be part of the larger reproductive justice movement. We have a president and we have lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who are specifically appealing to their Catholic faith to support their ideas of social justice. That is something we want to leverage. We are also looking at the language that we use — the word ‘choice’ is great for women who have choices, but not everyone does.”

Since 2012, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice has conducted annual polls of Latino/a voters and found a majority would support a loved one who decided to have an abortion despite some narratives in the media that depict the community as conservative on the issue. The Road to Reproductive Justice: Native Americans in New Mexicoa report by Forward Together, investigated stereotypes around Native Americans used by anti-choice legislators to falsely promote the narrative that most are against abortion due to cultural and religious beliefs. Instead, the report found that a large majority of Native Americans “hold respectful and complex views on abortion” and trust women to make their own decisions without government interference.“We have been working to de-polarize the public’s point of view on abortion by promoting the message that abortion care is health care and that women be allowed to make the decision about having an abortion themselves,” said Adriann Barboa, New Mexico policy director at Forward Together. “We’ve done polling that shows people are more likely to agree to statements about women being left to decide about abortion care for themselves with their loved ones than ones about supporting abortion itself. [New Mexico] is one of the poorest states in the country, and people don’t have a lot of options in many parts of their life, so ‘my body, my choice’ doesn’t resonate.”

Nearly one in four women has an abortion, and advocates believe their stories should be told and out in the open. “Abortion doesn’t occur in the abstract, and abortion restrictions affect real people,” said Gonen. “The more people tell their stories — about their own abortions, about their experiences providing abortion care, about how their own families have been affected by government-imposed restrictions — the more the issue is humanized and the more people will realize that forced pregnancy is reprehensible in a nation that claims to value freedom.”

Earlier this year, the Black Women’s Health Imperative put out its Black Women Vote: National Health Policy Agenda, a blueprint for the health and wellness of Black women, which they will continue to use to “hold elected officials accountable for delivering on abortion rights and reproductive justice,” said Kineta Sealey, policy counsel. “We have worked really hard to reach women of color, especially those who may lack access to accurate information and those who reside in the South. It all comes back to education and facts. We have to keep our eyes on the ball on everything from calling for the FDA to lift restrictions on access to medical abortion to passing the EACH [Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance] Woman Act.” And President-elect Joe Biden will face pressure to fulfill his campaign promise to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits public funding of abortions.

“Even though the majority of Americans believe in the legality of abortion rights in this country, there is a disconnect with some of those voters,” said Burkhart. “We still lack the ability to reach the middle in certain areas of the country — that of Republicans and rural voters in particular. The political divide that we have between Democrats and Republicans most definitely contributes to this dynamic, as abortion rights are voted on, primarily, right down party lines, when in reality, the women having abortions are not just urban, liberal, Democratic voters. This is where some of the disconnect lies.”

The restrictions over the past decade “have only ignited us,” said Benitez. “We know that the courts will not save us, Roe cannot save us; we must organize and mobilize our communities to hold our elected officials accountable to ensure access to safe, affordable abortion care for everyone. We have seen the disparities in health outcomes across the board, never more evident than now during this pandemic. Who better to lead the fight for equal access to reproductive health care than those hardest hit by the repercussions of that inequality?

The lived experiences of women of color have been ignored for far too long. It is time we put women of color front and center and look to our communities to lead the fight for justice.”