Don’t Write Off the South on Abortion
Two Lilith writers, Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler, an abortion fund staffer and Steph Black, a practical support volunteer and clinic escort, talk about what it’s like to be in the trenches fighting for abortion access before and after the fall of Roe. (Listen to Justine and Steph in conversation with Dena Robinson and SooJi Min-Maranda at “Lilith Fights Back”) Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler : This is a good place to break down the idea of a “blue” state vs. a “red state”– pushing back against the idea that states are a color and that “blue” states are more morally sound than “red” ones.
I’m from North Carolina, I work in North and South Carolina, and I am forever pushing back against the idea that we all should have to just accept traveling to New York for an abortion. We deserve care where we live. It doesn’t matter who your representatives are or how gerrymandered your district is. People think that economic boycotts of “red states” is the best way to protest restrictive abortion law and it’s not at all.
Steph Black: I do a lot of work in Virginia–I was just in Richmond speaking out against a potential abortion ban. The idea that like the South is this evil cesspit of Republicans is false. The South is not a lost cause. And people deserve to not have to leave their zip code to access abortion care. So I spend a lot of energy calling people out and in who are trying to get more involved.
I’ve struggled with feeling like I want and need to educate people and also that I don’t have the time to catch people up on things that they should have been aware of over the last 10 years. It’s just tough. Because truly, it didn’t matter to them until it was affecting them, right? Why did it take you until this moment to get involved? When the draft opinion leaked, people whom I haven’t spoken to since high school reached out to me and asked me what they should do.
Where have you been for the last five years when I’ve been screaming from the rooftops about how to get involved?
JOS: In part because we feel like we can’t do anything with the antis watching. You’re not supposed to express strong negative emotions about the movement.
SB: It’s the equivalent of being like a shanda fur die goyim. You can’t air your dirty laundry for the world to see. And it’s not that I don’t want to educate people. It’s part of my activism. But I have a lot of frustration when people demand education and when we do educate them, they don’t like it. You wanting to “camp” with people is so dangerous. Here are all the reasons we don’t bring coat hangers to rallies anymore. Here’s why “safe, legal, rare” is stigmatizing messaging. You can disagree with that all you want. But if you continue to do and say these kinds of things, you won’t actually be a part of the movement.
JOS: Folks: Google your state or area abortion fund before you do anything.
To my knowledge, there is at least a practical support network in every state, even the “blue” ones. Just because abortion is legal in your state, doesn’t mean it is actually accessible for those who want and need it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need people to start a bunch of tiny micro-networks. You don’t have to be an official 501-c3 to move money where it is needed.
SB: It’s deliberately competing for the same resource. It’s the same dollars right that we’re all fighting for. You’re competing for the same resources that should be going to patients. Ask yourself, are there ways that I can give my time, energy, and money to accomplish the same goals without needing to be the hero of the story? It takes a lot of hubris to say “what I’m doing is right, and I’m gonna do it better, and I’m gonna do it my way.”
JOS: Many hands make quick work. Not all of the hands have to be in the same lane. At the end of the day, the goal is to get a caller to their appointment and help them have as positive of an experience as possible.
Speaking of positive experiences, we also need to be better at making space for people to have different experiences with their abortion care. I think this goes back to what we said about a shanda fur die goyim. I think we have to be more honest about the complicated emotions someone can have within the movement. I make jokes about abortion all the time.
But there’s a time and place. I talk to people on our helpline who have asked me very seriously if I think they’re going to hell or have told me that they have four or five other children, or that they are very morally conflicted, or that they’re very sad and they want to have a child but this isn’t the right time. How do we make space for that, and get folks to a place where we can talk about all those nuances that doesn’t feel like you’re ceding any ground to antis?
SB: We have to be able to hold all of the abortion experiences without stigma and shame. Some people loved their abortions and found a lot of joy in having them and afterward. Some people are devastated that they had to make this choice. They know it’s the right choice but it doesn’t mean it was an easy choice. I think sometimes we’re so focused on only talking about the positive that it becomes toxically positive in this movement.
JOS: We have to make room for being angry and frustrated.
SB: How Jewish of us! For me, this work is enormous. It’s hard, and I think naming it as such is important.
JOS: That’s exactly it. It’s not necessarily that I draw specific inspiration from Jewish texts, but every component of Jewishness– tangible or intangible, like loving to complain and loving to make a difference– makes me focus on abortion rights as a Jewish value.
There’s a long history of us here. I’m proud of it. But I also love that we can’t just rely on our history. We have to continue to move forward now.