Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue
On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, I sat in my best friend’s apartment watching Game of Thrones and drinking wine. We’d made dinner—pasta shells stuffed with ricotta cheese and doused in marinara sauce—and she didn’t have to work. I was behind in the series—by about five years—and frequently asked her to pause it so she could answer my questions.
Here’s what I wasn’t thinking about—my vagina, my uterus, my sex life, my birth control, my most recent partner who’d ghosted me in January, or the southern United States.
Until my phone vibrated. I’d downloaded a news app after the Easter Day shooting in Sri Lanka; I wanted to stay better connected to the dumpster fire that is our current political landscape, if only to make better informed decisions.
BREAKING: Alabama Senate passes nation’s most restrictive abortion ban, which makes no exceptions for victims of rape and incest
“Pause it,” I told Nicole again. Exasperated, she picked up the remote again.
“Seriously?” she said.
“Alabama just passed an abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest,” I said. Nicole stared at me.
“That’s what it says.” I showed her my phone, open to the article from The Washington Post. She glanced at my phone, then stood up and walked to the kitchen.
For twenty minutes, we talked about what we should do. It was the fifth abortion ban to be supported by lawmakers in the last few months. We already knew that women do not matter, that our lives are policed and regulated and used, that no one cares about us until we stop providing sex or heirs to the thrones of male supremacy. We know that this disrespect and neglect gets worse when those women and womxn and people are of color, disabled, trans, poor, undocumented, Native, young, very old, not Christian, unattractive, fat, sick, unemployed, or loud. We sat there, holding our empty shot glasses, staring at a still screen of a television show that, while fictional, reinforces the patriarchy and white supremacy that damages and divides us, and we asked what we should do.
When I became sexually active at eighteen, I never wanted to get pregnant. I figured out birth control from the internet, and though I always believed I’d get married and have children, I wanted a say in when I made those choices. No one would drag me screaming into motherhood, so to speak, without my consent. Even if I personally don’t ever want to get an abortion, if I needed one, like my friend who had an ectopic pregnancy that almost killed her, I want to be able to get one.
As a nation, we should not prevent access to abortions, or see pregnancy as a punishment for unprotected sex, or value an unborn heartbeat over a living child trapped in a cage. Even though I’ve never had an abortion, who am I to tell others they can’t get one if they need it?
As a Black woman, I rarely get to use my privilege (if only because it frequently feels like I have none). Aside from fighting for my students in the classroom or on campus, my activism is limited to my poetry and my statuses. In this broken moment, I finally said, “I’m the managing editor of the Santa Fe Writers Project. I can do something.”
So, what started as a call to action on Twitter turned into a call for submissions for a special issue of the SFWP Quarterly.
What I’ve noticed about the discussion of womxn’s rights is that so many of the people in charge of our bodies do not know how they work. They don’t know where our clitorises are, how a baby is made, the side effects of birth control, the difference between a miscarriage and a stillbirth, or the damage of abstinence-only sexual education. They carelessly engage in slut-shaming and victim-blaming when it comes to rape, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, harassment, stalking, and other forms of gender-based violence. They erase the experiences of trans people, same-gender relationships, and non-binary and/or asexual folks, believing that either these people don’t exist or are “sinful” for living their truths.
They think we’re overreacting. They say we don’t know what’s best for us. They tell us to be quiet.
This is not a silent issue—abortion or the Quarterly. In these links, you will find womxn who wanted their children but could not have them, people who were violently assaulted and could not care for a child, bodies that were used for sexual gratification but abandoned when it came time for responsibility. You will find the consequences of poor education, misogyny, rape culture, racism, gaslighting, and abuse. You will find healthy children raised in safe and happy homes, the graves and grief of miscarriages and the stillborn, the difference between an unwanted pregnancy and a wanted child. You will find birth control used properly and consistently but also condoms stabbed with safety pins, diaphragms disintegrating in their cases, inaccurately calculated ovulation schedules, missed pills, and self-destruction by way of promiscuous unprotected sex. You will find loss, joy, fear, triumph, exhaustion, relief, death, life, regret, gratitude, and access.
Most importantly, in these stories, essays, and poems, you will find one loud and unapologetic conclusion: our needs are not the same, but they should be met regardless.
Reproductive rights extend far beyond abortion. It’s about access to birth control, safe housing, paid parental leave, living wages, affordable childcare, exceptional healthcare, comprehensive sexual education, and open communication not just between sexual partners, but also between parents and children, teachers and students, lawmakers and constituents. It’s about abolishing fear and hate. It’s about a world in which every single person, regardless of identity, can make informed decisions about their bodies, their lives, and their futures.
The stories, essays, and poems here are a small piece of the outcry for justice, for safety, for freedom. There is always more work to be done. Join us.
Monica Prince is the managing editor for the SFWP Quarterly and an assistant professor of activist and performance writing at Susquehanna University. Her debut collection of poetry, Instructions for Temporary Survival, received the Discovery Award for an exceptional first collection by Red Mountain Press. Her choreopoem, How to Exterminate the Black Woman, will be published by [PANK] in spring 2020. Follow her on Twitter @poetic_moni and check out her website for readings and performances.
Have a story that needs to be told? Submit to the SFWP Quarterly!