By the time I went to my first abortion fund volunteer training at the ACCESS Women’s Health Justice fund in California, where I used to live, I’d worked in sexual health for three years, not to mention the time I spent leading what was essentially a roving sex education collective in undergrad. Abortion rights have been important to me since I developed a political consciousness, and I was thrilled to have been accepted to volunteer. So, why was I so nervous when I walked into the first day of training?
Well, because I was pregnant. On purpose.
This felt like a contradiction. Or, rather, it seemed like it should feel like a contradiction. I didn’t know how to explain why I wanted to be there so badly, why I had started to feel even more strongly in favor of abortion access since I’d gotten pregnant. And if I couldn’t explain it, then would other people just see me as some kind of out-of-touch, wanna-be savior?
I disclosed my pregnancy during introductions, wanting to get it out of the way. But the skepticism I’d braced myself for never materialized. Everyone was warm and accepting. Over the course of the morning, I learned that five or six other people in the group of 20 were parents, including one of the trainers. Some of the volunteers had had abortions; others had not. A statistic I’d heard long ago in a lecture hall somewhere floated to the top of my mind: Most people seeking an abortion have at least one child. I think they knew why I was there even if I was still figuring out how to articulate it.
I thought I knew what reproductive justice meant. I’d read about it, hadn’t I? And I’d always understood sex education, my area of focus, to be about bodily autonomy, which is a key principle of reproductive justice. Yet I was still carrying around this damaging and false dichotomy in my head: Some people have abortions; some people have babies. Nothing could be further from the truth. I sat there thinking about just how much I had known, but failed to actually understand.
My pregnancy continued, and my understanding deepened. Strangers touched and commented on my body. Colleagues interrogated me. Doctors poked and prodded and issued strict prohibitions. Friends and family members lectured and judged me. Each of these interactions chipped away at me, and I realized that this invalidation of me—of my needs, my desires, my self-knowledge—in favor of my embryo is a different manifestation of the vitriol, shaming, and policy barriers that people seeking abortion face. In both cases, what the pregnant person wants, what they know about their bodies and their lives—none of that matters. In my case, I had the wherewithal to assert myself most of the time. But I knew that our clients didn’t.
So when I got my first volunteer assignment with ACCESS, I made it my mission to make my client feel like she mattered. I met her at a clinic after her appointment to give her a ride home. I showed up on time, offered her a bottle of water, drove cautiously. I listened to her talk about her day job and her plans for going back to school. As I dropped her off, she smiled and said, “I couldn’t have done this without you.” And I knew, then, that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, using my privilege (my car, my flexible schedule, my disposable income) to ensure someone else could access their right to an abortion. My job as a volunteer was to do my part to upend a series of intersecting systems that conspire against our bodies and our families, particularly those of marginalized communities. Seeing her get what she needed made me feel a little more free.
As soon as I moved back to DC this fall, I knew I had to join the DC Abortion Fund to continue the work that’s made me a better, smarter, more committed advocate. I know, now, what reproductive justice looks like in practice and what my role in achieving it can be. And I know it’s not weird that I feel more committed than ever to abortion access now that I’ve been pregnant and become a parent. I’m grateful to both of the funds I’ve worked with for giving me a way to express that and an opportunity to do the necessary work of building a more just society. I have a lot to learn about case management, but I’m ready to get started—because I recognize that my own liberation is bound up in our clients’, and we’ll get free together, or not at all.
By volunteer Hannah S.