To Fight The Wave of TRAP Laws, We Must First Fight Abortion Stigma

| Mar 11, 2016

Texas has a proud legacy of fighting for freedom and trumpeting our independent spirit. We are a state full of dualities. Our government is controlled by conservative white men hell bent on destroying civil liberties, yet we have a legacy of strong, resilient women like Ann Richards, Tami Taylor and Amy Hagstrom Miller, lead plaintiff in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

It is in this duality that Texas continually lands itself front and center on abortion. With a government so set on removing constitutional rights that they would call two special sessions to pass a questionably motivated omnibus bill of abortion restrictions, HB 2, it should be no surprise that residents responded with anger and action.

This attack on our bodily autonomy was atrocious and met appropriately with the now infamous Wendy Davis filibuster. From there, activists and organizations flooded the Capitol in a wave of orange. We shared our stories and made our presence known, rallying around the hashtag #FightBackTX. Whole Woman’s Health was at the forefront of this effort, joined by partner organizations and activists from across the state.

Storytelling has always been central to cultural movements. It breaks down walls and builds empathy, bringing depth and nuance to otherwise dry policy issues. It was in this rallying moment that Whole Woman’s Health became acutely aware of the power they held as an independent abortion provider, having operated under the mission of eradicating abortion stigma through direct patient service. Unfortunately, the 2013 Texas legislature made it clear that there needed to be more. It is stigma after all, subtle and pervasive, that creates the landscape for bills like HB 2 to become law. From there our organization Shift. was created – a non-profit 501(c)(3) dedicated to shifting the stigma around abortion by shining a light on the unique understanding held from providing direct patient care.

In 2015, we launched a mural project, organized a hotline and developed a community arts program centered around reproductive justice. In 2016, we joined coalition members together for the Fight Back Texas Truth Tour, a state-wide lead-up to the Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

We visited eight cities across Texas — Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, College Station, Houston, San Antonio, McAllen and El Paso — to amplify the voices of Texans who have had abortions and who support abortion access, and to draw attention to the harmful effect of HB 2. We marched down Main Street in McAllen cheering in English and Spanish. We invited the press and community into the Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio to show the practical effects of the ambulatory surgical center requirements. We stood in the middle of the Texas A&M campus sharing abortion stories. Each event reflected the breadth and depth of support for abortion access in Texas and included lawmakers, abortion providers, young people, faith leaders and storytellers from the community.

We believe actions like these have the power to shift the stigma around abortion. For our movement to succeed, we must engage Texans on many levels. We have to break down the isolation and silence that stigma imposes; we have to work with abortion funds and pro-choice organizations to ensure access is a reality; and we have to increase the civic engagement of Texans, which remains at an astonishingly low level.

Though the Supreme Court case looms large over our movement here in Texas, we know there will be continued need to share our stories, educate the public and mobilize together. We understand there are forces in Texas that will continue to fight against reproductive agency, but we also know that we can tell our stories to fight back against abortion stigma and, hopefully, stop the wave of laws harming millions of women and people across the state of Texas.