The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

June 28, 2018 by

If You’re Scared About “Roe” Today, Welcome to the Struggle

Yesterday’s bombshell news that Justice Anthony Kennedy—a reliable pro-abortion rights vote—is retiring from the Supreme Court means that Roe v. Wade is truly, seriously imperiled. We could wake up within a few years to find abortion fully illegal in over 20 states.

Ironically, in recent months, right up until the Kennedy-related outpouring of fear we’re seeing at this very moment began, abortion rights advocates had noticed a growing fatigue around the issue.  Buzzfeed published an opinion piece by John Paul Rollert called Trump’s Power Isn’t Fear. It’s Fatigue.  The relentlessness of this administration’s violence, its undoing of and disregard for human rights, and its intolerance and attacks on  for science, logic,and journalism have left a lot of us with a sense that exhaustion—you might call it outrage fatigue.

Every year, the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) raises money for abortion funds across the country via Bowl-a-thon. Basically, a team assembles, sets up a fundraising page, and then proceeds to hustle donations for their local abortion fund. (The bowling part is a celebration of the fundraising effort.) 

In 2017, right after the elections, donations surged, but that wasn’t the case this year. “We noticed that many of the new supporters we gained during the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon in 2017 after the inauguration seemed overwhelmed by all of the attacks on our livelihoods and were less immediate in making donations to our 2018 events,” says Yamani Hernandez, Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “This slowed our overall momentum, and abortion funds had to work harder than ever to get the attention of donors who were being pulled in many directions.”

What’s frustrating about the growing fatigue on the issue is, for many Americans, Roe v. Wade has been only enshrined in name for some time now. There’s a difference between abortion being legal, which it technically is as of now in the US, and being able to get an abortion if you need one. Because of a lack of abortion providers, the power of abortion stigma, restrictions in individual states, and the existence of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, actually getting abortion care is a challenge at best  for folks in rural areas, poor folks, people of color, and other vulnerable populations. For these folks, abortion access has never been a guarantee, and Roe v. Wade is nothing but a gesture.

We are in trouble, there’s no question, and it’s a particular kind of trouble, says Hernandez. “The level of ongoing outrage happening in the U.S. right now is both troubling and traumatizing. We’ve seen the Supreme Court and federal court system’s composition change drastically, which is having a severe impact on abortion access rather quickly.” She points to “nefarious and extreme” state bans like a recent bill in Ohio that’s  seen as a test case. If these laws are challenged in a post-Kennedy court with a Trump appointee, the end of legal abortion as we know it could be here. Then as now, “The danger falls heaviest on those who are already made vulnerable by oppressive federal and state policies, including families who are having supports ripped out from under them and immigrants who are being separated from their families and prevented from accessing abortion care.”

So what can be done in the face of danger from the outside and fatigue within—especially now that Roe itself is likely to fall? M, an abortion clinic escort in California, told me her organization has been losing escorts rapidly, since post election energy wore off. “Even the generally woke-ish people in my life genuinely have no idea how precarious our situation is right now. It’s tough, because there are so many things that people are understandably prioritizing— the rise of fascists, immigrant detention, etc, but at the same time, people don’t understand that all of these things are connected.” 

“The fight is always intersectional —it’s not always about reproductive justice wins,” says Mariko Miki, Director of Programs for If/When/How , a national network of law students and legal professionals working to build reproductive justice by changing the legal system. “We have to celebrate victories as they come – Rochelle Garza’s work in Texas, the teens organizing in Parkland, Black Lives Matter.” Miki urges activists to think about building power actively, and not always being reactive. “Find constructive and proactive stuff to do. Create the narrative.” 

Mica Lee Williams is an If/When/How Reproductive Justice Fellow and Pennsylvania attorney working at New Voices for Reproductive Justice and the Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh. In order to keep moving forward, she says, we have to consider context. “It depends on who you’re asking. For baby boomers, for people of color, this isn’t new. If we look at this with a historical view, we can see we have information to draw from, and the people before us didn’t have an intersectional view. We have a more cohesive movement, and we’re in a better place to defend ourselves.”  Williams also stresses how important it is for activists to take care of themselves, something we’re not necessarily good at, or encouraged to do.

There is good news, points out Yamani Hernandez, and that is that 72% of the population supports safe legal access to abortion. NNAF continues to organize regionally to make sure that people who need abortions can access them easily and to build power with allies. “We’re collaborating across movements where we see growth, such as fighting for One Fair Wage which means a living wage for all workers. And when we face major policy barriers, we invest in shifting culture and ending abortion stigma to lay solid groundwork for future policy change.”

Abortion funds remain on the forefront of the fight for abortion access for everyone, and Hernandez says that in order to keep going—even in the face of today’s devastating news—activists have to continue to believe it’s possible. “Our path forward isn’t going to be a linear improvement, but we will always hold onto the idea that through compassion and collective power, advancement is inevitable.” Many of the biggest social justice victories in America, from abolition to the 19th Amendment, didn’t happen because of courts. They happened because of people organizing and leading from the bottom up. 


  • Miriam Kalman Friedman

    Yes, this has been an exhausting year for those of us who follow the dangerous actions and rhetoric of the Trump regime and their supporters. I receive 20 requests a day for donations. And yet, we all still care deeply–those of us who care at all. It’s important to stay engaged and fight hopelessness. I’ll be registering voters this summer and fall. And staying visible on FB.