Many of us have heard about a woman’s right to choose, but how many of us have heard a woman’s personal story about her abortion experience? Members of the community will have the opportunity to hear and react to real abortion stories during “Out of Silence: Abortion Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign,” a unique performance presented by the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health in collaboration with the Students for Choice group at the University of Michigan.
“There’s a human element that the performance emphasizes which you don’t always find in other activism spaces, where it’s easy to get caught up in divisive political rhetoric. A theatre storytelling project like this offers a different format and perspective, and one that promotes empathy and a sense of connection with audience members. I personally think that this kind of performance-based activism is the most powerful. After all, you can argue definitions, statistics, etc. all day but you can’t argue a story. You can’t argue with someone’s lived experiences. And that’s what we need to listen to a lot more,” said Brittany Batell, project organizer for the performance in her capacity as an intern with MOASH.
The show, on Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor, consists of nine vignettes, eight of which are from the official Out of Silence script through Advocates for Youth and the 1 in 3 Campaign, and one is an original work written by a MOASH cast member. There will be a talkback panel following the performance so audience members can hear from organizers, researchers, health professionals and others working for abortion access in the state. This will also allow audience members the opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and experience with the show.
“We are giving young people a way to talk about the extremely politicized and controversial issue. The strategy is to shift the narrative around abortion on campus, but also on a national level. Theatre has been an integral part of cultural change historically,” said Shomya Tripathy, Youth Activist Network Manager for AFY. The non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. has championed efforts since 1980 to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.
Tripathy coordinates the Campus Organizing Team and the 1 in 3 Campaign student activists. “It’s kind of incredible what happens when you create a space that is safe, welcoming and supportive,” she said. When the campaign organized in 2012, they collected around 40 stories from individuals throughout the country. In 2015, the campaign launched its campus rollout of Out of Silence, making the play available for students to perform for free on their own campuses. Since then, 83 campuses have signed up and there have been 25 performances. As of today, Tripathy said they have a total of 1,100 stories, many of which are used as source material for the scripts which explore situations, relationships, emotions and logistics that contextualize a woman’s decision to seek abortion care. At times these stories, which affect women of all ages, are heartbreaking, funny, and even commonplace, but are always thought provoking and honest.
“That’s what is great about storytelling. We don’t have to theorize about why people need abortions. We can just see for ourselves the plentiful reasons why they do,” she said. “Sometimes these stories are as simple as I got pregnant and didn’t want a child and had an abortion. Sometimes they are incredibly complicated.”
LGBT-Inclusive Abortion Care
“The message of Out of Silence is certainly one promoting women’s rights and reproductive justice, but we are intentional about including many sexual orientations and gender identities in an effort to show how safe access to abortion services is important for everyone. Our goal is to highlight the range of circumstances and the complexities involved in the decision to seek abortion care, in order to deepen our audience’s understanding of the issue and perhaps inspire them to engage in sexual and reproductive health advocacy,” Batell said.
This includes transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals that also opt to terminate pregnancies.
“We have at least one story that we know of as part of our collection from someone who identified themselves as trans. We might have other stories from trans storytellers, but they did not self-identify in the story. And that’s okay. Though our campaign takes its name from the statistic that ‘1 in 3 women will have an abortion…,’ what roots the campaign is honoring people’s lived experiences, whoever they might be,” said Rachel Cooke, associate director of communications at AFY. “We try to be as inclusive as possible in our language, defaulting to ‘people’ rather than ‘women’ whenever possible…we include stories from the trans community, stories from the religious community, stories in Spanish, etc. This campaign wins and culture is changed when all those stories are shared.”
Such as the the powerful vignette, “Charlie,” which opens with the line, “Lesbians don’t have abortions. Because we don’t have ‘unplanned’ pregnancies. Our pregnancies are very ‘planned.’ Painstakingly and inescapably ‘planned.'”
Cooke explains this story is a bit more heartbreaking than some others because this is a wanted pregnancy, but unfortunately they are not able to continue the pregnancy for the health of the fetus.
“It’s not always easy or affordable for same-sex couples to conceive a child. There is great cost, and more than a few indignities that come with it,” she said. “It’s important to talk about all of our experiences with abortion, and to be as inclusive as possible. Abortions happen, and people need them, and that includes same-sex couples.”
Planned Parenthood of Michigan, a leader in the state for reproductive and sexual health care services, strives to be sensitive to the individual needs of every patient, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We care for all men, women, and teens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, at 20 health centers throughout the state. Our clinicians receive specific training on the potential health needs and concerns of LGBT patients, and how those may differ from heterosexual patients. PPMI offers unbiased, accurate information about the options available for continuing or terminating pregnancy. Medical protocols for abortion services do not vary due to one’s gender identity,” said PPMI spokesperson Julie McKeiver, adding that the organization supports the 1 in 3 Campaign and its effort to destigmatize abortion.
McKeiver said, “Our hope is that all women can feel safe and secure in making the best decisions for themselves and their families, without government intrusion into their personal lives.”
“Those who are anti-abortion are really pushing a lot of bans and restrictions…they can’t make it illegal, so they make it inaccessible,” Cooke said.
Cooke points to the June 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt when the justices ruled 5-3 that HB 2, a law restricting abortion access, was unconstitutional after it forced more than half of the abortion clinics in the state to close. Following that decision, the court refused to hear cases involving similar laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin.
This case represents the most significant victory for abortion rights at the high court since the turn of the century, as states have scrambled to pass and defend similar laws across the country, in an effort to chip away the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal in the U.S. in 1973.
“This hopefully will wake up some minds about what it means to access abortion in this country and the challenges that people are facing and how it really is harming women,” Cooke said. “That these restrictions are the things that are harming women and families, not abortion itself, which is a very safe and common procedure.”
Fewer than 0.5 percent of women obtaining abortions experience a complication, and the risk of death associated with abortion is about one-tenth that associated with childbirth, according to research reported by the Guttmacher Institute.
The following are Michigan abortion restrictions in effect as of December 2015:
– A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
– Abortion is covered in private insurance policies only in cases of life endangerment, unless an optional rider is purchased at an additional cost.
– Health plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases when the woman’s life is endangered, unless an optional rider is purchased at an additional cost.
– Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment.
– The use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion is prohibited.
– The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
– Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
In 2015, 27,151 induced abortions were reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Further restrictions will apply as Gov. Rick Snyder passed additional laws in June 2016 backed by Right to Life Michigan. HB 4787 will add to the state’s current anti-extortion/coercion provisions by making coercion to abort a specific crime, and HB 4830 will make violations punishable with fines of up to $10,000. Abortion facilities in Michigan now will be required to screen women for coercion and post a notification that coercion to abort is illegal.
Many critics note that the Michigan laws do not include language that protects people forced into carrying a pregnancy to term and only focuses on those who are forced into terminating a pregnancy.
So the goal then, Tripathy said is “to never have to ask ‘why now?’ We don’t want to be responding to restriction after restriction. We want to create a culture where these restrictions can’t exist. We want young people to lead this movement, care about this topic, and give them the opportunities and the tools to continue this fight.”
Champ or Chump?
Find out everything you need to know about which Michigan legislators support Women’s Rights by reviewing the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood’s 2016 Choice Status Sheet. PPAM identifies the Champs, a state legislator that stands up for women’s health. No matter what. And the Chumps, a state legislator who attempts to undermine women’s health by introducing policies that harm women and families.
For more information about how to contact local Champs and Chumps, visit PPAM’s website to give them important feedback about the bills that they are supporting in Lansing. By sending an email or making a phone call, you’re making your voice heard and influencing future policy decisions.
Trans Pregnancy and Abortion Rescue
TPAR is an online hub that provides inclusive, relevant information on a full range of reproductive options for transgender people. This includes, but is not limited to gender-neutral pregnancy and abortion information, trans-specific pregnancy and abortion information, and information on trans-friendly providers in Michigan.
TPAR is working with the Michigan Abortion and Pregnancy Network to ensure safe and inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ individuals, and is in the process of checking out every clinic listed on the MAP Network website to make sure they’re safe and welcoming places for everyone, including trans people. The MAP Network is already committed to trans-inclusive funding for abortion care, trans-friendly transportation and lodging, information about Michigan providers, information on STI’s and STD’s, birth control, abortion, healthy sex, pregnancy, pregnancy testing and more.
Tickets for the performance can be reserved in advance online. There is a suggested donation of $10 per ticket and $5 for every additional ticket reserved. Proceeds will go toward show expenses and other reproductive justice organizations in Michigan. Find out more on the Out of Silence Facebook event page.