Even abortion artwork is now legally risky
Visitors to a facility at a reproductive justice conference last weekend were greeted with a warning.
“If you live in a state where self-directed abortion is illegal, be aware of the risks of criminalization,” reads a sign, its warnings rendered in orange against a blue background and under a pair of menacing eyes. “The information in this exhibit is intended to advocate for greater understanding and availability of self-managed abortion, not to recommend or advise anyone to obtain and manage an abortion.”
The people behind the facility, the panel added, could not answer any questions about obtaining a medical abortion or performing a self-managed abortion.
The installation, titled “Zone Without Stigma of Self-Managed Abortion,” was an exhibit at the Let’s Talk Sex! conference in Dallas, organized by the reproductive justice collective SisterSong. Through a series of Ikea-style bedroom facades and signs about how self-inducing your own abortion works, he aimed to get closer to the experience of self-managed abortion. (The exhibit ended Sunday, with the conference closing.) But the installation and its organizers, the Abortion On Our Own Terms campaign, were haunted by one fear: what if someone arrests or chases them? for this info?
In the two months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion rights activists have grappled not only with a new wave of abortion bans, but also with the risk that simply disseminating information about abortion will put them in the crosshairs of the forces. of the order. This facility was perhaps particularly perilous: not only was it a self-directed abortion, which remains legal in much of the country but still carries legal risks, but it took place in Texas, one of the states the most anti-abortion in a country that is full of them.
In addition to a near-total abortion ban triggered by Roe’s fall, which went into effect last Thursday, Texas has long had a law that allows people to sue for helping patients abort. to get the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy. .
“We knew, coming to Texas, that we had to take certain precautions. We have consulted with legal counsel,” Abortion On Our Own Terms campaign steering committee member Kimberly Inez McGuire told VICE News.
“I have a one-year-old daughter and was going to take her with me, but I made the decision to bring my mother as well, because in case we were wrongfully and illegally arrested for this, I I wanted to make sure there was someone to take care of my child.
Anti-abortion activists already seemed poised to attempt to tighten the boundaries of what, exactly, people can say about abortion. Prior to Roe’s then-expected disappearance, the National Committee for the Right to Life introduced a model bill that proposed to punish people for “aiding or abetting an unlawful abortion,” which they defined to include ” give instructions by telephone, Internet or any other means”. communication regarding self-administered abortions or ways to obtain an illegal abortion”, as well as “hosting or maintaining a website, or providing an Internet service, that promotes or facilitates efforts to obtain an illegal abortion,” among other actions.
State legislators in South Carolina began to race with the idea. At the end of June, only a few days after the fall of Roe, state senators introduced a bill to prohibit people from providing information “by telephone, Internet or any other mode of communication regarding self-administered abortions or ways to obtain an abortion”, or from operating a website that does something similar.
McGuire told VICE News that the Abortion On Our Own Terms exhibit falls squarely under First Amendment protection. But as she walked around the conference wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “mife” and “miso” — references to mifepristone and misoprostol, the drugs commonly used to induce medical abortion — McGuire did not hesitated to discuss the risks of Art.
“It’s a constitutionally protected freedom of speech,” McGuire said. “That’s not to say that a dishonest law enforcement officer couldn’t misunderstand or someone looking to sabotage this couldn’t misrepresent what we’re doing here.”
If law enforcement wants to prosecute someone for self-administering an abortion, experts warn, they’ll find a way to do it. At the time of Roe’s overthrow, only three states had explicit laws against self-managed abortion on the books. But between 2000 and 2020, at least 61 people in 26 states faced criminal consequences for self-administering an abortion or helping someone else do it, according to research published by the legal advocacy group If/When. /How earlier this month.
The organizers of the facility were so cautious that they also put up a sign suggesting that even visitors to the facility should be careful. The sign warned that “talking about self-managed abortion can be complicated and risky” and urged people to use a “social media-approved copy” if they wanted to share information about the exposure on social media.
Despite the danger that awaited it, the exhibition attempted to cultivate a calming, albeit relentlessly practical, atmosphere. The exhibit included a fake kitchen, a bed with a pillow that read “Good Vibes,” and a toilet. These toilets were part of the exhibit’s emphasis on de-stigmatization: having a self-managed abortion will most likely involve sitting on a toilet. The facility even set up a chair for someone to sit next to the toilet, as if whoever was sitting there could hold the hand of the person having the abortion. (Medical experts widely agree that self-inducing an abortion using mifepristone and misoprostol, early in pregnancy, may be safe.)
The installation also offered information about Euki, an app developed by a group that supports self-managed abortion to help people track their reproductive health. Earlier this month, the app received a rave review from Mozilla for its privacy features.
“It’s the only rule-tracking app that cops can’t use to fuck you, so we’re making sure people know there’s an app available that doesn’t store their information,” McGuire said. “Because unfortunately, as we see, Facebook posts are being used to criminalize people.”
McGuire, who is also executive director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, said she hopes to get this facility on the road. She plans to show it in community centers, college campuses, health centers; perhaps future iterations of the facility could include abortive drug packaging, so people can get familiar with its appearance.
But the calculation of what information exposure can safely include changes from state to state and even day to day, as the landscape of anti-abortion laws changes.
“By sharing this information, we [doing] ongoing risk assessment and we want to share as much as possible while protecting our staff,” McGuire said. “This exhibit is being hosted this weekend by three women of color. We also want to protect our people.
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