Since 2021, hard-won women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy have been rolled back in the US in an alarming fashion. With state bans on abortion past as little as six weeks – as was passed in Texas on September 1, 2021 – and now the Supreme Court’s overturning of the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, it is easy to imagine that we have slipped and fallen into a Handmaid’s Tale-style dystopia.
As such misogynist ideology becomes entrenched, it is natural to feel hopeless. A recent surge in activist TikToks suggests, however, a way forward. People have been pairing a sample from the song Paris by US electro duo The Chainsmokers with the hashtag #ifwegodownthenwegodowntogether, messages of solidarity and crucial information.
My research shows that people often think that activism requires a certain type of direct action. But such narrow definitions of activism prevent people from taking part. They also typically harm those who face the biggest structural disadvantages and related barriers to getting involved in direct action.
Instead, remembering that doing something is always better than doing nothing – and widening our definition of what activism can be – is helpful. Here is a non-exhaustive list of ideas of how we can support our sisters across the pond and further the global fight for women’s reproductive rights.
Research shows that the more people are informed about an issue, the more it is possible to shift dominant perspectives. The idea is to destigmatise talking about abortion, so that it becomes normalised as an issue relating to women’s health and reproductive rights. This reduces the stigma around abortion and keeps the issue in the public sphere, demonstrating how “the personal is political”.
Social media has repeatedly been shown to be a good way of sharing information, whether that is via memes that distil key philosophical arguments for abortion into bite-size graphics and words or through linking to news articles, petitions, feminist charities and campaigns.
Having conversations with friends and family can be just as instrumental. Raising awareness and destigmatising abortion enables us to better fight for women’s reproductive rights so that they are not hidden out of sight and easier to attack.
Join a local pro-choice group or set up your own
I was part of a pro-choice group in Nottingham, UK, which counters anti-abortion activism outside of hospitals and clinics. We positioned our bodies to block out the anti-abortion messages and provided a friendly face and chaperone for any woman seeking an abortion. We also provided leaflets, directing women to neutral pregnancy and abortion advice services such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
Social media can be a good place to look for such local groups but if you don’t find one, team up with some friends and start it yourself. That’s how the Nottingham group began ten years ago and it is still going strong with nearly 1,000 local members. Grassroots campaigning – from social housing activist group Focus E15 Mothers to the New Era Tenants Association, which fought to keep tenants’ homes – has a direct impact on individuals and can mobilise the wider public, having a significant impact on society and politics.
Lobby your MP and respond to government consultations
Anyone can sign parliamentary petitions or write to their local MP to ask that they support women’s reproductive rights (find your MP here). There is an all-party parliamentary group on sexual and reproductive health in the UK, comprising MPs and peers who raise awareness in parliament of these issues: you can sign up for news and events here. If you’re unsure of how to formulate such a letter, charities often provide template letters for contacting MPs.
You can also sign up to mailing lists of feminist charities and organisations, such as Filia, to be notified of any relevant government consultations. Research shows that citizen involvement in the parliamentary process can affect policy.
During lockdown, a temporary measure was put in place by the UK government, allowing the provision of at-home medical abortion pills. Feminist campaigning saw this crucial service extended: on March 30 2022, the UK parliament voted in favour of amending the Health and Care bill, making telemedicine for early medical abortions permanent in England and Wales.
Provide financial support
Grassroots organisations and campaigns often depend entirely on volunteers and private donations for their existence. Fundraising enables campaigns such as Abortion Rights, the UK’s only national grassroots pro-choice campaign, to organise protests, maintain pressure on the government to support women’s reproductive rights.
Abortion funds provide practical financial support to help women access abortion. You can donate to the National Network of Abortion Funds to support those in the US and to Abortion Without Borders to support women in Europe.
Take it to the streets
Protest marches have long been a way of expressing dissent – on everything from pollution and political oppression to war and racism. They have also consistently been a means of showing solidarity for women, from the suffragist marches of the early 20th century to the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.
Four years prior to Roe v Wade, in 1969, radical feminist group Redstockings held what they called an “abortion speakout” in New York City, which saw women come forward to talk about their experiences of illegal abortion. These speakout events spread across the US in response to government hearings where most of the politicians speaking about abortion – at the time – were male. American political scientist Erica Chenoweth highlights how fruitful this kind of non-violent civil resistance can be.
It is vital to continue to speak out and show solidarity to our sisters in the US. We must also continue to fight to protect our right to protest and to prevent the encroachment of similarly regressive laws in the UK.
Emma Craddock received funding from e Economic and Social Research Council for her PhD research.