Civil and Human Rights

Abortion Rights: What’s at Stake?

This #SCOTUS term abortion rights are on the docket. Watch CAC President Elizabeth Wydra and Sister Song Executive Director Monica Simpson discuss how upcoming cases could determine the future of abortion rights.


ELIZABETH WYDRA:Hello Everyone! I’m Elizabeth Wydra, President of the Constitutional Accountability Center and welcome to today’s Purple Chair Chat! We call these conversations Purple Chair Chats because normally, we would be coming to you from the iconic purple wing chairs in the Constitutional Accountability Center’s, DC offices. But we, like so many of you, have been working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic and doing what we can to make do.  

So many of us have been struggling during these times, have faced difficulties, have lost so much and so I hope that all of you are staying safe and well and hopeful for a light at the end of the tunnel. So, Purple Chair Chats are designed to tackle, the important legal, political, constitutional moments of the day. And one of the urgent immediate threats right now to equality and liberty for all is the unfortunately increasingly successful attack on abortion rights in the Supreme Court right now. There’s a pending case directly seeking to overturn Roe versus Wade. And on Monday, November 1st arguments will be held on S.B.8., the Texas law that has already gone into effect for people in Texas, but basically rendering Roe, a practical nullity in that state right now, because the ban in Texas, prohibits abortions after six weeks, when most people don’t even know that they are pregnant to help. Talk about what this means for. All of us and explain why it’s important to view these attacks on abortion through a reproductive Justice lens. I’m joined today by the legendary Monica Simpson, Executive director of SisterSong, a southern based national membership organization that works to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities. Monica has organized extensively against human rights abuse, the prison industry racism and systemic violence, against Southern black, women, and LGBTQ people. She’s a nationally sought-after, facilitator speaker and organizer, and has written many articles on LGBTQ issues reproductive justice, over policing of black and brown communities, philanthropy and southern activism In 2014, she was named a new civil rights leader by Essence magazine. Thank you so much for joining me today Monica. I’m so thrilled to have you with us.  

MONICA SIMPSON: Thank you so much for having me. It really is an honor to be able to be in conversation with you today.    

ELIZABETH WYDRA: Thank you. We really need to hear your thoughts on what’s going on right now because I know a lot of us are incredibly worried in the Supreme Court right now. In the media and in private conversations, there is an intense focus on the threat to abortion, but I want to set the table for our conversation today by opening up the discussion to include, not just choice, but access not just women’s rights, but the importance of centering, the most marginalized. Can you explain what reproductive justice is and why it is crucial to have this broader lens when we talk about abortion? 

MONICA SIMPSON: Yeah, for sure. So reproductive justice is a movement where I have found my home, right? It was one of the first movements at, you know, I’ve been doing work across all these different intersections of my life for well over 20 years now and when finding this reproductive justice framework and movement, that was created by Black women and led by people of color, all across the country today. It gave me the opportunity to bring all of my identities together. It really allowed me to see myself not as this fragmented individual, right? But it allowed me to see all parts of myself as being whole. And so I’m forever grateful for finding this work. And to see that there was a movement that was focused on doing this work from the lived experiences and the expertise of people of color, right? And so reproductive justice is really about understanding the movement of reproductive health and rights through the lens of racial justice. And so to help me help make that a little bit more clear for folks. I’ll give you an example. So Roe v. Wade, which is what we are fighting for. And we know it’s something we have to continue to fight for this country gives us the legal right to abortion, but just because abortion is legal doesn’t it mean that it’s actually available to folks? Right. So, if you are a Black person or person of color living in a place where anti-abortion laws like S.B. 8 have you know, put so many barriers in place or you’re living in a place where there has just been a straight out attack on shutting clinics down and your options are super limited then and where and when those places where we’re also seeing like this creation of ways for the state or the police to come in and to police our reproductive choices in life. Then the so-called right to abortion is meaningless unfortunately, and because there are so many overlapping systems of oppression working against we have to look at this in a more broad way in particular for communities of color and those communities that have historically been pushed to the margins. So the frame of reproductive justice gives us the ability to look at this work with an understanding that abortion justice is connected to our overall liberation and our bodily autonomy as Black people and people of color in this country. You I always quote, the amazing Audre Lorde that says, we can’t have single-issue movements, because we don’t have single-issue lives. And to me, that’s the epitome of what reproductive justice is all about. It allows us to really look at the interconnectedness of our lives. And the way that unfortunately, how oppression has really impacted the way that people of color in marginalized communities have been able to make their decisions around their reproductive lives in this country.  

ELIZABETH WYDRA: You know, I think that. So thank you for that explanation. And I think that, you know, one of the things that I find really powerful about the reproductive justice movement is that, you know, it really gets to the lived experience of rights because you know having a paper promise is not really that meaningful if you can’t actually exercise the liberty that is being promised and you know in some ways, you know, when you I love the Audre Lorde quote and you I it makes me think of how in a lot of ways while I’m very grateful for Roe v. Wade in those precedents. The focus on the legal discourse on privacy really doesn’t match in some ways the lived experience of that right because as you said it’s connected all these other systems that impact way we live our lives and it’s in a lot of ways it’s very not private because it’s connected to how we can show up as equal human beings in the public square. So I find the reproductive justice frame, incredibly powerful to meat, you know, on the bones of this, like in some ways fairly limited legal doctrine in terms of how we relate lived lives.  

MONICA SIMPSON: And it’s so timely right now when I think about it, right? When we think about just what we’ve seen over the past decade or so with this increased energy necessary energy around looking at racial justice in this country, because of the uprisings and because of the work of Black Lives Matter. And so many other movements that have just like put racial Justice at the forefront of the conversations nationally. It is forced us to have to make sure that we are not looking at any of our work without looking at it through that, racial justice lens and that’s something that reproductive justice has done since the very beginning of its work and it’s like now we’re able to see why the founders and the creators of this movement was really intentional about making sure that that was at the center. Because they knew right that it was going that this type of work was going to be necessary for us to come up against these legal battles that, you know, at the state level at the federal level, all of that, like we had to be able to think about what that meant for us in the long term, right?  

ELIZABETH WYDRA: Absolutely. So you talk about the movement, doing this work for a long time. You’ve been doing this work for a long time, particularly in Georgia. Can you talk about how these attacks on abortion have really impacted your work on the ground there? 

MONICA SIMPSON: Yeah, you know we like Texas, unfortunately, I mean a lot of states across the country and in particular in the South got hit with abortion bans, but what’s interesting about the abortion ban fight is that we actually have to back it up a little bit, right? We’ve seen the attacks coming on us for well, over a decade. So if we go back to even 2010, which kind of got, you know, deemed as this year, but war on women, right? It’s what we saw, like, hundreds of anti-abortion restrictions just come all across the country. Right? We saw trap laws. We saw personhood bills. He saw sex-selection bands. We saw racist propaganda like the Billboards that came to Georgia in 2010, that said the most dangerous place for an African American child is in the mother’s womb. And so our opposition worked a very well calculated strategy of like taking over, you know, the airwaves in terms of like just crazy propaganda. That was like really putting a wedge in communities of color and then moving into the state houses, with these crazy bans that were just like pulling us in so many different directions. And now we are hit in the courts, right with these of actual abortion bans. And so Georgia, unfortunately was another one of those states that got hit with an abortion ban that Sister Song became the lead plaintiff in a case against the state of Georgia on because what we realize on the ground was that what people saw these abortion bans as were. I mean, it was scary for folks right there thing. Like, first of all, I have to be able to make my own decisions about my body, and I have to be able to control my own future. And so, you mean to tell me that I have a government that’s trying to tell me that I can’t do that. And so it was very scary for folks on the ground. The organizing was just so critical and so crucial, you know, to the work because people really felt as if they were going to lose something, so important to their reproductive health care. And the fact that they were going to lose that, put a lot of people and in a state of fear, and so we are, we were living in a state. That was not only addressing an abortion ban, but also addressing the fact that maternal mortality was something that was incredibly challenging for folks in the state. We also live in a state where Medicaid expansion is still not a thing. We were also living in a state where we were concerned about, you know, the over-policing of our communities. And so, all of these things were just kind of like coming together and so, to get hit with an abortion ban on top of that really put people in a state of fear and panic. And so what we had to do was organize we have to organize and that’s why Sister Song was really intentional about becoming a part of this this this lawsuit right to ensure that we were speaking up for our members for the folks that we do this work for on the ground and we it’s been a hard fight. It’s a hard fight. We’re still in the fight here in Georgia, but what I know is that you know, the power of the people is so real, right? And so the folks are really standing up for their own rights, but it was absolutely, it continues to be a challenging time whenever it’s like we get hit with these things back to back to back. Right? And it’s hard for folks to see themselves, you know, being able to live in a way where they can have what they need whenever that we have these types of laws that are trying to come trying to come down.  

ELIZABETH WYDRA: I love the way that you, you know, connect the discussion about abortion to the broader discussion about health care. In terms of justice in terms of access to abortion, but also in terms of health care outcomes and access to health care, you know, the crisis for Black maternal mortality is urgent and not getting the attention that it should be. And, you know, I think that a lot of people are afraid as you said. And you know, how do people… Should people be afraid? And what kind of space can they hold for this fight? And you know, it can seem so overwhelming when it’s tied to, you know, you’re struggling for healthcare, you’re struggling to be, you know, safe on the street. You’re struggling for all of these things. How can you hold space for that?  

MONICA SIMPSON: You know, it’s difficult. But you know this fight for abortion access. I’ve been saying this right? The more that we fight for abortion access it, the more that we’re fighting against the system of white supremacy, right? And so when we put this in the context of, yes, this is a fight for our overall health care because it’s all connected. And we put this in the context of this is a fight for our safety because if we just pull apart, just as one, part from what happened in Texas, right? So people saw that oh, they’re shutting things down. You can’t get this abortion after six weeks, but what the people didn’t see or that there wasn’t a lot of attention put on was that there was this component of this law that said that oh you get to police people if you think they’re having an abortion like there were fines and stuff. And so it opened up the door right for just more of this really horrible surveillance and just putting people under more pressure and under more fear for their lives. Right? Like this is this is not A game for folks. I want people to understand that this conversation around abortion access is not just like a very it’s not a single issue situation, right? It is connected to our health is connected, to our safety is connected to us. Our ability to make our own decisions about our bodies and our lives and for people of color. And marginalized communities who have had to live in the context of the United States of America, which we can have a whole broadcast of what that means for our communities, right? It is taking people back to a time were we thought that we had progressed from. It’s like it’s taking us backwards. And that part is what is very, very scary for us. And why this fight has to be something that everybody is connected to whether you believe in environmental justice or you know, economic justice or whatever it is that you find yourself gravitating towards you, have to see that direct connection to this very moment because if we don’t stop what’s happening around these courts. And what’s happening with these abortion bans it opens up the door for so many more unfortunate and very scary outcomes in terms of other parts of our lived experience. So this is one of the most critical crucial moments that we need to be organizing together because it really is connected to our overall liberation right now. 

ELIZABETH WYDRA: Absolutely, that’s very powerful way of putting it. And, you know, I think the policing aspect you bring up from the Texas law is incredibly concerning because it’s a model that could be used when it comes to other rights, you know, we’ve already seen kind of vigilantes intimidating people at the polls exercising, their fundamental right to vote and, you know, it’s the way that the Texas law outsources as a way to try to avoid judicial review to individuals, you know is troubling obviously from the legal side because we want to make sure that courts can enforce the constitutional rights, but deeply troubling from a lived experience. We talk about that fear that people have of the fear of the law and then you have a fear of being subject to private citizens thinking they’re vigilantes. And that that is, is really terrifying. Could be used in other states and in other context. 

MONICA SIMPSON:And we’ve seen what that looks like. We’ve seen. What that what that? What that Yields, right? We think about Trayvon Martin. Think about I mean that that’s the first thing that comes to mind for me. And I don’t want to live in a world where I feel like I have to worry about my own life because there’s somebody who has a different belief than me that feels like they did need to push that belief on me and this very scary way. So, no, this is, this is not, this is this is a scary time. But again, I leaned back on them, on the fact that, you know, we have a long history of our people fighting for what we need for ourselves. And we have a long history of winning right in the ways that we need to. So that’s what drives me and keeps me moving even in these really hard moments, but it doesn’t stop me from making sure that I’m like, putting my peace out there about where we are.  

ELIZABETH WYDRAAbsolutely. I think you’re exactly right. You know, there’s obviously reason for fear, but there is deep, deep, reason for hope and you know, we’ve got to just keep going. You know, one of the things that I get a little worried about when we think about this as a movement and where I think the importance of reproductive justice centered in this conversation is important, is that I think a lot of folks right now, especially when we’re in this kind of fearful moment, you know, think it’s either going to be, you know, we have abortion rights protected. Roe stands or abortion rights are completely taken away and Roe is overturned. And, you know, I think probably what will happen is something in between, where we might see some states, you know, because Roe versus Wade protects the national right to abortion. And if that is taken away, there will still be states that protect the right to abortion and some that don’t. And so people who have means who have, you know, who are not vulnerable, who have financial means, will be able to access the right to abortion. And so I but there will be people who cannot, and I worry in some ways that with this moment about, you know, Roe going to fall that for some people Roe won’t fall laughter, you know, even if we have are dangerous, terrible ruling because of that inequity, that will likely result from a patchwork. And so, you know, how do we make sure? And I think for me, making sure that we’re centering the most marginalized in this discussion. And we’ll make sure we don’t get complacent if that happens, you know, for people who live in California or people of the means to travel to California or other states. What are some things that you that you think are kind of misconceptions or myths, or, you know, concerns that you have about the movement that for me, is one of them that it’s kind of all or nothing for all of us. When in fact, all will not be affected the same way. Yeah. What is something that you think of, in that context?  

MONICA SIMPSON: Yeah, I’m happy. That is such a great point just to add more to what you were just saying that. Yeah, ultimately that’s what we look like right now. There are people who can still wear the even if they were living in, Texas could still travel outside of the state to get what they need. And that is something that I think they’re going to have to continue to contend with is just this, this inequity, right? That is just so real because of, again, the way that the system of white supremacy is set things up in this country, and I think another common misconception that folks think about in this, in the concept of and it’s abortion context is that they have an idea of who they think a person is that gets an abortion, right? They think that this person is like they’re alone or they’re desperate or something’s wrong with them or you know, they just put like all of this negative energy and like these negative definitions or whatever the heck they think they are, you know on people who have abortions not think that we have to and I think there’s great organization to doing work around this with abortion storytellers. Just helping people understand the wide range of folks who are accessing and who needs, you know, had to have access to abortions, right? That people have abortions for many different reasons that they’re not alone that they are backed by entire communities or families or friends or caretakers and people who love them. Like this is it’s a personal decision that people are making. And so I think that’s just a big misconception. Right? And I think that there’s also a misconception that this the only cisgendered women are having abortions and that’s not the case. Right? The gender spectrum is long and wide and huge. And there are many types of folks along that entire gender spectrum who have to and he choose to have access to abortion care. And I think that’s another misconception. We have to keep pushing in this conversation is just you know, we can’t make it, we have to think about the gender part of this conversation and how we need to expand that. And I also think there’s a misconception that, you know, just because you haven’t had an abortion. Like you haven’t had the procedure that you are not connected to this issue of abortion. I tell people all the time. I do this work. I’ve never had an abortion, but I have an abortion story. I have helped friends who have gone to have abortions. I have given to abortion funds. I have supported the work. So I think that the more that we continue to expand this conversation of like, who has a story around abortion continues to help the process of us like reducing and removing that stigma that comes on this conversation because we all know some most of us. I think it’s a one-in-three or whatever. Both, you know know someone who’s had an abortion, right? Like it is. It’s not a thing. That is it baffles me that people think that they are so far removed from this conversation when most of us are not at all.  

ELIZABETH WYDRA: Yeah, then that’s even if you think you don’t know someone you probably do and I think that this you’re, so right the storytelling is crucial not just for the power of the stories but you know, in some ways to show that the, you know, some stories are incredibly powerful but some stories are just, you know, regular old going about my life, you know, stories about why you need this this access to healthcare. And, you know, I think that one of the things that I’m really excited about in the legal movement is that these stories are being told to the court and hopefully the court will take in because exactly what you said, you know, there’s this misconception that people and some people certainly are and I don’t want to discount that, but everyone who has an abortion is, you know, in this desperate place certainly, some people are absolutely and but, you know, you see some of these kind of paternalistic even in. Even just as Kennedy who was good on abortion rights, you know, had this paternalistic flavor to some of his opinions about, you know, the poor person who, you know, is going to be deeply traumatized and as you said telling these stories about the real people who have abortions is so important, but I want to close out again on a hopeful note and yeah, Monica, you are an incredibly talented activist. In addition to the advocacy work you do, you are a singer, a spoken word artist, a doula you bring your full self to this movement. How can those of us who are not legislators or Supreme Court justices, or judges, how can we bring our full selves to this moment to help achieve the world that we all want to see where we can thrive and live our best self-determined lives? 

MONICA SIMPSON: Yeah. I think it’s really important for us now to not live in a world where we are bound by our titles or, you know, the letters behind our names, right. That we actually, you know, see each other and interact with each other and work with each other, as the amazing human beings that we are bringing all of ourselves to the work. I’m grateful that you brought all those different parts of me into this conversation because it is important for folks to see me, you know, across all the different ways that I’m engaged with the world, whether it’s in the arts world or if, you know, working with folks who are having babies or you know, on the front lines to make sure we have access to abortions. Right? Like we are all just very multifaceted people and I think that we have to bring all of that to the tables. I encourage everybody to do that and to not be bound by these titles in the work. And I also think it’s really important right now, for folks, who really want to get involved in this work and to really help right now, if you because we know that this fight that we’re, it is a fight against the system of white supremacy. We need our white allies, to really be on the front lines with us in this work. And the way where they are helping to have those necessary conversations with those family members with those folks in power to really be the voice around this issue saying and saying out loud that we know that as we do this work it is a fight against white supremacy. We need more white folks, being willing to say that to be quite honest. And I think that that’s a bold stand and I think that really shows that you are a radical ally and that’s what we need. And I think that that helps to build the trust and build the bond across communities of color and why allies who are really trying to do this work in the best ways that we can because it is so important for us to do it together. I know I have this chance and I sing all the time, you know, we must fight for freedom in this fight for justice. It’s going to take all of us to get to the other side. And so that all of us are so important to me like in order for us to see liberation in our lifetime, which I believe that we can, it is absolutely necessary for us to do this work across our lines of difference and to find a ways in which we connect. And so that requires deeper conversations. It requires, uncomfortable conversations, and it requires those of us who may not be used to being on those front lines and using our voice and power and privilege. It requires us to do that or those folks who have that to do that. So that’s why I really got for the folks. Right? Like I truly believe that our collective power is what is going to win, right? That’s what that’s what’s going to bring us the win. But in order for us to get the collective power necessary to really, you know, push back and beat office, opposition is going to take us to do that that deeper work internally. 

And I get sometimes from some of my I get some pushback from people on that sometimes because they’re like, well, our opposition, they’re not having those types of conversations. They don’t care about each other. They’re just running amok and doing everything together and they’re still winning. I said, but they’re not filing for liberation and we are. That’s the difference. That is the difference, that is the difference. And so if we hold on to that, then I think and let that continue to be our driving force, then that’s going to get us the wins that we want. 

ELIZABETH WYDRA: I can not think of a better word to end on Monica. Amen, a thousand times to all of that and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, your expertise your vision with us today. I am deeply grateful for this conversation and for the work that you do and your leadership and I urge everyone to check out Sister Song. They’re an amazing organization. You can find out more about CAC at on Twitter @My.Constitution. Thank you again Monica and thank you everyone for tuning in to us and being part of this fight that all of us need to fight for liberation. Thank you. 

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