Our goal is to create a sustainable student and volunteer-based organization that offers rides to students seeking abortions who do not have access to cars, or to offer reimbursement for gas costs to those who do. The volunteers will sign a confidentiality agreement to assure privacy for patients. They will provide vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and a copy of their valid driver’s license. The volunteers’ sole responsibility is to provide transportation.
In addition, all volunteers will first be filtered through an application process, and will then take part in a feminist sensitivity training. A feminist discussion of abortion will include an acknowledgement “…that not all women experience abortion in the same way, that it can be liberatory and painful, devastating and empowering, all at the same time” (Thomsen 3). As one example of the ways in which the training will address the vast arrays of bodies, identities, and experiences that could be impacted by an unwanted pregnancy, we include a section on gender identity and point out that people who might not identify as women (i.e. trans* of gender queer people), might also need an abortion.
Recognizing that all people experience abortion differently disrupts the essentialist assumptions about women that tend to focus on the rights of white, middle-class, privileged women. This view includes a discussion of reproductive justice issues affecting many women of color, poor women, and women with disabilities, through which we will move beyond mainstream issues such as access to birth control and legality of abortion. According to Nancy Ehrenreich, author of The Reproductive Rights Reader, this “critical constructivist” approach to reproductive justice leaves behind the narrow-minded discourses usually deployed by liberal activists. Such discourses focus on an individual’s “right to choose” without interference from the government, thus often ignoring the fact that individual “choice” can be constrained by social factors outside of one’s control. These factors include access to and the ability to afford birth control, abortion, prenatal care, and other reproductive health services. In contrast, the critical constructivist approach asserts that government intervention in terms of reproductive issues is not always negative, and can increase the potentiality for the liberation of women. As Ehrenreich argues, such support might be “…necessary for women to achieve meaningful control over their reproductive lives” (Ehrenreich 5). While our support will not be offered at a U.S. governmental level, the transportation funds will be distributed through the Associated Students Finance Board, and we view our organization as a contribution to women’s reproductive agency.
Training will encourage volunteers to allow the patient to lead conversation, to avoid topics or phrases that suggest that the patient should “feel something” (guilt, sadness, etc.), an idea possible only when viewing abortion within a moral framework. In “From Refusing Stigmatization Toward Celebration: New Directions for Reproductive Justice Activism,” Carly Thomsen discusses Native women leaders in South Dakota who, in response to their state’s abortion ban, “managed to discuss their support for abortion rights through discourse that did not frame the procedure as always already negative.” Mainstream conversations about abortion, even among those who self-identify as “pro-choice,” often characterize the procedure as a decision that is difficult, painful, and an emotional life-long memory. When we acknowledge that abortion can be liberatory and can be celebrated, we de-stigmatize abortion as a selfish, immoral practice and reframe it as a simple medical procedure that does not necessarily elicit an emotional response. We will strive to do the same through our volunteer training program.
Overall, we seek to disrupt structural roadblocks and increase access to reproductive healthcare. While we do not view abortion as the only or the most important component of reproductive justice, it remains a key issue within the geographical and political space at UCSB. While how we understand and work toward liberation is contextual and subject to change, we cannot imagine liberation without reproductive justice.
Ehrenreich, Nancy. The Reproductive Rights Reader: Law, Medicine, and the Construction of Motherhood. New York: New York, 2008.
Thomsen, Carly. “From Refusing Stigmatization Toward Celebration: New Directions for Reproductive Justice Activism.” Feminist Studies 39.1, 2013.