*Editor’s note: After this article was published, it was brought to my attention that it is free to attend, but you must register online. Space is limited.
Next Wednesday will mark the 47th anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court Case, and to commemorate, a Winston-Salem woman- in conjunction with a national organization- is producing a short play followed by a discussion forum at Krankies Coffee from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
On Jan. 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution recognizes a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion in the case of Roe v. Wade. Abortion, despite its legality, has since been extremely stigmatized, and some states have made access to safe and legal abortions difficult. In 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation suspending funding to Planned Parenthood, and as a result, the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion along with people’s stories of their abortions went viral on social media. The movement was started by the contributors and editors of the book “Shout Your Abortion,” Amelia Bonow, Lindy West and Emily Nokes.
Aviva Bender is the producer/director of the play adaptation of “Shout Your Abortion.” Bender moved to the Winston-Salem area in July to pursue a Master’s degree in screenwriting from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
“I am totally doing this on my own,” Bender explained. “It is the first time I have directed a play, and I freaking love it. I am so excited to be doing something like this. It is kind of opening my eyes; if it goes out really well, I am going to start looking at the theatre, too.”
Bender said producing a play like this is “totally inline for my motivation for being a filmmaker.” She said she wants to produce content that is thought-provoking and effects change.
Everyone involved in the production is volunteer-based, and Bender said some of the actors are experienced and some are new to the stage. The “Shout Your Abortion” event is sponsored by Planned Parenthood’s Forsyth County Education Committee of the Advisory Council, which Bender describes as a “nonprofit that helps to fund Planned Parenthood through educational events.”
Eleanor Panetti is a volunteer with Planned Parenthood’s Forsyth County Education Committee Advisory Council.
“For the last several years, the education committee tries, in conjunction with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, to put on an educational event for the community,” Panetti explained. “This year, one of our members came up with the idea of using the ‘Shout Your Abortion’ publication.”
Panel discussions, election events and community outreach events have happened in the past, but for this anniversary, Panetti said the committee would use ‘Shout Your Abortion’ “to facilitate conversation in the community about our organization, and about what Planned Parenthood is doing to support keeping abortions safe and legal.”
“What the anniversary of Roe v. Wade means to us is just a reminder that a scant 47 years ago, the ability to have a safe medical procedure, namely abortion, was not possible for everyone,” Panetti said. “This is something that Planned Parenthood worked for, and we as volunteers are trying to honor those folks who brought those legal challenges and now provide safe and low-cost medical care to the community. Planned Parenthood is much bigger than abortion, but abortion is out there.”
Lela Ali is a Triad field organizer with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSAT). She wrote in an email that PPSAT is a “nonprofit health care provider offering a wide range of affordable and reliable reproductive and sexual health care services in 14 locations, including right here in the Triad.”
Ali wrote that PPSAT health centers have highly-trained doctors and nurses who are “committed to providing high-quality health care to everyone who walks through our doors and are proud to serve their reproductive and sexual health care needs— no matter their race, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, documentation, or insurance status.”
PPSAT also has organizers working in the field alongside community partners, patients and students “to protect our rights and access to affordable quality reproductive healthcare across the country.”
“In the Triad, we are working in our health clinic to center and engage patients in our advocacy efforts,” Ali continued. “We are also building and expanding a strong supporter and volunteer base in our communities and college campuses to continue to fight for legislation that promotes and preserves reproductive rights and access, and works toward a world where stigma around reproductive health is no longer part of our future.”
Panetti said another committee member, UNCG assistant professor of nursing Don Kautz, reached out to the contributors of “Shout Your Abortion” and secured rights to the book, on the basis that the book must be used verbatim. Bender volunteered to compile the stories into a cohesive narrative that will be read by seven characters, all portraying the abortion stories from the book. Bender said she tried to look at all the different perspectives of abortion. She said the play portrays one older woman, who got an illegal abortion in Israel in the 1970s and then fought for abortion rights in Israel. There is an African-America mother of three, who was pregnant with her fourth and decided to have an abortion because she couldn’t afford another child. There is also a white woman in her 30s, who had four abortions, and a young woman [age 16] from Mexico that got an illegal abortion and ended up coming to the United States to work for Planned Parenthood.
”They were very cognizant of the intersectionality of this movement,” Bender said of the contributors of “Shout Your Abortion.” “A lot of times, white feminism tends to exclude others. Their introductions are really kind of spot-on for what the whole purpose is for ‘Shout Your Abortion’—because I didn’t get it at first.”
Bender admitted that she was uncomfortable when she first heard about “Shout Your Abortion.”
“But I understood the power behind it,” she said. “Or so I thought. I thought it was a personal power, like ‘I am not going to be embarrassed by this.’ But it is actually much bigger than that. It is a political movement. We have been kind of conditioned to think [abortion] is a shamed thing, opposed to it being a health care service that we should demand and not feel ashamed about doing.”
Bender said she was conditioned to think of abortion as something “underground and private.” Through reading “Shout Your Abortion” and working on this project, she has been able to overcome that conditioning and the stigma.
“‘It seems counterintuitive, but I believe abortion has the potential to be one of our most unifying issues. It cuts through all of those boundaries: race, class, gender, religion. The key is to drag abortion out of the partisan framework,’” said Bender reciting one of the passages of the book. “‘If we do not tell our own stories, we give other people the power to define us, and we are not sorry.”’
Bender’s screenplay compilation goes on to state that the “‘anti-choice movement has relentlessly flooded the field with so much propaganda, that even those that support abortion rights often do so from an apologetic stance.’”
“That is the key; the propaganda has conditioned even someone like me—who is super liberal and believes in choice,” she said. “But yet, being completely mortified to shout my abortion.”
Bender shared that she had an abortion.
“I was 24, I was fiscally irresponsible,” she explained. “I was with my future husband, and we were both working in restaurants, and I was like, we are not ready for this. So we did. That was kind of the impetus for us to get married because I was like if I get pregnant again, I am not getting another abortion. I actually had a really deep down feeling that if I had a child out of wedlock that my child would not be accepted in my family, and my husband would not be accepted in my family.”
She went on to say after she was married, she had a miscarriage.
“What was really interested was, looking at the way I was treated having a miscarriage versus having an abortion,” she said. “There was a definite differentiation in treatment, even though the procedures I had were exactly the same…One was cold, sterile and then the other was very caring and loving.”
By being involved with the “Shout Your Abortion” project, Bender said her whole perspective has changed.
“Maybe one to where I could shout my abortion,” she said.
Ali wrote in an email that sharing abortion stories is a “very powerful and meaningful way to normalize and dismantle the shame and stigma associated with abortion.”
As an organizer with PPSAT, Ali wrote that she had witnessed the “real and tangible barriers to care that patients experience daily due to silence and stigma around abortion.”
“If a patient can’t get time off work, can’t tell their family, friends, partner, or community about their need for abortion care, they are not only alone in this process, but they oftentimes face barriers in their pursuit of care like cost, transportation, lack of childcare, lack of time off from work, and, above all, lack of access to an actual health care provider.”
Ali stated that President Donald Trump has “made clear that he wants to end access to abortion in this country saying he believes women should be punished for having an abortion and appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Ali wrote that there are “devastating consequences” of restricting access to abortion.
“These barriers often have a disproportionate impact on communities of color, who already face systemic barriers in accessing quality health care,” she added.
She wrote sharing these stories is important to Planned Parenthood and are an opportunity to have an open, honest conversation and discussion about stigma, access, inclusivity, and visibility of reproductive rights.
“For the community in general, uplifting abortion stories nationwide helps demonstrate to folks what happens when people don’t have agency over their own body and health care, and who is affected and how by the potentiality of losing safe and legal access to care,” Ali stated. “Anti-women’s health politicians are doing everything they can to strip away rights and access to health care. They have enacted 25 bans on abortion in 2019, remade the courts with 150 anti-abortion judges, and in the summer of 2020, the Supreme Court may overturn precedent and gut Roe v. Wade, leaving 25 million of reproductive age in America at risk of losing access to safe and legal abortion. In early 2020, we expect proactive movement on legislative priorities in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
In regards to the upcoming 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Ali wrote that it is important that people ensure others in North Carolina can still access safe and legal abortions even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“Polling shows that the vast majority of people support access to safe, legal abortion and oppose restrictions on abortion access,” Ali wrote. “The anniversary of Roe v. Wade reminds us that the fight for access to abortion is ongoing and more important than ever. We won’t go back.”
Ali wrote that PPSAT is not expecting any protestors at the play, but “in efforts to keep all attendees safe, we have hired two off-duty police officers as a security presence.”
Katie Murawski is the editor-in-chief of YES! Weekly. Her alter egos include The Grimberlyn Reaper, skater/public relations board chair for Greensboro Roller Derby, and Roy Fahrenheit, drag entertainer and self-proclaimed King of Glamp.
Planned Parenthood’s Forsyth County Education Committee of the Advisory Council presents “Shout Your Abortion,” a free event on Wednesday evening, Jan. 22 at Krankies Coffee, located at 211 E. 3rd St. in Winston-Salem from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the event is from 6 to 8 p.m. There will be soup (gumbo and vegetarian) available, and anyone ages 21 and up can purchase alcohol.