Now, More Than Ever: Seattle women speak on Roe vs. Wade and reproductive rights
They’re angry. They’re focused. They’re not about to give up.
By Danny O’Neil
October 31, 2022
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s an inspiring thought. It’s just not always linear. What do we do then?
Forty-nine years ago, the Supreme Court decided the right to abortion was guaranteed under the Constitution. In June, the court reversed itself when five of the Supreme Court justices – three of them appointed by Donald Trump – voted to reverse the legal precedent set in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.
The decision did not impact the right to abortion in Washington, where it’s protected by a state law. It does, however, change the stakes and the scope of the work involving reproductive rights for people capable of pregnancy. We interviewed five people involved in different ways and at very different levels of the fight for abortion rights to see what they feel, what they fear and what they hope we’ll do in this moment.
For 10 years, Kia Guarino worked on some of the world’s toughest problems at some of the country’s top institutions. She was a program officer at the Gates Foundation and a graduate associate at the Clinton Global Health Initiative. She worked on projects to eradicate polio and treat malaria and did that work after she coordinated a surgical program across nine different countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Then two years ago, she decided to really dig her heels in at a more local level when she became the executive director at Pro-Choice Washington.
Guarino: “In this moment, when many other governments were actually moving to improve abortion access across the globe, and we saw ours rolling back actively. It really felt like this was the time to use my voice and energy at home.”
Guarino was a program officer in family planning at the Gates Foundation, and at Pro-Choice Washington, she joined an organization that goes back nearly 50 years. She began working there in June 2020 on the exact same day Amy Coney Barrett answered questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. A year and a half later, Barrett was one of the five Supreme Court justices who voted there was no constitutional right to abortion as part of its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson, which was delivered in June.
Guarino: “It wasn’t a surprise. It was just sadness, and sort of a deep ache of what this impact is going to be. Even now, when I talk to my friends or peers or really anybody who’s not directly in this space, there’s still this unwillingness to really fully embrace that this is the agenda and that it’s going to keep going and the impact is not even close to being felt yet.”
This is a moment in which the very nature of America’s democracy is being tested. The majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal, but the system has allowed for an angry minority to overrule that right.
Guarino: “My biggest fear is we won’t learn a lesson here on the progressive side. That we won’t come together. We won’t look past internal conflict. We won’t focus our energy on the right places. We’ll blame within our own movement rather than come together and use this last moment to protect democracy and human rights.
“Activism right now has to be really focused together. It’s not just about abortion; it’s about the broader gender-equity conversation. It’s about LGBTQI rights. It’s about the climate. It’s about democracy. It’s about voting rights. It’s about civil rights. It’s all the same thing. It’s all the same agenda that’s being pushed by the conservative movement, and if we don’t come together and think about what it means to collectively create a movement, I’m afraid we will lose.”
Involvement works on two different planes. On the one hand, there’s the larger political struggle that requires years, decades and generations. It takes long-range vision to move a mountain.
Guarino: “Be willing to see the bigger picture, stay focused and do not give up hope in this moment because that is exactly the objective, which is to take away power. So don’t let that happen, and don’t think that we’re above the possibility of losing more.”
Patience has to be paired with power, however, and that only comes from action.
Guarino: “The micro level is really concrete. I really want to encourage people to look at the local level. It’s very easy to just give in to the big organizations that are so traditionally involved in it, and that’s not to say that they don’t play a role, but we’ve forgotten local work for a long time and this is a moment to really invest in abortion funds, local clinics, local organizing — because that’s where the work is going to be. And abortion funds are really filling this gap that we hear people talking about a lot, which is, ‘How do I help people get the care that they need?’”
A donation to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund is not just an investment in the existing infrastructure. It will empower the people who have already been doing this work and know what is needed and where.
Northwest Abortion Access Fund
Volunteers provide the horsepower behind the nation’s largest abortion fund.
That’s how Iris Alatorre got involved in 2019, becoming part of the network of volunteers who do everything from return the calls from those seeking help to arranging travel logistics and accommodations at the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. For the past two years, Alatorre has been a program manager with the fund, which covers the four-state region of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho. Those in need of abortion care can leave a message with the fund, providing contact information as well as the date and location of the abortion appointment. A volunteer calls back to discuss everything from funding assistance to arranging travel assistance and other support.
The right to abortion is guaranteed by state law in both Washington and Oregon, which has made those states sanctuaries that were sought out by those needing care even before the recent Supreme Court decision.
Alatorre: “We have supported a lot of people from all over the country coming to our service region for abortion care, specifically Seattle.”
The number of calls has predictably increased after the Supreme Court decision.
Alatorre: “We’re seeing the increase in that now. Even more people who have completely lost access in other states are coming here.”
After the ruling, 13 states either banned or effectively prohibited abortion. Another four states had antiabortion prohibitions that were triggered but blocked from going into effect by court order. In another three states – including Idaho – abortion bans are considered imminent. Idaho’s ban is scheduled to take effect Aug. 25.
There’s another aspect to consider, too. Texas has not only banned abortion, but sought to criminalize assisting in an abortion under Senate Bill 8, meaning that there are people from that state who don’t know who will help them find the abortion care they want.
Alatorre: “That is another thing we’re seeing. Texans, who aren’t even coming to our state for our care, just reaching out to any fund in the country that can support them.”
The demand for abortion care has become more acute because there are fewer places capable of addressing the need.
Alatorre: “We’re just so at capacity right now, and I feel like this is just the edge of what’s yet to come.”
The fund currently has a waiting list of more volunteers than it can train, which makes funding the biggest priority whether that’s making a donation, encouraging others to donate or thinking about holding a fundraiser. King County committed $500,000 to the fund, the City of Seattle $250,000. The Reproductive Health Equity Fund in Oregon committed $1 million.
Alatorre: “We’ve been getting an increase in attention and donors and it has been wonderful to see all of the support and also I think we have this worry: When this is no longer headline news, are people still going to be interested in supporting us, donating and making sure those who no longer have access to abortion care in their states or counties can still access that support through us?”
Inroads: An International Network for Reduction of Abortion Stigma and Discrimination
Katie Gillum went to Ireland in 2004 with a research question. The biggest discovery she made, though, came from the group of people working to repeal that country’s constitutional ban on abortion.
The 8th Amendment to the Republic of Ireland’s constitution set the value of a pregnant person’s life as equal to that of a fertilized egg. It was enacted in 1983.
“I know very well how long ago that was,” Gillum says, “because that’s my birth year. It felt impossible to change.”
For the next 10 years, Gillum traveled to Ireland frequently from her home in the Bay Area. She came to see the stigma that was tied to abortion as the biggest hurdle in getting people to really understand the issue. She made a documentary film in 2008, “Breaking the Silence,” and in 2014, she served as the coconvener for the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland. The abortion ban was lifted in Ireland in 2018, which gives her a unique perspective on what lies ahead.
Gillum: “The thing that really scares me is it was a 35-year fight in Ireland. I don’t think it’s going to take quite so long. Luckily, we’re starting from a place where there is more collective understanding at least of a group here that this isn’t right. That doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be a lot of suffering.”
In Ireland, one of the turning points in the public debate was the death of 31-year-old Savita Hallapanavar in 2012. She was 17 weeks pregnant, and while doctors determined a miscarriage was unavoidable, she was denied an abortion because a fetal heartbeat was still present. Hallapanavar ultimately died of sepsis.
Gillum: “The inhumanity of those things is what brought it to light, and what we kept saying is, ‘Of course, this was going to happen.’ People are like, ‘Can you imagine this happening?’ Of course, this was going to happen. This was designed to happen. It was designed to punish people. This was designed to kill women. This was designed to kill people who can get pregnant.”
The fact a 10-year-old rape victim traveled from Ohio to Indiana to have an abortion is a foreseeable consequence of a no-exception ban on abortion.
Gillum: “That overreach, the truth, the reality, the inhumanity of this is going to come out if we can focus on the reality that abortion is good. If we can change that culture and start being more present and having people see faces. Right now, people associate babies with abortion instead of the faces of people who have had abortions, bright futures that have happened. Relationships that have been made, families that have stayed intact, things like that. If we can understand the true reality, the humanity, that is part of abortion then that’s where we can go.”
Gillum grew up in Spokane, and she came back to Washington just before the 2016 election, moving to Seattle. She serves as the executive director for Inroads, which is dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with abortion. The organization has 1,900 members spread across more than 100 countries. Inroads fights the stigma that has been associated with abortion both by funding and amplifying research, and also by building solidarity among its members.
Gillum: “There are people doing work in organizations that care about abortion or provide access to abortion but still are doing it in a place it is stigmatized. We’re out there caring for other people, providing accompaniment to abortion. There needs to be a space and a validation like, ‘You are worthy of care and you are worthy of rest and you are worthy of celebration.’ So, we try to create those spaces.”
Angela Valadera and Emma Allen
Puget Sound Mobilization for Reproductive Justice
Angela Valadera was furious. Not surprised. Not shocked. She was disappointed and like so many people were on June 24, she was angry after the Supreme Court decision was announced.
Valadera: “I feel that this impacts people’s ability to live a life of dignity.”
She was also on stage that Friday afternoon, speaking to the estimated 4,000 people outside the Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle at an action organized by the Puget Sound Mobilization for Reproductive Justice.
Valadera is neither a politician nor a spokesperson. She is a mother of two with a story that speaks to how personal reproductive freedom is, and on that Friday when the Supreme Court decision was announced, she stood in front of a crowd to talk about that.
Valadera: “My doctor – because of his religious and political beliefs – would not perform a procedure that would save my life.”
This was not in Texas. It was not in Idaho. It was here in Western Washington. Valadera was excited to have her third child, which she hoped to carry it to term through what became a high-risk pregnancy. The baby died at 6 months, leaving her at risk of stroke. The doctor instructed her to go home and let her body “do what it naturally will do,” returning in a week if symptoms persisted.
Valadera: “He did not want to perform what is similar to an abortion even though my child was not alive. The procedure was needed to save my life so part of going home was to find a new doctor.”
It is a heavy story, one that’s hard to sit with even now, but in sharing it, Valadera felt others leaning in.
Valadera: “Afterward, the women that came up to me to speak, to me – oh God, I want to cry. It was not just young women or women close to my age. I spoke with a woman who was older, who fought for Roe v. Wade and talking with her about it I never thought we’d be here again.”
The path forward is not necessarily easy, but it is clear and while the fight to reestablish the right to abortion at the national level may takes years, the solidarity that comes from collective action happens much quicker. Valadera had been going to meetings for just a few months before she found herself on stage talking to a crowd of thousands.
Valadera: “I felt heard as an individual.”
The Puget Sound Mobilization for Reproductive Rights began last year, and it is connected to a larger national drive. Emma Allen, a member of Seattle Radical Women, said this is a broad-based coalition.
Allen: “We want this to be about individuals and groups and even unions who are really concerned about this issue to be involved and think about the different ways we can connect and organize.”
Attendance has increased since the draft of the Supreme Court decision leaked, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Now, the mobilization is seeking to channel that energy into community education, clinic defense when necessary and other methods of providing effective support for reproductive freedom.
Allen: “We want to be an organization that’s centered on the working class that is led by working-class people. We’re not about elevating politicians. We want to connect with people in their everyday situations and struggles. There are so many people whose stories need to be heard, and those are the voices we need to elevate.”