Our bodies, our choice, our stories
Updated: Jul 25
An Opinion Piece by JCI Worldwide’s – Jillian Hegedus, Kayla Butler, Lilli Erigero, and Felicia Wulandari
"Reproductive freedom is critical to a whole range of issues. If we can’t take charge of this most personal aspect of our lives, we can’t take care of anything. It should not be seen as a privilege or as a benefit, but a fundamental human right." Faye Wattleton, President of Planned Parenthood Federation, 1978-1992.
We believe that reproductive freedom is a fundamental right. It is not a privilege, it is not and should not be contingent on which state you reside, nor should anyone be barred from accessing reproductive services. The authors of this piece are furious and upset about the recent Supreme Court ruling that was handed down in Dobbs vs. Mississippi and affirm our stance on this issue: we believe that reproductive freedom–the freedom of choice, of bodily autonomy, and access to contraception is a fundamental right.
As public affairs professionals, we are used to telling our client’s stories– but for the issue of reproductive freedom, we felt that our personal stories and thoughts on this were the best way to convey our stance on this issue.
The lie of ‘never again.’ by Jillian Hegedus
I have long been haunted by a photograph that was taken in 1964. It’s black and white, and the centerpiece is a young woman lying face down, naked, covered in blood. No one else is in the frame, her only companion is a towel under her legs that was unsuccessful in absorbing her blood. Her name was Gerri Santoro. She died as a result of an unsafe & illegal abortion. She was just 28 years old.
This photograph was taken by police to document the scene of the ‘crime.’ Gerri and her partner, Clyde Dixon, used surgical tools and a borrowed textbook to attempt the procedure. He fled when it was apparent that they were unsuccessful–she bled out and died, alone.
Gerri Santoro wasn’t the first or the last woman who would die from an unsafe abortion. But she’s well known because of that photo–a photo that would immortalize the desperation felt by some who were unable to choose a safe, legal abortion. This image was used on a cover of Ms. magazine in 1973 after the ruling of Roe v. Wade was handed down. The words ‘Never Again’ were juxtaposed next to the image of Gerri. Roe v. Wade promised the country that those seeking abortion and reproductive freedom could do so legally and safely.
Never again is exactly what that image meant to me. I am a young woman, who for 32 years of my life lived in a country where abortion was technically legal in all fifty states. We had a choice and were sort of in control of our own reproductive futures. Never again, for a brief fleeting moment felt real in some states.
But the looming threat that those rights weren’t concrete was ever present. To me and probably so many others–reproductive choice always felt like sand– always at risk of slipping through our fingers if we weren’t diligently holding on.
So Millennials like myself and our younger Gen Z counterparts did what we were told would work to keep those rights. We donated, campaigned, and voted for pro-choice candidates even as our Democratic leaders openly campaigned for anti-choice candidates. We gave money to organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. We marched at protests, wrote letters to our legislators, called our representatives when these rights were at stake because we were told this would uphold our fundamental right to choose what was right for our bodies.
And it still wasn’t enough to prevent states from passing restrictive abortion laws or enough to dissuade an illegitimate Supreme Court from overturning Roe v. Wade three weeks ago. The ruling handed down in Dobbs. vs Mississippi affirmed something I had always felt–in the eyes of my country, I am nothing more than a body to be controlled by someone else. I mourn for my loss–but know as a white, cis woman who lives in a state where abortion will be protected–I am not who will be most affected by this ruling. Low income women, women of color, and other marginalized groups will be disproportionately affected by this decision.
Women, non-binary people, and trans men will die as a result of this ruling. And the party that promised to protect Roe is doing little to nothing except drowning it's messaging in a barrage of fundraising emails that promise to ‘bring Roe back.’
Gerri Santoro’s image on the cover of Ms. in 1973 was meant to be a sobering reminder of what happens when safe, legal abortion is unavailable. But with this 2022 ruling—never again is far from the truth. Abortions won’t stop when they’re made illegal by conservative states–they’ll just become unsafe. There will be more Gerri’s–and thanks to social media and smartphones, the images will be more accessible and wide spread. But will it shock Republicans in those states to backtrack on their all out war on reproductive choice? Highly doubtful.
This photograph has been cemented in my mind for years and begs me to ask the question of my fellow Americans as we move forward in a post-Roe world. Would you have stayed behind to help someone like Gerri? Will you aid and abet abortions for those who live in states where it isn’t legal? Will you work within your state and communities to dismantle the systems of power that have made these restrictive laws possible?
Or will those in power remain as ineffective as the towel that was placed under Gerri as she succumbed to her wounds.
Power by Kayla Butler
In Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist: Essays, she wrote, “It is far more important to discuss power than to exhaustively regurgitate the harmful cultural effects of power structures where women are consistently marginalized. We already know the effects. We live them and try to overcome.”
The ability to control one’s body is inherent to controlling one’s life. Throughout history we have seen instances in which the government had control over women’s bodies and now with Dobbs, it looks like we are still property of the state. If we aren’t able to make decisions concerning whether or not we want to have children, we are deprived of holding power over our own bodies.
Reproductive justice goes hand in hand with voting rights, over-policing, economic inequality and so much more. The criminalization of abortion is just one example of how the state controls the bodies of predominantly poor, women of color. It’s about creating obedient people and bodies.
As a young woman, I am outraged by this decision to ban abortion. I’m also angry because I should have the power to do what I want with my body on my own terms. The way in which our society is expected to continue moving along as if nothing is wrong, is incredibly dystopian. I work in a very supportive work environment with people who value the same things that I do, but it still doesn't take away from the fact that Dobbs was a horrifying revelation. I had never imagined what a pre-Roe U.S. looked like but I guess I don't have to now.
A second class citizen by Lilli Erigero
I visited my uncle the weekend after Roe was overturned. He said to me “how does it feel to be a second class citizen now”, and I jokingly responded “Now? More like alway have”. Dobbs really just cemented it.
I grew up thinking that I could do and be anything I wanted. Each year I realize more and more how much of a lie that was. Each time I’m spoken over, each time someone assumes I will become a mother, each time I am sexually harassed, and each time one of friends gets drugged or sexually assaulted, I become more aware of how I am limited as a woman. It’s difficult to know that no matter how hard I work or how much I want control over my own mind, choices, and body, it will never be the same as my male counterparts in society. They don’t have to worry about getting pregnant, or paying a large amount to get an abortion. And it’s even worse for women of color, people without insurance, and those living in states with restrictive abortion laws.
It goes without saying that anyone who isn’t an abled-bodied, cis white heterosexual man is a second class citizens in the U.S. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t even guarantee equality of the sexes. While women’s right to vote is constitutionally protected, the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex nor does it explicitly state that women have the same rights and protections as men. The Equal Right Amendment, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” was never added to the Constitution. Additionally, we aren’t adequately represented. Though women make up 51% of the population, women occupy only a quarter of the seats on the senate; only 8 state governors are women, and we’ve never had a woman president. So am I surprised by Dobbs? Absolutely not. Am I still heartbroken? Absolutely.
In America by Felicia Wulandari
I remember a sinking feeling. As I sat in the LA Metro that morning, clutching my phone in disbelief, I asked myself….Here? In America?
My experience as an Indonesian is a little different. I was not born here. I did not grow up here. There was never really a time where abortion was widely accessible. A conversation on abortion is a lonely one. After all, why would you need to talk about it when you are not supposed to be sexually active?
In Indonesia, women are allowed to terminate their pregnancy under only two circumstances: if there was a medical emergency or if the woman is a victim of rape. For the former, she would have to obtain the consent of her husband, for the latter it has to be within six weeks and she would have to undergo mandatory counseling, authorizations, and waiting periods. Such stringent requirements and convoluted processes ultimately encouraged women to get abortions at illegal clinics, a practice that is ironically widespread in spite of the law. This is especially true in rural areas where young girls usually find out they are pregnant months after they were raped as they are often uneducated on how how sexual intercourse works. In such cases, they often take matters into their own hands – ingesting toxic herbs or having midwives insert dangerous plants into their wombs – and risking death.
As tragic as it is, it is unlikely for my country to expand women reproductive health rights anytime in the future. This is a country where extramarital sex is in the process of being criminalized. This is a country where rapists can marry their victim to “absolve their sins”. This is also a country where laws protecting women against sexual abuse and forced marriage were only passed April this year.
But here…in America?
The fundamental right to have a choice about what we do with our bodies has been taken from us. As young women trying to find our voices while navigating a male-dominated field, we are outraged. Among a number of injustices that occur against women, recently being denied the right to make choices about our bodies has left a deep mark on our hearts and minds. Addressing power systems, centering the most marginalized, and holding our elected officials accountable are advocacy tools that we can use in order to achieve reproductive justice.
With sharing our thoughts, we encourage all who read this piece to critically think about the ways in which Dobbs will have lasting disproportionate consequences for women. We especially ask "progressive" men to take a stand and use their platforms and privilege to take a stand on this issue as we need allies in this continued fight for bodily autonomy. We're either all in this together to fight for reproductive freedom--or we risk losing it altogether in all fifty states.