The National Women's Theatre Festival

See Abortion Rights As A Mother’s Issue

This piece was originally published in July 2022 on the Words of Choice blog.

It seems obvious to me, as a mom, why mothers would care about reproductive rights, because once you understand the burden of bringing a child into the world (for birth parents) and/or of raising one (for birth and adoptive parents), it’s pretty easy to understand why you might not want to take on that burden. But perhaps it isn’t obvious, so we should talk about it.

One of the most mind-boggling things to me about the recently released Dobbs v. Jackson majority opinion that overturned the constitutional right to legal abortion in Roe v. Wade is the fact that it refers to the ease with which women may now carry unwanted pregnancies to term. The opinion states, for example, that “States have increasingly adopted ‘safe haven’ laws, which generally allow women to drop off babies anonymously”– with no mention of the toll that the pregnancy itself takes on women. It is as if the conservative justices believe that the baby auto-generates in a woman as a hollow vessel who has no thoughts or desires of her own, no capacity for experiencing pain and discomfort, no inherent emotional life that can experience trauma and loss. As if delivering a baby doesn’t rip a woman apart in ways that she often struggles to recover from for the rest of her time on Earth. 

I send my gratitude to the minority-opinion justices for acknowledging this in their dissent. They write: “There are few greater incursions on a body than forcing a woman to complete a pregnancy and give birth…those experiences involve all manner of physical changes, medical treatments…and medical risk.” Listen, you don’t have to tell moms that. We know. And that’s just birth and labor. Then, if you keep the child, you have to actually be a mom.

And being a mom is hard. It’s hard even when it’s something you intentionally chose. It’s hard, and it’s lonely, and you spend a lot of time feeling unsupported by society, because you are, even though societal pressure is a huge part of what drives a lot of folks to become parents.

That’s exactly why we’ve created The Momversations Project, a devised theatre piece conceived and directed by Molly Claassen and Johannah Maynard Edwards that seeks to create awareness and solidarity among those on motherhood journeys by shining a light on the messy and beautiful realities of their lives. 

We do this by interviewing moms all over the country and turning the fruit of those interviews into a podcast and a theatre piece. So, we’ve talked to a lot of moms about the messy, and the lead artists on the project are all moms ourselves. So we know. We know.

It’s those of us who are most intimate with the experience of delivering and raising a child who know what we can and cannot handle. It’s us, the moms, who wish to exercise the right to choose how and when and if to grow our families. The numbers clearly show that abortion is a mother’s issue, because the majority of abortions are sought by and provided to those who are already mothers. This is why The Momversations Project has chosen to partner with Carolina Abortion Fund, donating a portion of every single ticket sale to help fund abortion care for those who cannot afford the (often prohibitive) cost of it themselves. We know that so much of that money will go to mothers.

But the lobby against women’s fundamental reproductive rights has been insidious with a false narrative that the decision to abort is a cavalier one taken on by selfish people who just want to keep living irresponsible lives making ill-considered choices. This narrative does not reflect reality.

And the fact that I’m even speaking about this at all is proof that another anti-choice lie has been extraordinarily effective: the lie that the reason a woman wants an abortion has any relevance whatsoever to the discussion. It doesn’t.

The right at the core of the abortion debate is the right of bodily autonomy, and if a woman who is pregnant doesn’t have the ability to decide whether or not her pregnancy should come to fruition inside her own body, then she has fewer rights than a corpse. “Pro-life” advocates are literally arguing that corpses should have more rights than women. But you’ll never hear those exact words out of their mouths, because they’ve been extraordinarily effective at diverting the conversation to other avenues, like casting moral aspersions on specific reasons women pursue abortions. Consequently, it does feel important to say, and say again, indeed to shout from the rooftops, that abortion is a mother’s issue. Because it is mothers carefully weighing the needs of their existing children, who seek abortions the most.

So it seemed very natural to us working on The Momversations Project that one of the touchstone issues we were interested in exploring was a woman’s right to decide whether or not to bear a child, and how this right — this choice — is so integral to the lives of mothers we have interviewed.

If you’d like to hear some of those interviews, please tune into our podcast. You can hear from moms like Stephanie Martignetti, an actress who fought for her right to remain on stage while pregnant in a Broadway show, all while also working for reproductive justice through the non-profit The Hysterical Womxn’s Society. You can hear from moms like Tracy Ward, a costume artist and member of the Sioux nation who chose single motherhood, with all its challenges and joys, despite the accompanying social stigma. You can hear from moms like April Castillo, a bi-racial doctor who had a stillbirth at 26 weeks and almost died because her medical team repeatedly ignored her self-diagnosis of pre-eclampsia.

Please, join the Momversation! We think if you do, any confusion you might have had about why a collective of mother artists would be passionate about reproductive justice will become abundantly clear. With the purchase of a ticket, you’ll help fund abortion for mothers in the Carolinas who cannot afford it. And most importantly, you’ll have a great time, experiencing a work of theatre created for, by and about mothers, in our own words, making our own decisions.

Written by Emily Boyd Dahab, Artistic Producer for the National Women’s Theatre Festival

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