Organizing for Choice
The Activists Fighting For Reproductive Justice
Following the news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed, Democrats across the country mobilized to avoid losing her seat to a conservative justice nominated by President Trump. In Massachusetts, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund (PPAF) began doubling down on their endorsement work, focusing on educating voters and promoting what they call their “ROE Act Champions”: lawmakers who have shown a deep commitment to passing the ROE Act. This bill, proposed in the state legislature, would codify reproductive freedom into state law, improve access to abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, and update medically inaccurate language embedded in current laws. The legislation would also establish coverage for abortion care for people without health insurance and end requirements that minors who do not have parental consent must receive permission from a judge to access abortions.
Fueling this advocacy work is a team of organizers and activists who have dedicated their lives to protecting reproductive rights. Kaitlyn Solares started working at PPAF as their communications coordinator this past March, spending most of her days in virtual meetings, building their digital presence, and assisting with general press responsibilities. Solares said over email that “as someone with a uterus, [the ROE Act] matters to me, and as a young queer person and someone with immigrant family members, two communities that typically lack access to abortion care, it feels particularly personal.” A study done in 2019 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that socioeconomic, racial, and cultural factors all contributed to inequitable outcomes in the field of reproductive healthcare. “At the end of the day,” Solares said, “I’m trying to ensure as many people as possible are informed about what the bill does and are contacting their lawmakers frequently, asking them to pass it.”
Tufts students Aly Haver and Aneri Parikh are doing the work on campus that Solares has implemented statewide. The pair are the co-presidents of Tufts Students for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), a pro-choice campus organization fighting for reproductive rights through political advocacy and community engagement. Parikh noted over email that “reproductive rights are one of the most pressing issues of the past few years.” A self-described progressive and feminist, Haver said over email, “I’m a woman in this country who takes a birth control pill every morning, but reproductive rights would be personal to me regardless. It should be personal to everyone. My mom is a doctor, and my family has money. If Roe v. Wade, were overturned and I wanted an abortion, I could still get one. That wouldn’t be the case for a lot of people, and it already isn’t the case for a lot of people now.” The culmination of threats against access to reproductive care throughout the Trump administration is what continues to drive Haver and Parikh in their advocacy at Tufts.
Due to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Haver and Parikh argued that reproductive rights must be protected at the state level through legislation like the ROE Act. Tufts NARAL has already begun phone banking and contacting state house politicians to urge them to support the bill, and the group plans to mail out 200 postcards to Massachusetts voters next week. On campus, the group wrote and passed “A Resolution to Expand Reproductive Health Services of Tufts’ Medford Campus” through the TCU Senate, establishing the Safe Sex Reps program and changing the Tufts websites to include gender-neutral language in 2017. Currently, Tufts NARAL is pushing to make emergency contraception, such as Plan B and ella, free on campus, as well as offering information about reproductive health services at Tufts available to first-years during orientation.
In addition to facilitating their campus network of pro-choice activists, the statewide chapter of NARAL also emphasizes the importance of policy action. Following the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, the group responded with calls to expand abortion access at the state level. Making the ROE Act a top priority, they organized alongside the Massachusetts chapter of Planned Parenthood in June 2019 to bring pro-choice supporters to the State House for a hearing on the legislation. Calla Walsh, a student activist who works with Solares, was one of many in the sea of volunteers gathered at the State House to support the people who were testifying in favor of the ROE Act. Walsh recalled “waiting in line to get into the hearing room with all these people wearing red shirts [that read] abortion is murder. It’s intense when you’re directly next to this huge group of people who you feel are opposing your bodily autonomy.”
With COVID-19 creating a barrier to in-person advocacy, Walsh has turned to digital organizing when advocating for the ROE Act, despite an increase in attacks from pro-life supporters on Twitter. Following the passing of Justice Ginsburg, Walsh watched as hundreds of posts about the implications of another Supreme Court vacancy flooded her social media timeline. In response, she sent a personal message to each profile with an email template made by PPAF that connected voters to their representatives. Although she thinks that it is important for people to post on social media to raise awareness, Walsh is looking for tangible action, such as urging elected officials to pass the ROE Act, as a tribute to the legacy of Justice Ginsburg.
In the opinions of these organizers, protecting abortion access through Roe v. Wade is the minimum—the ROE Act is needed to reinforce and strengthen reproductive rights on the state level. Disappointed that little progress has been made on the bill, Walsh argued that it is more urgent than ever to take action now, with a new Supreme Court appointee hanging in the balance. “The stakes of reproductive rights advocacy have always been high,” Haver said. “I want to live in a country where people own their bodies.”