2015 Day of Action

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Last Thursday, activists from across the Commonwealth came together to celebrate one of history’s most important Supreme Court decisions and demand reproductive justice. Day of Action

The 2015 Pro-Choice Coalition Day of Action marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and proved to be a successful day of women’s health lobbying. Participants met with legislators, took to the streets, and made phone calls in support of reproductive rights and Virginia women!

In Northern Virginia, activists received advocacy training and made phone calls to residents asking them to contact their representatives in support of critical pro-choice legislation. Over 80 legislators were also called and urged to vote in favor of SB 773 –a repeal of Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound requirement sponsored by Senator Mamie Locke.

In Richmond, activists put their training to the test and met with multiple legislators to lobby in support of reproductive rights. With approximately 50 lobbyists in attendance, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam kicked off the day with breakfast at his office before supporters split up to meet with lawmakers and discuss pro-choice legislation. Thank you to LG Northam for hosting us!

Further south, activists in Hampton Roads and the surrounding area took to the streets to rally for women’s health. About a dozen volunteers gathered in front of Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg to hold signs and cheer for choice as passing cars honked in support of reproductive rights. Afterwards, volunteers met at Old Dominion University for a phone bank and made over 200 calls in favor of pro-choice legislation.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.37.55 PMHoping to start a conversation online as well, the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition and Day of Action organizers also took to Twitter and hosted a live tweet chat. Organizers took turns asking and fielding choice-related questions and a discussed ways activists can make their voices heard and fight for reproductive freedom.

Finally, we were so thrilled to have student activists from across the Commonwealth also participate in the 2015 Day of Action! Students at the College of William and Mary and the University of Richmond tabled for the event, passing out NARAL Pro-Choice VA SWAG, engaging with students and petitioning for women’s rights and reproductive justice.

A small group of students at James Madison University hosted a coffee chat to discuss the impact of Roe and held their own tweet chat using the hashtag #JMURoe. Hokies at Virginia Tech recognized the event and collected signatures in support of the Virginia Women’s Equality Agenda. By the end of the day, over 100 students across the Commonwealth signed petitions in favor of women’s equality and her right to choose!

In the midst of our advocating, we were once again reminded why events like the 2015 Day of Action are so important.

As our advocates were making phone calls and reflecting on the anniversary of Roe, anti-choice legislators introduced HB 2321 in a late-night attempt to quiet our efforts and take away personal decision making from Virginia women and their families. This extreme bill would make performing abortions after 20 weeks a felony offense, with zero exception for severe fetal anomalies or for survivors of rape or incest.

It is because of bills like HB 2321 and the constant attack on reproductive rights that we take action in Richmond, call our lawmakers and stand up for Virginia women. It is because of these bills that advocates brave the cold, hold signs and speak out for choice. It is because of these bills that our presence on campuses throughout the Commonwealth continues to grow as more and more young people learn about their rights and stand up to protect them. T

he 2015 Day of Action was a success, but also a reminder of the work that needs to be done to protect choice and the reproductive rights of Virginia women. Although the battle is far from over, we are thankful for our advocates and supporters who helped us celebrate Roe and stand up for reproductive freedom.

Reflecting on Roe

By Sarah Hogg, Spring 2015 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

Today, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have a lot to think about. I’m thinking about how I’m 21 years old, and I’ve only been alive for half of the time period since Roe was enacted.

I’m thinking about my mother, my grandmother, my aunts and my cousins, all of whom had to live in a time where abortion was illegal. I’m thinking about how, 42 years later, we’re still debating whether or not abortion access should be legal, with dangerous new proposed laws popping up constantly in our U.S. Congress and in state legislatures all across the nation.

I’m a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a school with a population of over 20,000, with well over half of that population being women. Harrisonburg isn’t exactly large, but it’s not small, either. Its population is unique in that it fluctuates when JMU students return home for summer and winter breaks. Despite its size, there are no abortion clinics in Harrisonburg. In a town that claims one of the largest state schools in Virginia, with a reputation for its large number of women students, there is absolutely zero abortion access. The closest women’s health center that provides abortions is about an hour away, in Charlottesville, which is nearly impossible to get to if you don’t have a car.

So, today, while I’m thinking about the history of Roe, I’m also thinking about what it means to live in a country where abortion is legal, but is often difficult or almost impossible to access legally and safely. Furthermore, access to reproductive health services, including abortion, disproportionately targets minority women—women of color, low-income women, and disabled women—making it very hard for a large amount of women across the United States to get the essential care they need. Abortion access is one of the most targeted facets of the reproductive justice movement, evidenced by the huge amounts of anti-choice laws proposed all across the nation that specifically try to close clinics down.

Here in Virginia, this very issue has been a priority of pro-choice activists over the past few years with the introduction of TRAP laws—Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers—which have already closed clinics across the state. Thanks to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Health Commissioner Marissa Levine, TRAP is on its way to being amended, but the conversation about abortion rights and access in Virginia is far, far from over.

Right now in Richmond, the Virginia General Assembly is debating choice-related laws from everything to mandatory ultrasounds to repealing the abortion coverage ban for health insurance. Anti-choice politicians and activists try to restrict abortion access under the guise of women’s health and safety, a theme we’ve seen far too often in the fight against TRAP laws in Virginia. Proposing that clinics must renovate because their closets are too small or their hallways are too narrow is just a thinly-veiled attempt to close those clinics down—and everyone knows it.

The truth is that cutting off access to abortion (and other lifesaving and necessary services that women’s health centers provide) is dangerous, and is not helping women who need access to reproductive healthcare. 42 years after Roe. V. Wade, we shouldn’t still be having this conversation—yet, here we are.

The real defender of women’s health and safety is not an anti-choice politician, group, or law—it is Roe.

Today, I’ll be thinking about all of the above (and more), but I’ll also be celebrating and honoring Roe, and promising to defend and protect it the way it has protected women for the past 42 years.

A new ally for women: the Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition

By Nicole Linder, Spring 2015 Advocacy & Communications Intern. Connect with Nicole at @NALinder or nicole@naralva.org.

Women throughout the Commonwealth are about to get one amazing ally…

On Thursday, January 8th, in conjunction with other advocates for Virginia women and families, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia launched a new coalition to secure women’s equality and advance women’s rights throughout the commonwealth. The Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition will work year round to promote women’s health and safety, economic opportunity, and democratic participation – and we’re starting right now!

Led by members from Progress Virginia, Planned Parenthood, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, The Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, AAUW of Virginia, Women Matter, New Virginia Majority, the ACLU of Virginia, and us, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the newly formed coalition believes that “women and girls everywhere deserve an equal opportunity to participate fully in civic, economic and political life irrespective of race, class, income, immigration status, involvement with the criminal justice system, disability status, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Sounds pretty amazing, right?

The 2015 Women’s Equality Agenda highlights ten proposed bills and issue that it will be advocating for when state lawmakers convene on January 14. Each piece of supported legislation is designed to progress women’s issues throughout the state in hopes of achieving equality for Virginia womenVA WEA.

First, Women’s Equality Agenda is committed to promoting health and safety by repealing the mandatory ultrasound law and required waiting period for those who seek an abortion—a medically unnecessary and costly piece of 2012 legislation that has burden many women throughout the Commonwealth, especially those in poor and rural areas.

Also in regards to women’s health and safety, the coalition is committed to protecting contraception access, providing unemployment benefits for victims of domestic violence who are forced to leave their jobs, and closing the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid—a move that would benefit over 112,600 Virginia women of reproductive age would currently fall into this coverage dilemma of both not being able to qualify for Medicaid nor afford private health insurance.

Next, the Women’s Equality Agenda is committed to ensuring equal economic opportunities for women throughout the commonwealth. With the average Virginia woman making just 80 cents for every dollar her male co-worker makes, the agenda includes SB772—an equal pay bill introduced by Senator McEachin that would prohibit the discrimination of pay wages on the basis of sex.

Raising the minimum wage is also a huge part of ensuring economic opportunity for some 500,000 Virginians, the majority of them women and working mothers. The Virginia WEA also supports measures to expanding access to paid sick days and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Finally, the 2015 women’s equality agenda is committed to ensuring that women have the ability to participate fully in political and democratic life. That’s why the agenda includes SB677, a bill to establish no-fault, in-person absentee voting that would ensure thousands of Virginia women – many of whom may find it challenging to get to the polls while juggling work, school and childcare – can cast their ballots and make their voices heard.

Nonpartisan redistricting is also a critical part of ensuring that women – as well as all Virginians – are able to have an authentic choice at the ballot box. The Women’s Equality Agenda supports impartial election maps so that that women can make their voices heard and fully participate in Virginia’s democracy.

Unfortunately, you and I know that Virginia has a long way to go before women’s equality is achieved. The formation of the Women’s Equality Coalition and the launch of their 2015 agenda is the first of many steps on the road to equality – and we’re excited to get started!

Want to show your support for the coalition and the 2015 Women’s Equality Agenda? Sign on as a citizen co-sponsor, share your story and make your voice heard. It’s time to send a message to our neighbors, communities and legislators that Virginia women deserve equality once and for all!

Volunteer Spotlight: Jennifer Rossberg

Jennifer (Jenny) is a Choice Ambassador and student at the College of William and Mary. After attending our Leadership & Advocacy Summit this summer, she went on to become a campus representative with NARAL’s Choice Out Loud program and has been highly involved ever since.Photo on 12-17-14 at 10.51 AM

1) What makes you pro-choice?
I am pro-choice because women’s rights are human rights, and abortion is a woman’s right.  I’ve thought plenty about the pro-life movement and what it means to believe that a potential baby’s life is more important and real than the life of the woman carrying that fetus.  I really just can’t understand that, though.  How could anyone look at a human being and say to them, your life is less important than someone who isn’t even born yet?  It’s like saying your experiences, your autonomy, all the events and places and people you love that make you YOU, those don’t matter anymore, your whole life is owned by someone else now.  And it’s not the baby that owns your life–although if you decide to keep it and raise it that’s a huge sacrifice–it’s the people who make the laws that own your life.  It’s these shadowy figures that work in the government who decide your life all of a sudden, who force you to be a parent or make you jump through hoops to avoid a life you know you don’t want.  It’s oppressive, it’s frightening, and it violates the basic human right that YOU control your body.  I am pro-choice because I will fight to make sure that the rights of women and people with vaginas are always protected from the people who want to take them away.

2) What made you decide to get involved with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia?
I got involved with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia because I was already involved with William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood club (VOX) and I’m always looking for new channels through which I can exercise my activism.  When I came to college a year ago, I immediately fell in with VOX and the other feminists on campus, so when I heard about a NARAL Pro-Choice VA leadership conference, I applied to bring the information back to VOX.  Not only was the instruction at the conference really helpful, but the people who worked with us and were incredibly passionate and involved.  I could tell that they were really looking to us to take what they were saying and run with it, so I did just that.  VOX already had goals of pro-choice activism and sexual health education on campus, and working with NARAL gave me the resources and structure I needed to make concrete events happen.
 
3) What’s been your favorite NARAL event?
My favorite NARAL Pro-Choice VA event was a Google Hangout in which me and a couple other VOX exec members talked to Julia Smart and other NARAL reps about abortion conversations.  We addressed how to speak to people on a one-on-one level about abortion rights and we also talked about the general public ideas surrounding abortion.  One of the big issues we discussed was the stigma surrounding current conversations.  Lots of women don’t want to share their stories because they feel ashamed, but that shame will continue to exist until more people start coming forward to share.  Because of this Google Hangout conversation, I organized an abortion talk on William and Mary’s campus this year.  Students shared their personal stories, anonymous submissions, and the stories that their friends and family volunteered.  NARAL was a huge inspiration and aid to me while I was organizing the event with the other VOX members, and I am so grateful for all their assistance.
  
Thanks for your amazing work, Jenny! :)

Exposing the real anti-choice movement

By Sarah Hogg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

GREAT NEWS: Last Thursday, December 4, the Virginia Board of Health voted to move forward with amendments to dangerous & medically unnecessary TRAP restrictions on women’s health centers. This was a huge victory for women’s reproductive rights, and I am so proud to have been one of the many activists that lined up at 6am to urge the Board to take the first step to #ScrapTRAP!  It was fantastic to walk out of the Board of Health on Thursday afternoon knowing we had just secured a pro-choice win – and I am so thankful for the amazing pro-choice activists, allies, and experts that rallied together to make this happen.

Unfortunately, something happened at the meeting that was not so great. As expected, anti-choice protesters were also present with their signs & materials – as they have every right to be.  I have seen my fair share of anti-choice protest signs, and while I completely recognize that they can be upsetting or triggering for many people, I try not to let them bother me. However, I was absolutely not prepared for the other side’s transphobic and frankly hateful rhetoric aimed at a member of Governor McAuliffe’s administration.

While waiting outside the meeting room, I and several other people were presented with a pamphlet authored by the Virginia Christian Alliance. These six-page pamphlets – which were distributed widely by anti-choice activists – outed a member of the McAuliffe administration as transgender and included a slew of hateful, transphobic and bigoted language.

As a queer woman, I was terrified. As a feminist and pro-choice activist, I was horrified. And as a compassionate human being, I was shocked at the intolerance and the hate exhibited by those claiming to be “pro-women”.  After seeing anti-choice activists out and demean a transgender woman on the basis of her gender identity, something became very clear: the same people who are working to restrict women’s bodily autonomy are the very people working to silence and stigmatize those in the queer community. Although the anti-choice movement may claim to be about “protecting women”, at the end of the day it is motivated by gender-based hate — plain and simple.

Transphobia is extremely dangerous—it hurts and it kills. The blatant discrimination against the trans* community found in the anti-choice propaganda we were given on Thursday shows just how far some anti-choice folks will go to advocate their point. This is more than shameful. It is abhorrent, and dangerous.

I am outraged that the anti-choice movement would stoop to such lows, but honestly, I am not surprised. I am once again reminded of the importance of transgender equality in reproductive justice — we are all connected, and it is so important that we all support each other. If you hear transphobic remarks and anti-trans* discrimination, please speak up and say something—provided you feel safe enough to do so. It is vitally important that we, as reproductive justice activists, continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in the trans community – and expose the anti-choice agenda for what it really is. We are not fooled by their “pro-woman” disguise, and we will not be quiet about it.

November Update from the University of Richmond

By Kristen Gell, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the University of Richmond. Connect with Kristen and the Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) crew on Facebook!

This November has been another great month here at the University of Richmond!  In the spirit of thanks, SURJ celebrated Thank You, Birth Control Day on November 12.  We discussed all of the various reasons why birth control has so many values far beyond just pregnancy prevention.  We set up a table in our Commons where students could also write why they were thankful for birth control.  We plan to publish some of the most common answers in the next edition of our zine, coming out this January!

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Advertisements for our penultimate meeting of the semester where we watched Obvious Child!

In an effort to break away from the stress of midterms, we decided to break from the structure of our usual Monday night meeting and watch a movie instead!  We invited people from across campus to come and watch Obvious Child during one of our exam weeks.  The event was a big success!  We all had many laughs (thanks to the one and only Jenny Slate) while watching a movie with a great takeaway message.  Afterwards, we stuck around for a bit to give attendees a brief overview of our organization and how they can get involved next semester.  The movie was a great way to show people that we can support and advocate for reproductive rights all while having fun!

For a while now, our organization has wanted to get club t-shirts.  While we found many templates and designs online that we liked, we ultimately decided it would be really cool if we could create our own original design.  We have a few mock-ups in the works and hope to be sporting some really cool gear next semester – stay tuned!

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An organizational meeting where we planned events for next semester, including t-shirt design ideas and more ways to get off campus.

This month ended well with a trip to the Board of Health meeting on December 4th.  A few of our members went to the latest meeting in which the Board of Health voted on whether or not to amend the TRAP laws designed to make abortion less accessible to Virginians.  Such regulations require clinics to follow the same strict regulations as new hospitals.

While we got there early, there were hundreds of people lined up trying to secure a place in the meeting and, with only 180 spots available, we were not able to get in.  However, there was a large crowd outside that we became a part of.  It was a great opportunity to see our work in action and how even one person can make a difference.

We spoke with others from NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and people who were just there on their own! It was great to hear everyone’s input and perspectives on the specific issues at hand.

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Some SURJ members at the Board of Health meeting. We did a “swag swap” with some of the other organizations there and ended up with cool things from multiple people, including these signs!

There were also, of course, the opponents to the amendment.  It was sad to see how they used their young children as “props” and their use of deceptive posters advertising that they were trying to help women.

All in all, the day was a success, and the Board voted to amend the TRAP laws!

VA Board of Health votes to #ScrapTRAP!

Exciting news: Last week, the Virginia Board of Health just voted to move forward with amending the state’s targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP)!

After years of fighting these dangerous and medically-unnecessary restrictions, this is a huge, critical step forward. The vote last week means we get another shot to ensure that regulations on abortion providers actually advance women’s health,  instead of forcing all but 4 of Virginia’s 18 abortion providers to close.

Women's health activists wait in line outside the Board of Health meeting!

Women’s health activists wait in line outside the Board of Health meeting!

The Board of Health’s action last week was only possible because of thousands of Virginians like you who’ve joined us to speak out against onerous, medically-unnecessary restrictions designed to shut abortion providers down. Hundreds of women’s health activists lined up outside the meeting as early as 6:00am to urge the Board of Health to amend the restrictions, and Board members heard from dozens of medical professionals, legal experts and impacted women who voiced support for regulations based in medicine, not politics!

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Together, we made sure policymakers like Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Commissioner of Health Dr. Marissa Levine, and now the Board of Health’s members all agree that the TRAP regulations need be reviewed and amended.  We can’t thank you enough.

But although this vote was a big step, our work still isn’t over! The Board of Health’s regulation amendment process will begin next year. As usual, we’ll keep you updated with opportunities to help see this process through and make sure abortion access is protected in Virginia.

Thank you as always for your continuing support and action!

November and (Part of) December with William and Mary’s VOX

By Jenny Rossberg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the College of William and Mary. Connect with Jenny at vox@email.wm.edu.

This month at William and Mary, Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX) continued our usual routine of tabling for sexual health awareness and attending Clinic Defense in Richmond, VA, with the super awesome addition of our Speak Out! Abortion Talk on December 3rd.

Clinic Defense on November 1st went very well. Four VOX members—Bri Little, Rachel Cook, Haley Wenk, Karla Kaplan, and Katie Baldewin—traveled to a Planned Parenthood clinic in order to help escort clinic patients past protestors. According to the members who attended the protest was relatively low-key and they didn’t have any problems with violence. The protestors were, however, verbally accosting both the people entering the clinic and clinic escort. They try to force information on women entering the clinic, pray loudly at the walls, and try to convince escorts of the wrongs they’re doing toward God and unborn babies. Sigh.

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Left to Right: Karla Kaplan, Jenny Rossberg, NARAL representative Ta’Kindra Westbrook, Katie Baldewin, and Taylor Medley

On November 8th, VOX members had a slightly more positive experience when we traveled to Portsmouth to help NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia table at the local Farmers Market. Quite a few shoppers signed up for emails from NARAL and stopped to talk to us about the work we’re doing. There were also lots of dogs and baked goods present, so we all had a pretty good time.

On November 12th, VOX celebrated National Birth Control Day! We had members take pictures with a sign explaining why they were grateful for birth control, plus we had several people from outside the club submit their reasons. It was a super positive outpouring of support for birth control and kind of makes you forget why anyone would ever be opposed to it.

Banner designed by William and Mary student Kalyn Horn.

Banner designed by William and Mary student Kalyn Horn.

Our most important events this month(ish) was our first ever Speak Out! Abortion Talk. To put it simply, it couldn’t have gone better. We collected 13 stories from people from the William and Mary community, those close to them, and other submissions in an effort to erase the stigma surrounding abortions and start an open conversation. We had VOX members read the stories aloud as well as one member who shared her personal story, followed by an open discussion with the audience led by NARAL’s Ta’Kindra Westbrook.

The turn out for the event was great—we had around 70 students show up and many of them participated in the discussion afterwards. Several of our members shared the stories of their mothers, neighbors, and friends. It was simultaneously obvious that a diverse range of people has abortions and that abortion is relatively common.

picture251 in 3 American women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and these women aren’t strangers. The women who have abortions are our mothers, our daughters, and our friends. They’re people we care about who made the right decision for themselves at the time, and we need to recognize that it was their choice and not shame them into silence about it.

VOX plans to repeat the event next year to help facilitate the conversation about abortion on our campus and in our community.

(Note: VOX also recognizes that trans* men and non-binary individuals can have abortions; “women” should be recognized a shorthand for “people with uteruses” in order to include everyone who can have abortions in this conversation.)

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Anti-choice messaging tactics need to be examined, not ignored

The following op-ed was written by Sarah Hogg, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at James Madison University. Feel free to email Sarah or connect with her on Twitter @SarahLovely.

Last Monday, I was enjoying a sleepy morning relaxing with a book and a cup of tea. It was beautiful outside, and the sun was shining through the windows of my bedroom—always an indicator of a good day in what has been a fairly gloomy November. Just as I was getting ready to head to campus, feeling prepared and excited for the day, social media exploded. The Genocide Awareness Project was back on campus for the first time in three years.

I’m a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I’ve been NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s campus representative intern for the past four semesters. JMU could be seen as a somewhat liberal campus—our town typically goes blue in elections, which is largely influenced by college students—but access to safe and affordable abortions is still a controversial topic, as it is most everywhere.

Three years ago, during my very first semester at JMU in fall 2011, an awful campaign called the Genocide Awareness Project (or GAP for short) came to JMU and set up on the Commons, our central point of campus where many groups table and pass out fliers everyday. The Genocide Awareness Project displays massive, sprawling photo-murals of aborted fetuses and compares abortion to genocide—an absolutely abhorrent anti-choice tactic. GAP’s display is extremely triggering and demonizes and terrorizes people who have had abortions. They are blatantly anti-woman and anti-choice.

The Genocide Awareness Project is not innocent. Their intense photo display cannot be cast off as an irrelevant thing that a bunch of extremists put together. This kind of anti-choice tactic cannot, and should not, be ignored. The fact is that their campaign is deeply harmful, and possibly even triggering, to a huge number of people. It is violent anti-choice messaging, and has severe effects on those who see it. I know for a fact that at least one person had a panic attack upon seeing the images GAP displayed, and I am sure she was not the only one. Here’s the bottom line: if your campaign is putting people’s mental (and/or physical) health in danger, it needs to stop. While it’s easy to write GAP off as ignorant, or just something awful that came through campus and left two days later, that’s not all it is. It hurts people. It shames them. And herein lies the problem.

The choice to have an abortion can be a difficult one. Even so, research shows that the majority of people who have had abortions do not regret them and do not feel shame surrounding their choice. However, when they are confronted by individuals or groups telling them that they contributed to genocide, or murdered a child, or are awful people who are going to Hell, they may begin to feel like those allegations are true. They may begin to feel shame not because of their own choice, but because of the despicable messaging that is being thrown in their face because of that choice. It has to stop.

I recognize that the kind of anti-choice messaging the Genocide Awareness Project practices may only be promoted or accepted by extreme pro-life folks, but the overall theme is the same: abortion is inherently wrong, and therefore, people who seek abortions should feel ashamed for their choices and those who advocate for safe, legal, and affordable abortion access must be stopped. This kind of dangerous rhetoric is seen all over the place in the anti-choice movement, but, as we’ve seen, it isn’t innocent. It has the ability to push people who have had abortions to a place of shame and silence.

My hope is that JMU students and students on other campuses who have been unlucky enough to experience GAP are now motivated to take action. The conversation surrounding GAP and anti-choice messaging was one of the things that inspired me to jump into the pro-choice, feminist worlds my freshman year. If we can’t get them off our campus, we can at least think critically about projects like GAP and become more involved in reproductive justice. We can no longer allow people who seek abortions to be shamed into silence by loud, extreme voices. We have to be louder.

October Update from the University of Richmond

By Kristen Gell, Fall 2014 Choice Out Loud Campus Representative at the University of Richmond. Connect with Kristen and the Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) crew on Facebook!

October has been a busy month for Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) here at UR!  We’ve really gotten into the groove of things and established our presence well on campus.

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Tabling in support of the Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion, where we handed out information and statistics on abortion and it’s restrictions in Virginia, the US, and the world to students.

Just this month, we published our first zine!  It took a while for us to get it all put together, especially considering it’s our inaugural issue, but we are happy with the result!  From here on out, we hope to publish two per semester.  Our first issue was meant to be an introduction to SURJ and what we do for those who are unfamiliar with us.  It highlights the scope of reproductive justice in order to set the scene for what we will be addressing throughout the year.  We hope to establish the zines as something students can come to expect to see every so often around campus.

At the end of September, our school hosted Laverne Cox as part of the speaker series for UR Comes Out!, a part of celebration of LGBTQ history month, which occurs in October.  Her speech was moving and inspiring and certainly a privilege for all of us to attend.  In our own discussions, we made a pledge to make everything we do as an organization as inclusive as we can so as not to exclude trans* people from the scope of reproductive justice.
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UR students were fortunate enough to meet Laverne Cox after her talk. We plan to integrate many of her ideas into our actions. As she said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” and we hope to spread the love in all that we do.

In an effort to become an active part of the reproductive justice community not only on campus, but also in the greater Richmond area, we participated in our first day of clinic defense!  It was a great opportunity for us to speak with others in the Richmond community about issues they face and how they are actively involved in being a force for change.  It was also valuable for us to see firsthand the intimidation tactics used by anti-choice protesters and how they operate.  We had a great time chatting with the other defenders and were able to keep the protesters at bay, and hope to return to the clinic again soon for another successful weekend!

While much of what we do is centered around organizing for action with respect to reproductive justice topics, sometimes it’s nice just to get out as a group and have fun!  In the spirit of choice and the month of October, we decided to go pumpkin picking!

SURJ pumpkins

We had a great time at the pumpkin patch!

We all had a blast wandering around the patch choosing the perfect pumpkin (or not!), drinking hot cider, and even buying some fresh veggies for dinner.  It provided us with a great opportunity to get to know each other better and will definitely have a positive impact on how we function as an organization.