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Regional Interests

Bay Area Artists and Abortion Rights Advocates Respond to Texas Law

A week after Texas’ Senate Bill 8 became law, effectively banning abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, its effects continue to ripple outward.

California abortion rights advocates are newly attuned to the stakes of the Sept. 14 recall election (GOP frontrunner Larry Elder has called Roe v. Wade “one of the worst decisions that the Supreme Court ever handed down”). And Texas Right to Life, the anti-abortion group that helped draft SB 8, says it’s already working with three other states on similar legislation.

The implications of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion law have spurred Bay Area residents to action.

‘We Need to Do Something’

“Texas is showing us what will happen elsewhere,” says Erin Lim, co-host, with Angela Tabora, of the San Francisco-based Bitch Talk Podcast. In response to SB 8, Lim took to the show’s Instagram to launch a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves over 220,000 families in mid-California and Northern Nevada—an out-of-state location people in Texas might now turn to for abortion services.

As a podcast that often features filmmakers, comedians and artists, Lim called on some of their former guests to ask what role Hollywood might take in response to the law, but quickly realized she and Tabora could take their own steps to organize. “If we’re going to urge other folks to do things on their bigger platforms, we need to do something,” says Lim. “SB 8 is really affecting women of color. Let’s be honest, it’s downright racist.”

Tabora says the importance of reproductive justice has been apparent to her since she was a student in a Catholic high school. “I had a friend who needed an abortion,” she remembers. “And my school kicked her out. There was no dialogue, no compassion. That was the start of a lifelong fight for our rights and our autonomy and the right to live our best lives possible.”

The co-hosts plan to participate in an Oct. 2 march, part of a national event organized by the Women’s March in defense of reproductive rights.

Other Bay Area residents, learning of the passage of SB 8 in the wee hours of Sept. 1 (“This is why you shouldn’t get on your phone before bed, kids,” says Tabor), took to the internet to learn more about the law’s effects and seek out ways to combat it.

SB 8 is unique in that it removes the burden of enforcement from state officials, and instead allows individuals to bring civil lawsuits against anyone they suspect of “aiding or abetting” an illegal abortion. Before the “tip line” website set up by Texas Right to Life was taken offline, artist and paralegal Mary Ann Kluth spammed the text fields with her own brand of humor. “I was just cutting and pasting Dr. Who plots to tell them about my favorite doctor,” she says.

@black_madness21 Reply to @black_madness21 #texas #abortion #gregabbott ♬ original sound – Sean Black

[tiktok]

She learned about the site—and the decentralized effort to crash it with bogus reports—from TikToks cross-posted to other social platforms. Kluth also emailed GoDaddy, the site’s initial hosting provider, to protest the inherent privacy violations. Now booted from two separate hosting services, the site remains offline. Even this small success, Kluth says, “feels like being part of a community.”

Kimberley Acebo Arteche, a San Francisco artist, filed a similarly cheeky report. She “snitched” on the British artist Damien Hirst for “getting emojis pregnant” on Drake’s new album cover. In a field that asked what else she wanted to share, she wrote, “Why are you limiting people’s access to healthcare? Stop being so oppressive.”

“It was the littlest bit of satisfaction,” she admits. “It feels like flicking someone on the forehead. It’s annoying, but you don’t actually know if it’s going to make any impact. So part of my general frustration is what can we actually do to keep this from spreading. And then thinking about the recall on Newsom, that this could catch on and spread to other states.”

California Still Vulnerable

Californians enjoy some of the strongest reproductive rights in the United States, but that doesn’t mean those rights can be taken for granted. “It takes a lot of time, as we’ve seen other states do, to dismantle reproductive freedom,” says Jessica Pinckney, executive director of Access Reproductive Justice. But, she notes, “It would be a starting point were we to have a new governor.”

As previous KQED reporting has explained, it doesn’t take an executive order to slow or halt existing policies, only the appointment of key personnel. “It will really send a very different and stark message if we have a governor who does not see California as a reproductive freedom state and isn’t willing to take every opportunity possible to increase access and reduce barriers within the state of California,” Pinckney explains.

It’s something Niyyah Lateef, an Oakland community health educator and abortion doula, says definitely raises the stakes of the recall election. As an abortion doula, Lateef provides physical, emotional and mental support for people seeking abortions. “That can be helping someone navigate the appointments, going with someone to the appointments,” they explain. “If someone is doing an at-home abortion, it’s making sure they have the things they need, which could be heating pads, water, food, any types of comfort.”

Lateef received their doula training in Los Angeles County, but points to Bay Area organizations like Birthing Advocacy and Sumi’s Touch with similar programs.

They’ve previously supported clients from out of state, helping people figure out where to buy abortion medication or supporting them via text messages. In the wake of SB 8, Lateef sees their role as amplifying the work of other educators in Texas. Sometimes that’s simply posting and reposting information on Instagram, so often does such content disappear from the social media platform. “It’s not surprising,” Lateef says, “because Instagram literally doesn’t want any kind of sex education at all.”

Pro-choice protesters dressed as handmaids march down Congress Avenue at a protest outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

Access to reproductive information and healthcare, even in California, is by no means guaranteed to everyone in the state. “Something we hear often is how progressive we are as a state and how grateful folks are,” Pinckney says, “but there are still barriers to accessing abortion care.” Those barriers can include geography, someone’s gestational state, and the cost of getting an abortion.

Getting Involved

For those reeling in the wake of SB 8 and motivated to support abortion rights, Pinckney encourages getting involved. “Abortion funds like Access always need support financially, as well as volunteers.” In the pre-COVD times, Access volunteers might help drive people to services or provide overnight lodging; the organization can also coordinate childcare, support time off work and organize meals for its clients.

In that spirit, Kluth points out there’s plenty of entry points into online activism. “Anyone can do this,” she says. “The hashtag right now is #abortionishealthcare. You don’t have to get super deep into Reddit or be young and cool on TikTok—you can just find a community on whatever social media is comfortable to use, and hashtags are a great way to connect with what’s happening.”

Tabora of Bitch Talk Podcast says the key for her is to stay vocal, not just on social media but in one’s own family. “We all have that one uncle—if we’re lucky, just one,” she says. “Use the word abortion, it should not be taboo.”

Ultimately, Pinckney advises, the best approach to reproductive justice is to take guidance from those on the ground in Texas, especially those who are experiencing the effects of SB 8. The most marginalized, she says, “are the most equipped to tell us what they need to be supported in this moment.”

On-the-Ground Support

Bay Area artists and activists shared the organizations in Texas that they see offering support to those affected by SB 8, directly and with a focus on equity.

The Afiya Center This North Texas reproductive justice organization maintains the SYS Fund, created to ensure that Black people continue to have access to abortions. The fund also assists with the associated costs of hotels, childcare and transportation. TAC is currently asking for both donations and volunteers to sustain this work. TAC’s executive director Marsha Jones said in a press release: “It will be those who continue to carry the disproportionate burdens of reproductive oppression, Black womxn, who will most expeditiously experience the impact of this most heinous law.”

Frontera Fund Frontera Fund provides financial and community support to people seeking abortion access in the Rio Grande Valley—a region that encompasses towns in both Texas and Tamaulipas, Mexico. Frontera offers healthcare assistance to all who need it regardless of immigration status, age or gender identity.

Fund Texas Choice Fund Texas Choice has been working to ensure its clients have safe access to reproductive healthcare since 2013. It is currently arranging and paying for the travel and accommodation of people who need assistance getting to out-of-state appointments. Anna Rupani, a representative for the nonprofit, told Rachel Maddow: “It may be that we will get sued, but we’re going to continue fighting. We’re going to continue being there for our clients.”

Jane’s Due Process Jane’s Due Process is focused on helping teens access birth control and family planning services without involving their parents. The organization offers free legal representation, and assists pregnant people who are under 18 to privately and safely access the healthcare that’s right for them. Jane’s also has a special text line (1-866-999-5263) specifically for teens in Texas who want birth control, but can’t—or don’t want to—get parental permission.

Texas Equal Access Fund The TEA Fund provides both financial and emotional assistance to people in Texas seeking abortion care. People in need of help can text volunteers (1-844-TEA-FUND) for information about available clinics, as well as how to access financial and mental health assistance. In addition, the organization operates a helpline (1-888-854-4852) every Monday and Thursday, 7–10am.

Copyright 2021 KQED