New England activists on both sides of debate gear up for post-Roe reality
Within the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that made it a constitutional right to have an abortion. If so, it will be up to each state to determine whether abortion is legal. Even as Connecticut and Massachusetts have abortion rights baked into state law, the region will experience the ripple effects of this huge change.
In this moment, in order to preserve the right to have an abortion, Melanie DeSilva is encouraging women to tell others about theirs — if they can.
DeSilva herself told almost no one until she heard about the draft Supreme Court opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaked in May. That's when she told her two college-age daughters about a 2005 abortion.
Before publication of this story, she planned to tell the rest of her family; some, she said, will call her a murderer.
DeSilva, who lives in western Massachusetts, said she became pregnant about 17 years ago when her marriage was falling apart and the contraception she and her now ex-husband used had failed.
“I was already the mother of two children," DeSilva said. “I decided, with a lot of challenging conversations with my spouse at the time, who was very supportive, that I was not going to continue [the] pregnancy and I was not going to have this child.”
The decision to have an abortion was the hardest DeSilva ever had to make, she said, and there were medical complications. She kept calling the clinic where she had the abortion to tell them she was bleeding; they told her it was normal she said. Later, her own doctor said the abortion was incomplete and DeSilva had to have another procedure.
It was a very lonely, alienating experience, she said.
“After my abortion, I kind of stopped being a bit of an activist," DeSilva said. "I felt like [there were] two kind of opposing viewpoints of like, ‘Yay abortion!’ [and] there was something about the pro-choice movement that was not recognizing the grief."
But there’s a big difference between grief and regret DeSilva said, and she has no regret.
Anti-abortion rights groups pay attention to states
While about half the states have laws in place that would ban most abortions if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion would largely remain legal in the Northeast.
That includes in Connecticut, where Christina Bennett lives and is on the board of the national group Pro-Black Pro-Life.
“I didn't become pro-life until I was in my twenties,” Bennett said. "It was ... realizing that I could have died within minutes and that would have been completely legal and completely fine."
In college, she learned that years ago, her mother was about to abort her and at the last minute, already in a doctor's office, changed her mind. Bennett said when she heard that story, she decided to become an activist.
“I decided that I would help other women who — in the eleventh hour — wanted to change their mind and needed help and support," Bennett said.
She is at odds with her family, she said — the only person vocally against abortion rights.
Bennett is not in favor of Connecticut’s new law that protects health care workers and patients who come from other states, providing or seeking abortion. It's a way for people to hide out, she said.
If legalized abortion continues, the systems that need to support women and children will never be in place, Bennett said. She would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned so that the decision to provide abortions goes back to the states.
“Then states could decide what they want to do," Bennett said. "You would hopefully see more action to help women and children, with social services and paid parental leave and affordable daycare and better housing and better health care.”
Abortion-rights advocates prepare
“All of these folk who claim to have all of these progressive ways just so that there's no abortions don't understand the actual frame from which they think they're operating in,” said Marisa Pizii, the deputy director at Collective Power for Reproductive Justice in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the board co-chair of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts.
"What we are anticipating at the fund is that we see the state of Massachusetts and the New England region becoming a destination for folk who are looking to receive the health care that they desperately want and need," said Pizii, who is also a grief doula for people who've had abortions and miscarriages.
Massachusetts has several strong abortion care funds, Pizii said. As they anticipate the end of Roe v. Wade, they plan to get ready for people from other states with plane tickets, hotels, food and child care.
The priority for the funds is for Massachusetts residents and — even before the court decision has been announced — there's confusion among clients at community health centers around western Massachusetts run by Tapestry.
“With the leaked decision in early May, a lot of people assumed, 'Oh, abortion is illegal now,'" said Tapestry CEO Cheryl Zoll. "So that's why we feel like it's so important to start every conversation by saying that people still have a right to terminate a pregnancy.”
Tapestry doesn't provide abortions. Their goal is to help people understand their options, Zoll said, about abortion, about pregnancy and about the universe of reproductive health which includes contraception.
“For a lot of people who are anti-abortion, it's part and parcel of this to also limit the kinds of contraception that people have access to,” Zoll said.
But that’s not the platform of Students for Life, said Annabelle Flores-Bonilla, who's involved with Students For Life at UMass Amherst while working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience and behavior.
“There's no restriction on using contraceptives as long as they are birth control instead of an abortion pill," Flores-Bonilla said.
Just a few years ago, Flores-Bonilla was in favor of abortion rights. She said she wanted to help women and it was logical to support women’s rights.
“But after, I was in an ethics course, and we were debating and talking about what makes a human human,” said Flores-Bonilla, and the arguments of the abortion-rights movement no longer made sense to her.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will be a victory, Flores-Bonilla said, but a temporary one.
She said much work will need to be done right after. And on that point, activists who are trying to preserve and expand abortion are saying the same thing.
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