Abortion Work in Tough States

At Provide, we know how isolating it can be to do work on abortion. Though we are part of a broad and diverse field of outstanding colleagues, any of us whose work connects us to issues that are surrounded by stigma, silence and, at times, hostility knows that resources can be scarcer, colleagues fewer and more distant, and that the kinds of supports available to others may not be open to us. This is especially true for abortion work in more culturally conservative parts of the country like the South and Midwest, where a good part of our team lives, works and has their roots. For Provide, and for other nationally- and state-based organizations working on abortion where this work is especially tough, the opportunity to connect with, support and learn from one another is paramount. But the spaces, time and money to do so don't always exist. Especially as attention -- and pressure -- on the South and Midwest increase, the time feels right to explore ways we can foster the resources and relationships we need to move our work forward.

With this exploration in mind, last May, Provide, along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, co-convened a meeting of 17 reproductive health, rights and justice advocates from both state and national organizations who were doing work where the going is tough.  Titled "When the Tough Get Going," we shared strategies, lessons learned and brainstormed ideas for what could be achieved through an ongoing meeting space like this one, including who else we thought should be involved and how we thought such a space would need to be organized. We shared our successes and resources as well as our limitations and frustrations.  The smallness of the group meant we had the space for meaningful interactions and discussions. And while we all brought different strategies and goals -- from reopening clinics to establishing abortions funds -- we found we faced similar challenges around abortion stigma and the marginalization of the places where we work, such as the rural South.

Above all, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and befriend others doing challenging work in the reproductive fields. Always thinking forward, we named several strategies to help cope with limited resources and create success in this work. Two of the most important strategies, according to this group, were:

1. Make Participation in the Work Fun

What qualifies as "fun" is different for different people and talking about fun can be difficult with the field we are in, but we all agreed that fun is essential to bringing people together and sustaining ourselves in our work

2. Learn to Find Value in Different Kinds of Wins

We need to see where we are succeeding, within ourselves, our organizations and as a field.  Yet as a field, we can at times seem to see only policy and litigation wins.  Even among those working on legislation, the long term nature of the work can make a policy win too distant a goal. For work ranging from service delivery to engaging new activists, we wanted to name our wins and see them valued, for ourselves and among funders and colleagues.

We had a rich and energetic day and everyone left wanting more.  While we don't yet know what will come next, we are using the experience to continue to think about how we at Provide can work with our colleagues to connect and strengthen all of our work.   There are opportunities to help one another more meaningfully, and we think this was a step in the right direction.

The Tough State Report, which includes a list of all represented organizations is available here.