In 2009 while working as a phone counselor at an abortion fund in Philadelphia, I was amazed, heartbroken, and consumed by the stories that I heard on the phone: amazed that people in modern America do not have access to safe, legal, abortion care, heartbroken that people with federally and state-subsidized insurance had to sell their children’s school uniforms, forego paying rent, and go to bed hungry to afford an abortion, and consumed by the need to make these stories visible.
These stories exist because of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion. For 35 years, Hyde has limited poor people who rely on the government for insurance coverage from accessing abortion services. As an artist invested in reproductive justice, I am interested in creative ways to approach topics like Hyde, and in August 2011, I came up with the Repeal Hyde Art Project. The project started off as an idea to engage people about Hyde and to create dialogue between participants across the country. I made a paper bird template that says “repeal Hyde” on the front, and I had participants write a reason why they think that Hyde should be repealed on the back. I then strung the submissions together (I received about 250) and displayed them for the first time at the Choice USA conference in September 2011.
We live at a crucial time to advocate for reproductive justice and abortion access in the United States. The Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2011, 92 laws in 24 states were enacted to restrict abortion services, a significant increase from previous years. In the midst of this outrageous war on women, people’s stories of barriers to abortion care are most important. It is my firm belief that anyone who hears the stories of desperation, struggle, and optimism in the face of adversity that I hear talking to people living in poverty and unable to afford an abortion will identify with their spirit, their families, and recognize the many tragedies that the Hyde Amendment has caused. These people are our mothers, sisters, friends, and ourselves. They do not deserve to be unrecognized or ignored.
Stories of abortion access remain invisible for many reasons. The topic of abortion makes people uncomfortable, even though one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Anti-abortion activists try to convince people that abortion is murder instead of a legally-protected right and just action that good women take. For people living in poverty, these stories are more invisible and more complex. People already don’t want to talk about abortion, let alone how they are unable to pay for one.
Yet, the reality is that all people have the legal right to an abortion, but for many living in poverty, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to access care.
As the Repeal Hyde Art Project moves forward, student groups and community organizations are creating their own installations to spur conversation on community or campus spaces, and I created a Day of Action on February 10, 2012 to encourage these groups to all put on their displays on or around the same time. By creating many small installations across the country, the project will enable dialogue about Hyde on a local scale and engage communities to take action.
Until people understand the reality of the devastation of the Hyde Amendment and barriers to abortion access, things will not change. It is our job to take action and keep fighting. I hope that the project inspires hope and shows people that we are united, optimistic, and that we are not giving up. Together, we can make a change.