Have you ever knocked on a total stranger’s door to ask them if they’d support abortion access and birth control? Have you ever done it about 100 times in a row? For multiple days at a time?
As an organizer at the helm of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s field team, I’m charged with leading groups of volunteers in different parts of the country to knock on doors, make phone calls, and mobilize their friends and neighbors to support candidates and policies that will advance reproductive healthcare, including abortion access.
As I’m sure you can imagine, direct conversations with strangers about reproductive healthcare can surface some very personal stories. I hear stories from women whose grandmothers had an abortion before Roe v. Wade, or stories from women who don’t know what they would do without their birth control provider, Planned Parenthood. Sometimes I hear stories from women who sidelined their dreams because their birth control failed, or who are struggling to get by because they couldn’t decide on their own terms when to start or grow their families.
Their lack of access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion access, has prevented them from living their own lives, and determining their futures on their own terms. What’s clear when I hear these stories is that we can never have gender equality if we don’t have access to legal and affordable abortion care.
The reality for people I speak with as an organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice America is that women don’t decide if, or when, to start or grow their families in a vacuum. When you take a conversation about abortion out of the realm of the hypothetical, it’s not a black and white issue: It’s a deeply personal one. Some people tell me their faith teaches them to oppose abortion, but then will go on to explain how they or a friend has had one, leading them to believe it should remain legal. Many of the women I’ve spoken with are mothers already, and they chose to have an abortion because they just want to provide the best lives for the children they already have.
In fact, two thirds of women who seek abortion care are already mothers. That doesn’t make these women hypocrites: It makes them complex human beings who are capable of deciding on their own what’s best for themselves and their family.
If we want to empower women to make the best decisions about their healthcare, for their families, and for their futures, we must make sure they have access to a full range of reproductive healthcare services. Unfortunately, women across the country live in a reality where abortion care, and even birth control, is effectively inaccessible due to unnecessary, ideological restrictions on reproductive healthcare. Anti-choice politicians’ interference with our reproductive lives keeps women from being able to make the most consequential of choices for ourselves, and ultimately prevents women from being truly equal with men.
When women face barriers to deciding if, when, and how to have children, we also face barriers to determining our futures — barriers men don’t face. For many women, having access to birth control could mean the difference between finishing school or dropping out. Having access to abortion care could make the difference in providing financial stability for the children a mom already has or scrambling to get by. As long as women face these barriers and men do not, we’re held back from true gender equality.
Our volunteers understand this. They know that the countless restrictions anti-choice politicians in the states and in Congress try to impose on women have no place in a country that believes we are all created equal. That’s exactly why our one million members take to the streets, flood Congressional phone lines, and storm town halls to oppose the Trump administration’s agenda and anti-choice politicians in the states.
But we’re not just saying “no.” We’re also supporting elected officials who push policies that advance reproductive freedom and gender equality.
When activists and grassroots supporters work together to expand reproductive freedom in their own backyards, amazing things can happen. Thanks to our members’ hard work, we flipped the state legislature in Nevada from anti-choice to pro-choice last year. That’s paying dividends: This session, Nevada passed a law codifying the Affordable Care Act’s birth control coverage policy and made it possible for women to get up to 12 months of birth control at once, all under a Republican governor.
We have a lot of work to do to make sure women are truly equals, and that starts with allowing us to plan our futures on our own terms. We know that an America in which women have the same opportunity to get ahead and control their own reproductive futures as men is an America in which we all succeed. As the Trump administration and anti-choice politicians keep trying to restrict reproductive healthcare, I’ll keep pounding the pavement with NARAL’s incredible army of volunteers, knocking on doors and having important conversations with strangers about the value of reproductive freedom. We’ll continue to mobilize the 7 in 10 Americans who support legal abortion, resist, and pursue strong policies for women along the way. We'll be out there this summer, fighting for birth control access, legal abortion, and the Affordable Care Act. Maybe I’ll see you out there.
Anne Bailey leads field organizing for NARAL Pro-Choice America. If you’d like to become a volunteer with NARAL Pro-Choice America, visit NARAL’s website here.