On Tuesday, July 10, advocates and allies gathered for a community forum in Arlington, Virginia to learn more about self-managed abortion. Reproaction recruited a panel featuring four experts in the field: Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Advocates for Youth, Erin Matson, Co-Director of Reproaction, Tekla Taylor, LGBT Outreach Lead at the DC Abortion Fund, and Galina Verchena, Policy and Communications Director at NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. The forum drew a group of thirty attendees, including activists, advocates, and health care providers, who were able to engage in the topic through the context of their work.
Self-managed abortion, despite being a critical reproductive justice issue, is often misunderstood and painted as a means of last resort when that isn’t always the case. The panel conversation started by building an understanding of what in-clinic abortion access looks like across the country, and more locally in Virginia and the D.C.-metro area. Galina Verchena explained how Virginia’s abortion clinics are clustered in specific regions, such as Northern Virginia, Virginia Beach, and Charlottesville, with 78 percent of Virginia women living in counties with no abortion clinic. Tekla Taylor added that the problem for the majority of people who call the DC Abortion Fund is the high cost of the procedure, especially in Virginia where people are barred from using their insurance.
With this context, the forum moved onto a discussion about what self-managed abortion with pills entails. In doing so, the panelists broke away from the mainstream narrative of back alleyways and coat hangers, and instead explained the World Health Organization’s protocols for self-administering to manage an abortion outside a medical setting. Reproaction co-director Erin Matson explained some of the barriers around accessing mifepristone, one of the abortion medications that can be used safely and effectively to end a pregnancy within or outside the medical system. Matson touched on the politics of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which requires it be “ordered, prescribed, and dispensed under the supervision of a health care provider who must have a special set of qualifications.” Matson continued to say, “this drug is so safe and so effective there’s no reason not to make it easier for people to access, which is something activists and advocates have been working for [for] a long time.”
With in-clinic abortion care now out of reach for so many, panelists discussed the opportunities self-managed abortion creates for pregnant people seeking abortion care. Aimee Thorne-Thomsen explained how new attacks on reproductive health care create additional risks for young people, especially people of color, indigenous, and queer communities. Taylor added that the stigma surrounding abortion care has made it more difficult for transgender and gender non-conforming people to access it, and explained that “20 percent of trans people have been outright denied medical care, and 50 percent have had to provide very basic education on trans people [to their doctor].” For many communities, self-managed abortion allows someone to have the privacy they need.
Reproaction was proud to bring our self-managed abortion campaign to Northern Virginia. As Erin Matson explained, at Reproaction, “we absolutely want everyone to have access to the care that they need, and we are working towards a world where no one is shamed or criminalized for the method of reproductive healthcare or abortion care they seek out.” We look forward to continuing to educate, and empower our communities through information about self-managed abortion. Stay tuned!