Building Collective Models of Care to End Abortion Stigma

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This conversation between Daniela Tellez del Valle (DI Ramona, Mexico) and Natalie Broniarczyk (Abortion Dream Team, Poland) centers around accompanying abortions in times of a Pandemic and building collective models of care.

Both Dani and Natalie are inroads members who have built collective processes and dream teams to build collective power for destigmatizing and accompanying abortions in their contexts. They have also experienced and worked creatively to continue doing this work during the COVID19 pandemic.  On June 16 @ 2 PM UTC they met to discuss and share space with inroads members from across the globe. 

Watch/ listen here

Spacious Solidarity Zoom Call

The Pandemic and Lockdowns

The pandemic has been almost like out of a hollywood movie, with all the limitations and challenges. Both shared how they had naively initially thought that the pandemic would only last a week, but here we are one and half years later, we are still coming to terms with the impact. 

For Dani and her co-workers in DI Ramona, the pandemic has helped in some ways to shape their work for good. They learned how prior to the pandemic their routines for the way they worked were not flexible, and they have had to dialogue deeply about how to build, deepen and connect better with women— to prepare better for future adversities. Also during the pandemic, advanced procedures for second trimester abortions more than tripled or quadrupled. Many people wanted or planned a pregnancy, however, due to the difficulties of the pandemic (employment, insecurity about the near future, finances) and so much more. In Mexico, each state has a different abortion law, and in Hidalgo where Di Ramona is located, the law has 5 clauses where abortion is permitted. At the same time, Hidalgo is close to Mexico City where abortion is legal upto the first 12 weeks, and many people had become accustomed to traveling to Mexico City for abotrions. During the pandemic, however buses stopped operating, people feared the cases of COVID in the city, even this usual travel was questioned so much more by families, and the cost of an abortion was too expensive for people to afford. For people needing advanced procedures, mobility and privacy were major restrictions. So many people came back to feminist collectives, and to support self-managed abortions ( In Mexico, at the same time, Misoprostol is available in pharmacies over the counter. A box of 28 pills costs 25$, while monthly salaries for the majority of Mexicans are $200). DI Ramona works on redistributing and creating misoprostol banks for people who need it. Due to the Marea Verde, and the paneulo verde, abortistas (people who support abortions) are identifying and finding each other more. DI Ramona saw a new interest in being an acompanante, and launched a school for that, and now is currently in their third generation of training acompanantes. The conversations around abortions grew alot, and also it became important for acompantes to be clear to the public of how their work is completely different from quacks who are trying to profit over giving people unsafe abortions, and to show people how we can do this in a supportive non-exploitative way. This new interest in self-managed abortion is one of the best things that happened in the lockdown.  

For Nat, in Abortion Dream Team where they support people in first trimester abortions, they continued to build the narrative for self-managed, at home abortions. They organise summer camps around self-managed abortions and almost eighty people are already registered to participate in the second one. In Poland it is difficult to work with medical doctors, who try to create a bad reputation around medical abortion as it does not bring them money. While self-managed abortion is revolutionary, doctors work to not let it happen as it takes power away from them. It is also tough to get a Misoprostol prescription, it is prescribed mainly for ulcers, stomach disease, bone issues etc., and most women struggle to get pills. Most people order from online support groups, however, the pandemic with the delayed postal services meant that many people were waiting a long time to receive pills. The lockdown in India, which being the source of pills, made the wait so much longer.

At the same time, just before the pandemic, her organisation was part of five other groups (some in Germany, England and Netherlands) who launched Abortion Without Borders, for people in second trimester to travel for access, as otherwise abortion is very restricted in Poland. This involved a lot of organisation, almost like a travel agency, and then the pandemic and lockdown really made these borders so real and difficult. It also became difficult for people who wanted an abortion to get away for the week needed for travel, due to the pandemic where they had to justify it so much more to their families/partners. Due to these restrictions, they had to also support “stay at home” abortions, and there was less travel. Safety also continues to be a challenge for accompanying abortions, as Polish law criminalises supporting abortions, even though the law also permits abortions for people in certain cases as long as the abortion is done alone. 

Inspirations and Experiences as an Acompañante

All the people who we support, understanding their needs, their stories are a huge inspiration. While governments and even medical health system tries to undermine the work of accompanying abortions, on the other hand women who seek out abortion support always say “Thank You, without you I would not have managed, You saved my life.” Affirmations are an important part of this work, sharing those with the person going through an abortion, for example saying “Congratulations you are not pregnant anymore!” This often leads to tears of celebration, and validation for people knowing their rights and making their own choices.

All people who have an abortion and accompany aboritons are constantly working on addressing their stigma at the same time, as we are all embedded in society, yet this is an important self work / growth that one needs to go through. One needs to also forgive oneself for the stigma they held at one time, when they didn’t have support or know enough about self-managed abortions, and now that we have this information it is important to share with more people. This process of learning and unlearning never ends, and is very nutritive as it helps us build truer relationships and do better work. Destigmatizing our own selves, is about listening to others in a caring way, being tender and loving with other people. 

At the same time joy and fun are so important in this work as the tiredness is real. Very often there are so many calls, and some callers are rude or pressure the acompanante especially during desperate situations like the pandemic. In order to maintain one’s centre it is important to discuss these struggles we have at an interpersonal level with people who we accompany, as it helps us build better relationships. The work of being an acompannte is busting stigma in practice, as we meet people who need or want abortions for so many reasons, and just witnessing all these stories and cases is a learning journey. 

The experience of abortion inspires us, it connects people and helps bust stigma. Having an abortion could be a normal experience, and could shift and change our lives. The interconnections and networks people have built in Latin and Central America are inspirational. In general this work, and all the people we are connected with inspires beyond belief.  Radical empathy is so important, it is about not controlling, deciding, not judging and building listening solidarities. For institutions, especially the medical-industrial complex, feminist acompanante networks don’t exist, and therefore we can’t replicate this hierarchical system. Building Communities of Care, which includes us acompanantes, therapists, lawyers, medical students/ doctors for an ultrasound or about contraindications etc.,  is so important to bust stigma, recover our autonomy, to learn, feel proud and to grow the love around abortions.