In this dialogue, Sara and Adhiambo met on June 2 at 2 PM UTC to discuss their journeys and experiences accompanying abortion, bringing more people into the abortion dialogue and creating safety and healing through their accompaniment Here is a brief introduction once again of the two voices you will be hearing.
Sara is an Irish woman based in London, UK. She has been a volunteer for AfC since she was 15, and been since talking about abortion. She has supported friends and families in Northern Ireland (before the campaign became nation-wide) and her journey in reproductive rights has been based on supporting friends and loved ones in their abortion experiences, seeing first hand the barriers put in place to access abortions in her home country. As a result, she decided that she would always be open and discuss abortion to lessen the stigma. She now works in London with Irish (expats), working on repeal and creating safe spaces for abortion especially in the LGBTQ community. She was a part of the Lucht Cabrach doula course started by Alliance for Choice.
Adhiambo is Based in Nairobi Kenya, and has been ensuring that women and girls in her home country get quality safe abortion information, including the legal context and referral mechanisms to enable them make informed reproductive health choices to get quality, confidential and non judgemental abortion and post abortion services. By providing the information, this enables her to provide safe and open spaces for conversations and advocacy. She works as part of the Aunty Jane Hotline.
The work of accompaniment is an uphill journey of learning, unlearning, and learning again. Although both Sara and Adhiambo grew up in religious Catholic backgrounds where noone talked about abortion, their work on the ground acccompanying people’s abortion sexperiences has greatly shaped and informed their vales. In their reproductive journeys they have seen the effects of violent stigma, negative abortion experiences, deaths, suicides due to not being able to get an abortion. This difficult process has deepen their works focus on reproductive choice, reproductive information, bodily autonomy and freedom.
As a hotline worker, Adhiambo has to be a friend in addition to being a counsellor and information-provider. A lot of callers don’t have finances, and have so many more barriers to abortion. This discrepancy in access creates a growing sense for justice that goes beyond linking folks to information. The work can be heartbreaking, however, the positive feedback from people who they have worked with is what keeps them going. As a practice of self-care, it is important to have debriefs, counselling and therapy, sometimes taking half-days and other people stepping in to help, being empathetic rather than sympathetic and acknowledging how much we have done and that we have supported what we can and not carrying a burden home!
As someone who accompanies friends and families in their abortions, Sara is constantly trying to think of what more they can do. Especially being outside the country, in London, there is a feeling of wanting to do so much, as there is a need. The high point of work was when abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland in 2019, however after the declaration the challenge was not being physically there. Within the UK though, everyone congratulated each other, but then stopped talking about it and then with COVID it all fizzled out. While the law has changed, people are still needing to travel to England for abortions and many people cannot manage that. There is still a need for implementation, public repro health centers, abortions for immigrants and refugees and all people to talk about it. Alliance for Choice now has a petition to talk to the Health Minister about the implementation of the law. Self-care is looking forward, dancing and being silly and enjoying life, but keeping our vision towards the future.
Thanks so much Sara and Adhiambo for this thought-provoking exchange and laying out some direction for us to dig deeper into how to work on local and global narrative shifts on abortion that leave behind the stigma.
Digital spaces and technologies are growing every day in Kenya, yet there are increasing risks each time with these new spaces. Aunty Jane Hotline ensures that digital security doesn’t have a face, and doesn’t show location or any such thing on the website or social media. The hotline also decided to go toll free, so that women and girls do not have to use their airtime to call in, and so as to reduce the financial constraints od callers. From her experience at Aunty Jane, Adhiambo believes that hotline workers need to be simultaneously pushing at the policy level for universal health coverage, with maternal health being one of the pillars, along with access to safe abortion and post abortion care. There is a need for policy makers to look at how all these things connect up and have a holistic view- bringing maternal health care issues such as hypertension during pregnancy, malaria, without bringing safe abortion and post abortion care into these spaces.
Aunty Jane has grown from providing network/hotline referrals and support from just one place to many more parts of Kenya. They provide referrals across the country, and it is an amazing experience as it creates a feeling of interconnectedness. There is so much learning, unlearning and growth in the space that they work on, as they are in constant interaction with people.
For Sara, there is a continuous education and the abortion doula course Lucht Cabrach has been a fabulous space. The course centers self-care, community care and support. Abortion doulas are doing the work where things are falling between the cracks, centered around community engagement, and are doing the direct work.
For physical security, as part of the new law in Northern Ireland there is a demand also for buffer zones at reproductive health clinics, to allow people to be safe from people who protest at abortion clinics, as they enter reproductive health centres for anything from pills, condoms, to abortions. Also a huge part of security is economic justice as the costs incurred for travelling for an abortion are very large.
Midwifery and community care has grown so much in the UK and Ireland in recent years, as people need abortions and are longing for care. There is a lot of obstetric violence in mainstream hospitals, and therefore people are turning to midwives, doulas and community workers for caring support. “It take a village to have an abortion”- It isn’t an individual process, and therefore community systems of care- holistic health centers that provide access to all kinds of reproductive health services with community work is what will give us more strength.
government. Aunty Jane workers have used “the word of God” to talk to religious people who are against abortions. They also engage about how “Morality” is relative, and urging them to look at things instead through a “Reality” lens. When one looks through reality, people in their congregations are accessing abortions, and many of them are cloak-bearers of the church. While the initial dialogue was hard, over time they came onto the same page and agreed that many congregation members had been leaving due to the church’s position, and the church leaders asked for resources to share with their congregation members about abortions. It is important for us to map our opposition, listen to their human journey and then have community workers trained to work with them, and to keep strategizing who we can draw to their side.
It is important to talk about abortion everywhere, and for folks who are choosing to stay behind and to not support abortions– to not exhaust our energy, and to let them be where they are. Meanwhile, 1 in 3 people are having abortions including people of all genders, LGBTQ, single and married people, and we need to march into the future. At Alliance for Choice they have moved beyond the religious frameworks, and just talking about it as a human rights framework. In order to break the stigma, there needs to be open, joking and serious conversations about abortion and break the hush-hush. Before the internet and everything, people have been having abortions, and we need to keep the dialogue going.