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Roe is the floor: How your abortion messaging can advocate for a future of comprehensive, inclusive and equitable abortion access

In early May, the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn case precedent Roe v. Wade was leaked – threatening a broader attack on all of our freedoms to make decisions about our bodies, one that reproductive justice leaders have cautioned for decades. The Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, holding that the constitutional right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment protects a woman’s* right to choose whether to have an abortion and restricts state intervention in this decision. Since then, anti-abortion elected officials and lobbyists have chipped away at abortion access across the country, making abortion out of reach for many, especially people of color, people who work low-wage jobs, people who live in rural areas, people with undocumented status and people with LGBTQIA+ identities. Roe never guaranteed equitable or affordable access to abortion, despite its legal freedom, and it’s time to make our fight bigger than Roe. 

*The use of “woman” is directly from the original Supreme Court opinion. Gender-inclusive language is discussed later in this post

In tandem with collective efforts on the ground and in the statehouse to support abortion protections and fight restrictions, we can use strategic messaging to expand the abortion conversation beyond Roe. To fill in Roe’s gaps, reproductive justice organizers and advocates have emphasized what we need is the freedom to choose an abortion and the means to access an abortion, how we want, when we want, and with providers and methods we trust. In protests and dialogue, those who hold institutional power have often drowned out these critical facets of abortion access while focusing their efforts solely on a legal right to have an abortion. Organizers, activists and supporters – especially those who have been most affected by abortion restrictions – remind us that abortion care not only requires legal access, but funds, child care, transportation, employment flexibility, emotional support and resource and information sharing. 

Through our messaging, we can communicate the future of abortion access – one that requires equitable systems of care and a framework of abortion that is designed to fit every person’s unique needs and circumstances. By tying together the strategies crafted by leaders who have been most affected by abortion restrictions, we can advocate for stronger abortion protections, lift up what has adapted, and demand more for all of us. At the same time, our messaging must reiterate the need to dismantle the interlocking forces that restrict people’s access to abortion. The following will offer messaging tips and guidance to expand our conversations about abortion and focus on the future we want for all people, and what we will fight for to get there. 

A quick note on language: Who gets abortions? All kinds of people! We’ll be referring to “people who get abortions” or “people seeking abortions,” and later will list terms to make your language inclusive of people with all gender identities who deserve equitable access to abortion care. 


Say Abortion.

If you’re talking about abortion, say abortion. Abortion is extremely safe and widely used: in the U.S., nearly 1 in 4 individuals who identify as women will have an abortion by age 45, implying that many of us have either had or will have an abortion, or know and love someone who has had an abortion. Abortion becomes unsafe when it is stigmatized because stigma deters people from seeking the care they need, so saying and naming abortion when that’s what you mean is very important.  Abortion is a clear term that is not gendered, not conflated with other types of health care, and does not diminish the lack of choice many people have had in accessing abortions. Now is the time to be bold and recognize that the experiences people have and their bodies are political, so don’t shy away from a term that seems “politicized” or taboo.

If you use terms like “reproductive health care” or “reproductive justice,” make sure to do your research so that you are accurately saying what you mean. Reproductive health care refers to a broader range of care than just abortion – it could include comprehensive sex education, contraceptive access and care, fertility options like IVF treatment or surrogacy, or pregnancy and birthing care, like access to doulas and midwives during the birthing process. SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines reproductive justice as, “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” which is embedded in other social movements and systems, such as economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, gun control and more. 

In the article titled "Why the abortion rights movement needs to get more personal," Erin Mazursky describes the intersectionality of reproductive rights, including abortion, by writing,

“This is about affordable housing and access to public education and childcare that won’t bankrupt us. This is about bodily autonomy for everyone, not just straight women; about men getting the same amount of parental leave as their birthing partners so they, too, can bond with their children in critical ways and more equally share in the parenting; about the LGBTQ+ community having access to gender-affirming treatments and upholding their right to marriage; about young people getting comprehensive sex education so they can know their bodies and make more informed decisions about what they want for their futures.” 

Through the use of the term “abortion” in your messaging, you can then expand on all the systems, structures and circumstances that influence an individual’s ability to choose and access an abortion. This is both one sole medical decision and part of a much larger fight for bodily autonomy, safety, dignity and equitable access to resources. We can support this duality through our messaging by lifting up those systems and stories about abortion.

Emphasize intersectionality and center people who have survived systemic oppression

Access to abortion has and will continue to be disproportionately difficult for people who have been historically oppressed and divested from by people who benefit from white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy and capitalism. For example, the symptoms of systemic racism that have led to injustices like gentrification, redlining, education and job discrimination, medical discrimination and the war on drugs have constructed layers of barriers for people of color and people who work low-wage jobs to access abortions even when they are legal in a state. Abortion bans are inherently racist and sexist, perpetuating systems of oppression that deny Black, Indigenous and other people of color, particularly women, trans and nonbinary people, the ability to make decisions about their health and their bodies. 

In spite of the barriers of systemic oppression, Black women and gender-expansive people have been leading the fight to ease the burden of accessing an abortion and constructing systems of care and support that will last beyond the anticipated SCOTUS decision. These models of collectivism, mutual aid and systemic change pave the way for the future of this movement. It is important to both name who will be most harmed by abortion bans and look to those who have been resilient and adapted in spite of restrictive laws for strong ways to protect every person’s bodily autonomy. We cannot rely only on policy or case precedent for all that we need. We must create deep-rooted systems of care for our whole communities. We have the opportunity to support the creation of this future through our messaging.   

Make your messaging inclusive

In times of fear, or when the rights of people who hold privileged identities are threatened, we typically see a scarcity mindset take hold where urgency influences our messaging. This sense of urgency and scarcity can lead to harmful messaging like, “If you don’t support abortion, get a vasectomy”, making men the enemy and implying forced sterilization for a group of people, which the U.S. has long enforced on Black people, Indigenous people, people with disabilities and people with LGBTQIA+ identities (note: the same goes for Handmaid’s Tale imagery). The solution to scarcity messaging is to consistently and positively articulate that we all deserve bodily autonomy and access to care, no matter your gender, race, citizenship status, body size, ability or location. Our messages must affirm basic human rights to health care and bodily autonomy for everyone – centering those with the most to lose – rather than reactionary messages to take away rights from those who have more.

Make your language as gender-expansive as possible, while being accurate with the data you’re using or impact you’re describing. Use of the term “women” is relevant when naming how abortion restrictions disproportionately harm women of color and to name the misogyny and sexism fueling abortion bans, restrictions and control. This is important when centering those who are least supported and protected by policies and who have been leading solutions to Roe’s shortcomings. People on all points of the gender identity spectrum have abortions, including people who identify as men. 

Language examples:

  • People (or person) who have abortions 
  • People (or person) seeking abortions
  • People (or person) in need of an abortion
  • People (or person) who can become pregnant

All kinds of people have abortions for all kinds of reasons. There is no hierarchy of deservingness or justification that should argue for abortion to be available, affordable and accessible for some but not for others. Any message that shames or enforces conditions for a person to deserve an abortion creates stigma. This does long-term harm to the patients who need care, and the movement for reproductive justice overall, because it makes it difficult for those who fall outside of arbitrary and strict boundaries to ever be able to access abortion care. Regardless of whether you have an abortion because you do not want to be pregnant, because you do not want to or cannot be pregnant in your present circumstances or for any reason in between, your medical decision to have or not have an abortion is entirely your own. We can reiterate this through our messaging by consensually sharing stories of abortion that connote the freedom, power, prosperity and agency that comes with the ability to control one’s own reproductive health choices. We can share these stories as a way to affirm the trust we have in a person deciding when, how and why an abortion is the right choice for them. 

Uplift sources of truth 

Until Roe v. Wade is overturned or gutted, abortion remains legal in the United States. Over half of the states have “trigger” bans and restrictions, laws banning abortion in total or with limited circumstances designed to take effect in the event Roe is overturned as case precedent. For state-by-state information, seek resources like the Guttmacher Institute or contact your local abortion clinic, if available, or reproductive justice organizers. 

Anti-abortion advocates and politicians are already taking advantage of fear and confusion to spread disinformation about abortion access and safety so that people still eligible for abortions won’t get them. The list of resources in this section will support your messaging in being truthful, clear and accessible. Make sure that your messaging is translated into different languages, so that your audience can access and share the information. NARAL Pro-Choice America has a helpful resource for Spanish-language speakers.

The following are resources on data and information to use for your messaging or share: 

Demonstrate the availability of different methods of abortion care

Refer to abortion care as any other medical decision that people deserve the right to make when they want, with the providers they choose, and in ways that they trust. Anti-abortion activists will try to paint abortion as medically risky, unsafe, unclean or dangerous. Abortion is only made legally risky, expensive or tedious by the people who pass laws and perpetuate stigma that restrict access to them. Comparing abortion to other medical procedures can help prove this point: abortion has a smaller risk of complications than wisdom teeth removal. Clearly convey that self-managed abortions (also known as medication abortion) are safe and must be available to all people. Self-managed abortions are not synonymous with coathangers or back alleys, so avoid this stigmatizing and fearmongering imagery in your messaging. Medication abortion allows people to have an abortion in the comfort of their own home, which is particularly relevant for people who live far away from an abortion clinic, do not have resources or time (inclusive of money, child care or work flexibility) to travel to an abortion clinic or have experienced harm in medical settings. 

Lift up clear calls to action

People will continue to have abortions after decision day. Now more than ever, we must use our messaging to build collective power and protect the systems of care that have been built in spite of restrictions. The following is a non-exhaustive list of calls to action you can include in your messaging to motivate and engage your audience: 

  • Expand and strengthen access to abortion in states where abortion rights will remain protected by law by supporting people who need abortions, providers, abortion funds and clinics on the ground and reproductive rights legislation in your state.
  • Encourage your legislators to pass the Women's Health Protection Act of 2021 and vote for legislators who support reproductive rights
  • Donate to local abortion funds - especially Black or POC-led funds.
  • Donate to Black and POC-led Reproductive Justice orgs.
  • If abortion care becomes criminalized in your state, donate to bail funds to support those risking their livelihoods to provide abortions. 
  • Share information with people on where to find an abortion provider near them.
  • Provide transportation, if you can, for people to get to an abortion clinic. 
  • Volunteer to be a clinic escort, if your local area needs them, to safely walk people into the clinics.

For centuries, people of color, disabled people, people with LGBTQIA+ identities, Indigenous people and women have had to fight for the rights and access to make decisions about their bodies. They have cultivated grassroots power to provide systems of care for people to be able to access abortion, when and how they prefer, despite any laws or barriers in their state. These systems will continue to exist and our messaging can support them by lifting up the work of community organizers and advocates who bring together intersecting systems to make sure people can still receive abortion care. When we communicate messages that convey abortion’s safety, necessity and intersectionality, we adopt our role in the larger fight for everyone to have the information, freedom and access to make choices regarding their health and their bodies. 

This is bigger than Roe v. Wade – what is legal does not always equal what is just. Strategic messaging can expedite and amplify the need to come together to strengthen all areas of abortion access and care that will withstand legal and political attacks. Abortion is just one of many choices that require acknowledgement of every person’s unique circumstances, experiences and needs. Our messaging can uplift and create systems that are built upon this foundation. By following the path set by reproductive justice leaders, we have the opportunity to advocate for continuums of care that are more just, equitable and complete for all of us.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 16, 2022 at 08:09 am and is filed under Campaign planning, Combating disinformation, Communication planning, Crisis communication and Opposition containment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.