Think so-called blue states, with Democratic lawmakers, are abortion safe-havens? Pull up a chair and let’s talk. In this episode, Chelsea Williams-Diggs of the New York Abortion Access Fund joins Renee and Regina to talk about how even “liberal” governments need to do better for pregnant people. It’s all about the healthcare system, abortion funds, and the hidden realities of actually getting the abortion you need. And in a special edition of There Are Other Movies, Renee and Regina talk about Little Woods, a film directed by Nia DaCosta starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James.

Regina Mahone: All right, everybody, strap in. We’re getting on a roller coaster and that roller coaster is called the American healthcare system.

Renee Bracey Sherman: This is not a good roller coaster. It has 5,000 twists and would kill you instantly. This is offensive to roller coasters, Regina.

RM: No, but it’s like Space Mountain except they charge you $80 an hour to wait in line and then once you get to the front of the line they’re like, “Nope, sorry. We’re all full.”

RBS: It’s like Space Mountain if Space Mountain just sucked. It’s like shitty Space Mountain.

RM: Hello and welcome to The A Files: a Secret History of Abortion, a podcast from The Meteor. I’m Regina Mahone.

RBS: And I’m Renee Bracey Sherman. Regina and I are friends who talk about abortion.

RM: A lot. And now we have a podcast about it. Every episode we’re unpacking a layer of the abortion conversation that too often gets overlooked or erased. Today we’re talking about the one, the only, American healthcare system. Look, abortion is healthcare, plain and simple. It’s a phrase people in the movement say all the time at rallies. Abortion is essential healthcare and yet it’s not treated that way. Why do politicians, insurance companies, even some clinics treat it differently from other forms of healthcare? We’re going to get into that.

RBS: Yes, we will dig into that in this episode and then we’ll get into how isolating abortion just makes access even harder, even in blue states, which are supposed to be just like the mecca of abortion access. To get a better picture of that, we’re talking to Chelsea Williams-Diggs, who’s the Executive Director of the New York Abortion Access Fund.

RM: And later we’re going to talk about the movie Little Woods, which came out in 2018 and starred Lily James and Tessa Thompson.

RBS: We’re already cheating on our book segment and doing a movie, but whatever. Just go with it. It’s going to be fun.

RM: But let’s get into healthcare. If you want to know how abortion bans and stigma came about, go back and listen to episodes one and two of our podcast. The main thing you need to know is this. It wasn’t until the 1800s when physicians in the American Medical Association pushed out Black and brown midwives from the field that we started to see the groundwork for the campaign against abortion as healthcare that we have today. So it was in 1970 that we see the first law to actually isolate abortion from reproductive healthcare, and that’s the Title X Family Planning program.

Think of the Title X program as the services provided by obstetricians and gynecologists like cervical cancer screenings, contraception services, and HIV prevention and treatment. So Title X is the government program that funds those services for people with low incomes, but included in Title X was this provision, it still exists today, explicitly banning abortion counseling and care from being used with Title X funds. If you are a business, which clinics are, some of the services you offer are subsidized through the government, some of them aren’t.

And it makes the care that’s not being subsidized more expensive for patients, right? And then for patients, it can be extremely stigmatizing if you go to your doctor for a pregnancy test or a pap smear and it turns out you’re pregnant. And they’re like, “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t actually provide that service, you have to go somewhere else.” That was my experience when I had an abortion. I actually went to my regular doctor I’d been seeing for a number of years, had a pregnancy test and she was like, “Yeah, sorry, I don’t provide that. You have to go see someone else.”

And I felt like, “Okay, did I do something wrong? What’s wrong with abortion that you don’t provide it?” It really is stigmatizing when it is separated from other care that you get from the same doctors who are looking at your reproductive parts, right? And there have been numerous other ways that anti-abortion Republicans and Democrats have blocked access to abortion care. That includes things like the Hyde Amendment. There’s also the Mexico City policy and the Helms Amendment.

RBS: Can you break all of that down for us, Regina?

RM: Absolutely. So let’s start with the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1976 and it prevents people who receive Medicaid from having their abortions covered through that insurance program. There are so many people affected by the Hyde Amendment because it’s not just people explicitly on Medicaid, it’s also anyone who receives government-sponsored health insurance plans, including federal employees, people in the military, veterans if you’re getting VA coverage, and also importantly, indigenous folks.

These are folks who receive these benefits because the government stole their land and now they get health coverage through the Indian Health Service and the government decided because of the Hyde Amendment that they’ll provide some services but not abortions. And then there’s also the Helms Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, so both of these are international restrictions. They restrict abortion care for people who are outside the United States and the United States is sending their countries different non-governmental organizations funding to provide reproductive healthcare services like HIV testing and things like that.

And if someone at one of those organizations shows up and is also pregnant and wants an abortion, that organization may not even be able to mention the word abortion to them or provide any sort of counseling because of these restrictions. And so Republicans haven’t just made abortion care harder to access in the United States, they’ve also managed to make it more difficult for people in developing countries. In other words, they have colonized other countries with US funds, which is a whole other level of awful.

RBS: Wait a minute, let me back up. So U.S. is colonizing other people and destroying their access to health insurance. This is… Wow, I’m so surprised that the party of small government turns out to be a colonizing big government. I’m shocked.

RM: And so let’s get back to what’s happening at the state level in the United States. So then there are all these other restrictions that make abortion even more difficult for people to access. We saw those restrictions grow in number after several Supreme Court decisions in the late eighties and nineties that effectively gutted the 1973 Roe v Wade decision making it meaningless in practice. And so we have things like trap laws now, which are targeted regulation of abortion providers.

And Republican state legislatures use those to make it as difficult as possible for clinics to stay open. So for example, a clinic that provides mostly first-trimester abortions because that’s what their state law is, might have to convert their clinic into an ambulatory surgical center to provide care, or they have to make their hallways bigger to fit a gurney inside because that’s what you have to do at an ambulatory surgical center.

And then clinics have to have a number of staff, which is costly, right? Or they might have to have a contract with a funeral home for the states where you have to basically send those remains to a funeral home. Again, all of these things cost money, whether it’s the patient who ends up having to shoulder the cost or the clinic.

RBS: I mean the entire point of these trap laws is to make it really difficult to provide abortion because they know that none of it is medically necessary. All of these things are ridiculous. I think the most ridiculous one that I’d ever heard was about the cutting of the grass and the height of the grass at some clinics. And then also what you can and can’t put on the walls to make the abortion clinic room look inviting and fun.

They’re really just trying to make it the most dreary-looking abortion clinic possible. Kind of like the one that they show in Juneau, just the really dreary abortion clinic.

RM: And it’s all about patients who go to these clinics feeling like they’re being punished, right? You have to go into the corner and have your abortion because you needed this abortion and shame on you for having this abortion. The other big thing when it comes to providers is the insurance reimbursement rates are so low. Again, making it incredibly expensive to stay open, to operate as a business, to pay your staff when all of your money is going to filling this gap that the right has created in legislating away abortion access.

So when we’re seeing clinics closing even in blue states, quite often it’s because of the politics of abortion.

RBS: So even beyond all of these restrictions, the financial reality of abortion is that it’s really expensive, and that’s whether you have insurance or not. Even once you get insurance, there are no promises that your insurance plan is even going to cover abortion. And even if your plan does cover abortions, it might only cover a certain type of procedure, like only a first-trimester abortion, but not one in the second or third trimester.

And so it ends up being this weird game of Tetris, where at the clinic they have to say, “Okay, we’ll have your insurance cover this blood test or this exam here, but then you have to pay out of pocket for another thing.” But at the end of the day, the costs generally end up falling on the patient. I get this question all the time. They’re like, what’s the best state to have an abortion? And I’m like, there technically isn’t one, because not having an abortion ban does not mean that it’s easy or even possible to get an abortion, right?

Anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers exist in blue states because they are everywhere. Nationally there are three crisis pregnancy centers for every one abortion clinic. In New York City, and I want to be clear, I said New York City, CPCs, as we call them, they outnumber abortion clinics. They specifically situate themselves next to the abortion clinics in hopes that you will be confused.

RM: Not to mention the fact that CPCs will generally name themselves similarly or practically the same name as the abortion clinic that they’re next to. A lot of them have choice in their name because they want to confuse you as much as possible. One of the things that’s interesting about the ineedana.com website and how it got started is that the founder was looking for an abortion and had to go to Yelp to find their options because it’s really confusing if you just try to Google abortion clinics near you.

And so the ineedana.com website, you can go and find where abortion access is in your state, whether it’s online or in a physical clinic, and what states are closest to you.

RBS: I’ve been to a couple of these anti-abortion clinics and they are nuts. They’ll tell you things that are straight-up not true. They basically told me that birth control doesn’t work. They also told me that if you take abortion pills, you’re just passing the pregnancy and it’s now in our water system, and so our water just has abortion pills and blood and fetus parts in the water. It’s truly wild the things that they will say.

In other words, now that I’ve gone through an entire rant, yes, even in your perfect little blue state, abortion is treated like a very limited, kind of shameful, definitely expensive procedure. On that really depressing note, we are so excited to talk to someone who’s actively helping folks access abortions. Here is our conversation with Chelsea Williams-Diggs.

RM: Well, welcome. Thank you for being here. Can you just introduce yourself and the New York Abortion Access Fund?

Chelsea Williams-Diggs: Sure. My name is Chelsea Williams-Diggs. I’m the interim Executive Director of the New York Abortion Access Fund or NYAAF for short. I am a reproductive justice activist, a student of abolition, a lifelong Black feminist, and someone who’s just really grateful to be in this movement at this time. I often say I’m in the right place at the wrong time as an ED of an abortion fund in this space.

And NYAAF or the New York Abortion Access Fund is New York’s statewide fund. We’re only fund in New York, and we support anyone living in or traveling to the state of New York who needs help paying for an abortion.

RM: Love it. I think it might be helpful to just explain how NYAAF works with other abortion funds around the country.

Williams-Diggs: So NYAAF is a member of the National Network of Abortion Funds or NNAF. The National Network of Abortion Funds is basically a membership organization that supports and connects abortion funds across the country. There’s over a hundred funds mostly in the U.S. who are doing mostly local work of supporting their community members and those folks traveling to their communities access abortion. Prior to Dobbs, we had been in deep community with abortion funds across the country, so that looks like, you are a fund in Florida or somewhere else, and someone is coming up to New York.

We’re in conversation with you all. We might be splitting the cost if there are certain things that some funds do that other funds don’t. The magic of abortion funds, and I think the tragedy of the reality of this work is how much collaboration there are as we speak, email threads with dozens of abortion funds trying to work together to get the money together to support someone. We’ve seen other abortion funds really show up for our callers that have no connection to their state or anything.

So it’s a really beautiful community and I’ve been really blessed and count myself lucky to know so many amazing folks in abortion funds across the country. They are truly the best folks, truly.

RBS: One of the things that really frustrates me is when people in states where abortion isn’t criminalized, rest on their laurels and look at the other states with pity saying like, “Oh, that won’t happen here. It’s so good that we have access here.” And I feel like you know this better than anyone, that abortions can still be extremely difficult to access in states like New York that are considered bastions of access, right? Can you talk about that disconnect? What are people missing?

Williams-Diggs: Thank you, Renee. I hear you so much. Everyday frustration about the way that folks, particularly within New York and other states, talk about this work and how often it can be rooted in a savior complex talking about, “Oh, those folks in those other states in the south.” And I think there’s a lot of pieces to it. But I think first and foremost when we are talking about abortion access, we know that this work isn’t siloed from other issues of injustice. No matter what state or city you are in, reproductive justice has not been realized.

Definitely not in our country, and we know that’s true because again, it’s connected to all these other issue areas. So that’s one piece. I think getting them more into specifics, we know that blue states are not immune to any type of inequity, especially when we think about income inequality when we think about policing, they really show up in New York State and New York City in really palpable ways that directly create barriers to folks accessing abortion.

My other frustration is just the disconnect between talking points and on-the-ground realities and implementation. I think most folks don’t fully understand what it can look like on the ground at different clinics, at different points in pregnancy when you have different experiences, right?

RBS: I feel like something I’ve explained to people is that the clinic can be right across the street from your house, but if you don’t have somebody to watch your kids if you can’t afford it, it doesn’t matter. You just can’t get to it and I think that people really need to understand that.

And one thing you’ve talked about is how the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has really increased demand for abortion funding at the New York Abortion Access Fund in such a way that it has caused real strain to the organization. How does something like Dobbs change the way that NYAAF operates and abortion provision overall?

Williams-Diggs: Everything really started to change around SBA in Texas in September. What year was that? 2021, at this point. I can’t even keep up with all the years. It’s been decades, and it also feels like just yesterday. So I think that is when things really started to shift, I would say for NYAAF, but for abortion funds across the country, and then of course Dobbs changed everything. So of course I want to remind folks that abortion funds have existed long before the fall of Roe or the Dobbs decision.

A lot of the initial reaction is like, “Wait, abortion funds already exist, support them. We got this.” Which on one end was true, and on the other end, if I’m being frank, our movement while we had the existing infrastructure, the amount of demand really is stretching us often. At NYAAF, I am our first and only paid staff member, so we want to hold those two truths at the same time to say we have the existing expertise and the infrastructure and we are running out of money and we’re exhausted.

So what I’ve been saying wherever I can is that we are absolutely in a crisis and it doesn’t feel like everyone either knows, or to be honest sometimes cares, about this level of crisis that we’re in. Since the Dobbs decision, we’ve obviously been seeing a lot of folks traveling to New York. We’ve supported folks from now 30 states, DC, the Virgin Islands, so we’re seeing folks from everywhere. And we know part of that is because of course, as I mentioned, when one state bans abortion, we all feel it.

It’s been a huge influx of folks. At the same time, we’re seeing actually an increase of resident New Yorkers accessing our care, which is a great thing. We want folks to know that NYAAF exists, that abortion funds exist. But at the same time, when we’re running out of money and we’re not seeing the level of support that’s necessary to really meet this moment, it puts us in a really difficult situation. So in 2023, we are on track to move well over $2 million.

We’ve already moved, I believe, just over one point something million dollars. And once again, reminding folks that this is one staff member and a group of volunteers. So in comparison, in 2021, we moved just over $500,000 in 2021. In 2020 NYAAF moved just under $200,000. And we know that this is a long fight, and as states continue to pass bans and other restrictions, more and more folks are going to need to travel for care.

RM: We just want to get into what the barriers are for real on the ground for folks in New York.

Williams-Diggs: So I’ll start from the beginning. So abortion funds pay for abortions. So folks often think that they know how much an abortion costs. And in fact, I don’t know if y’all are fans of the rapper Latto. But she has a song out and there’s a remix with Cardi B, where she says some version of, I’m probably not going to get this lyric right. Where she says, “I’ll spend that 500 before I ever trap you.” Basically alluding to the fact that she would have an abortion before she’d ever trap someone. I was happy.

I was like, “Okay, Latto knows how much an abortion costs generally, or at least the first trimester in abortion. So in New York though, abortion can be more expensive. Surprise. So in New York, first-trimester abortion averages around $600, and that includes medication abortion at clinics in New York as well as procedural abortions. Abortions later in pregnancy can be… Honestly, every week I get a new number. So I used to say it can be more than $20,000. And then we got another abortion that was like $25,000.

I think this week we officially hit the over $30,000 mark. That is a lot of money. I think the general statistic is most Americans don’t have a couple of hundred bucks for any emergency. So if you’re talking about anything from $600 to $30,000 for the procedure itself, then of course we’re thinking about hotel costs, travel costs, childcare, lost wages. We’ve had people travel from out of state here and thought that they could pay for their Uber from the hotel or from the airport to the hotel, and then suddenly they see their cost and, “We can’t do this.”

We’ve got emergency calls, “Can somebody help me? I’m stuck at JFK.” So then taking maybe perhaps a step back, “Okay, why are people paying out of pocket if New York has all these other great protections?” So New York is one of, I think 17 states where Medicaid covers abortion. New York also has this new thing that any New York state regulated insurance must cover abortion, and in most cases must cover abortion without copay or deductible.

So it’s like, well, then who possibly have to pay for an abortion out of pocket except for, again, folks maybe coming from out of state? There are some clinics that don’t accept Medicaid or insurance either at all or after certain gestational limits. So there are folks every day that call NYAAF that have Medicaid or have insurance, but the clinic that they’re going to for a variety of reasons does not accept it. This happens all the time. Which means that NYAAF is effectively filling in that gap between what is a policy, a law, and what is the actual reality on the ground.

Then, of course, there are folks who live in New York, but their insurance is not regulated by New York state. So for example, a federal employee, someone in the armed services. Suddenly the Hyde Amendment creeps back up and it’s like, “What’s up? We’re here.” Then of course, there’s people who are uninsured, but make too much money for Medicaid. Happens all the time. And then of course, you have folks who are undocumented, young folks and other people who maybe do have insurance but don’t want to use it for privacy reasons.

That’s a huge thing as well. And then of course, what does access actually look like at the state level? We see people often traveling from upstate New York, other parts of the state to New York City to access care. And that’s really difficult. That’s several hours on a bus or a train or a drive. That’s again, hotel costs, all those things. And then of course, the policing crisis.

And again, as we think about the particular experiences of folks who are Black, brown, undocumented, all these folks with disabilities, all these other experiences that make day-to-day life difficult, that make walking down the street dangerous on a regular day. You heightened that in this moment of trying to access abortion care where there’s so much attention on these health centers.

RBS: No, it’s so much, and I think people don’t realize how much and how intricate it truly is. There’s a lot of headlines where a city or a state is like, “We’re putting X, Y, Z amount of money in our budget to give to this abortion fund to fund abortions.” And I think a lot of people are like, “Oh my gosh, that’s wonderful. That’s so exciting.”

Can you walk us through what that means in a process when New York City says, we’re going to give money to NYAAF to pay for New Yorkers abortions or the state? What does that actually look like? Is that real?

Williams-Diggs: Is that real? That’s a great question. Is anything real? So New York City was the first city to allocate municipal funding for abortion access. They did this in 2019. It was a huge deal. And I think was, in many ways, one of the first actions of New York City in a while to really stamp itself again as an abortion-access city. NYAAF at the time was still all volunteer-led. We still mostly are, and we were obviously excited to get this additional funding.

I think what cities and states have opportunities to do is to fund abortion directly and to do that, of course, by investing in abortion funds, but also to make sure that you’re doing it in a way that is as barrier free as possible. So with New York City, they did a reimbursement model, which inherently put all other things aside, means that you don’t get the money until you’ve already spent it. Which as an organization that’s actively running out of money currently, that’s tough.

And when we think about other abortion funds and other cities following suit and other cities have done things slightly differently. I know in Philadelphia, they did not do a reimbursement model. It was just like, here have your money. We believe that our public dollars should be going directly to fund abortion. But ultimately it’s been a really difficult process to receive that money and to date, we’ve only received a small fraction of the total amount allocated to us year over year.

RBS: Let’s talk about then the state, right? The New York State government has largely sidestepped directly funding abortions the way that New York City has. And instead they created a fund to help providers increase their capacity and provide security, and I think those things are absolutely important. The question is, how effective do you think these measures are in terms of fixing the overall systemic conditions that make abortion funding necessary to begin with?

Williams-Diggs: So we love our providers in New York, and we absolutely believe that they should be getting additional state funding to ensure that they have the staffing, the training, and of course the security that they need. But ultimately, the providers are one part of an ecosystem that make access possible. So it’s really important that we look at these issues holistically and really understand what, again, it looks like on the ground. New York has not funded abortion access directly. They’ve only funded providers.

So it is very frustrating from our perspective to say, yes, New York is a safe haven. Yes, New York is an abortion access state. But if you can’t pay for it, what happens? And again, I struggle with this a bit because as I think about the ecosystem largely, I try to both honor the work of abortion funds and honor the work of NYAAF without overly being like, we are the end all be all, right? Which again, can sometimes be so hard when you’re so passionate about your work. But to some degree, NYAAF is New York’s only abortion fund, right?

So right now, if NYAAF runs out of funds, if NYAAF has to start turning away callers, that means that directly then people aren’t able to access abortion. And that then means that all the things that we’re saying and speeches are not actually being realized. And I will say, I do understand to some degree, so many people still don’t know what abortion funds are, and they don’t fully understand the importance of their work. So I think this is why this conversation’s important.

And I think this is perhaps my biggest takeaway is how important it is to trust abortion funds. Elevate and trust them as experts in this work. I think that is super, super clear, and it’s super important that both city government, state government, philanthropy, other folks in the reproductive rights, health, justice movement really understand and honor the expertise of abortion funds in general, but specifically in this moment. It’s so, so important.

RM: So is there anything else that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to talk about?

Williams-Diggs: One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is the immigration injustices, right? And the many asylum seekers that are coming into the US and New York specifically, and the ways that intersects with abortion access. We get these calls sometimes that just truly lay bare all the ways that all the systems are failing our most marginalized. New York City and New York State positioning itself as a safe haven for folks who are migrating into this country.

We’ve seen great reporting on the ways that is actually much more complex in reality for folks who are finding themselves here after often very difficult journeys and even worse treatment in other parts of the US, quite literally being bused here. I think about that a lot, and I think about again, how New York City and New York State can do so much better. What does that look like to make sure that undocumented folks can have access to Medicaid throughout the state?

What does it mean to, again, think about healthcare more broadly, to think about immigration justice? One more thing that’s also been on my mind a lot lately is about really centering the experiences of folks having abortions later in pregnancy. For me, it’s just so important. It’s not always politically expedient or whatever to see blue states or Democrats or liberals often shying away from talking about that. I really want to make sure that folks understand that abortion funds support all people, right?

NYAAF does not have any eligibility requirements or cutoffs. And abortion funds are seeing, of course, many folks who are getting abortions later in pregnancy. And those abortions are often very expensive. And again, folks have abortions later in pregnancy for many reasons. They say, if you support the most marginalized, everyone wins. So if we center folks who are having abortions later in pregnancy, we all win, right?

If more providers provide abortions later in pregnancy, we all win. There is no such thing as abortion freedom anywhere, right? Abortion, liberation, reproductive justice, anywhere. And there are so many reasons why that’s the case, and I’d argue one of the ways to get there is to center the experiences of folks having abortions later in pregnancy.

RM: Thank you. And then in every episode, we’re asking our guests to give a call to action to our listeners. You’ve mentioned several, but if there’s a resource you think people listening to the podcast should check out or contribute to, you can totally say NYAAF, but this is your time for your call to action.

Williams-Diggs: So wherever you live, wherever it is, find your local abortion fund and support them in all the ways. Of course, giving them money is magic. That’s where it all happens. Becoming a recurring donor, even if it’s five bucks a month, give what you can. If you can’t give, that’s totally fine, but following them on social media, supporting them when they have events, and really just seeing what’s going on with them.

Your local abortion fund is your home for abortion expertise. They are the ones who understand what abortion access looks like in your community. They’re the ones who can tell you where they need support, where we can all do better. So find your local abortion fund, please, and donate directly and support them directly.

RBS: I love it. Chelsea, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. We are so thankful for all the work that you do, and we really enjoyed the conversation. So thank you.

Williams-Diggs: Thank you, Regina. Thank you, Renee. Have a good one.

RBS: Chelsea is so great. She’s doing really crucial work in New York with such a small team, and we are so grateful that she took time out of her day to talk with us. I loved that conversation.

RM: And I definitely want to reiterate her point about abortion funds filling in these gaps that state and federal lawmakers have created, and the folks at these funds are real people, volunteers who are exhausted. The fact of the matter is abortion funds continue to exist in those states because the need continues to exist in those states. But guess what, Renee? People in power could actually do something about this. It’s wild.

I know. There’s several bills if they’re put into place, could actually help to address this systemic issue by doing things like ending the Hyde Amendment, which is what the EACH Act would do. And then there’s this new bill that Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced not that long ago called the Abortion Justice Act, and she did that alongside some We Testify storytellers, right?

RBS: Yes. It was monumental. Basically, Representative Pressley wrote a bill that would protect people seeking abortions and providers from criminalization. And that’s really critical, and honestly, what we should have done from the beginning. It also calls for investment in abortion care training, research, doulas for everybody. Oprah voice, “You get a doula, you get a doula, you get a doula.” And of course, everyone needs a doula and it would require insurance to cover abortion care.

In addition to establishing a federal legal right to an abortion and spontaneous abortion care, also known as miscarriage. It’s really trying to address all of the systemic barriers that our healthcare system and pro-choice politicians have generally left to the side in favor of just calling for the right to abortion, barely and not real access. And I know you might be thinking, “Okay, that’s a cute little bill, but it’s a pipe dream.”

We need pipe dreams to keep people energized and also to talk about what is a vision, and it’s what we would call in the movement a messaging bill. So we can have it out there, we can talk about it. We can really say, this is the vision, this is what we’d like to do. States can emulate it. They have legislation that they can copy, and then hopefully one day people will be supportive of it.

Representatives, as you contact them constantly, they will sign on and then we’ll eventually have the votes, and it won’t be a bill. It will be the Abortion Justice Act, and it’ll be law of the land. We need to show up, make our dreams are reality, show up for the Abortion Justice Act.

RM: And the EACH Act.

RBS: And the EACH Act.

RM: All right, now it’s time for our final segment called There are Other Books. This is the part of the show where we discuss a fictional depiction of abortion that isn’t The Handmaid’s Tale because we’re tired of talking about that one.

RBS: So tired.

RM: Any book, anything at all, as long as it isn’t The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

RBS: But actually Regina, we’re switching it up this week. We are doing… There are other movies.

RM: Yes. All right, so we’re going to be talking today about Little Woods. I have been wanting to watch this movie for a long time. I’m so glad I finally had an excuse to sit down and watch it because if you have a toddler, it is really hard to watch an actual movie from start to finish. I did watch it, but in parts, but I made it happen. So anyway, Little Woods, it’s about two estranged sisters in North Dakota who are just trying to survive, just trying to get by. One sister, Tessa Thompson.

She’s on parole after getting caught selling drugs she picked up in Canada since they’re not that far from the border. And her sister played by Lily James is already a mom, and she finds out in the movie that she’s pregnant again by her son’s father. And so Lily James’s character knows that she cannot handle another child. At one point, I remember her saying something like how she’s barely making it with just her one child. And it’s true, they’re living in a van that’s illegally parked in a parking lot.

The van is actually pretty cozy and she’s doing everything she can possibly do to make sure all of her son’s needs are met but clearly she’s struggling to get by. She’s also attending school, working as a waitress. She brings her son to work with her. And so another child would just be extremely difficult, if not impossible for her. So she decides she wants an abortion. And Renee, you wrote a really great piece for the Washington Post when the movie came out about the abortion in Little Woods and how it’s different from other movies. Do you want to talk about it?

RBS: Yes. I love this movie. So first off, the sisters are adopted, and what I love is that when Lily James’s character wants an abortion, Tessa Thompson’s character is actually really supportive. She’s not like, “Oh, well, I’m adopted and you shouldn’t do that.” I also think that it’s really wonderful because it shows a full spectrum of why someone might choose to have an abortion. It’s one of the few depictions with a character who’s choosing an abortion, who is already parenting, who is dealing with financial logistical barriers.

Because they’re in North Dakota, which at the time North Dakota only had one clinic, so it was easier for them to try to go to Canada to get free healthcare there. I won’t spoil how they do it, but it’s actually really interesting and quite creative. And I think it’s this really nuanced depiction that parallels lack of access to abortion with lack of access to healthcare overall. They’re in this North Dakota town. Tessa Thompson’s character has been charged for the drugs she’s bringing over the border from Canada because it’s cheaper over there.

It’s like Oxycontin and other painkillers and people need them. A lot of the guys are working on these oil rigs. It’s an oil boom town. And so they have a lot of long-lasting pain from this backbreaking work. And they don’t have health insurance. They can’t really go see the doctor. They need this medication.

RM: It takes up six or seven hours if they have to sit in the waiting room to see the doctor. Even then, they might not see the doctor and they have to work. They need that money.

RBS: They need to work. They don’t have paid leave. And so it shows how all of these things can be impacted at the same time. And so it’s just this entire system makes it really difficult for people to be healthy. And so I just love that abortion is a larger piece of that.

RM: I just want to reiterate too, how important it is that there is a depiction of a parent showing how having an abortion is in so many ways a parenting decision. The moments between Lily James’ character and her son were some of the hardest moments for me as a parent because you could see how hard she was trying to give her son the absolute best life in the circumstances she was in. And that is the reality for a lot of people.

It may very well come down to what is the best life that I can possibly give the child I already have? And so I just wanted to reiterate, this is one of the rarest depictions of abortion from a parent’s perspective, and they do it in such a gentle way.

RBS: The director, Nia DaCosta, is this amazing director, phenomenal Black director. She also did Candyman, I love horror films so that movie is great too.

RM: I didn’t know that.

RBS: Yes, she directed that as well. And so she’s really fantastic and I really, really love the film.

RM: There’s so many other movies.

RBS: You don’t have to only watch The Handmaid’s Tale, so I love it. Well, that’s all for us. So for a reading list, links to the articles and the books that we’ve mentioned today and more information, visit our website at wearethemeteor.com/theafiles

RM: See you next time.

RBS: The A Files is produced for The Meteor by LWC Studios. Our hosts are me, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Regina Mahone.

RM: Our executive producers at The Meteor are me, Regina Mahone, Renee Bracey Sherman, Cindy Levy, and Tara Abrahams.

RBS: At LWC Studios, our executive producer is Juleyka Lantigua. Paulina Velasco is our managing producer, and our producer is Anne Lim. Kojin Tashiro is our sound designer and engineer.

RM: This podcast is produced with support from The Meteor Fund, The Meteor’s nonprofit initiative. Additional thanks to Pop Culture Collaborative for their support. You can support us by subscribing to The A Files wherever you get your podcasts. And please take a second to rate us, five stars please and leave us a review. It would mean a lot.

RBS: For links to any resources mentioned in this episode or more information, visit our website at wearethemeteor.com/theafiles. You can follow us on social media. I am @RBraceySherman on Twitter and Renee Bracey Sherman on Instagram. And for Regina @byreginamahone on Twitter and Instagram. You can follow The Meteor @themeteor on all platforms. Thanks for listening. Thanks for saying the word abortion. And remember, everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion.


Bracey Sherman, Renee, and Mahone, Regina, host. “Busting the ‘Blue State’ Myth.” The A Files, The Meteor and Lantigua Williams & Co., January 24, 2024. Themeteor.com/theafiles