All around the country, people have been arrested and criminalized for trying to access abortion care. In this episode, Renee, Regina and special guest Rafa Kidvai of the Repro Legal Defense Fund talk about the devastating personal toll that anti-abortion extremists don’t want us to see. They break down how and why abortion criminalization happens, and some surprising rules for responding to it. Plus, in There Are Other Books, Renee and Regina discuss the novel An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Hi, everyone. Renee here. Just popping in before the episode begins to say that this episode’s interview includes mentions of unsafe abortion methods and criminalization. We’ll include the timestamps for these mentions in the show notes. Please skip what you need to and take care of yourself.

I think people have magical thinking about what abortion bans will do. Elected officials will be like, “Oh, we’re just not going to talk about how we’re going to enforce it.” And then that leaves people to think, “Oh, well, if abortion’s banned, people just then won’t want one, they won’t try to get one.” And that’s not actually what happens.

Regina  Mahone: Hello and welcome to The A Files, the 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. We talk about abortion.

RM: A lot. Today we’re talking about abortion criminalization, and before we get into it, off the top, let’s clarify all the terms we’ll be using today just so we’re on the same page.

RBS: So in the last 20 years, there have been at least 61 cases where people have been subjected to the criminal legal system. They either actually or allegedly self-managed their abortion or helped someone else get an abortion. And the government can use all sorts of methods to criminalize people who have abortions without explicitly outlawing abortion. The majority of those cases were in states that have no laws against self-managed abortion, so it wasn’t even a crime. Instead, people get hit with charges like mishandling of human remains or homicide, but we want to be absolutely crystal shiny, Windex clear. Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is absolutely not the problem. What is the problem? Well, all of the arbitrary and bullshit tools of white supremacy, all of the things that they use to control our bodies and our lives and control people who do not have any power. They really just won’t let us do our own abortions. And if we do, we’ll be criminalized for doing it. Which brings me to what we should go over next. Self-managed abortion.

RM: And I feel like people think that term means a lot of things. Like they hear the phrase medication abortion and things like that, and it gets really confusing. So Renee, break it down for the people.

RBS: Let’s talk about it. Okay. So self-managed abortion, that just basically means that a person decides that they want to have an abortion on their own outside of the medical system. It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has to do their abortions on their own completely. In fact, many people do have a support person with them, whether it’s a friend or also like a doula, or midwife. There are so many safe ways to self-manage an abortion. Safe ways are usually with abortion pills, the same ones that you’d get at a clinic.

People can also safely self-manage at home with a midwife or a doula who can do an MVA, which is a manual vacuum aspiration or extraction, or even using herbs recommended by an herbalist. But what we usually hear about is the unsafe self-managed abortion methods, particularly because our nation’s history with criminalizing abortion is really, really long. And that’s what they’re talking about when they say back alley abortions. That’s the coat hangers and knitting needles and the instruments that are used to remove a pregnancy. It can also be unsafe behaviors like douching with bleach or detergent or even Coca-Cola or trying to throw yourself down the stairs.

RM: Renee, you talked about your own experience with this when you testified before Congress in 2022 and then became the first person in history to share the self-managed abortion pill regimen at a congressional hearing. Let’s listen to a clip of your testimony.

RBS [testimony]: I feel so lucky that when I was 19, my abortion care network clinic was 10 minutes from my home and an Orthodox Jewish nurse held my hand and she did so because her faith called her to, but that almost wasn’t my story. Shortly before my appointment, I didn’t know if I could hold on. I didn’t think I could be pregnant for another moment. I hoped it would all go away, and when it didn’t, every day I considered throwing myself down the stairs as I had seen in movies and in history books. One night I drank an unsafe amount of alcohol believing it would cause a miscarriage. It didn’t.

Thankfully I went to my appointment and received my abortion. That was when it was legal in every state. Now it is not, and I know some will try the methods that I did, and I want them to know that there are safe methods to self-managing their abortions, according to the World Health Organization. It is one Mifepristone pill followed by four misoprostol pills dissolved under the tongue 24 to 48 hours later, or a series of 12 misoprostol pills, four at a time, dissolved under the tongue every three hours. There’s no way to test it in the bloodstream and a person doesn’t need to tell the police what they took.

RBS: Honestly, it was really, really scary. I was nervous and that was not a story I’d ever told publicly before. I hadn’t told my family about it, and I was deeply ashamed because of how sad and scared that Renee was at 19. But also I felt like I needed to use that moment to show other people that they’re not alone if they’re considering an unsafe or ineffective method and that there are safe methods available like abortion pills, especially now. It also felt really important to me because at the time, South Carolina had introduced a bill that would have made disseminating the information I shared a crime. So to me it was a really important free speech issue.

RM: Yeah. The laws around self-managed abortion, it’s such a legal gray area, right? They’re changing all of the time. Over a dozen states require that medication abortion be provided by a physician, which can be challenging in this climate where a lot of people are seeking appointments, but there are fewer states offering them. And if you self-manage your abortion, you could be charged with practicing medicine without a license.

RBS: Okay, Regina, I’m raising my hand on behalf of the audience with this question I get all the time. Roe legalized abortion. So how is it that people were criminalized for their pregnancies while Roe was the law of the land? And why are we only talking about this now?

RM: The Supreme Court justices wrote the Roe decision very much centering the rights and opinions of doctors instead of the people who actually need the abortion. And subsequent decisions increase the amount of involvement the states could have in the ability for doctors to provide these abortions. It was never about giving the people who have abortions the ability to decide if, when, and how to grow their families.

RBS: Right. And for me, here’s the thing, laws are both real and not real. Laws are ideas. They are ideas about how to corral and organize people and what a set of morals are, and they’re these imaginary things until they get enforced. Laws are very real for some people because they’re a set of rules that can be enforced to put people in jail and treat them a certain way. But also, laws aren’t real because certain people are able to violate them all of the time. They’re just ideas. The people most likely to be arrested, charged, and put in prison are people of color. That is not a coincidence. It’s how the system was designed.

RM: So what makes laws real is how we experience them. Taking abortion pills on your own, for example, is legal in some states with a provider and illegal in other states when a provider is involved. But for example, in D.C., self-managing an abortion or helping someone to do so, is decriminalized. And you helped make that law happen, right Renee?

RBS: I did. I DMed my city council member, Christina Henderson, and told her that we needed it as a law and she proposed it and it became one in February 2023.

RM: Shout out to DMing your city council member. It’s the criminalization that makes the pills seem different. People need them just as much in Texas as they do in D.C. Or California.

RBS: Yeah, I was interviewing Farah Diaz-Teo of If/When/How for the book that we’re writing. And she said it so succinctly. Criminalization is how we enact stigma.

RM: It’s so true, right? The criminalization and stigma make this vicious cycle that keeps abortion inaccessible. Abortion is stigmatized, which paves the way for the laws banning it and the enforcement through criminalization, which then adds stigma towards people who want to access it. And it’s just over and over and over again. But in reality, no stigma or criminalization are ever needed. Renee, you wrote a really powerful piece for the nation about how the police are often on the side of the anti-abortion extremists and not the patients or clinic escorts who are helping them get to their appointments.

RBS: Yeah. The police are there to enforce the “law” no matter whether the law is arbitrary or detrimental to people’s lives. Our guest for today is Rafa Kidvai from the Repro Legal Defense Fund, and they have a lot to say about this. So let’s get into our interview.

Hi Rafa. Thank you so much for being here.

Rafa Kidvai: It’s nice to be here.

RBS: So can you introduce yourself and how did you end up in this role and working on the legal side of reproductive justice?

Rafa Kidvai: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I have so much respect for you both. It’s a joy to talk to you. My name is Rafa Kidvai. I am the director of the Repro Legal Defense Fund, which is at If/When/How. We’re a legal group that defends, supports, and organizes for reproductive justice. We provide legal services and legal funding to help people determine if, when, and how they want to build a family. And so the people we provide legal services and legal funding to are those that are being criminalized for pregnancy outcomes like self-managed abortions. We also organize and train lawyers and law students to become the next generation of people who are providing legal services. The way that I got here to me makes a lot of sense, I don’t know if it does externally. So I moved to the United States for college and from my first year, started working with a bunch of other students to volunteer at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference. One of the first sessions I attended was people talking about incarcerated mothers.

And so after college, I went to law school, became a public defender, worked with bail funds and then experienced pregnancy. And I think all of that meant that I wanted to be doing this exact work all the time, every day. And so it doesn’t feel like a detour, but maybe it sounds a little bit like it. It feels like a returning home maybe.

RM: So for a lot of people there isn’t a clear connection between abortion bans and criminalization. I think part of the reason for that is because of the way anti-abortion elected officials do not say how they want to actually enforce their bans. They just focus on how their law is about stopping abortions. But the reality is if you have a law making something illegal, the person breaking the law will then be held accountable in some way. Right? So could you just explain a bit more about how abortion bans make people criminals?

Rafa Kidvai: I have so many things to say to this question. So one, I would say that criminalization is not about people’s actions, it’s about people. I think that’s fundamentally a problem with the conversation. So a criminal by definition is just someone the state wants to get. It’s really not about someone’s actions, it’s not even about the law. It’s really who does the state want to target and control? And so where there are bans, I think they just tell you very explicitly this is what the state is committed to controlling, and criminalization is often a response to people exercising their bodily autonomy audaciously. We know that in the vast majority of states, there was nothing explicitly in the law that said self-managing your abortion is “illegal.” And yet we know that’s where people have been investigated and arrested. And even now with unprecedented control of abortion access, self-managed abortion continues to be the place where people are criminalized.

And it’s really because it’s about the people who are self-managing. It’s about which identities of folks don’t have access structurally, it’s about who the state doesn’t want to have kids, certainly not on their own terms. And so people who self-manage are black and brown, they’re immigrants, they’re people who are trans and queer, people who are deemed on the margins, people who don’t trust the medical system, anyone who feels afraid of the state for good reason is going to probably overlap with the group of people that needs to self-manage their abortions. And so, I think really what’s happening here is that the state is trying to convince us that self-managed abortion is somehow more wrong. And the second we start talking about something being wrong or bad, I think what follows immediately is criminalization.

RBS: Something I think about a lot is the way in which I think people have magical thinking about what abortion bans will do. Regina, like you said, elected officials will be like, “Oh, we’re just not going to talk about how we’re going to enforce it.” And then that leaves people to think, “Oh, well, if abortion’s banned, people just then won’t want one. They won’t try to get one.” And that’s not actually what happens. And I think that they forget that the entire point of the criminal justice system or injustice system is to dispose of people that we deem not contributing to society in a certain way that capitalism or white supremacy wants. I feel like this is a really big topic and somebody should make a podcast about that. Is there one like that, Rafa?

Rafa Kidvai: Oh my God, you’re so sweet, Renee. I have a podcast called No Body Criminalized, and I would say obviously my best episode was when Renee came, don’t tell the others. And I didn’t respond to one piece of your question, Regina, which was like, what does it do when you make the impact of abortion bans opaque? I mean, it’s intentionally confusing. I think the whole point is for it to be intentionally confusing. I’ve talked to doctors about how they’ve had people leave their state to come get abortions when they didn’t have to leave their state in the first place. And I think sometimes the work is done there alone. I think we see this in prosecutions all the time. The moment of an investigation is enough to create the cascade that destroys someone’s life. And yes, in an ideal situation, you don’t get convicted, you win at trial.

But I have to say, as someone who tried cases, winning a trial is both one of the saddest, most exciting moments of your life at the same time because at that moment, you realize what little you’re celebrating and how much has been lost along the way, and how much more of it is loss than win, even with the win at the end of the trial. Imagine our clients are people who are charged with homicides for abortions, and it just means that you’re in this limbo walking around the world with the stamp on you and the world has suddenly been made deeply inaccessible. You’re marginalized further, which means that then you have to do things to survive. And the problem with this country is that our response to people trying to survive is to punish them. It’s just such a fundamental problem.

RBS: Can you talk a little bit about what are the societal and cultural impacts of pregnancy criminalization overall? Because one of the challenges that I deeply feel is that this is not new. After Roe fell, people were like, “Oh my gosh, people are going to be thrown in jail for having abortions.” This has been happening for decades and essentially actually centuries, but I think people are paying attention to it now because middle-class or wealthier white people are experiencing it and not just low-income white people and folks of color as has happened for the last couple of decades. Can you talk about all of that?

Rafa Kidvai: Yeah.

RBS: Give me an answer for all of that.

Rafa Kidvai: Yeah, I know. It’s like cis white women and they’re afraid you’re coming for their IVF cannot be the person that leads our movement. Right? Because that person drops off real early. And truth be told-

RBS: And they’re late to the game.

Rafa Kidvai: Yeah, I was going to say, truth be told, they’re both late and they’re not really going to be the target eventually anyways. So I think that criminalization creates a harmful lifelong cascade, a domino effect in someone’s life from the moment of state contact. And I don’t just mean the moment of an arrest or the engagement with the cops, and of course don’t talk to cops. Thank you, Renee, for always telling people don’t talk to cops.

RBS: Never talk to the cops.

Rafa Kidvai: We like to yell it. Exactly. First, let’s go back a little bit. Who are the cops? The cops aren’t just police officers in criminal cases, the cops is an apparatus. It’s a whole bunch of people. Prosecutors are cops, judges, cops, ACS workers, cops, sometimes welfare workers, cops. They are everywhere, and they’re expert gaslighters. So very good at telling you that they’re there for your own good while they’re harming you simultaneously. And so when someone’s in a moment of trauma, you’re engaging whether you want to or not. It’s very confusing. You can do a thousand know your rights trainings about don’t talk to the cops, and let’s be real. The cops come to your door, they bang really hard. I don’t know what happens to you. I’m a public defender of many years. I’m telling you now, the fear of God is in my body and I’m like, “Maybe I should open it.” It’s very powerful. It’s impactful. And so I think that it’s really easy to engage with cops, but they’re everywhere and they’re more than who you think.

So that’s the first piece. And because that’s true and they’re in every part of your life, you can lose your job, your housing, custody of your children. I mean, I think this is a really big one. I think we really need to be talking about the family separation system and how moments after someone’s arrested in a criminal case, there’s an automatic removal of a child the person has, and let’s be real, a lot of abortion seekers, most are parents, people trying to be parents of the kids that they have. And so you’ve taken the person that they’re doing all this for, you’re taking that person away. And so I think fundamentally, yes, you lose resources, but you also lose community. When you’re incarcerated, a lot of people talk about losing connection to the outside and not having enough contact. That’s why I think there’s so many letter writing programs because it’s deeply isolating emotionally. And so it’s not just the cost, it’s not just the, I can’t afford my life anymore. It’s that it is painful to exist now, I think is the impact of criminalization.

RM: Could you say a bit more about how the police work hand in glove specifically with prosecutors and anti-abortion law firms to build cases against abortion providers and seekers?

Rafa Kidvai: Yes. Okay, let me step back. Our legal system is one that fits this idea of a perpetrator and a victim against each other. Obviously, these categories of people don’t make very much sense at all in people’s actual lives. I think that there is some confusion in the minds of people sometimes because prosecutors have done a good job of saying that they’re doing stuff in the name of survivors, right? This is us. This is about interpersonal violence. We are stepping in, keeping the community safe. Obviously not true from the experience of survivors, and just I think we need to think about survivors as not just survivors of intimate partner violence, but also state violence. And so anyone the state engages with experiences violence and experiences trauma. And prosecutors–I think people like to say overzealous prosecutors, I would say a prosecutor doing their job– and police have misused and misapplied laws to arrest people and get away with it.

So you’ll see in the abortion arena, anything from manslaughter, homicide, to endangering the welfare of a child who’s not been born yet, or chemical endangerment when someone uses antidepressants during pregnancy. That’s not what the law was meant for. We’re talking about laws that were written to protect survivors of IPV from experiencing injury while they were pregnant, now being used for abortion, that’s not what the intention of the law was. Police officers and prosecutors don’t care about the law. They just use anything they can. And then prosecutors use what we like to call “the kitchen sink” where they literally just throw stuff at the person and hope something sticks, and they want it to be the most egregious thing so that they can charge the highest amount of bail for that purpose. So this isn’t just an abortion situation. This is literally how the criminal punishment system works. They make shit up and then they do what they want.

And so I think that’s why it’s so important for me to talk about cops as a category of people that we need to be organizing against because it’s not about the law. It’s not about right, wrong, good, bad, victim, perpetrator. It’s about a group of white supremacists that are committed to controlling certain bodies.

RBS: So let’s talk about those cases for a second. For example, there was a case of a mother and daughter out of Nebraska who were sentenced to jail time in 2023. A lot of people see these cases and are rightfully infuriated. It can garner a lot of headlines and public attention and outrage. But some of those cases aren’t talked about as much in the public by movement leaders, organizations, other folks, right? People will send me these cases and say, “Oh my God, Renee, did you see this?” Yes, yes, I saw it. I saw it. I read it. I heard about it. I’ve probably heard about it before it was even an article, but I’m not posting about it, I’m not commenting on it publicly. I am declining the interviews. And I think that can be really confusing to people because they’re like, “Well, shouldn’t you be outraged? Shouldn’t you be drumming up attention and outraged with your words publicly and talk about it?”

But there’s a reason, and we don’t do that on purpose. Also, being outraged online is not the only way to be outraged. I just have to say that. But we don’t do that on purpose. Rafa, can you tell the listeners why we do that?

Rafa Kidvai: I have a bunch of different feelings about this. One, I think for the most part, whether a case is public or not is decided by the state. So the earliest descriptions that are leaked, are leaked by cops and prosecutors. They’re meant to sway public opinion. And then I think that creates a cascade of legal consequences for somebody. Remember, a jury is the jury of your peers. It’s your community. And if your community has been told a bunch of lies about you and stories about you, even if they know not to believe them, those seeds have been planted. None of our brains are that strong, y’all. We are all susceptible to stigma. We’re all susceptible to bias. And it’s relying on that. When you’re seeing someone in a lineup, you immediately assume a number of things about them, whether you intentionally believe it or not, just seeing them in that position.

And then, I mean, in my most vulnerable traumatized moment, do I want to be photographed and then have that image replicated over and over again? Absolutely not. Journalists are really trying to get people to pay attention, which means they use the images that get people to pay attention. They use mugshots, they use people in handcuffs, they use people crying. None of these things are good for the person themselves. So I think that the primary issue that a lot of our movement has is that the decision to make a case public is not about the person themselves. And that is a huge problem. Some of our large organizations literally, I think, parade their clients around to talk about their cases. And I hope that they do that thoughtfully, and I hope that they do that with the person’s consent. You can have anything you say be spun when there’s the impetus to do so.

So I think that giving out information is really dangerous, even if it’s something that the person wants. And part of telling someone when you’re preparing them for a case is to say, “Your face is going to be on billboards. You’re going to be recognizable. Some people in this world are going to continue to believe what they believe about you. This could mean you lose your job.” So when I think about a case, I don’t know, if I’m not thinking about the person, it’s very easy to make it public. And if I’m thinking about the person, it’s a very difficult decision. It’s really laying out what that means for somebody and how long-lasting that stuff is and how the internet is kind of forever, and how terrifying and scary that is. And also, someone’s defense can change right up to the moment of trial. And so in some ways, when you tie someone to a public story, you’re tying them to a narrative that now the prosecution can use to claim inconsistencies where they do not exist.

And so we don’t want to give them any fuel. And I think, Renee, I think it’s funny that people reach out to you and say, “Have you heard about this case?” Because I imagine you’ve heard about this before they’ve heard about this, but you’re making a decision in that moment to not talk about it, even though people are looking to hear you talk about it. I think that’s actually really powerful and meaningful. I would love people who are public about their words to say, actually, it’s equally important when not to speak as it is when to speak. And then, yeah, there will be times maybe when someone wants to tell their story, and that better be a really smart strategic move. But I will tell you now, we are not giving the feds their material. We don’t need to do their work for them.

RM: I did want to just jump in and say real quick, part of why we wanted to ask this question is because we want people to think about the role they play when they amplify these stories, whether or not they’ve read them, feel comfortable with what’s in there and what resources should have been shared that weren’t shared. All of these things, because we all are playing a role in our sharing of media and our talking about these stories and things like that.

RBS: Yeah. For me, it just comes down to consent. Did this person consent for their story to be out there? And it’s not clear because I cannot imagine that any of us would like to be known from one of our worst or hardest moments in which someone, the state, said lies about us. That is really, really difficult. And when we work with abortion storytellers, yes, their stories are polished and not in a way of so much like a PR, “let’s make it look good” way. No. What I mean by polished is that we give them the space and time to think about what of their experience they would like out in the public.

And I believe every single person who’s having an abortion deserves that space to be able to figure out if they would like to share their story, first of all, and if they’re going to share, what gets shared with it. One of the things that’s come up in some of the cases that have been in the news is how Facebook has turned over DMs and text messages are being used, and this way in which digital surveillance and social media companies are actually acting as part of the state. Can you talk to us about digital privacy and what are some things that people might not know that police can access and use to bring charges around criminalizing their pregnancy?

Rafa Kidvai: Yeah. The state of surveillance is bad in the world right now, y’all. We’re being surveilled all the time, constantly. It’s just a bad sitch. I think there’s been a lot of focus on things like period tracker apps, on new technologies, fancier technologies to surveil people. I first want to say that I don’t think that’s really where we need to focus. I think all the technology, of course, will continue to get more complex, but the state has everything it needs to surveil us regular shmegular right now. I don’t think technology is really the issue. It’s the desire to surveil. That said, I think we have to remember that everything that we say publicly is so self-evident, will be used and will be brought to proceedings. When I would go over discovery with my clients from the prosecution, people are always surprised that their Facebook screenshot with their cover photo was in the printout.

And it’s like, “Yes, if it’s public and it’s on the internet, trust that it’s going to get taken by the state.” So that’s the first thing you want to think about. I think the second thing you want to think about is your phone. I’m a big fan of using Signal. I like using Delete Me for the Internet. I think we just need to get overall better at using platforms like Signal, because again, it’s not about our actions. If you feel like you are somebody the state wants to target, it might be your abortion, it might be something else, but also trust that they will go through your phone and whether they can search it legally or not, that’s what I like to say. How do you make yourself a safe person is the biggest question. Not what technology will surveil me. Facebook gives up messages and yes, fuck Facebook. And at the same time, those messages were handed over by a person who got afraid of the government, right?

And do we want to blame that person? Yes or no? I don’t know that person, but I can say that the state is pretty powerful, and a police officer coming to a young person and asking them for information with the risk that they too might be punished in some way or impacted in some way, is a valid fear. It’s a human response. And so I think that yes, technology is important. Think about what you’re putting up on your public Instagram for real. Really, really think about it. It’s not about silencing yourself, I think, is how you have to think about it. It’s about shifting the strategy maybe in your mind a little bit to realizing actually, I’m not trying to give them stuff to criminalize me. I think we feel very comfortable giving the government information even when it’s not asking for it. And I think maybe making ourselves a little bit more resilient and learning to say no culturally is where we need to focus around surveillance. So be smart about it if you can. And I know that’s a hard thing to say to people because we’re trying our best.

RM: We’ve talked a bit about abolition. We’ve talked a lot about policing. What would police and prison abolition mean for the reproductive justice movement? What would that look like?

Rafa Kidvai: So one, abortion itself feels like abolition, feels like they’re like twinning. I think that people often think of abolition as breaking things down. And I always like to remind people it’s about building things up. I think the abortion movement and the repro movement has been really good, honestly, about mutual aid and sharing resources and building up systems outside of the state, systems that we can trust. So I think we have some really good foundational stuff down in terms of how we support each other and building up supportive systems. And I think that the second thing that is really powerful about our movement is that I think repro holds attention that people who work with maybe criminalized survivors also hold, which is that I think abolition asks us to think about what true safety is. What is a culture of safety? What does it mean to be safe without replicating these ideas of perpetrator or a victim?

And I think that our movements see people who are survivors and experiencing violence and are being criminalized at the same time often. And so I think it gives us an entry point into really, I think, leaning into abolition because we’ve already done the groundwork of building supportive structures, of building things up where they don’t exist, of holding each other’s secret stories. I know you both hold secrets for people. That’s how I think about it. Being a good person to hold people’s secrets, being a vault, I feel like sometimes that is abolition, and I think we do a really good job of that.

RM: My favorite thing is when I’m telling Renee a secret and she’s like, “I’m actually Tweeting it right now.” Thanks, Renee. Appreciate it. 

RBS: I’m actually X-ing it right now.

RM: Or X-ing it, whatever.

RBS: Okay. So in every episode, we are asking our guests to give a call to action to our listeners. What is a resource you think people listening to this podcast should absolutely check out or contribute to? And it’s okay to mention your own if you’d like.

Rafa Kidvai: Oh yeah, absolutely. I love my resource. I’m going to tell you that I’ve never loved an organization as much as I do mine. So, now is a really scary time, and there’s a lot of confusion about care and access and legal risk. And I feel like I want people to really know that there is a movement that’s been working that didn’t start in the face of Dobbs, that’s been doing this for decades, that knows how to support people, provide resources. We will continue to show up. And so there are two of these resources. The first one is the Repro Legal Helpline, free confidential legal services for abortion and pregnancy outcomes. The number is 1 (844) 868-2812 or reprolegalhelpline.org. And this is the place you want to call if you or a loved one is in legal trouble, or you have a question about the law and abortion. If there’s an emergency, call this number.

And then there’s the Repro Legal Defense Fund, which is the love of my life. And we are who you call when you want money for your case. And we’re an abortion and pregnancy legal defense fund that offers person-centered resources. So we try to solve your problems, not your perceived problems, from bail, to legal fees, to practical support for anyone who’s being punished via the family court systems, the immigration systems, i.e, deportation systems, and then the criminal systems. And that’s reprolegaldefensefund.org. I really like both these resources a lot, not just because I work there, because they’re really, really good at what they do, y’all. We are efficient and thoughtful and compassionate, and really a lot of good stuff. I really, really recommend if people need resources, you can trust that these folks will show up.

RM: Thank you so much for joining us, Rafa. This was fantastic.

Rafa Kidvai: Of course. Thank you for having me. You’re a joy.

RBS: Rafa is just so, so smart, and I’ll be thinking about what they said, especially about surveillance for a very long time. Okay, now it is time for There Are Other Books.

RM: Yes. This is a time for us to uplift stories that aren’t The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel.

RBS: Okay, Regina. You want to get us started?

RM: Yes. So let’s talk about An American Marriage. It’s a book written by Tayari Jones. The book was published in 2018 and centers around the relationship between Celestial and Roy who are married for only a year before their life is changed when Roy is accused of rape. Celestial finds out that she’s pregnant as Roy is incarcerated and decides to have an abortion. But after her abortion, Roy is really angry with her and they’re exchanging letters. And part of the book is the letters that they have between them. So we’re really seeing two characters who are forced into decisions about when and how to grow their family because of systemic racism and the impact that discrimination and prejudice can have on people’s whole lives.

RBS: Yeah, I remember when I read this book shortly after it came out, I identified with Celestial a lot when I had my abortion. It was kind of similar circumstances. My ex-boyfriend at the time, or my fetus daddy as I refer to him, he had been incarcerated for over a year. And I remember taking his nieces up to go see him. And it’s really difficult to take children into that experience to visit a family member. And you want to keep those connections, of course, but having them be patted down by police and there’s no humanity, it was really, really awful. And so when I got pregnant, incarceration or my fetus daddy’s experience of incarceration and my desire to not parent with someone who’s incarcerated was one of the many things that impacted my decision. And so I really identified with Celestial in her decision. I got it, because I know what it’s like.

And even though at the time my fetus daddy was outside, he was not incarcerated, I knew there was a good chance that he could go back in. And I believe he did. And that was just not the way that I wanted to parent and to raise a child. And I know that there are a lot of people who do parent in that way, and it’s hard and they’re making it work. For me, that was not something that I wanted to do, and I also just didn’t want to be in that relationship for a lot of other reasons, because it was toxic and dangerous, too. So anyway, all that to say, I really, really got it with Celestial. I really loved this book, and I think that there’s a really good conversation in this story about how incarceration impacts family building in a lot of different ways.

Whether someone is saying, “Hey, I need an abortion because I’m facing incarceration,” or, “Because I don’t want to parent with someone who’s incarcerated,” or, “I do want to parent because this is my only connection to that incarcerated person, or “I’ve got to figure out how to parent while I’m incarcerated”. It’s all of these things. Regina, what did you think of the book?

RM: Well, part of why we wanted to talk about this specific book in this episode is because as I mentioned, how it highlights the impact of systemic racism on people’s decisions about when to grow their families. And I wanted to highlight because for me, this book brought up a lot around immigration and the storytellers I’ve edited who’ve talked about the way that being undocumented in the US immigration policies also affect their decisions around when to grow their families, because of course, that is directly related to someone being incarcerated or being removed from this country, and threats of deportation, and how they can have their children put into the foster care system as a result of the US immigration policies. You know, Renee, it’s almost as if all of these harmful policies are connected or something. I don’t know.

RBS: Almost. I mean, what I think is really important about this book, but it’s really just a reminder, is that these systems are designed to keep black and brown people down, and yet people are still making decisions under these complicated systems, and they are still finding love, and they are still building families. And so to me, it is a reminder that how beautiful reproductive justice will be in the world when we have it, and that it is trying to thrive even with these structures destroying our lives.

RM: That was perfect. That’s exactly the thought that was in my head. So great. Well, on that note, that’s it for the episode today. For links to any of the articles and books we’ve mentioned, you can visit our website at wearethemeteor.com/theAfiles.

RBS: See y’all next time. The A Files is produced for The Meteor by LWC Studios. Our hosts are me, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Regina Mahone. Our executive producers at the Meteor are me, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Regina Mahone, Cindy Leive, and Tara Abrahams. At LWC Studios, our executive producer is Juleka 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 subscribe 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 for more information, visit our website at wearethemeteor.com/theAfiles. You can follow us on social media @rbraceysherman on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, and @reneebraceysherman on Instagram for me. For Regina, she’s @byreginamahone on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter and Instagram. And you can follow The Meteor at @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. “Abortion Criminalization: Don’t Talk to the Cops!.” The A Files, The Meteor and Lantigua Williams & Co., January 31, 2024. Themeteor.com/theafiles