Beyond Roe: Gloria Steinem and Renee Bracey Sherman on How We Got Here and What Happens Next

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Rebecca Carroll Hey, there. It’s Rebecca Carroll. I’m a cultural critic and editor at large at The Meteor, and I’m so happy to be here filling in for Brittany this week. She’s away on an important family matter and she asked me to step in to present a really fantastic conversation she recently had. 

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s the Mississippi case the right wing hopes will overturn Roe v. Wade, and the court, with its new ultra conservative majority, appears likely to do just that. The stakes could never be higher. If Roe falls, abortion could quickly become outlawed in half of all states. 

It’s a really scary time, and in all the words we hear about the situation—trigger laws, shadow dockets, filibusters, what can get lost is that these are real people’s lives we’re talking about. Women’s lives, Black and brown lives, queer lives. So today we’re going to hear from two brilliant storytellers who have made sure that we never lose sight of the people behind the politics. 

Gloria Steinem is a journalist and activist who’s been campaigning for reproductive freedom for more than half a century. In 1972, she and 52 other women published an open letter in Ms. Magazine titled We Have Had Abortions. She later co-founded the campaign group’s Voters for Choice and Choice USA. And at 87, she continues to do the work. And 

Renee Bracey Sherman is a reproductive justice activist who’s known as the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling. She’s the founder of the organization We Testify, which is dedicated to the leadership of people of color, queer folks, and young people who have had abortions. And she led the rally on the steps of the Supreme Court last week. Brittany sat down with them just a couple of days after that. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Wow. I mean, this is the privilege of a lifetime, I’m so glad to be talking to you all. I wish it were under better circumstances, though.

Renee Bracey Sherman Absolutely 

Gloria Steinem Right. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Gloria, let me start with you. Where were you last Wednesday when these oral arguments were coming out? And what stood out to you from those arguments? 

Gloria Steinem Well, I was, you know, here in my house in New York, you know, where I’ve been enclosed for some time, and really in recent times, I haven’t been able to have that much faith in the Supreme Court. I mean, certainly more when Ruth Ginsburg was there. So part of me was super concerned about what was going on, and part of me was saying, OK, we’re going to do what we’re going to do anyway, no matter what the Supreme Court says. You know, I was kind of going back and forth between those two poles. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham So you are at home listening closely, Renee, you are outside in front of the Supreme Court in D.C., where I live. You led the abortion is essential rally with thousands of other people. Put us in that place. What was that like? 

Renee Bracey Sherman Yeah, I mean, the rally, the feeling was electric. It was just beautiful to hear so many people who’ve had abortions sharing our stories, really speaking out. And my voice is a little raspy, left over from chanting so much at the rally, both in love and joy, but also, we had to chant really loudly because our opposition was, was very loud. They were very violent. They came very close to us and were saying very horrific, misogynistic, racist and transphobic things as we were speaking louder, right? Because it’s not only are they not just satisfied with trying to ban abortion, but they are actually actively trying to silence us for speaking out and sharing our stories. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Absolutely. And I want to, I want to talk about what we do now. But first, I want to double click on this theme of storytelling. Gloria, it’s 1972, almost 50 years ago, exactly. And you and 52 other women published that now famous open letter in the first ever issue of Ms. Magazine titled We Have Had Abortions. Put us back in that place. Can you tell me a little bit about the choice to write that manifesto? 

Gloria Steinem A lot of us doing that manifesto had probably already learned in our lives that telling our stories was the most powerful thing we could do. You know, there is the, a saying of tell me a fact, and I’ll forget, tell me a story and I’ll always remember. It also made into a coherent group people who might have felt isolated before. I mean, there’s nothing more important as a starter than being honest about our stories, telling our stories and sharing it with other people. What was in the magazine was an outgrowth of that. Because obviously we couldn’t print everybody’s stories, but we could at least offer to print everyone’s names, which of course, was brave of them to do at that point because it was still illegal. And we were inspired by Simone de Beauvoir, who had done this in France and inspired a whole, you know, hundreds, if not thousands, of women to sign. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Sure. And so the context of just like you said, is incredibly dangerous. Tell us a little bit more about what the abortion landscape was in the moment that you were responding to it with this, with this powerful open letter. 

Gloria Steinem At that point, it varied from state to state, but it was mostly illegal, and the names of doctors who would do this safely were passed around like very precious secrets, and we helped each other to find transportation and safety and accompany each other. You know, I mean, it’s so crazy when you think about it because actually our bodies, and controlling our own bodies, male and female, is the basis of democracy. If we’re missing one thing, it’s the rock bottom statement. If we don’t have power to decide the fate of our own bodies, there is no democracy. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham That is the rock bottom statement. So this article in Ms. Magazine, it certainly creates a storm of controversy, but it also creates a great deal of awareness that helps put on pressure for those folks in those marble buildings. And the next year, the court rules on Roe v. Wade and makes the right to access an abortion legal. And then later you write about your own abortion in England in 1957, when you were just 22 years old. You dedicated your book, My Life on the Road, to Dr. John Sharpe of London, one of those secret names that was written on the piece of paper passed around who helped you obtain that abortion. It’s so powerful because you’re putting yourself in the middle of that story. 

Gloria Steinem Well, I think that’s why our stories, whoever we are, you know, are the most powerful forces we have because they connect at a human level. They show the wide variety of circumstance and people involved. But here’s, here’s what is not happening as far as I can see to the extent that I wander around on campus and look at textbooks and so on. And that is that when we talk about democracy, we don’t start out by talking about the power to make decisions over our own physical selves. And this concerns men, too. You know, there have been cases of men being threatened with or forcibly sterilized, for instance, as a form of punishment. So, you know, we can unify on this, even though it probably happens more often to women. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Yeah. And the way that you’re reframing this story brings me actually to you, Renee. Right. If we flash forward to this moment, you’ve really been reframing and reclaiming the narrative around abortion through the work that you do. You’ve worked with thousands and thousands of people around the world who share their abortion stories. I mean, I got to ask, how did you wind up becoming known as the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling? Like, that is quite a title. 

Renee Bracey Sherman Well, thank you. A friend bestowed it on me. It was actually shortly after Coachella and there was a tweet. I don’t know if you remember, but someone said, ‘whatever you do, be the Beyoncé of what you do’. And so someone said, ‘Oh, you’re the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling’. Because if you think about like, the way in which Beyoncé uses her art to shift the conversation, to get people to think differently about black folks, Black women, Black bodies, how do you use the talents that you have to get people to think differently about your people, right? And so my people, obviously as a Black woman, are other Black women, but are queer and trans people like, right? They’re like folks the color, but particularly my people are people who have abortions and we are people who there are a lot of stories told about us. There’s a lot of myths, um, a lot of really nasty stereotypes about us that are not true. And so we are taking our voice and saying, actually, this is on our own terms, right? Because I think there is a lot of ways in which people try to defend abortion access by stigmatizing us, and saying it’s only three percent of services or nobody really wants an abortion or, well, you don’t want to have too many or people regret their abortions or it’s a hard decision. All of those things, actually, all of those messages are born out of anti-abortion stigma or things that are made up by the anti-abortion movement. And so we are claiming our own power, we’re claiming our stories, talking about them and actually to pay homage to them as magazine spread. We thought about what would it look like to do something similar and make our voices heard at the Supreme Court. So we did an amicus brief with our abortion stories, and had people who’ve had abortions sign on to say, no, we had abortions. This impacts our lives. And we only had it out there for a week. We weren’t even sure how many people would sign on, and it turned out to be 6,641 people saying we had abortions. We will be heard. And this Supreme Court, if you’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade, look at us in our eyes – 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Yeah

Renee Bracey Sherman -as you do it. You have to read every single one of our names 

Gloria Steinem Listening to you Re- It gives me hope because it makes clear to me how contagious stories are because this started when we at Ms. Magazine all that time ago before you were born and listen to the stories collected by Simone de Beauvoir. You know, the signed petition that they did and we did our signed petition. So it’s the contagion of action. It’s the contagion of telling the truth. 

Renee Bracey Sherman Absolutely. And honestly, that is how I got into this work, right? Because someone shared their abortion story with me and I was like: Wow, I’m not alone. When I had my abortion, the only people I knew of who had abortions were one of my cousins and the rapper, Lil’ Kim, I swear I didn’t know, aside from Lil’ Kim, I didn’t know any Black folks who had abortions. But at the rally I got to give flowers to my mother, who didn’t tell me until I’d been doing this work for 4 years that she’d had an abortion before me, and her abortion made my life possible. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Did she tell you why she decided to finally share that and sign on to this brief alongside you and all of these other people? 

Renee Bracey Sherman  Yeah, I mean, I had asked a couple of times in the past, but she was kind of like, Well, I don’t need to talk about it. That’s something you do. And, you know, didn’t really want to talk about it that much. It was just, she was like, I don’t even think about it, right? She said, I didn’t really think about it until you started doing this work. But when I finally after again, she said, ‘Well, I’m so sick of this shit’. Just kind of- my mom does not cuss, and she was just like, ‘I’m so sick of it’, you know? And she was also like, at this point, what is anybody going to say to me? There’s nothing you can say to me that’s going to hurt me for the decision that I made, because I also have, you know, three children: two by birth and one by adoption. And this is how my family’s created and I’m unapologetic about it. And it was really beautiful. As I was working through the names to put in the amicus brief, I was going through all 6,641 names and to see not only my and my mother’s, but also my cousins, and my aunts, just so many people in my family, and just this reminder that our families are made by abortion. 

Gloria Steinem It’s wonderful that you personalize and universalize at the same time, because I think that’s exactly what this issue does for us, but it’s also a source of humor. Flo Kennedy, my old speaking partner, always said that if men could get pregnant, an abortion would be a sacrament. So.

Renee Bracey Sherman I will say, one thing I do when I push is that and what was beautiful about the rally is that we did have trans men sharing their abortion stories. And I think we are pushing this conversation in which we’re having a larger conversation about gender and gender expansiveness in who has abortions. But also, I have been happy to see more cisgender men actually saying, ‘Yeah, my life is made possible by abortion too’. 

Gloria Steinem Yeah. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham  I mean, I’m looking back at the letter in 1972 right now, Gloria. And you wrote ‘to many American women and men, it seems absurd in this allegedly enlightened age that we should still be arguing for a simple principle that a woman has the right to sovereignty over their own body.’ And I really had to, like, wipe my eyes and make sure I was reading it correctly, because you could have written that right now.

Gloria Steinem As you say that, I’m thinking about myself before when I wrote that and realizing I should have known. However, I was not taught this and any of my college, school or high school courses, I should have known that the beginning of patriarchy of- which was not that long ago in this country depends on which part of the world you are, was the source of these restrictions. That they had not existed before? So this is not a new struggle. It’s a struggle against a backlash against an old human right. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Mmm. So perhaps this that we’re still here because the backlash to the freedoms that we want is is is always promised. It will keep coming back 

Gloria Steinem Well and we still have a patriarchal, racist right kind of outlook. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Heteronormative? 

Gloria Steinem [Yeah. I mean, in theory, we’re a democracy and we’ve moved toward it, but we’re not there yet. 

Renee Bracey Sherman Well, and I would say the reason we haven’t conquered is because we haven’t conquered white supremacy, right? I’m working on a book with a colleague of mine, Regina Mahone, and it’s called Countering Abortionsplaining, and it’s all about people of color’s experiences with abortion. And if you actually look at the ebbs and flows of abortion restrictions in history, they actually tie right with Black liberation throughout history, right? The first restrictions came in the 1860s. Well, guess what was happening in the 1860s? Black folks were getting free and it was to push Black midwives out of the labor sector right? And to put American gynecology, white men, on the map. And so then, of course, criminalization was happening. A lot of raids happened in the 1920s and 30s. And then, of course, in the 50s, 60s and then again, once abortion was legalized right, the anti-abortion movement, they had been organizing around segregation, and they could no longer do that. And they tried to pick another issue, right? And so what they wanted to be able to do was go along those same Jim Crow lines and push back against the changing gender norms of the feminist movement. Gloria, you remember, right? But also, of course, against the Civil Rights movement. And as Black people were being able to be more liberated, have more freedom within society. Because here’s the thing we’ve always had in this nation and around the world. Subjugation of black and brown people’s fertility. It was all of a sudden, right, once it was no longer for profit, then it became a problem. 

Gloria Steinem And once again, I think we learned that from stories. I mean, I learned it, I don’t know half a century ago from Fannie Lou Hamer.

Renee Bracey Sherman Exactly.

Gloria Steinem Exactly who was encouraged to have children, even if she didn’t want them because they were underpaid field hands. And once there were mechanized ways of doing that field work and she went into the hospital for something else entirely, I think an appendicitis. She was sterilized without her knowledge. 

Renee Bracey Sherman Right. 

Gloria Steinem So, you know, it’s controlling the means of reproduction in whatever direction it goes, and that happens to be us. 

Rebecca Carroll That was the first part of Brittany’s conversation with Gloria Steinem and Renee Bracey Sherman. Coming up, they talk about the cost of excluding women of color from the abortion rights movement, and where we go from here right after this short break. 


Rebecca Carroll And we’re back. Here’s more of Brittany’s powerful conversation with Gloria Steinem and Renee Bracey Sherman. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham This is really getting into the meat of what I wanted to talk about because we are really connecting the dots on how anti-Blackness led to this anti-abortion movement. But I also want to talk a little bit about what life has been inside the movement, right? Because now we’re getting into this intersectionality conversation, and that’s where I’m like, let’s dig in, OK? Because you know, Renee, historically we have seen a pro-choice movement, however you want to characterize it historically and in some ways currently fail to fully include women of color. What has been the cost of excluding Black and brown women from so many of these spaces? 

Renee Bracey Sherman There’s so much of a cost we can just talk about the brilliance that we lose in this movement because folks are pushed out because we simply are unwilling to put up with the racist microaggressions within our movement. But that’s not on a more granular scale, right? But then that ends up looking like huge mishaps when it comes to policy shift. In her book Life on the Line, Faye Wattleton, she was the first Black president of Planned Parenthood. She talked about how as soon as they put through the Hyde Amendment, she wanted to fight it. But a lot of the leaders, mostly white, at Planned Parenthood, pushed back and said no. So we lost Roe back when we didn’t make sure that everyone had access to abortion at any time or for any reason, particularly Black and brown folks, particularly young people.

And I think that then means that we’re not actually making sure people have access to the health care that they need, that, that really fits the circumstances of their lives. It also means that reproductive justice as a movement right the movement to ensure that everybody has the ability to decide if, when, and how they grow their family and also raise their family free from state sanctioned violence and oppression, that’s been around for 25 years, but it’s only sort of now becoming more mainstream. And honestly, I think it’s really frustrating to see some of it being watered down as just like, ‘Oh, it’s just a term’ . It’s not actually looking at what does it mean, to if somebody is a pro-choice champion, but then doesn’t do anything to expand WIC benefits or SNAP benefits, right? What does it mean for somebody to say that they support abortion access but aren’t making sure that the ICE detention centers aren’t sterilizing folks? That they’re OK with folks being in cages to begin with? It needs to be a larger conversation. I’ve definitely had many conversations with some of my colleagues, particularly white women in pro-choice movement who are like, ‘Well, when we talk about stuff like that, that that’s mission creep or that’s that’s something else, that’s not what we’re working on’. I’m confused as to how you can say that you’re going to argue to make sure that somebody has access to abortion, but not make sure that they got diapers for the kids that they’re raising. I’m confused as to how you can sit here and say that you’re making sure somebody has access to an abortion, but you’re not going to do anything about the fact that, you know, they smoke a little weed and then they get thrown in jail because they’re pregnant, right? As Professor Michele Goodwin talks about in her book Policing the Womb, when the pro-choice movement failed to stand up for Black folks during the so-called crack baby epidemic and they were throwing Black mamas in jail, that was a personhood issue, right? That was a reproductive issue that was making sure people were able to not be thrown in jail simply for the consequences of being pregnant, right? But when the movement failed to show up for that, that again was when we should have had the conversation about personhood and we did not. And so again, we now have a way in which we have a system that criminalizes Black and brown people. And so, you know, I know, like white women love to opine about, Oh my god, we’re getting to The Handmaid’s Tale and all this stuff. Well, guess what? Black and brown folks have been prosecuted for their pregnancies for a long time. There are folks sitting in jail right now on suspicion of miscarriage, or for using drugs while pregnant, and so you can’t have a one track mind. And so when black and brown folks weren’t given space, and leadership were pushed out of our movement. That is what we lost. And so that is how we end up with tons of pregnant folks in jail. Families separated because it’s considered a separate issue. 

Gloria Steinem We also lose the majority of the movement that, you know, because in fact. I mean, from from 1970 forward, I think 1970 was the first time that there was ever a serious national poll about the women’s liberation movement and its goals and so on and so on. It’s been something like 70, some percent supported by women of color and only 5 some percent by white women. Right. So, you know, that makes no sense. I mean, if we’re in a democracy, that should mean that most of the leadership is elected by women of color, 

Renee Bracey Sherman Right, and not just giving us the reins to take over as things are falling apart, which is sort of what’s happening right now. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Come save us. Yeah. 

Renee Bracey Sherman Yeah, and I feel I have to be honest- 

Gloria Steinem That’s interesting. So tell me what makes you feel. I mean, in your heart, that things are falling apart? 

Renee Bracey Sherman Well, I think what’s feeling frustrating- there was there was a lot of work that a lot of folks of color put into the rally that we had and to change the narrative, right? And I wonder what it would look like if organizations like mine and the Black and brown leaders had been funded at the level that white led organizations are funded at 10 years ago, right? Like, my organization is only like $300,000. Meanwhile, there are other organizations that are $20, $30, $45, $450 million organizations. Like we only get pulled in at the very end. The movement would look so different if we were actually given the tools because you can put me on TV as much as you want, but if you don’t actually give me a budget to be able to organize, it’s actually just tokenizing. And that is, I think, what has happened.

Gloria Steinem We should have a separate discussion on fundraising, right? 

Renee Bracey Sherman Yeah, it’s a mess. But I would like to say, what’s what’s hard is that, you know, as you were saying, like in the women’s liberation movement, like there were women of color. But I think what’s what’s challenging and we even see this today, when I go look at photos that folks take of the rallies, there are tons of people of color. But if a journalist only takes a photo of a white woman in a Handmaid’s outfit, or of white people, it erases us from being there. And so one of the projects that we have done in my organization, We Testify, is actually to give media outlets photos of black and brown folks who have abortions, so that we are not erased from this work because we need to be able to document that we were there, and you will not tell us that we weren’t. And I think that is one of the things that feels very, very challenging when I look at-

Gloria Steinem Well, that’s very important. I’m very glad that you’re doing that because this has been a problem with mainstream media, at least from the beginning. The very first March, that I’m aware of anyway, was down Fifth Avenue in 1970, I think. And the next day, the New York Times published a piece saying ‘Oh, it looks like the country and emphasizing how diverse it was and how…’, you know? And a few days after that, both Time and Newsweek put only white women on the cover, ‘

Renee Bracey Sherman Right.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham And of course, the journalists are writing the first draft of history, right? So if they don’t get it then, right then it’s a lot more difficult to get it right. Later on, and I want to come at this question a slightly different way, Gloria, with you because you are a white woman and you’ve been doing the work around reproductive freedom for a long time. While we know these same conversations that we’re having now that Renee is having now, these same pleas that Rene is making now have been being made for a long time. So really, the question is: what is the responsibility of white, cisgender women in leveraging what privilege there is, right? We know that one of them is fundraising, right? What else is, is the work for white women to do? 

Gloria Steinem Well, at the simplest level, I would say when you have a meeting about a particular issue, or when you’re starting a group to address something, make sure that the group that’s meeting looks like the group that is affected, and just don’t do anything until the group is more generally representative. People will say, in my experience, people will say, ‘Well, you know, we’ll start and then we’ll, you know, diversify later’. And I always say, ‘No, you can’t do that’. I mean, because the people who start something own it in a certain way. So, you you have to wait until the group looks like the country or the group you’re serving.

Renee Bracey Sherman Right, like if you ain’t put butter in the pie crust to begin with, you can’t just add it on top. It has to be baked in. It’s just that simple. And I think it says everything about your intentions. Again, one of the things that felt really important to me when, when I started We Testify. We have 90, over 90 storytellers that we work with, 90 percent of whom are black and brown folks. Because the majority of people have abortions are people of color. We have a number of whom are queer and trans, and that’s from the beginning. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham  So here we are in this moment that feels dismal for so many people. Renee, you are right to remind us that it has been dismal for a lot of people for a long time, and the stakes are incredibly high. This is a question really for you both. Do you ever think, Gloria and then Renee, about what direction your life would have gone in if you were not able to access an abortion? 

Gloria Steinem I do. It’s hard for me to imagine. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Hold on, I’m so sorry, can I? Can I just pause for a second, Renee? H-how are you doing? 

Renee Bracey Sherman I’m okay, go ahead, Gloria. 

Gloria Steinem I don’t- I think tears come first. I so wish I could give you a hug right, right.

Renee Bracey Sherman I wish I could give you a hug. It’s been really hard. I feel like as a leader in this movement I like, we have to, like, be stoic all the time and I have been having a really hard time the last couple of days because. I just I mean, I’m in my home and I just look around to everything in my life, all my friends, everything. And what I would not have if I was not able to get the abortion. And I mean, according to the Turn Away Study, I would have, you know, grown to love the child that I had. But that’s not the life that I wanted. And, I think what feels really painful is that I do work with some storytellers who have had abortions but also were unable to get abortions. And not only, you know, obviously they love their children, but they also talk about how difficult their pregnancies were. The anti-abortion movement is kind of like, ‘Well, you just have a kid’. They don’t talk about is that, you know, people have postpartum depression. Like pregnancy can, it shifts literal bones and organs in your body, right? And so to have you be forced to go through that is really, really difficult. And then, of course, this nation, won’t bother to give us paid leave? Won;t bother to do anything? And so I just- I just, I’m so thankful that I was able to have my abortion in my heart all the time just breaks knowing that, you know, there are people who are becoming pregnant right now, not knowing right and not knowing if they’re going to be able to access care. I’ve supported people who are self-managed their abortions because they they are like, I need access. It’s just truly, truly scary that this is something I think people are taking for granted. I had somebody texted me today and say, ‘Well, do you think they’re really going to overturn it?’ I was like ‘Yes, yes, this is real. This is very scary’. And I, my heart just feels for those people who, I get messages, you know, my email or on our website of just they’re, like, I’m scared, I’m pregnant. I don’t know what to do. 

And I want everyone to know that there you know you can self-managed abortion safely with medication abortion. I’ve been on the hotlines. I drive people to their appointments here in D.C., particularly if they need later abortions. I used to work at the national network of abortion funds and volunteer with abortion funds. So I’ve been on those phone calls when people are like, I’m not sure what to do. I don’t have the money. I can’t travel. I don’t know, right? I’ve heard that desperation. I’ve sat with people, held their hands through their abortions when they finally feel that relief of, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get it. And so just like, you know? Thinking about, what’s that like in 2022, it’s not just like, oh, when this is happening, like they can come back with their decision at any point, and that is absolutely terrifying. I hope and pray that that that that’s not the case. But I just know that I would not be who I am if I had to be 19 year old Renee, who had to continue that pregnancy with somebody who was punching in the wall next to her head. Mm-Hmm. And just that’s just not. And I’ll also- I don’t talk about this very much, but, I drank a lot right before my abortion in hopes that it would cause a miscarriage because I, I was 19, I didn’t know anything. And so what I was thinking about when you were asking that question why I started to cry was just like, I think about how scared 19 year old Renee was. And that, you know, nothing would have stopped me, and I’m glad that I had access and that I’m glad that we have safe managed access now. But not everybody knows about it, and that’s what, what terrifies me. So sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off, Ms. Steinem 

Gloria Steinem You know, first of all-

Brittany Packnett Cuningham You don’t know anybody an apology. 

Gloria Steinem No.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham I want to thank you for the gift of your honesty. Yes, Gloria.

Gloria Steinem Absolutely, and you have to say, Gloria, you can’t call me miss, right? 

Renee Bracey Sherman You know, I always told ‘talk to your elders;. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham She did the same thing first time I met her. I get it. Trust me, it’s the Midwest in us, right? We can’t help it. 

Gloria Steinem Oh yeah. I mean, I think that without letting up any pressure on keeping the laws as justice, they should be and the procedures as economically available as they should be with all that goes without saying. But at the other end of that is the clear determination with each other and our own strength that we are going to support each other in doing whatever we fucking well have to do to achieve reproductive choice and freedom for each one of us. So I just worry that sometimes we get too much attention focused on things we can’t control. And yes, we have to do that because only as you point out by massive organizing in the street, as I’m so grateful for you for doing, do, do we have an influence on that. But that there are also things that we can do as individuals. Encouraging notes we can put up on the bulletin board at school or work, discussion groups we can introduce this int,  demystifying the whole process, just as where we started out saying that we have had an abortion. So just interweaving it wherever we are and in a big political sense, saying there is no democracy unless all of us, women as well as men, have decision making power over our own bodies.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham  Mm-Hmm. Gloria, you given us some important critical, provocative next steps. Renee, you have any thoughts to close us out? 

Renee Bracey Sherman Yeah, I would just say to everyone listening: Think about how far you would go and what you would do to make sure that someone you love has access to an abortion. And do those things, right? And that can be as simple as telling them that you love them, and showing up and talking about your values. For those who had abortions, you know, when you feel ready, share your stories, but also, give of your time and energy to local abortion funds. Go to keep our clinics that work to show up for the independent abortion providers and the clinics. Like, we need everybody to show up and show out because, you know, without abortion funds, without clinics, like folks can’t travel, there’s no clinics for them to go to. And then, of course, like, give high fives and kudos to your champions, your political champions who are doing the right thing. Like in my home state of Illinois, where they now, they change the law, right? They got rid of parental notification and they have Medicaid coverage of abortion. So, there are really great things that can happen on the local, county, state level. But that means that folks have to take this seriously and get involved. and just remember that, you know, everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion. 

Gloria Steinem And I would say that too, that sometimes we forget to state this right from another point of view, which is that everyone has the right to be born, loved and wanted. everyone. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Everyone. 

That is the perfect place to close. And I just want to say thank you from the deepest part of me to the both of you because you are holding power for people who are not ready yet to share their stories. And I just have the deepest gratitude for you both, for this conversation, and for who you are in the world. 

Gloria Steinem Oh, Brittney, Renee, I think I can speak for you, right? We are grateful to her, right? Yeah. 

Renee Bracey Sherman Yeah, thank you for bringing us together. And you know, it’s an honor because I’ve never been in conversation with Gloria. So, you know, 

Gloria Steinem And I with you I mean, this is great, right? It is. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham hank you both so much. 

Rebecca Carroll That was Brittany’s conversation with feminist icon Gloria Steinem and reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman. You can learn more about both their work at and follow Rene’s organization by going to

That’s it for today. But as Brittany says, never for tomorrow. 


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Matlow. 

Our associate producer is Alexis Moore. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen, and Hannis Brown. 

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Cindi Leive, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow Brittany at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. I’m Rebecca Carroll. Stay UNDISTRACTED.