What Happens Now? Gloria Steinem and Renee Bracey Sherman on the Future of Abortion

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. Now, you know, I’m on parental leave, which has been such an incredible joy. A bit of a sleepless joy. But listen, every time I look in baby M’s eyes and I watch these bright beautiful eyes of his just discover the world for the first time. I know everything is going to be okay. And I need that reminder because as the world keeps turning, rough things keep happening.

Something happened this week. Y’all know what happened this week, and I knew we needed to talk about it. So I wanted to pop back in for a second. Late Monday night, while we all thought we were just going to be watching pretty dresses on the Met Gala red carpet, Politico published a document that had been leaked from the Supreme court.

The draft of an opinion showing the court is planning on overturning Roe v. Wade. They took a preliminary vote and it looks like this is the direction things are moving in. Now I want to be clear. Abortion is still legal. If you have an appointment for reproductive care, you can keep it. This is just a draft, but I have to tell you how I felt when I read that news alert.

Like a lot of you, I felt unsurprised and still absolutely enraged. And in particular, I felt the fire of a thousand generations past rising up in me. When I read these words from Justice Alito in the draft. And while some rights are quote “Not mentioned in the Constitution, any such rights must be deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.”

Y’all know what other rights aren’t deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition, right? Of course you do. Like, you know, I don’t know, marriage equality. Women and Black folks voting. Indigenous personhood, access to birth control, integrated schools. Hell, I would be three-fifths of a person as far as our history and tradition is concerned.

And that’s exactly why he’s saying it this way. And Justice Alito and his little friends, they know that. This is all purposeful. This kind of constitutional originalism is just code for white supremacist patriarchy. And this has been their plan for literal decades. To come for all of us. You know, when the religious right lost their battle to keep schools segregated years later, they picked abortion as their favorite little wedge issue.

I mean, what the hell is a human right if it can just be washed away with the stroke of a white dude’s pen and a few votes, mostly from dudes. But here’s the thing, and there is a thing. Organizers and activists, advocates have been warning us of this for years. And I, for one, have been listening, I knew it was going to rain.

So, I pack an umbrella. We’ve been talking about abortion at UNDISTRACTED since day one. On purpose. And last December, we had a very special conversation on this issue that really, really moved me. I’ve been revisiting that episode for the last few days to pull strength and inspiration and, and most importantly action.

So, I wanted to share some of that with you too. And I hope that it does the same for you because y’all we need all the strength we can get right now. Despair is tempting, but it’s not an option. When we choose despair, the opposition wins. But we are UNDISTRACTED.

Back in December of last year, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And a few days later, reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman was on the steps of the Supreme Court rallying thousands of people in support of Roe. The speakers told their abortion stories, making very clear what the stakes would be if the courts ruled against Jackson Women’s Health and overturn Roe v. Wade.

Ayanna Pressley: These policies are intended to trap the most marginalized in systems of oppression and poverty. None of this is by happenstance.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Today, thanks to what we now know about the Supreme Court’s plans, none of this is hypothetical. Sometimes they do you a favor when the opposition tells you their plans, we know this is real, and that makes the conversation I had at the end of last year with Renee and Gloria Steinem even more salient. 

Gloria Steinem, of course, is a journalist and activist. An absolute legend who’s been at 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”. And Renee Bracey Sherman is a legend in the making. She’s also known as the Beyoncé of abortion storytelling. We’ll get into why in a minute. 

She’s the founder of the organization We Testify, which is dedicated to shifting people of color, queer, and young voices to the forefront when it comes to conversations about abortion. Here’s the conversation we had last December when the case was first.

Gloria, it’s 1972, almost 50 years ago, exactly. and you and 52 other women publish 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’s the saying of telling 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’ve 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.

But within 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 Uh, done this in France and inspired a whole, uh, you know, hundreds, if not thousands of women to sign.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Sure. And so the context of this, like you said, is incredibly dangerous. Tell us a little bit more about what the abortion landscape was in the moment that you are 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 Cunningham: 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 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 Cunningham: 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 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. Um, a friend was doted on me.

It was actually shortly after, uh, 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 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 our queer and trans people, like right, there, like folks of 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 are a lot of ways people try to defend abortion access by stigmatizing us and saying it’s only 3% 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, reclaiming our stories, talking about them and actually to pay homage to the Ms. 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. As you do it, you have to read every single one of our names.

Gloria Steinem: Listening to you. 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 of ago, before you were born, listen to the stories collected by Simone de Beauvoir.

You know, the sign petition that they did and we did our sign 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. And I had my abortion.

The only people I knew of who had 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 four years, that she’d had an abortion before me and her abortion made my life possible.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Did she tell you why she decided to finally share that and sign onto 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. She said, I didn’t really think about it until you started doing this work. But when I finally asked her again, she said, well, I’m so sick of this shit. It’s just kinda, 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 does anybody going to say to me?

There’s nothing you did 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 is 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 mine 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. It’s also a source of humor. Flo Kennedy, my oldest speaking partner always said that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Renee Bracey Sherman: I will say one thing I do want to push is that, um, 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 and who has abortions.

But also I have been happy to see more cis-gender men actually saying, yeah, my life has made possible by abortion, too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: 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 in 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, it depends on which part of the world you are. Was the source of these restrictions that they had not existed before. So this is, is not a new struggle. It’s a struggle against a backlash against an old human right.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Um, so perhaps it’s that we’re still here because, um, the backlash to the freedoms that we want is always promised. It will keep coming back. 

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

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: 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 Abortion Planning. 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. 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 started 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.

Um, you remember, righ?. But also of course, against the civil rights movement and as Black people, were 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 peoples’ 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 that I didn’t know, half a century ago from Fannie Lou Hamer. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Exactly.

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

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Um, that was the first part of my 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. 

And we are back. 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 getting into this intersectionality conversation, then that’s where I’m like, let’s dig in. Okay. 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 on a, 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, uh, she was the first Black president of Planned Parenthood. She talks 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, if, 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 healthcare that they need, 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 the term. It’s not actually looking at what does it mean to us if somebody is a pro-choice champion, but then doesn’t do anything to expand with 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 okay with folks being in cages to begin with, it needs to be a larger conversation. And I’ve definitely had many conversations with some of my colleagues, particularly white women in the pro-choice movement who are like, well, when we talk about stuff like that, that’s that’s mission creep or that 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, you know, 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 I, you know, I know like white women love to up high in 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 the 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 sensitive issue.

Gloria Steinem: And then we also lose the majority of the movement because, you know, because in fact, I mean, 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 something percent supported by women of color and only 50 something percent by white women. 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 Cunningham: Come save us. 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah, and 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 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 happened. 

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

Renee Bracey Sherman: Yeah. That’s a mess. I would like to say 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 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 this. 

Gloria Steinem: 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 then a few days after that, both Time and Newsweek put only white women on the cover. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: 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 later on. And I, 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 the same conversations that we’re having now, that Renee is having now. These same pleas that Renee’s making now have been being made for a long time. So really the question is, what is the responsibility of white cis-gender women in leveraging what privileged 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 have to wait until the group looks like the country or the group you’re serving, 

Renee Bracey Sherman: Right. Like you have to 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 I started We Testify. Um, we have 90, over 90 storytellers that we work with. Ninety 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 Cunningham: 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. And 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 Cunningham: I’m so sorry. Can I, can I just pause for a second, Renee? Hi. Hi. How are you doing? 

Renee Bracey Sherman: I’m okay. Go ahead, Gloria.

Gloria Steinem: I think tears come from. I so wish I could give you a hug.

Renee Bracey Sherman: It’s been really hard. I feel like as a leader in this movement, we have to be stoic all the time. And I’ve 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 at 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 like, that’s not the life that I wanted. And I think what feels really painful is that I do work with some storytellers who’ve had abortions, but also were unable to get abortions. And not only, you know, obviously they love their children, but like, 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 to 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’m just so thankful that I was able to have my abortiong. 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 text me today and say, well, do you think they’re really going to overturn it? And 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 from, 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 they’re, you know, you can, self-manage their abortion safely with medication abortion. Um, I’ve been on the hotlines. I drive people to their appointments. here in DC. Uh, 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 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’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 the wall next to her head and just, that’s just not. 

And I also 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 was 19, I didn’t know anything. And so what I was thinking about when you were asking that question where I started to cry, it 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 in that. I’m glad that we have safe self 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. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham:  You don’t owe anybody an apology. I want to thank you for the gift of your honesty. 

Gloria Steinem: Yes, absolutely. And you have to say Gloria. You can’t call me Ms Steinem. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: You know, you’re always taught how to talk to your elders. She did the same thing first time I met her, I get it. Trust me. It’s the Midwest in us. We can’t help it. 

Gloria Steinem: Yeah. I mean, I think that without letting up any pressure on keeping the laws as just as they should be and the procedures as economically available as they should be with at 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 and 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 is I’m so grateful for you for doing,  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 into. 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, and, uh, 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 Cunningham: Gloria you’ve 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, 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. Um, for those of you that 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 keepourclinics.org that \ 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, 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 changed the law, right?

They got rid of, uh, parental notification and they have Medicaid coverage of abortion. So, there are really great things that can happen on the local counties, state level. But that means that folks have to take this seriously and get involved. And just remember that, you know, everyone knows 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. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: 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: No, Brittany. Renee, I think we can speak for you, right? We are grateful to her, right?

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

Gloria Steinem: I’m with you. I mean, this is great, right? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: It is. Thank you both so much.

Gloria Steinem is a writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist icon. Renee Bracey Sherman is a reproductive justice activist icon in the making and the founder of We Testify.

Uh y’all know, I just became a mom and yes, access to abortion is just as important to me now, as it has ever been. My legal autonomy over my body and my access to birth control and family planning are absolutely the reason I was able to have our sweet baby M when I and my family were ready to provide the life he deserved, none of that would have been possible without the people who have fought to preserve and protect Roe. I absolutely do not want to live in a world where our choices are limited, our right to privacy is viscerated, and our access to abortion is non-existent. It is a medical procedure and those who want and need one should always be able to get it and get it safely. Period.

Renee’s called to think about how far you would go to make sure someone you love has access to abortion. It’s different this week. So, what can we do? What are we going to do? What will we do, especially to support the most marginalized. They’re going to be a ton of answers to that question, but for right now, the work may look different for each of us.

If you have the financial resources, give to abortionfunds.org. The National Network of Abortion Funds will split your donation across the more than 80 funds that help people get access to reproductive care. It’s the local grassroots work that needs our support the most right now. If you are inclined to share your personal experience, go to wetestify.org to share your abortion story,

That’s Renee’s organization, and you can add your voice to the growing community of people who are dispelling the shame around abortion with the reality of their lived experience. If you can contribute your physical presence in the streets, find actions all across the country, under the Bans Off Our Bodies hashtag. When you’re out there, stay masked up so disabled people can safely join you and don’t bother engaging with right-wing media or counter protesters. They are simply there to twist your words and your work. Don’t give them the energy. 

If canvassing is more your thing, find a candidate challenging an anti-choice incumbent to volunteer for it. That might include Jessica Cisneros in Texas who’s challenging the house’s last anti-choice Democrat. Good riddance. If you’ve got a phone and you don’t mind using it, call the Senate switchboard and tell them to pass HR 37 55, the Women’s Health Protection Act. It’s already been passed by the house, and it’s meant to codify Roe in the law for any and everybody who needs it. And while you’re at it, call President Biden and tell him to use his power to push for the end of the Senate filibuster, so the bill can actually pay.

And if you’re supporting someone who’s pregnant, but doesn’t want to be, help them find abortion access that Ineedana.com. Remember, abortion is still legal here in the United States of America. The tangled web of restrictions, bans, scare tactics, internalized shame, even among pro-choice politicians that might make it seem like it’s not the case, but it is. 

These are the times when we save us. Now and forever.

You know, I say this every week, but it means something a little different right now. 

That’s it for today, but never ever for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

This episode was produced by Rachel Matlow and Rachel Ward. 

Treasure Brooks is our correspondent.

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Hannis Brown, Davy Sumner, and Raj Makhija.


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

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media or our team @TheMeteor, who’s dedicated to keeping you abreast of all things Roe v. Wade. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you check out your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. And especially right now, thanks for doing.  I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Let’s go get free.