How to Protect Yourself When Abortion Is Illegal: A Q&A With Robin Marty

How to Protect Yourself When Abortion Is Illegal: A Q&A With Robin Marty

How to Protect Yourself When Abortion Is Illegal: A Q&A With Robin Marty

In her new book Handbook for a Post-Roe America, Robin Marty provides a blueprint for accessing reproductive-health care and fighting for your rights in a country where abortion has become a crime.


Forty-six years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, Robin Marty, a writer and reproductive-rights activist, has published a guidebook helping readers to plan for its demise. Handbook for a Post-Roe America emerged from a Twitter thread Marty wrote after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was long seen as the fifth vote to protect the ruling. Now that Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh is in Kennedy’s seat, Roe is more vulnerable than ever. In the book, Marty sketches a variety of ways in which Roe could fall, but they’re all similarly bleak: if, or as Marty argues, when the Court overturns the ruling, around 22 states will almost instantly criminalize abortion, forcing countless pregnant women to face prosecution in their own state or travel hundreds of miles—just in one direction—to receive care. The implications of this are overwhelming, but they’re not entirely unprecedented. “While Roe and the cases that preceded it made birth control and abortion legal,” Marty writes, “they did nothing to curtail the coercive power our government wields over the bodies of those who can give birth.”

This book is for everyone, Marty told me, but she wrote it primarily with newly mobilized activists in mind—people with relative privilege, who may not have been directly impacted by the hundreds of abortion restrictions that have been put in place in the decades since Roe. Before her book’s January 15 release, in time for Roe’s 46th anniversary on January 22, I spoke with Marty about how these new activists can avoid surveillance, plan for their own reproductive emergencies, and support organizations that have already spent decades fighting for reproductive rights.

Glyn Peterson: Now that the Supreme Court no longer has the votes needed to uphold Roe v. Wade, which bans and restrictions are you watching closely?

Robin Marty: There are a number of D&E bans. D&E is the way that abortion is usually performed after the first trimester, and the anti-abortion movement has proposed that the process is cruel to the fetus. We’ve already had a federal court that said that this is not a constitutional ban, but there’s a very strong possibility that the Fifth Circuit will say that it is, in which case we have conflicting cases that will go up to the Supreme Court for review. That’s probably the most likely one. We’re also seeing these heartbeat bans and we know that there are at least three more states that are going to be introducing them in the next legislative session. They’re trying to find a federal court that will say that a heartbeat should be looked at as a point [where] abortion can be banned. And in that case, a heartbeat ban might make it up to the Supreme Court as well.

A more likely way that abortion will get limited is that the Supreme Court will essentially decide to ignore abortion laws that are unconstitutional, allowing them to go into effect in their states. By doing that, the Court could essentially outlaw or almost completely outlaw abortion without actually having to directly overturn Roe.

GP: Do anti-choice organizations seem emboldened by the new composition of the Supreme Court?

RM: Oh God, yes. Yes, yes, yes. They are unbelievably excited.

GP: How do you recommend that women in states where abortion will likely be further restricted prepare for their own future reproductive needs and emergencies?

RM: If you are a person who’s capable of becoming pregnant, you should go ahead and blueprint what you would need to do in a worst-case scenario. It’s not really that different than coming up with a plan for an earthquake. If you can, put aside money, because an abortion, especially when it’s not covered by insurance, is a pretty expensive medical procedure. It’s usually around $500, and if you add travel on top of it, it’s going to be more. And that’s one of the reasons why I made maps in the book—you should figure out which state where you would be able to access care is nearest to you. It sounds ludicrous, but that’s the kind of future we have to plan for now.  

GP: You write that after Roe is overturned, once people see “the actual impact of no longer having legal abortion available, there is a strong possibility that voters and legislators will realize that total bans do far more harm than good.” What aspects of a total ban will be jarring enough to change minds, when it is already nearly impossible to access an abortion in certain corners of the United States?

RM: Once abortion is completely illegal, all miscarriages are going to be looked at as suspect. We’re going to see a lot more instances where people find themselves facing jail time over ending a pregnancy themselves or accidentally ending a pregnancy themselves, as Purvi Patel or Bei Bei Shuai have. We’re going to see that prosecutors will get to decide for themselves who they do and don’t follow up with when investigating for criminal charges. As that continues to happen—and it will happen far more frequently because there will no longer be accessible abortions—stories of people who are unjustly being put into jail or who are putting their own health at risk are going to get out. They are going to garner sympathy as they pile up in the way that they did in the 1960s and ’70s.

GP: Even though one in four people who have the ability to become pregnant will have an abortion, the topic is often shrouded in fear and shame. It remains rare to, as you put it, talk “candidly and explicitly about real abortion experiences.” How can we effectively fight this stigmatization around abortion after Roe, when the procedure will be illegal in large swaths of the United States?

RM: That’s a really great question. Obviously, the people who are in states where abortion is legal will be asked to carry the burden of telling the stories of why they needed it. People who are in states where it is not legal, when they can, should share their stories about how much effort was required to leave the state in in order to get a legal abortion. But what we really need is people who are in states where abortion is not legal, who can talk about their own experiences with self-managed abortion to amplify the fact that this is a thing that anybody should be able to do. That is a story line that will really change the way people look at self-managed care and also whether this particular way of getting an abortion should continue to remain illegal. The problem is going to be, what people are going to publicly announce that they did that? And that goes into the section of my book about doing civil disobedience and whether you personally can say, “I can break the law publicly, because I have all of these aspects of privilege that I can use.” If we can get that into the system, then I think we’ll be able to change the narrative over this idea of clandestine dangerous abortions.

GP: In addition to sharing stories of self-managed abortions, what act of civil disobedience do you foresee being the most necessary and impactful in the coming years?

RM: I have no doubt that there’s going to be an active network of people who are making sure that medication abortion gets to the people who need it when they need it. I don’t know exactly how that’s going to work. I think an on-the-ground network will do it and people will need to participate in order for care to get to who it needs to get to. That’s going to be an extremely important but also an extremely dangerous act of civil disobedience.

GP: In your book, you refer to the Internet as a “double-edged sword,” in that it can be incredibly useful, but it also makes it easier to find evidence to prosecute people.

RM: This should be made extremely clear: Getting information on abortion is legal. Information on how to do abortions, information on where you can get abortions—all this information is completely legal. But if you send an e-mail to somebody saying here are the World Health Organization protocols for ending a pregnancy with medication and that person ends up then having a miscarriage, then that’s where you can start getting into trouble. If somebody investigates your e-mails, then you could be found to be an accessory, depending on what sort of laws have been passed. I think probably the best thing that a person can do if they have Internet access at home is make sure that they clear their browsers often, make sure that when they’re talking and texting that they’re doing it over encrypted programs like Signal and WhatsApp, and that when they are making phone calls to clinics, that they are sure to erase the call data from their phones.

GP: In terms of financial support, do you have any suggestions for ways to make donations go the furthest?  

RM: First, is find a local group if you can. The second thing is, if you have the ability to make one large donation, give a recurring donation instead. Not having to put the effort into fundraising because the organization knows the money is already there will directly amplify the amount that you gave them.

If we believe that people should get to decide when and if they carry a pregnancy to term, we’re all going to have to put our money where our mouths are.

GP: And in this case, more than money.

RM: Yes, our money, our pills, our bodies, our legal freedom. That’s why [the book includes] a checklist of the things you need to think about before you do something that could end you up in jail. And I think that’s probably one of the most important things that a person can read in the book. You need to make sure that you take care of your family—and then you can put yourself and your privilege on the line.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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