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'Bans Off Our Bodies' protesters discuss personal experiences with abortion

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Abortion rights supporters gather today in multiple locations across the country for rallies and marches. The events are being organized by Planned Parenthood and other groups in response to that leaked draft opinion that suggests that the Supreme Court is preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion. We're going to hear now from two women who are participating in what's been called the Bans Off Our Bodies Day of Action. Heidi Gordon is a member of the Texas Democratic Women Galveston County Chapter, and she's taking part in events in Galveston, Texas. Heidi Gordon, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

HEIDI GORDON: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Also joining us is Abigail Sweinhart, who works with Planned Parenthood in Cincinnati, Ohio. And Abigail is with us from Lebanon, Ohio. Abigail Sweinhart, welcome to you as well. Thanks for joining us.

ABIGAIL SWEINHART: Yes, thank you so much.

MARTIN: I'm just going to start by asking each of you how this issue touches you personally and why you decided to participate today. Heidi Gordon, let me just start with you.

GORDON: I've always been a proponent of women's rights because I've had an abortion myself, and I've had complications after an abortion. I've seen what women have gone through with their reproductive rights and having them being threatened to be taken away and the fear and the guilt. And I just think that women need a voice.

MARTIN: Can I just say that you're of an age - forgive me for sort of get too specific - but you're of an age where - did you grow up believing that you had a right to an abortion if you needed one or wanted one?

GORDON: Yeah. I grew up in the '80s, and at the time, abortion was, you know, abortion was done. It wasn't something that was widely acceptable where I was from, but, you know, it was done when it needed to be done. So with me, with my situation, I had a high school boyfriend, and I was young and idealistic. And I was in love, and we had an accidental pregnancy. And I thought it was kind of romantic. And again, I was young and idealistic, so I thought he would be happy. And the first question out of his mouth was, you're not going to keep it, are you?

So when I see these male legislators telling women, we need you to stop using this as birth control, I see women, time and again, telling their significant other, I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant, and then having their heart ripped out by their significant other saying, you're not going to keep it, are you? That happens time and again. So my experience has been, and other women's experience has been, it's not the women that are using it as birth control.

MARTIN: Abigail, let's hear your story. What brings you to this event today? What's your connection to this story? Why does this feel important to you to be there today?

SWEINHART: So I like the question that you posed to Heidi. Like, was this always something - was abortion always something that you saw as being accessible? Because I'm 23, so growing up, you know, I grew up with the protections of Roe v. Wade. So it was kind of assumed accessibility until last year, on May 25 of last year, when my hometown of Lebanon, where I've lived my entire life, announced that they were enacting a sanctuary city ordinance banning all abortions in Lebanon, despite the fact that there are no abortion providers.

It was very clearly posturing, and it was a rude awakening of sorts to realize the encroaching threat that there was. So from that day forward, I've been closely involved with Planned Parenthood. So realizing that, you know, there is that need to be proactive and not have that kind of passive voice of, oh, well, I personally wouldn't get an abortion, but I support those who do, I realized just how useless of a stance that was and have since recommitted to this role with Planned Parenthood.

MARTIN: Can I just ask - do you mind if I ask, like, within your family, I mean, one of the points that you were just making is that you grew up with access to abortion as a constitutional right. Have you ever had these conversations with people in your family? I'm just curious, like, what they say about it. Or was that the kind of thing that only became something to discuss because it seems as though there a move to repeal this right?

SWEINHART: For sure. I have grown up in a very religious family, so it was not something that was ever discussed until I sort of personally put my stake into it. And so, you know - well, something that I just cannot get over is that my mother - and I hope she doesn't mind me saying this - she was born in 1966. And, you know, Roe v. Wade being passed in 1973, she's had this access for the majority of her life and for the entirety of mine. And what's really concerning or most pressing to me now is that the majority of my life might not see these rights, and that any children I choose or do not choose to have will also be denied these rights.

MARTIN: Do you feel - I was going to ask, Heidi, are you still with us? What about that? I mean, the idea that your children may - or your grandchildren may have less access than you had or that they may feel even more shame and distress at - if they feel like they need to get an abortion than you did - do you feel - do you think about that?

GORDON: Yeah. Well, I think about my friends' children, my friends' daughters. I cannot have children, and - because after I had my abortion, I had a - even though it was a legal abortion, I had a very bad infection afterward, which caused scarring in my fallopian tubes. So I had ectopic pregnancies, which, according to some of these strict abortion laws, would not have been able to be treated. I had emergency surgery, and I would have bled to death had I not had my ectopic pregnancies removed. So this is another reason why this is so important to me.

MARTIN: Wow. Before we let each of you go, I would like to ask each of you, are you optimistic or pessimistic? Abigail, let's start with you.

SWEINHART: Definitely something that I lack confidence in at this moment. It definitely does seem like Roe v. Wade is going to get overturned, even though we only have a leak, so it's not guaranteed. But I would say that I lack confidence currently towards our regaining of ground. After this call, I am going to be joining the rally in Cincinnati. And I'm hoping that, you know, that collectivism will shift the scales for me. And I'm hoping after, you know, today, after, you know, the engagements, that - because I know we have about 4,000 people RSVP'd to attend the rally in Fountain Square in Cincinnati. So I'm hoping that I will feel encouraged rather than simply attending to commiserate.

MARTIN: OK. Heidi, what about you? What do you feel - optimistic or pessimistic?

GORDON: Well, I guess I'm feeling a little bit optimistic because I am at a rally. But I will tell you that I do feel that Roe will be overturned and the trigger ban will go into effect in Texas and the other 25 states. But I also see that we are doing calls to action in Texas. With all of our rallies, we're going to be registering and calling for people to become voter registers and going door to door where people are not registered and registering voters in areas that are predominantly voting the way we vote. We're going to try and work hard to elect people that will right this wrong. And that's all we can do, and it's going to be slow. So I guess it's mixed optimism and pessimism. I guess it's realism.

MARTIN: That's Heidi Gordon in Galveston, Texas, and Abigail Sweinhart in Lebanon, Ohio. Both of them are participating in rallies in support of abortion rights today. Thank you both so much for being with us today.

GORDON: Thank you for having us.

SWEINHART: Thank you so much, Michel.

MARTIN: Tomorrow on the program, we'll hear how abortion rights has become a key issue in the 28th Congressional District in Texas. The incumbent there is Representative Henry Cuellar. He is the last self-described pro-life Democrat in the House. His primary challenger is Jessica Cisneros, a progressive candidate who supports abortion rights. They're locked in a tight runoff race. We hope you'll tune in tomorrow to hear that conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.