I Lead An Abortion Fund in the South. My Work Just Got Harder But More Important

·6 min read

I was 16 years old when I had my first abortion. I’d been sexually assaulted and got pregnant. I told my mom that I needed an abortion and she said no. So I had to tell my dad, and he took me to my appointment in Jacksonville, FL, where I lived. On the way home from the clinic, he threw out my birth control prescription and told me I needed to keep my legs closed. Later, I tried to get birth control from my pediatrician, who was Catholic, and he refused because of my parents; he said I didn’t need to be having sex.

I had my second abortion at 17. I had a boyfriend who I was having consensual sex with, and we needed emergency contraception. But the pharmacy wouldn’t let him buy Plan B. I knew my parents wouldn’t allow me to have another abortion. I went to the Yahoo! Answers message board, where I started talking to strangers to figure out how I could get one without their approval.

The only option for people under 18 in Florida who don’t have parental permission was what’s known as a judicial bypass, where a judge decides in court. The process can take up to a month, and you’re at the mercy of the attorney who takes your case as well as the judge who hears it and makes the decision based on whether you are mature enough to have an abortion. It’s so arbitrary — like your GPA is too low, so you’re not academically smart enough to decide to end your pregnancy.

This was 13 years ago — things have only gotten worse. North Florida, specifically Jacksonville, is more like Southern Georgia. It’s conservative. Anti-abortion sentiment has always been a reality here. I think it has a lot to do with the states surrounding it. Local legislators want to emulate some of these other states; that’s where the erosion of abortion rights has really happened. We’re lucky as Floridians to have a state constitutional protection for abortion, so it’s still legal in Florida, but we’re the only state in the south where it will be, so more people will be coming here for abortion. This is where abortion funds like Florida Access Network (FAN), where I am co-executive director, will come in.

I believe it is super important to follow the lead of those of us already doing this work, especially people with lived experiences with abortion and people who are most-impacted by abortion restrictions. This is FAN, a team of mostly queer people of color who have had abortions.

As an academic, getting my master’s degree in social work, I learned about this. But I also lived it. I understood the history of colonial forced sterilization in Puerto Rico, where I’m from; all my maternal elders had their tubes tied by the time they were in their mid-20s. I’ve been living reproductive justice. This is not theoretical. That’s why it’s so important for me. This is my life and the people who I love, so I need to take up space.

I started telling my story because I saw how important it is for people like me, Latinas, and people with my lived experience as a survivor, to share. I told my story to Congress last November. It’s a complex decision to decide to put your life out there. I feel like it has become my personal responsibility. And that’s the way that I advocate and show up for other people who can’t share their story, don’t want to, and who shouldn’t have to.

It’s a complex decision to decide to put your life out there. I feel like it has become my personal responsibility. And that’s the way that I advocate and show up for other people who can’t share their story, don’t want to, and who shouldn’t have to

In a way, I’ve been doing this a lot of my life. When I got my abortion as a teenager, I was open about it with my friends. So when my best friend got pregnant when we were 17, and she needed an abortion, I let her borrow money, and I took her to the appointment. I was not involved with the movement; I had no idea that networks existed. But sharing my story meant that my friend felt safe enough to share hers with me. And that is central to dismantling abortion stigma.

Abortion stigma makes us believe that we’ve done something wrong that we should be punished for. I internalized that. I felt like I had to do everything that I could to make sure that my life was worth it, and that my eternal hellfire (because of my abortion) was preventable. But people feel abortion stigma in many different ways. Those complex reasons are our own and shouldn’t be perpetuated onto anybody else. Your abortion decision is yours. Abortion stigma is so harmful and one of the biggest barriers outside of access and cost because it turns an individual health decision into a social and moral one.

Can you imagine if you needed to schedule an appointment to get your wisdom teeth taken out and no one would take you because they don’t believe in wisdom teeth surgery? It’s not to trivialize abortion, but it’s to really look at the way that abortion stigma impacts even that — that some people can’t reach out to the people in their lives to help. 

Abortion stigma is so harmful and one of the biggest barriers outside of access and cost because it turns an individual health decision into a social and moral one.

At an abortion fund, you’re not only trying to help someone navigate their abortion and the political and financial barriers, but also the social ones. If you’re considering an abortion, there’s a network of people out there who are there to provide compassionate support and make sure you can go through this with dignity. And that will be true even though Roe has been overturned. Abortion providers are the biggest providers of abortion care in this country. Supporting abortion funds and organizations that provide direct support will make sure people can pay for their appointments and get to their appointments.

We also need to change our language around abortion; we need to reclaim abortion as a word without stigma. Abortion is not the Tooth Fairy or Santa. It’s not something that you choose to believe in. Abortion is healthcare, and it’s essential to everybody. Pregnant people’s lives should not be interfered by the government, period. When you create laws around abortion, you’re giving room for somebody else to make decisions about your life. At the end of the day, no one should be interfering with the ability for you to make decisions about your body and about your reproductive health.

Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro is the co-executive director of the Florida Access Network

As told to Carli Whitwell

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