Worried Your Vote Can’t Protect Reproductive Rights? Mutual Aid Can (and Does)

Four years since the election of President Donald Trump, the worst fears of reproductive rights advocates were seemingly realized with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, cementing a 6-3 anti-choice majority to gut access to reproductive care and potentially even criminalize abortion. Naturally, Barrett’s confirmation was followed by reinvigorated calls for voting as the sole solution to the crisis we now face, to prevent even more dangerous judicial appointments on the federal level, and abortion bans on the state level.

Voting can serve as critical damage control — we know a President Joe Biden would support funding for reproductive care and appoint only judges and Justices committed to reproductive rights. And up and down the ballot, plenty of candidates and ballot measures go beyond reducing harm and make real, positive change, especially on the local and community levels.

Yet, many of the crises we’re being warned about with this new 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority — discrimination against LGBTQ folks, people struggling to afford health care if the Affordable Care Act is gutted, and, certainly, people not being able to have abortions — already exist. From abortion funds, to legal defense funds, to mutual aid networks, the solutions already exist, too, due to the work of people who have long felt their communities are left behind by elected officials, and denied the full actualization of long-standing legal rights.

Across the country, mutual aid networks have long put in the work of moving wealth, and creating funding and logistical arrangements for people to afford abortion care and contraception, as well as transportation, lodging, and child care to reach these resources. In a country where 90 percent of counties lacks an abortion provider, funds have created the infrastructure for low-income people to cross abortion deserts, or regions where one clinic serves over 100,000 people of reproductive age. Some funds have even created special resources for trans people who face added barriers to reach abortion and other sexual and reproductive health care, as well as legal support and other resources for minors and young people to get care, too.

Abortion funds across the country last year supported 56,155 people seeking care, all amid a backdrop of unprecedented state-level abortion bans and restrictions being passed. Several funds in different states reported collaborating to help people travel across state lines to get care, and for funds in some regions, the majority of clients served were people of color. Throughout the crisis of COVID-19 this year, funds have spoken out about how much more urgent their work has become, especially as more people have lost their jobs, savings, or insurance, and all the existing barriers to get care have only worsened.

Groups like this have existed since before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, and adapted their work to new political realities following the decision, through bans on coverage of reproductive care, rampant legislative attacks and closures of clinics, and even the continued criminalization and punishment of people who have abortions or lose their pregnancies, and need legal support. Amid COVID-19 and the shuttering of clinics across the country in recent years, community advocates and aid networks have helped educate and facilitate crucial access to abortion pills, which are FDA-approved and allow people to safely end a pregnancy at home without the necessity of traveling to a clinic.

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Mutual aid and community care have always existed as a response to the devastating inevitability of state violence. After all, state violence is more than incidents of racist police brutality — it also encompasses the government’s failure to ensure access to basic resources like health care and especially reproductive care, most often for the poor and communities of color. State violence certainly encompasses government policies that deny people bodily autonomy and coerce their pregnancy and reproduction. The inextricable connection between violence and the state, especially for people of color, has led many to be dubious about looking to the state and elections for easy solutions, and instead, create solutions in their own communities outside of the government.

Because of these long-standing mutual aid efforts, the infrastructure to address the crises we face today is already there. To make a real difference, we should invest in what already exists, and the people and groups who have been doing the work.

Following the confirmation of Barrett to the court, like we saw after the confirmation of previous Justices who threatened Roe and other human rights, many social media users shared plans to hoard emergency contraception and birth control pills, or start crowdfunding for others’ abortions and travel across state lines, as well as legal fees if needed. But rather than personally try to reinvent the wheel and divert attention and resources from people who have long been doing the work, we should listen to their expertise on how we can support the work they’re already doing.

And for starters, on top of financially contributing to and volunteering with funds and other mutual aid networks, we could also simply not hoard basic resources like Plan B, which already can be costly and inaccessible, and would become even more so in scarcity.

Participating in elections, and especially elections like this year’s, will always be critical to the fate of the country and its most marginalized — after all, elections and voter suppression are what pushed us to this very point of reckoning. With the Supreme Court poised to potentially uproot life as we know it in America, voting by itself might fix some things, but it can’t fix everything.

Investing our money and effort into community care can go further than just relying on elections and institutions that have always upheld a status quo of oppression. None of us can do everything, or single handedly ensure everyone gets the care they need — but we can all find and contact our local funds, and learn about ways to volunteer, either for their hotlines, or to help with transportation, lodging, child care, fundraising, and other needs. We have to do more than put all our faith into a system that’s working as it was designed to marginalize women, people of color, and queer and trans folks. Instead, let’s recognize the transformative power and potential of mutual aid and direct action, starting in our communities.

Kylie Cheung is a freelance writer and columnist who has written extensively about the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, reproductive rights in the Trump era, and the #MeToo movement, with bylines in Teen Vogue, Salon, Alternet, Bustle, DAME Magazine, The Mary Sue, Feministing, and others; her book A Woman's Place is out now.

Kylie has written 2 articles for us.

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