Looking Back and Moving Forward: Part Three in Our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for part three in our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable! As I’ve mentioned before, this is an ongoing series on my blog, as affected authors in the horror community discuss their reactions to the loss of Roe vs. Wade. For each installment, I invite a different set of writers to share their stories and reactions to this historical and devastating setback in human rights.

And with that, I’ll let this week’s interviewees take it away!

There are so many things to talk about right now, but first and foremost, how are you doing personally? How has the overturning of Roe affected your life so far? How has it affected your family and friends?

JOE KOCH: Thank you for asking, Gwendolyn! I am equal parts unsurprised and shocked; exhausted and charged up to fight. It’s a bit like PTSD. As a person with a former career in reproductive rights, I’ve seen the anti-autonomy activists work on controlling the language about bodily autonomy in the media and use savvy lawyers to whittle away at human rights at the state level all across our country for decades. Over twenty years, I saw laws passed imposing parental consent, adding burdensome waiting periods, and forcing patients to undergo unnecessary and expensive medical tests with all sorts of bureaucratic hoops to jump through simply to access basic healthcare. All of these things target less privileged patients the most.

Advocating for patients and being ready to fight was my everyday life for years! My nice little white collar job involved walking past protestors,including a guy with an assault rifle because I lived in an open-carry state. I listened to stories from patients about how they got pregnant and why they didn’t want to give birth, stories they were terrified or ashamed to tell anyone else, and held space with their grief, secrets, joys, and fears. It was deeply gratifying work, but also immensely stressful. I guess I rather foolishly expected to put some of that stress behind me when I left the job,but the overturning of Roe has brought it back with a sense of urgency.

So, I’m tired, I’m ready to fight, I’m worried about all the younger people I know who can get pregnant, and I can’t believe this is our world now.

ERICA RUPPERT: I’m incredibly angry at the injustice of it all. Even though I knew it was coming, the news hit like a punch in the gut. I’m already through menopause, so the stripping away of Roe doesn’t have any immediate affect on my life. But that doesn’t make it any less terrible. My family and friends are largely in the position I’m in–personally unaffected but horrified just the same.

I’m attending protests, contacting my representatives, and volunteering in postcard campaigns to try to prevent the worst of it. I hope it works.

LISA MORTON: It’s terrifying, and infuriating, and tragic, and of course those are all emotions that can be very distracting. The pandemic already knocked me off my writing game for the last two years, and now this…my family and friends all share my concerns, in part because we can plainly see that this is just the beginning of what this court will try to do. Unless you are a cishet white male, your rights are now open to the interpretation of six judges who don’t share your values, or the values of most of the people in this country.

I grew up mainly in the 1970s, with a single mom. We naively believed that the ERA would pass and that my mom would finally have a chance to be paid the same salary that her male co-workers were receiving, that maybe she’d be able to get a simple credit card, and that I might enter the workplace with those rights guaranteed. We were gutted when the ERA didn’t pass, but at least we had Roe v. Wade. Now we don’t even have THAT. This is one of the few times that I’m glad my mother, who suffers from severe dementia, can’t understand what’s happening.

MARIA ALEXANDER: I don’t know a single person in my close circle that isn’t devastated, outraged, and worried about not just the pending deaths and dehumanization of uterus-bearing folx across the nation, but also about the other freedoms we’re about to lose. Because this is just the beginning. The loss of the right to privacy affects many other rights we’ve previously held, including the right to marry. Now anything that the extreme right-wing SCOTUS members thinks is “deeply immoral” can be rescinded as a right, damn the precedent.

VICTORIA DALPE: I think I am still in a bit of shock. I have personally argued over the years when others have voiced concerns over Roe V. Wade being overturned that it would never happen- that it was too popular, that it would be so crazy and unprecedented (how tired I am of that word being bandied about these last few years, and yet…) So I think at present, I just feel out of time and space, this is a huge blow to women, to families, to society and it hurts me someplace deep inside. There is such a rage there for the voiceless, for the ignorant knee-jerk holier-than-thou bullshit, that ignores the very real complications of pregnancy and body autonomy. As far as family and friends think a lot of the same, we are just wandering around like zombies filled with impotent choking rage. I live in a state with protections and don’t worry so much for myself, or my immediate friends/family. But that only fuels the fire when people (mainly men) have said, it’s no big deal your state will be fine, to which I must reply it’s not about me, it’s about all the people out there who won’t be fine, that is why I am mad, that is why we all should be mad. This is about making the vulnerable more vulnerable, about worse birth and maternal outcomes, about poverty, and about suffering. We should all be fucking pissed.

STEPHANIE M. WYTOVICH: Honestly? I’m pretty much a ball of rage these days, but I don’t think most people would see that (unless they’re living with me day-to-day). I had my first child in January of this year, and it was something I thought about and prepared for for years, and while being and becoming a mother is one of the most beautiful, transformative, magical things I’ve ever done, it’s also the hardest, most traumatic thing I’ve done, too. I didn’t have an easy birth and my postpartum journey has been super difficult, but even after going through a pregnancy and birth that I desperately wanted, I’ve never been more liberal or pro-choice in my life. Pregnancy and motherhood is hard: financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally. You’re forced to deal with and break generational trauma that you didn’t even know you had (on top of the trauma you already knew about!), and then your body is different and healing and reshaping itself into something new that you have to accept and learn to love, too. Couple that with no sleep and raising a literal human who depends on you for everything? I can’t imagine pregnancy or motherhood being forced on someone who doesn’t want it with their whole heart and entire being. It’s not fair to the mother and it’s not fair to the child. No one wins and this country should be ashamed of itself.

Let’s go back in time to when we were all younger and had the basic human right to abortion. Do you remember when you first learned about Roe vs. Wade? How was reproductive justice introduced to you growing up?

JOE KOCH: I was reared in a Southern Baptist fundamentalist church for the most part. Abortion was unthinkable. You only heard about it happening when someone died, as if it was a very risky medical procedure, and yet as early as middle school kids were talking about ways to self-abort if they got pregnant. Yep, that’s where abstinence-only education gets you! These incredibly dangerous urban legend methods of home abortion were less heinous in our minds because The Abortion Clinic was portrayed as a sort of Mouth of Hell that would lead you straight into to the devil’s clutches, much like The Club, or the unspeakable horror of The Gay Bar.

This deep fear instilled in people is something I understand, and I was never surprised to see a patient come into the clinic looking like a hunted animal or to get in the exam room and freeze with fear. That’s why we have to talk about abortion and use the word abortion without shame and keep it safe.

ERICA RUPPERT: Awareness of abortions and where to get them was pretty common knowledge during my adolescence, despite the adult silence around it. We all had older siblings or friends who knew. The sex ed curriculum in my junior and high schools back in the 1980s did not mention abortion at all. We weren’t even taught about birth control until senior year. My mother was squeamish about the details of reproduction, never mind reproductive justice, so it was simply never mentioned.

I didn’t learn about the actual case until I was in my twenties, when Norma McCorvey became an anti-abortion spokesperson. And I didn’t really recognize or think about reproductive justice until Operation Rescue and Randall Terry began their terror campaign in the late 80s-early 90s. The arrogance and ugliness of their actions made me realize how wrong their position was.

Honestly, one of the strongest portrayals of the power of reproductive rights I encountered in my youth was in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She decides an abortion is her best option, she gets one without interference, and she is not judged for her decision. Seeing that was empowering. That’s how it should be.

LISA MORTON: Mom managed a college bookstore, and all of her student employees were like family. She helped at least one of them get an abortion when they weren’t ready to start a family. I grew up accepting that abortion was a secured right available to all women to make their lives better.

MARIA ALEXANDER: I was raised in an Evangelical home. I never thought of abortion as a right. In fact, I never thought of abortion at all because of the emphasis on celibacy. It was never discussed, and I never saw anything on the news that I recall about it even being an issue. Back then, we all had the same news sources. Even my super conservative parents watched Dan Rather and 60 Minutes. They had no one stoking their misplaced ideas except themselves and their families.

This meant I was deeply anti-choice for a long time. I remember when I was in college and working at a lab as a receptionist. The other two women who worked in the office were talking about abortion one day, discussing the “dark days” before Roe vs. Wade. At first I said nothing. I sat at my desk, seething. Didn’t they understand that abortion was killing babies? Taking lives? One of the women discussed a doctor her mother knew back in the day who helped women by giving them abortions before it was legal. I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally spoke up. “But he was taking lives!” I said. “Those babies didn’t have a choice!”

The woman was quite patient with me, but very serious. “He saved those women’s lives,” she explained. “Some of them would’ve died. And those babies weren’t even babies yet. Have you ever been pregnant?”

Shaking with rage, I shook my head. But as upset as I was, something about her conviction and words about saving women’s lives touched me. Before my Jesus-shaped cranial wound finally healed, I read Susan Faludi’s Backlash, which revolutionized my point of view about everything that had been happening to women for the last 100 years. I couldn’t ignore what I had read. It changed me. I decided that, although I would never personally have an abortion, it was necessary that others had the option. Always.

Later, as I learned more about pregnancy and abortion, I decided it was definitely on the table for me personally. And while I never became pregnant, I have steadfastly believed in medical
autonomy for everyone for almost 30 years now.

VICTORIA DALPE: I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I really don’t have any formative memories of this, it just kind of always was. Dirty Dancing rings a bell, as well as some 90’s TV shows. I was raised Catholic, but liberal New England Catholic, so while my mother was anti-choice in a ‘save the babies’ sort of way, she very much felt it should be legal and no one should be forced to have a baby, or risk some back alley situation. We had a pretty robust sex-ed at school and a planned parenthood clinic in my small town, that one of my friends worked at in high school. When we were 14-15, one of my good friends got pregnant and we all emptied our meager savings and babysitting money to get enough for her to have the procedure. A little older, I personally drove more than one friend to get an abortion at that clinic in high school. So for me, abortion was just always an option.

STEPHANIE M. WYTOVICH: I honestly don’t remember, to be honest, although I feel like it was likely in high school. I remember learning about women’s rights then, but only vaguely. I grew up in a pretty small town and I felt like I was in a conservative bubble for the majority of my upbringing. It wasn’t until I went to college that the world opened up to me and I started getting a more inclusive and diverse education in history and world affairs as well as literature and art. In fact, most of what I know about reproductive justice came from studying art history (shoutout to Maureen Vissat—Art History is the best subject!). The following artists really helped shape and reshape my thinking to assess how I interpreted the female body, personal agency, and political autonomy: Judy Chicago, (“The Dinner Party”), Miriam Schapiro + Judy Chicago (“Womanhouse”), Barbara Kruger (“Your Body Is a Battleground”), Casey Jenkins (“Casting Off My Womb”), Tracy Emin (“My Bed”), Louise Bourgeois (“Spider”), Olivera Parlic (“Cactus”), and Carolee Schneemann (“Interior Scroll”). Of course, those are only a few of the many women I studied and whose art helped educate me, but I loved and continue to love the primal nature of how art was made, showcased, and performed by women in the 60s, 70s, and 80s; tangentially, there was also a lot of ecofeminist art happening then, too, (Ana Mendieta’s work is a perfect example here) and it continued to teach and speak to me about women, our bodies, our connection to earth and the universe, cycles, sisterhood, etc. Most importantly though, through these pieces and performances I learned that choice and autonomy isn’t only necessary but sacred.

If people are interested in reading more about feminism, some of my favorite resources that I like to recommend are: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich, Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, and Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. Plus, there are the two must reads: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

Women, trans men, and nonbinary people are all an essential part of literature. How do you see this decimation of human rights affecting the writing industry and the horror genre in particular?

JOE KOCH: I think horror readers are an open-minded bunch. I’ve been surprised by how welcoming they have been to my transition, for instance. I think we’re working hard right now in indie horror to promote marginalized voices; I hope we keep pushing harder in response to the decimation of human rights. Writers brave enough to tell the truth in their stories, publishers marketing diverse books, readers and reviewers sharing widely — we can work together.

Because there’s a danger the bigger publishers will cave in to a perceived status quo and continue on as they’ve been for years, publishing a majority of white, privileged, cis authors whose lives aren’t as brutally impacted by the current rise of fascism. I say “perceived” status quo because I refuse to believe the average person really believes the government should decide what an individual can or cannot do with their body. I don’t think the average person is an intentional fascist.

ERICA RUPPERT: I think it’s going to be rich fodder for the horror genre. Really, what is more obviously body horror than this?

But if our rights are not restored and protected, I think it’s going to damage the diversity that makes literature sing. Own voices are incredibly valuable and irreplaceable. Unfortunately I can see more commercial, pop and mainstream writing opting to turn away from it as not profitable. The book bans are already happening, and publishing is a business. And I hope I’m wrong, but I can certainly see a resurgence of the ugly trope of evil, villainous gay and trans characters if basic respect for every person is undermined.

LISA MORTON: I’ve always believed in horror as a genre with great potential to be truly transgressive, to comment on the real horrors of the world around us, but I was always surprised at how many other writers dismissed approaching sociopolitical commentary in their work for fear of being “preachy” (my argument has always been that “preachy” was a result of bad writing, not tackling contemporary issues). I hope that more writers might feel enraged enough now to tackle these tough subjects in their writing, but I’m also concerned that they’ll fear the repercussions more and more. Too many books are already being banned, too many authors are already having a hard time making money, so are they willing to risk even more? At least women (and writers of color, and LGBTQ+ writers, and disabled writers) have made great strides in the genre over the last ten years or so; I hope many of them will use their incredible voices to call out these increasing injustices.

MARIA ALEXANDER: Certainly we should continue to see underrepresented voices — endangered voices — uplifted in publishing and in entertainment. But here too we will see a backlash. I personally felt it with one of my books, which has been banned in the conservative community where the Bram Stoker Award-winning story is set, just after Trump was elected. We are not helpless, though. We can organize not just politically but as small presses. Perhaps even as larger presses if the industry continues to see a hunger to right wrongs.

VICTORIA DALPE: Well, just like the pandemic-inspired dystopian apocalypse plague survivor fiction- I am sure there will be a glut of Handmaid’s tale, dystopian breeding, forced breeding, etc. type fiction. But that’s to be expected. I think there will also be a lot of good stuff written that channels the anger, the frustration, and the strangeness of suddenly having less authority over your body and being a second-class citizen in your country. For a lot of folks, this will be a wake-up call that these weren’t rights but privileges after all and can be taken away. That may be inspirational and ideally, fiction may be a place to give a voice to that powerlessness and rage. A platform for those that may lack power in their day to day lives.

STEPHANIE M. WYTOVICH: I always look to what’s happening politically in the world to predict trends in speculative fiction. For instance, when the attack on women’s rights picked up in 2014-2015, I thought we might start seeing the witch again because the witch tends to come out as a symbol and icon for women (and the queer community) during political duress (read Pam Grossman’s, Waking the Witch for more on that). After the 2016 election and into late 2019, we started seeing some trends moving toward dystopian realities and political horror, and I think we’re going to see more of that now, but with more of an intense, raw focus on body horror and gore; I also think we’re going to see more transgressive, thematically violent art, too. I mean, the fact is that banning abortions doesn’t actually ban abortions; it bans safe abortions, and it just makes it illegal for women to get the care and help they need. Women, trans men, and nonbinary people will die because of this decision, and in staggering numbers at that. No one wins when we can’t protect ourselves, make our own decisions, or feel safe in our bodies, and I believe that focus on safety and privacy is going to continue to be interwoven in literature from the next several years.

Furthermore, on a more individualized scale, I think there is going to be a lot of fear and concern wrapped up in traveling, attending conventions, doing signings, etc. depending on event locations. I hope when decisions are being made by those in charge that safety and concern for women and LGBTQ+ folks will be taken strongly into account.

What’s your greatest fear right now? And also, what’s your greatest hope for where we can go next?

JOE KOCH: Having fought my way out of that repressive evangelical upbringing, the thought of being under a totalitarian evangelical government and subject to its biological mandates might be one worst-case scenario I can conjure up to answer that. My grandfather fought with the allies in WWII despite having gone to school in Bremen, and this German heritage made me acutely aware from a young age that genocides happen, that prison camps exist, and that humans torture one another, and so I don’t rule any of this out as being possible in modern America. My imagination can go to infinitely grim places, so I’ll stop here!

My hope is we’re all a bit too spoiled by freedom, or at least the idea of freedom, to buckle under and watch the last century play out on repeat. I’m heartened when privileged people reach outside of their necessary comfort zone to stand up for others. That’s what we have to do. If you’re white, say something to your white friends about their macroaggressions. Take the extra step to welcome queer voices to the table. Do something about reproductive rights even if you don’t have a uterus. Recognize how you’re privileged and use what money or power you have to oppose the Christo-fascist movement in our government right now, because it’s growing. It’s coming for all of us.

I wish the supposedly liberal politicians who voice support for human rights would prove their words through action. I have very little hope they will. They seem like cowards, traitors to the population they claim to represent.

In practical terms, you can work with your local abortion clinics to push back against the overturning of Roe with petitions, protests, volunteering, and donating. Get in touch with abortion providers in your area. If you don’t know how to find them, go to The National Abortion Federation at prochoice.org for listings all over the U.S. and information about what you can do to fight back.

ERICA RUPPERT: My greatest fear is that now they’ve gotten rid of Roe, what other rights will be next on the chopping block. The current SC is full of religious/political radicals and they have already broadcast that multiple other rights will be fair game for them to “revisit”. Their eagerness to disenfranchise so many people for not being straight white men makes me sick.
My greatest hope is that we roar back and crush the radicals in the midterms by holding the House and flipping the Senate. To that end I’ve volunteered in progressive get-out-the vote campaigns in both my own state and in swing states, because I want to help make it happen. We’re all aware that this is not just about abortion. This is for all of us, and I think most of us will stand together against the gross injustices the right wants to inflict upon us.

LISA MORTON: We all know that SCOTUS won’t stop with Roe v. Wade; they told us they’re coming after marriage equality and contraception next. If the Far Right prevails in the 2022 and 2024 elections, there’s no question in my mind that the U.S. will slip fully into fascism. That will also drive a stake through environmental concerns (something SCOTUS also inaugurated in another recent ruling), so the planet will fall with democracy. My hope is that enough of us won’t be content with being a silent majority, that we’ll protest and write and vote. If we can pull that off…well, maybe we’ll even pass the ERA some mythical day.

MARIA ALEXANDER: My greatest hope is that we can organize and mobilize. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a few other government officials are offering leadership, giving us points to follow so that we can throw sand in the cogs and break the machine. I absolutely refuse to fucking wring my hands and mope. I won’t sit in fear. It’s time to fight. Democracy is a many-legged animal. It’s more than just voting. Democracy has given us tools that we have to use to craft the country that we want, but right now we have to use those tools as weapons. No one has the luxury of sitting back and letting this continue. We have to organize and mobilize to start helping uterus-bearing folx NOW because it’s life or death.

VICTORIA DALPE: My greatest fear is that this is the tip of a very horrible and stupid iceberg. I am terrified that we will somehow be consistently outmaneuvered by gerrymandering, social media, and apathy into watching more and more of the world we have known and loved to disappear and be replaced by some on-fire, fascist, theocracy. I have a small child, I would like there to be a world for him to grow up in that isn’t total shit. My hope though and I am a realistic optimist most of the time, is that this is the last hurrah for a minority group (old white Christian Conservatives). They are aging out and they are losing members with every year and not gaining them back. They have planned for all of this, slowly taking power and holding it with big-picture long-term goals. The opposition needs to play this game as well, we need to lay the groundwork so that our values are protected long-term, and those that need the most protection, are provided for minorities, the disabled, women, children, and the environment, for example. I think there is a huge population of very angry, very smart, very left-leaning young people coming up and I want them radicalized and plugged into the government. We need to get the people to believe in their institutions again and the best way to do that is to join them. Become the system and correct it from the inside. I do believe that can happen.

STEPHANIE M. WYTOVICH: I feel like every day I wake up, the clock continues to turn backwards. I’m scared for myself, but I also recognize that as a white, cisgendered woman, I have privileges that others in my community don’t. For instance, I’m terrified for my friends and family and peers who are in states that are targeting their bodies and their freedom, and honestly, their right to safety exist and present as they choose, and on a larger scale, I’m truly very nervous for the state of this country and what it means for us moving forward because I don’t think this is the end; it’s very much just the beginning and it’s only going to get worse.

I’m also constantly thinking of my daughter and the world she’s growing up in where her voice and her body are constantly under attack. I mean, she’s six-months old and I was doing research the other day on the best bullet-proof inserts to put in her backpack when she gets older. WTF is that? I honestly feel so emotionally beaten down and it’s hard to summon the courage needed to fight every day, and make no mistake, it is an every-day fight. I’ve been talking a lot about this in therapy because I’ve felt a lot of guilt lately for not being able to get out in the streets and protest with my sisters and allies over the past year/year and a half, so for me, in the here and now, I’m focusing on education and art as my outlet to fight back and promote kindness, equality, safety, and choice.

I will say that my hope completely exists in the younger generations. These kids are FIERCE, and I love their energy. They honestly inspire me, and I think it’s them that are going to change the world. With that said, parents! Keep reading your kids books where children are empowered and making and promoting change. Raise them on books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner. Check out children’s books like A is for Activist, Baby Feminist, C is for Consent, Love Makes a Family, Counting on Community and Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. Empower them. Prepare them. Let them know that there is strength in their voice and in the heart.

Again, we’re all in this together. We have to be.

Huge thanks to this week’s featured interviewees for sharing their stories with us!

Happy reading, and happy fighting back against fascism!