Next Steps Into the Future: Part Eight in Our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable

Welcome back to the final post in our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable! It’s been such an experience sharing all eight parts of this interview series. The featured authors’ voices have been at once enlightening, wise, heartbreaking, devastated, and hopeful. I genuinely thank everyone who’s read and shared these posts over the last few months; it means so much to me that there are those out there willing to spread the word.

And now I’m honored to let this week’s group of 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?

LORI TITUS: Many years ago, my mother told me that she believed extremists would keep pushing until Roe was overturned. That was when I was still a teenager. I remember thinking that she had to be wrong. She’d told me stories about young girls getting back-alley abortions or trying to perform them at home and dying from complications. We watched If These Walls Could Talk together and that made the scenarios of women desperate for help even more real.

I still didn’t believe that Roe would ever be overturned. People knew what this meant to women. Determination over their lives, their bodies. I understand the religious stance. In my home, we were taught that no one was perfect and that some choices were to be made between an individual and their God. This was one of those choices.

When the ruling came down I thought about all the young women out there who thought that it would never happen. This was a protection I had, that we had for all of our lives.

I haven’t heard much from my family about this but many of my friends have been up in arms. In the Black community, there’s a sort of angry weariness about it, another of the many insults to injury, as this will affect many of us and many will also sit in silence with it. We are also waiting to see what other rights may be snatched away by this precedent.

LINDY RYAN: I have struggled tremendously with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, both on a personal level and as I watch the ripple effect of women I know—as well as friends in the queer and LGBT communities whose rights have been placed next on the chopping block. Many of my family and friends are deeply affected, especially those who live in fiercely right-wing states or otherwise under the thumb of oppressors, and while I do find some solace in knowing that I am in a community of like-minded peers, this does little to alleviate our combined suffering and the realities we face in the days to come.

JESSICA MCHUGH: It’s a lot to process. My partner and I spent a lot of time and energy discussing what we wanted for our life together, juxtaposed with the reality of what we could afford, financially and emotionally, and we vehemently chose a child-free life. So I’m horrified that our responsible decision, my husband’s selflessness in getting an immediate vasectomy, and everything we chose as a couple could be negated in an instant if some monster raped and impregnated me. I don’t want a baby, period, but the thought that I might be forced to carry a baby that doesn’t have an iota of my husband’s caring heart and beautiful soul charges through my mind several times a day now. It makes every molecule in my body feel sick, but poisonous too. Even though I live in a state where abortion is protected, I find myself wondering, “For how long?”

Selfish as it may seem, one of the many reasons I didn’t want to have kids was that I didn’t want all the worry that comes along with children, which I now realize was extremely stupid, because I’m still worrying about children. About my nieces. About my friends’ daughters. About my former writing students who I watched grow from little kids writing about being the damsel in distress to powerful young women writing about being the strong complex character who comes to the rescue. I worry about children I don’t know too. Just walking down the street, I’ll exchange a smile with a kid passing by and suddenly be overcome with sadness, wondering what the future holds for her, what rights she’ll have ripped away in the years to come. I wish I could just smile back and go about my day, but it feels impossible now; that fear and sorrow hunkers down in me.

LISA KRӦGER: These past few weeks have been a tornado of emotions. There’s been a lot of sadness and fear. And rage. I am not a person who is normally prone to this kind of rage. I think I’m a pretty empathetic person, and I tend to be a happy person. I don’t normally feel this white hot anger—just the feeling of wanting to burn everything down. But I’ve had to confront some deep, dark emotions through all this. I’m sure this isn’t a unique experience—anger is an appropriate response to the loss of human rights. My friends have felt the same way, of course, and I’ve found that my community has been a wonderful source of support. Our voices are stronger when used together.

REBECCA ROWLAND: I woke up on November 9, 2016 to find that a man who made openly racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic comments had been elected president of my country. It was as if the majority of the country had said, “Women and people of color, you do not matter.” Two women I work with and I—the three of us from very different backgrounds, vastly different life experiences—came together that morning and just hugged. We had a conversation of a thousand words without saying a thing. When the Roe overturn decision was made public this year, I remember feeling that same sense of hurt, the reiteration that women, especially women who are not from affluent means, are “lesser individuals,” at least in the eyes of those in power. To me, taking away the power a woman has over her own body is less about reproductive rights in general and more about the idea of not trusting a woman to make a decision, so one must be made for her. It’s a weighty statement made by my country that those humans who possess uteruses do not have the same rights, or intelligence, as those without.

I thought about my niece, who is thirteen. I work in a district where more than three-quarters of the families live below the poverty level, and I thought about my students, both past and present, who identify as female and are anywhere in age from seventeen to forty. How will this affect their lives, not just their future possibilities but their self-esteem? I used to think America was the greatest country in the world. Now, to be honest, I’ve grown ashamed of it.

SONORA TAYLOR: Well, I’ve been better! It ebbs and flows. I’ve known for a long time how little we matter to the government, but it doesn’t make seeing it in stark, judicial terms any easier.

My life has been unaffected so far as I’m not pregnant, not currently on birth control, and not on any medications affected by the ruling. I can’t imagine the terror those affected must be feeling. How awful is it that our day-to-day peace and expectations of care can be upended by the whims of a cruel government and a vocal minority pushing their anger and hatred into other people’s business? It angers me, but more than anything, it makes me sad.

None of my friends are happy with the ruling, and we’ve all spoken privately about our sadness and rage. I haven’t spoken much about it with my family. I grew up in an anti-choice household and I haven’t been brave enough to bring this up with them. I did see one of my uncles speaking out against Roe being overturned, which was nice to see.

What has Roe vs. Wade meant to you personally?

LORI TITUS: I’m really worried about us as a society. This sets women back, and it sets our country back as a whole. I worry about the few controlling the many. It seems more and more that the most extreme views are the ones that are getting heard. If anyone underestimated what one unhinged person could do when given the power of the Oval Office, they shouldn’t anymore.

LINDY RYAN: As a survivor of cervical cancer at 19, my reproductive health has been an ongoing struggle. After my son was born in 2007, I had to beg—and get permission from my partner AND my OB/GYN (really!?)—for a tubal ligation. I live every day with the fear of an unviable, ectopic pregnancy which would require an abortion or compromise my life. To have to fight for the right to save my own life is unthinkable, inhumane, and cruel.

A woman’s right to total and complete autonomy over her own body, including without exception her reproductive organs, is her right—and hers alone. The right to choose, to make decisions based on unique and personal factors for any individual, is not one I believe should ever belong in the hands of government, or anyone else not otherwise living and breathing in the skin of the individual. This is not about killing unborn lives, it’s about saving living lives. Even with Roe v. Wade in place, women still faced unnecessary and unfair hurdles about their decisions regarding their bodies, eclipsing our bodily autonomy and diminishing our dignity. This new action is yet another reminder that women are perceived as second-class, as property, and as breeding cattle to be governed.

LISA KRӦGER: I have two boys. I tried for a long time to have them, and I am so glad that they are a part of my life. But it was my choice. I had them when I was older—I was able to spend my teens and twenties childfree. I went to college, got my PhD, wrote a book. I traveled the world. I was able to save some money. My life today would not be possible if I had been forced to have children before I was ready. No woman should be in that position. I also have a chronic health condition, which meant I had to plan very carefully with my doctors when to have children. A pregnancy at the wrong time in my life could have been debilitating. Again, that’s not a choice the government should make. That is between myself and my doctor. So personally, Roe V. Wade means quite a lot to me. It was the safe guard that allowed me to plan my family safely.

JESSICA MCHUGH: While I’ve never had to make the choice for myself, I always knew what my choice would be, and I’ve always been a sympathetic ear and shoulder to cry on for friends who’ve had abortions, some of which very much wanted the fetus they were carrying but had to let go to save their own life or the life of another fetus struggling to grow. For me, it has meant that people I love have gotten to live their lives to the fullest, to raise children when they’re ready, and to prioritize their existence, dreams, and futures over a wad of potential human goo.

R.A. BUSBY: That I woke up one day with fewer rights to my own body than a corpse.

That my family, friends, colleagues, people I know, writers and creators I love, random strangers on the street—-any one of them might be forced to give birth under circumstances which are monstrous. Many of them might not make it. We are already seeing this happen.

What angers me is that many women, myself included, were repeatedly instructed to “calm down” in our concern about Roe in 2016; we were told that the case was established law, legal precedent, that the force of stare decisis in the court would surely, SURELY prevent Roe from being overturned, and thus, our concerns were dismissed as hysterical. Because of course. Looking back, we weren’t hysterical enough.

REBECCA ROWLAND: I stumbled across an odd post on a friend of mine’s Facebook page the other day. An acquaintance of his decided to start a debate about “when life begins,” taking an extreme alt-Right position. When I added my comment to the public feed, the man replied that I should “mind my own business.” I took a look at his home page. His most recent post was of someone holding twin hand guns, a caption chortling about how “bent out of shape” his more liberal friends would be when they saw it.

Instead of being simply irritated by his buffoonery, I got angry. I thought to myself, how fucking dare he. I am a woman in her 40s. I can still have children, but it’s unlikely I will. However, I know what it feels like to be pregnant. I also know how it feels to lose a pregnancy, both in the first trimester and in the third one. And I know how it feels to be faced with the terrible decision of having to choose between staying pregnant and saving my own life. It’s clear to me that those who support the overturn of Roe vs Wade have never walked in the shoes of the women that reproductive freedom laws protect. No woman is undergoing an abortion lightly: not at seven weeks and not at thirty-seven weeks. Without those reproductive freedoms, I would not be here today, and yet a person who takes great pleasure in making others upset would be.

SONORA TAYLOR: As I mentioned above, I’m not on birth control. My husband and I want to have a baby. Roe being overturned has made me question whether or not I want to become pregnant in a state, nay, country, that won’t guarantee my safety. I live in Virginia, where the governor has already proposed a 15-week abortion ban following Roe’s overturning. I’ve made note of the states and cities that have said they will continue to provide abortion, including D.C., which is close enough for me to access their services should I need them. I hate having to think that way. I realize it’s a privilege to first feel this way post-Roe, and to even know I have those options; but that doesn’t make me any less scared. What if we get to a point where we can’t travel to a safe space to get this done? What if the only methods available are untrustworthy or dangerous? But anti-choicers don’t care about that. It’s why I refuse to say they’re pro-life. They’re not, and they never were.

How do you feel the horror genre has responded to the crisis of losing Roe? How would you like to see people do better in terms of supporting us during this crisis?

LORI TITUS: I don’t feel that the genre has really had time to respond to the loss of Roe. Though I believe horror has always recognized injustice and what happens when humans are not allowed all their rights. We see echoes of that in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. And of course, there are so many more, but those are the two that come to mind. I think we’ll see writers reflecting on this era for a long time. Horror is the most frightening when it deals in truth.

I would like to see people support us by simply listening to us when we’re reflecting on this, when we’re upset, when we lift our voices in dissent. And support our rights at the ballot box.

LINDY RYAN: The horror community continues to be one of (generally) wonderful, supportive, open-minded people, fiercely defensive of our diversity and what we perceive as inalienable human rights. Our genre gets a bad reputation but is made up of some of the most passionate and compassionate people I’ve ever known. I always think we can do better, should do better, but I have been consistently amazed at how quick our horror fam is to rally behind these issues, to embrace those affected, and to take immediate action through whatever means are available to us to make our voices heard. We are loud, we are fierce, and we aren’t the type scared to shy away from the gory underbelly of these issues and put them squarely in the spotlight.

LISA KRӦGER: Horror is inherently a political genre. There’s a history of horror that deals with the idea of forced birth and human rights to bodily autonomy. Those themes are present in stories like Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” and even in pregnancy horror like Rosemary’s Baby. We are writers—our power lies in our words and our voices. I’d like to see more writers publishing stories that deal with these themes, but I also think roundtables like this one are important too. We have a voice and we have an audience. Let’s use it to tell our truths and keep shining a light on this issue until every woman’s choice is protected.

JESSICA MCHUGH: I understand the desire to remain neutral from a capitalist standpoint, not wanting to alienate consumers, but when so many horror outlets and associations profess to be progressive lights in the darkness and don’t immediately come out as an unequivocal supporter of women’s rights, it makes me extremely angry. Yes, this is a business aiming to make money, but behind the money, there’s art, and behind the art, there are real people who are going to suffer, who are already suffering, because of hateful legislation meant diminish our value as humans and disenfranchise us as Americans. This is more important than the all-mighty dollar, and folks who claim to support horror art but remain silent about the actual horrors being inflicted on women, bipoc folks, and the lgbtqia+ community are showing themselves to be two-faced—and both sides are ugly, honey.

R.A. BUSBY: In an effort to be diplomatic, I will say that I cheered every time a horror publisher, organization, or prominent writer in the community unambiguously denounced the recent decision and enthusiastically pledged support for all people affected by this horrific erasure of our rights.

REBECCA ROWLAND: That’s a difficult question. On one hand, I respect the whole life movement, those individuals who while against abortion, are truly respectful of all human life and support initiatives such as LGBTQ+ rights, prison reform, and abolishing the death penalty. They don’t just hold an offensive sign outside of a clinic and call it a day. I still believe that a person’s body is theirs to do with what they wish, but I can respect the whole life’s approach. If someone in the horror community is respectful of all life, I don’t want them to feel afraid or ostracized for having those beliefs. But there is no room in the community for misogyny, and it’s my hope that horror groups will continue to be outspoken in their support of all individuals with child-bearing ability. Quite a few charity anthologies have sprung up supporting the cause, and I hope horror fans—and fellow horror authors—purchase and promote them.

SONORA TAYLOR: It’s too soon to tell how fiction will handle this. I feel like abortion is an issue many people hesitate to touch, at least not without kid glove phrases like “I only support abortion when the life of the mother is at stake” or “I don’t like abortion, but I support it;” all of which frame abortion as something bad or to be avoided and only gives fuel to anti-choicers. I say that because in the books I’ve read–and I emphasize that, because there may be stories out there that go against what I’m about to say–abortion is either a fictitiously grotesque process, thrown in the character’s faces to shock them, or associated with Satanism. But Sonora, it’s horror–that’s what the genre does! Well, of course it does; but with abortion already vilified in American culture at large, how is that going against the grain? Where are the stories where someone has an abortion and it’s as routine as the character having once had their appendix out? I’d like to see more of that to balance things out, both in print and in the way we talk about abortion at large.

I do think overall, though, that horror writers have stepped up to the plate. I’ve been encouraged seeing so many authors put out calls for charity anthologies benefiting abortion providers, and others offering signed books and donations to support the same goal. I’ve also appreciated seeing various publishers and authors speak out against the overturning of Roe without hesitation. I only hope this continues.

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

LORI TITUS: My fear is that as deep a blow as it is to lose Roe, that this is only the beginning. Rights to contraception. Rights to marry who we would like, regardless of race or gender. With the current makeup of the Supreme Court, there’s no telling what will be targeted next.

My greatest hope is that there will be laws made that will protect women’s right to a safe abortion. And that something will happen to stop the current trajectory of our lawmakers. I hope that people stand up and pay attention to the changes around them. We have a lot to hope for but we won’t get there without working for it.

LINDY RYAN: My greatest hope is that we will dismantle systemic hate in all its forms—bigotry, racism, sexism, transphobia, and so on. My biggest fear: that we won’t.

LISA KRӦGER: I worry that more rights will be stripped away. Already, women are being discussed like they are less than human. I’ve heard so many people who are “pro-life” say that they want to save lives, but they are only speaking about the fetus and not taking into consideration the lives of the women that will be lost with the reversal of Roe V. Wade. It’s a subtle language shift. Pro-life, but women don’t count in that “life.” That, for me, is the most terrifying part. I think, what else will they strip away? How else will they use this dehumanization of women?

But I am trying to remain hopeful. There has been such an outcry. We are powerful when we all get together. We can make our voices very, very loud. My hope is that we will be so loud that we can’t be ignored.

JESSICA MCHUGH: With the Supreme Court declaring that women don’t have full control over their bodies, I’m afraid men who already regarded us as nothing but holes to be dominated will become bolder in that belief, violently so. I’m afraid of TERFs growing more dangerous because they feel (unduly) threatened by the trans community, even though we should be fighting fascism as one. And I’m afraid that young women, especially the poor and marginalized, with nowhere to turn will take their lives because they can’t get the healthcare they need and deserve.

As for my greatest hope, I don’t know. I do have hope, but I can’t pinpoint how it’ll turn things around unless we all get loud and stay loud about our rights to privacy and bodily autonomy. I’m mostly scared.

R.A. BUSBY: My greatest fear is that our loss of essential rights will not end with Roe. In his commentary on the decision, Justice Thomas gave a very clear preview of coming attractions: the overturning of other established rulings such as Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the Texas law making same-sex intimate conduct illegal; Obergefell v. Hodges, which allowed same-sex couples to marry; and finally, Griswold v. Connecticut, which decriminalized birth control. It’s quite clear what’s happening here. With every ruling, we lose more and more rights over our literal bodies. These decisions, if overturned, will have a deeply disproportionate effect on women, BIPOC people, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, people with serious medical issues, people struggling economically, and more. The list goes on. This, of course, is the vicious intent. Not a bug, but a feature.

I just finished Octavia Butler’s brilliant novel Parable of the Sower. If you’ve read it, you know what a deeply disquieting work it is. Butler foresees a country whose social fabric is already threadbare at the beginning of the work and unravels altogether over the course of the novel in terrifying ways, many of which have already occurred. My greatest hope is that we heed Butler’s warning, and that the seed she planted will fall on good ground after all.

REBECCA ROWLAND: My greatest fear is the same one a lot of people have right now, that this is the first domino in a series of not just steps but falls backward. In my naiveté in believing that most people are good and kind, I’m truly confused about why this decision occurred, just as it truly boggled my mind when Prop 8 was passed in California. Why are some people so interested in controlling other people’s bodies? Yes, I know some of it stems from misogyny and xenophobia, and some of it stems from classism and even religious fanaticism, but at its heart, those kinds of rulings boil down to the same thing: one person asserting control over another’s body. When did we become this country, and how can we undo the mindset a ruling like this creates?

My greatest hope lies in how some of the ramifications will eventually undo the ruling. It is obvious how abolishing federal protection of abortion rights will harm women. Not so obvious to the overturn’s supporters, I think, are the financial and social implications. It is a slippery slope. I suspect those people who believe Roe vs. Wade does not affect them are going to be in for a horrific awakening. As Pastor Martin Niemöller implied in his famous “First They Came” speech, if you stand mute when a group to which you do not belong is persecuted, it’s only a matter of time before you are the next target. It is my hope that those previously short-sighted individuals see what this crisis has set in motion and join the fight to stop it.

SONORA TAYLOR: My greatest fear is that I’ll become pregnant, have something go wrong, and be unable to access services that would save my life.

My greatest hope is that we can better come together to support each other at the community level. Donations, mutual aid, assistance to access doctors and services, etc. are all things we can and should do. It’s okay if it’s not a big, grandiose effort that goes viral. Look at what you can do. Look at what you can do for your community. This sort of help tends to spread. We’re all in this together.

Thank you so much to this week’s interviewees as well as all the writers I’ve interviewed over the past few months! Their voices on this issue are so important as are all the voices of people who are protesting against this egregious loss of rights. Keep speaking out wherever you are; your voice is necessary!

Happy reading, and happy fighting fascism!