Welcome back, and welcome to part four in our Pro-Choice Roundtable! Today, I’m thrilled to welcome four new interviewees to my blog to discuss abortion rights.
And with that, I’ll let these amazing 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?
CYNTHIA PELAYO: Honestly, I’ve been struggling with this a lot emotionally. This brings back a lot of memories of times in my life when I needed help and it’s been upsetting to see people’s bodies and what they can do with their bodies debated so openly by politicians. It’s our
body. We cannot allow strangers to dictate what we can do with our bodies. It puts me in this position of helplessness to think of the possibility that a complete stranger can put in place controls so that my body is not my body. That’s horror.
Many of my friends have been struggling as well.
Many of us took to social media to share our stories so that people know we are real. We exist, people who needed Roe V Wade. We exist.
NICOLE WILLSON: I’m lucky personally in that there’s no longer any chance of my ever needing an abortion, so Roe’s overturning mostly reminded me that women’s rights and wellbeing are still considered unimportant fringe issues in this country. Which is depressing and horrifying enough.
I’m also fortunate to live in a place where Democrats control the state senate, so even though our Republican governor wants to enact a 15-week abortion ban, he’s unlikely to be able to do it without a fight. And since he can serve only one term, I will do what I can to ensure he’s replaced by someone who will keep abortion safe in Virginia.
As for my friends and family, many of them are furious that their younger family members now have fewer reproductive rights than they did growing up. That’s shocking.
LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I feel like I’m in hell, to be honest. I vacillate between despair and burning anger, and I keep praying to wake up from this nightmare. I’m living in a country that’s declared open season on uterus owners, and I hate it. My anxiety hasn’t been this bad in years, and seeing how certain people and companies have reacted has forever altered my impression of them. I live in a state where I could bleed to death in favor of a completely non-viable fertilized egg. Knowing that people voted for that, celebrated it, and that companies are continuing to contribute to it makes me feel like I’m surrounded by dangerous enemies.
My family and friends are in the same boat, for the most part. Some of them are distracting themselves as much as possible, which I advocate for. We all need self-care right now because for damn sure no one else is going to do it. I appreciate that I have some friends and co-workers who are as livid and willing to curse about it as I am, because it reinforces the realization that I’m not alone, that not everyone is my enemy, and that we will fucking well fight. As far as any family I may have that take an opposite view point? Well, this isn’t an argument over movies. They don’t see me as human, so I damn sure don’t count them as family.
Where were you on June 24th when you learned that Roe had been overturned? What was your first reaction?
CYNTHIA PELAYO: I was in the backyard reading and writing when the news broke. My first reaction was anger and then I just started to cry, thinking about how far we’ve come to backtrack so much and the absolute recklessness of it all. It’s disgusting to think that people are fine with controlling our bodies, fine with allowing people to die. It’s devastating.
CHRISTI NOGLE: I didn’t mark that moment in my mind as I would have with a surprise decision. The May 8th leak of the draft opinion, the 2020 confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, the 2018 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, and of course the election of the former president seem to have been the important moments. Each of them made me feel helpless, baffled, and doomed.
NICOLE WILLSON: I was at home and on Twitter when the ruling came down, so I saw a lot of anger in real time. Since we had already been tipped off that this was coming, I can’t say I was surprised. But I was angry. And also deeply frustrated. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the things leading up to this that could, and should, have gone differently. Or about people who insisted Roe would never be overturned, even as it became alarmingly clear that this was going to happen.
Honestly, I’m probably never not going to be angry about the 2016 Presidential election. You didn’t have to like Hillary Clinton to understand that having her fill Scalia’s vacant Supreme Court seat was vastly preferable to Trump doing it if you wanted to keep Roe in effect.
LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I was at home eating lunch. I write in the mornings before work in the afternoon, and I don’t usually check social media or news before I break for lunch. It has too much power to derail me. I’d also had an upsetting troll situation the day before, so when my friend messaged me to ask if I was okay, I assumed that’s what he meant. At first I was a bit numb, I guess. I’d been expecting it since the leak a few months ago, so maybe I thought I’d adjusted, but that clearly wasn’t the case. The more I read, the more furious I became. I spent the next week screaming until I lost my voice, sobbing uncontrollably, and working out every chance I got. And that’s pretty much where I still am.
As a horror writer, how do you feel like this ruling will affect your work? Are you struggling to write? Will you incorporate these themes into your writing more? Also, how would you like to see people in the genre, especially those in positions of power, do better in terms of supporting us during this crisis?
CYNTHIA PELAYO: I typically don’t write body horror, but I do explore themes of control, and this is probably going to appear in my work somehow, authority and control and helplessness. We’re moving into a very dangerous point in society. Well, we are already there – in which people are telling us what we should do, how we should look and what we should think. We cannot for a moment allow any of these people to dictate what we can do and who we can be. We should not allow any of these people to have power over us.
I certainly believe all people with any power should be helping people in the genre navigate times of crisis, if only voicing their support of us. I know that not everyone has a position of power, or a platform, but we can all say that we support bodily autonomy, a person’s right to choose. That is a simple, yet, powerful statement to state publicly. And, if you have more sway, then yes do what you can, because people are going to need a lot of support moving forward.
CHRISTI NOGLE: I haven’t been struggling to write, but at the same time I’m not sure how to express the worries that are raised by this ruling. It brings up oppressive memories from childhood, not related to abortion specifically but to the lack of freedom and being subject to others’ will, beliefs, and whims. Life felt very restricted when I was young. As I grew older, my own situation changed and it also felt as though the culture was changing in positive ways. Now it sometimes feels like that was all imaginary. A right that was established for my entire lifetime is gone. I feel shame for not acting and for having no clear idea of what to do. I imagine that I will work on finding ways to express these feelings of shame and powerlessness in writing. Fiction can at least help show people that these feelings are shared, that they’re not alone.
Statements of support for our rights are much appreciated, and I think it would also be productive for those in leadership positions to think about ways of helping us reach wider audiences. Horror writers spend time thinking about dread, fear, and suffering. Like other writers, we practice empathy by trying to imagine what our characters think and feel. These are the kinds of thoughts that can change minds when they reach the right people.
NICOLE WILLSON: I tend to do some of my strongest work when I am very, very angry about something political. I wrote the first draft of my debut novel in November 2016, and I think the female characters in that book had a lot more anger than they might have had the presidential election gone the other way. I wrote a novella in the period between the Supreme Court leak about Roe’s overturning and the actual ruling, and in this story, oppressed young women take their destiny into their own hands. I have seen a ton of anthologies prompted by the overturning of Roe v. Wade; I’d love to write something for one of them if I can choose one and maintain my focus.
As for what I’d like to see people in the genre do, I’m in complete agreement with others that I’d like to see people who plan future conventions please consider not locating them in states that have banned abortion. I totally understand that these states have residents who don’t agree with this ruling. As someone who lives in a state that’s perennially teetering between blue and red, I can sympathize. But I don’t want to support those state governments with my money.
LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I already write a lot of angry feminist horror, particularly in my short stories, as a method both of catharsis and demonstration. Often times men don’t recognize just how different and dangerous it is to be a woman, and at times I’ve been able to communicate to them in a way that clicks through stories. At the moment, I’m polishing a novella I dashed off in about 4 weeks, which doesn’t deal with any of these themes at all. I desperately need distraction, and thankfully immersing myself in fictional worlds I control has saved me. I’d never have written it that fast just poking along at my usual speed.
As far as seeing support from those in the genre, the things that have bolstered me the most have been unequivocal, loud, and strong statements of support. We’re dealing with state sponsored, misogynistic murder along with a complete disregard for bodily autonomy. Neutrality is murder. Silence is complicit. And though I’ll never stop screaming until we get our rights back, ALL of us, I’m emotionally and physically drained. When an organization makes us do the emotional labor of convincing them that these rulings are hateful and vicious, I don’t want to spend any of my time or energy interacting with or supporting them. If you can’t take a stand on this, then I know you for my enemy. (A caveat here for individuals—not all of us are free to voice our opinions online, because of jobs or other concerns. I want to make it clear that I don’t expect that, as we all have to survive, and also some folks just can’t keep cycling through these emotions. No one should be shamed for not posting about it.)
I’d also like to see more concrete actions such as boycotting giving money to states that deny uterus owners rights, refusing to do business with or support publishers or other businesses who come out in favor of this abortion of justice, and taking the lead on organizing ways to help those members of our community in the most risk. I want to help. I want to be doing, but I don’t have the bandwidth to organize it, so someone who’s not suffering direct effects needs to point us in the right direction, show us where to direct this anger.
What’s your greatest fear right now? And also, what’s your greatest hope for where we can go next?
CYNTHIA PELAYO: My greatest fear is that people are going to die needlessly. My greatest fear is that people are going to have to be forced to carry pregnancies that they do not want.
There’s this belief by these reckless politicians that if you force someone to be a parent then they will be a parent, and that’s certainly not the case.
So, I fear what is going to happen to these people, will they hurt and harm themselves to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I fear what is going to happen to unwanted children. I fear that emotional, physical and mental abuse that many people are going to experience. My greatest hope is that society will finally recognize the importance of bodily autonomy and a person’s right to choose and have protections in place for us.
CHRISTI NOGLE: My greatest fears are shared by many and are certain to be realized: that the court will take away further rights, creating crimes that will then be prosecuted in unfair and devastating ways; that people will die from complications of unwanted pregnancies and wanted pregnancies in which the fetus has little chance of survival; that forced pregnancy and birth will further traumatize people who have been victimized; that there will be those seeking profit and power from this; that dangerous medical misinformation will spread (e.g. the idea that ectopic pregnancies are viable or Todd Akin’s “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down”); and that many people’s lives will become more difficult and painful than they need to be. It’s not just a matter of going back to the oppressions of the past. We don’t know what it looks like to impose these rules on people in 2022; some results we can fear, and others we don’t even know to fear yet. They’re unpredictable.
NICOLE WILLSON: My greatest fear is that the Supreme Court is going to keep rolling back rights for vulnerable people. We all know that’s precisely why this particular slate of judges has been assembled over the past few years. I’m especially concerned for my trans friends.
My greatest hope is that people will start becoming more active in elections at the local and state level as well as the national level. We won’t be able to fix the damage this ruling has already caused overnight, but getting pro-choice officials elected to govern states could help stop the damage and loss of life that will result from this ruling.
LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I have two greatest fears—the most personal is that I’ll die as a result of this ruling, and leave my son without a mother. I’m 40, and my husband has chronic leukemia. The medication he takes will literally mutate the DNA of anyone not suffering from CML, to the point that my son and I can’t go near the package, or touch the gloves my husband uses to retrieve his pill everyday. If I were to get pregnant, there’s pretty much zero chance it would be viable, but I’d be forced to carry to term, or die trying. The idea of leaving my son is too harsh to even look at straight on, but there are people who are cheering it on. Fuck them.
The second is related to the first—I want to hand a better world to my kid and every other kid. They deserve that, they deserve their chance at happiness, and the idea that uterus owners coming up behind us will be limited in this disgusting way is soul-crushing.
My greatest hope is that as a people, we’re now motivated enough to take the actions that will break the political yoke we’re struggling under. Roe v. Wade wasn’t codified, and in my opinion that’s because it’s long been a stick for the Democratic party to threaten us with. Aside from just this ruling however, our trans brothers and sisters are at higher risk than ever. LQBTQA+ folks are seeing their rights and existence being trotted back into the dark ages, and we haven’t come close to taking the actions necessary to take care of our BIPOC members, either. Enough of this. Enough of letting anyone else set the narrative, dither and argue over whether humans have human rights. That’s not their call, and frankly anyone who argues that should automatically be disqualified from any position of power, including managing any store or business.
Fuck half measures. Fuck being grateful for the crumbs these psychopaths drop from their table for us after making us beg. They don’t decide who’s human—we already know we are. I want to hand a world of love and compassion to our kids. I pray for it everyday.
Tremendous thanks to this week’s featured interviewees!
Happy reading, and happy fighting back against fascism! Also, please get out and vote! It’s our chance to make our voices heard!