Politics and Autonomy: Part Five in Our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for part five in our Pro-Choice Horror Roundtable! Today’s post is going live on the day of the midterm elections here in America, which means there are certainly many of us voting who have the topic of abortion at the top of our minds.

So I’m beyond honored to let this week’s six amazing authors 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?

SARAH READ: I think there are stages of grief at play here. There’s sadness and anger–not just for this singular issue but for what it signals as far as a direction for our country. The fact that this is a symptom of a bigger disease. I’m very sad and VERY angry. As I write this, people in need of reproductive care are already dying. I can’t understand how this is okay.

NADIA BULKIN: I’m ace and live in DC (which has some of the most expansive abortion rights in the country), so the main thing I’m personally, currently worried about is a) traveling to a state that’s outlawed abortion, and b) being raped. But of course I’m actually worried about a lot more than that. I’m worried about my friends in red states. I’m worried about the national ban that’s undoubtedly on the agenda for 2024. I’m worried about what’s next as the Christian nationalist wing remakes the country in its image. I’m worried that we are uniquely incapable of stopping right-wing extremism in this country, because not enough people think it will hurt them. And I’m frustrated. Really frustrated. My friends are distraught and frankly, increasingly hopeless about the future of the U.S. My gay friends think that gay marriage is next. I know several people who are actively trying to leave the country.

CHRISTA CARMEN: Personally, I count myself very lucky to be doing okay overall. But I’m gutted that anyone in this country would see it fit to set our human rights back more than fifty years, let alone those empowered with passing laws, and I’m heartsick and anxious for those hundreds of thousands of women who will be directly—and immediately—affected by this travesty in innumerable, horrific ways, as well as the millions who will be affected going forward if we don’t right this wrong. As someone in a position of privilege in terms of where I live (Rhode Island, where Roe v. Wade is codified and residents are protected if they aid a woman from another state in procuring an abortion) and where I work (a company from which I receive comprehensive health insurance), it’s my responsibility to do as much for this cause as possible, because abortion rights are human rights. Every woman in the United States deserves not to die of an ectopic pregnancy or to have to choose between their own future and the future of a fetus in which they may or may not have had a say bringing into existence.

TRISHA J. WOOLDRIDGE: I’m…not doing great. The overturning of Roe hit me hard, and I’ve been mentally and emotionally reeling, having a hard time keeping track of stuff, and forgetting things. I’ve been doing a deep dive into my fiction deadlines, often to the exclusion of other things, like business demands, social media, and emails, but the fiction, itself, is also coming a lot slower.

I also just had a hysterectomy at 44, the culmination of a lifetime of health issues related to the uterus and estrogen imbalance…that doctors kept telling me was nothing abnormal. In a fairly liberal state that does uphold most rights regarding women’s reproduction, it took me twenty years to get doctors to believe that there was something wrong – and almost a decade to get them to do something – with my reproductive organs. And currently, I have friends with children suffering menstrual issues still having to fight with doctors.

Again, in one of the most liberal states with some of the best health care for women.

Women and those who suffer health issues related to a the uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, etc. who live in states and regions with more restrictive practices regarding women’s health are forced to fight even harder for basic health care for their bodies.

My state, and the states around me, are not changing their laws and practices, fortunately, so there isn’t an immediate and direct health care impact on me or my local friends / family. However, all of us are worried about our friend and family elsewhere, the overall state of women’s health care and its decline, what we can do to help others, and what may happen to our access to care when women start coming to our region for the care they can’t receive in their home states. Besides that, my family, friends, and I all are still suffering the issues I mentioned before: emotionally reeling, lowered executive function, more emotional dysfunction… all of that impacting how we handle our work and interact with others.

G.G SILVERMAN: Personally, I feel deep fear as a female identifying person that my rights will continue to be further eroded every day. Thankfully, I live in a state where I have bodily autonomy, but I worry that the Federal government could over-extend their reach and take that away from me. As a disabled person who could die from being forced to carry a pregnancy, it’s chilling to think that my life and health is secondary to someone else’s idea of what my life should be, and that a person in a position of power could center their own ideology over my humanity. Most of my friends feel the same—a deep fear.

JESSICA ANN YORK: I grew up in rural Tennessee hearing things in passing like, “These sensitive liberals and their feelings.” The main argument these same people will give is, “We’re stopping the bad women who get abortions just to get abortions.”

I wish they could see this response is a mirror they are holding up to themselves. To assume a person would make such a traumatizing choice “just to do it” is the projection of someone who walks through their own life doing things just to do them.

You’ll give them a list of all the reasons why someone would come to that difficult decision, and they’ll recoil away. It’s too much for them. They don’t ever talk about these things. They don’t know how.

Sexual coercion. Incest. Rape. Ectopic pregnancies. Nonviable pregnancies. Mental illness. Financial instability. Poverty. Maternal mortality. Or any other reason a person may need to make this choice.

These are all things that elicit uncomfortable feelings, so they’ll respond with, “Stop, that’s terrible.” Or, “Don’t say that so loud.”

But I will not be quiet for the sake of their feelings—and I’m okay with being shunned for this.

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?

SARAH READ: It wasn’t. No one talked about it much. I grew up in a conservative household, and it wasn’t until I left home that I started learning about how our bodies had been politicized. I spent my college and early adulthood learning new perspectives. One of the most crushing moments for me was when I called my mother after the 2016 election. I was crying. She made fun of me, told me it wouldn’t be too bad. Then told me she’d voted for Trump. I was angry, reminded her that he supported blanket anti-abortion ideas, reminded her that I’d had an abortion to save my life when I had an ectopic pregnancy. “I’d be dead now,” I said. She said, “So?” We don’t talk much these days. She was a labor delivery nurse, by the way.

NADIA BULKIN: I lived in authoritarian Indonesia until middle school, so reproductive justice wasn’t talked about – not out loud, anyway. I think I had a vague sense that pregnancies could be ended with the help of healers or magic or by throwing oneself down the stairs. Or through suicide, of course. I wasn’t actually introduced to any arguments about abortion until I moved to the U.S. Despite coming from a country where religion is mandatory, I’ve been an atheist since I had an opinion on the matter, and the debate made no sense to me. Like, why would you outlaw an easy way of doing something that people are throwing themselves down the stairs in other countries to accomplish? Just wild.

CHRISTA CARMEN: Again, I have to preface this answer with a declaration of the privilege I’ve been afforded throughout my life in terms of this issue. I don’t remember when I first learned about Roe vs. Wade. I don’t remember reproductive justice being introduced to me as a concept growing up. I simply remember reproductive justice existing, and I remember reproductive healthcare as something that was as established and steadfast as any other type of healthcare. I’m sure there were discussions in social studies class of the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. But those discussions would have ended with something along the lines of how, ever since the afternoon of January 22, 1973, we’ve been able to rely on the fundamental “right to privacy,” and a pregnant woman’s subsequent right to an abortion.

I also probably navigated my high school and college years with the confidence that, should I ever need an abortion, that option would be available to me. It’s crushing and, frankly, dehumanizing, to consider that 1) this is no longer the case for large portions of the country, and 2) if things continue to go wrong in terms of the Supreme Court revisiting previously established laws, my daughter, and all of our upcoming generations of women, trans men, and nonbinary people will not know this same freedom.

TRISHA J. WOOLDRIDGE: I was raised Catholic, so I first learned about Roe vs. Wade as a horrible thing that allowed sexually promiscuous women to kill unborn babies. Probably when I was about eleven, getting ready for my First Communion.

I also knew I was adopted, and my parents explained what that meant when I was very young, around four, while we were in the process of adopting my younger brother. So my youthful brain had the “perfect” rationalization for being firmly “Pro-Life”: My brother and I wouldn’t exist if our mothers had aborted us! I hadn’t any grasp of life beyond my middle-class, mostly white suburbs—and I’d never seen my mother pregnant—so I had no idea about the physical, financial, and emotional burdens a pregnant woman faced. I argued that if a woman didn’t want a child, she could put it up for adoption like I was—and I had a good life with loving parents. Why wouldn’t everyone want that kind of happy ending for everyone?

Long, long, long story short, I went to college; learned more about biology, anatomy, and physiology; the politics and history of oppressing women based on “science” and reproductive rights; and actually listened to people with lives vastly different than mine. From there, I grew into what I feel is a more empathetic and nuanced view of abortion: The person who is pregnant deserves to have access to all the available information about their health regarding their pregnancy, as well as complete access to all the information about all her choices. And then the pregnant person deserves the right to make the best choice for their life.

JESSICA ANN YORK: I was raised by my dad to never tolerate other people forcing their religious beliefs on me. By that same logic, I also have zero tolerance for Christians who force their beliefs on other people.

My dad was very adamant with me growing up that God was in my heart, not the church. I stand by that. Religion works best as a personal guideline. It has no place in actual law.

For these reasons, I have always been pro-choice. I knew at an early age that I would be absolutely conceited to think that my interpretation of the Bible had enough weight to justify forcing a life-altering decision on another human being, when I don’t know what their individual situation is.

Forced-birth for the sake of someone else’s religious views is a violation of human rights, and Roe vs. Wade prevented forced-birth state laws from seeing the light of day.

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?

SARAH READ: Roe v Wade feels like just one domino to fall in what is obviously a massive power-grab by Christian Nationals trying to exert their misguided morals onto the country as a whole. I think we have a fight ahead of us to keep diverse perspectives safe. We’re already feeling this in the book world–attempts at book banning and censorship, an insistence that LGBTQIA+ content in children’s books is “inappropriate.” I’m a librarian, and most librarians I know are getting ready. Quickly refining policies and training staff to protect intellectual freedom. But when library boards start falling the way school boards already have, it’s going to get harder. I am already having to break the “rules” at times to make sure trans kids in my community have access to books with trans characters. And I’ll break every rule if I have to–but those kids shouldn’t have to feel like the rules are against them. It breaks my heart.

NADIA BULKIN: The most obvious consequence is people being unable to commit the time or energy to write because they have more children to raise, or because they’re in jail for abetting an abortion, or because they’re, you know, dead from a high-risk pregnancy. Research has shown that access to family planning is linked to women’s ability to participate in the workforce and empower themselves economically, and if that happens here it’ll be entirely by design. Fascist societies need people organized in a manner that will feed the all-important state – just look at FLDS societies, the only options for their youth are sexual labor or physical labor. I also think about things like: people no longer feeling safe going to conventions in red states, and in the longer term, creative industries no longer being quite so U.S.-centric. That would probably be a good thing, as a whole.

Christa CarmenCHRISTA CARMEN: I think women, trans men, and nonbinary horror writers are in a unique position in that we can cast a spotlight on this issue in ways different from what other activists and protesters are pursuing. Anyone, in theory, can support their communities, get involved politically, and volunteer. Anyone can protest, call their lawmakers, and—when it’s time—show up and vote. And anyone can educate themselves, share information, and support the people and companies supporting women who need abortions. But only writers can write. And only horror writers can give readers new ways to process this fresh horror, to glimpse this terrifying new reality in a way that reflects the ugliest and most despicable aspects of this human rights atrocity back in a way that makes the trauma (at least slightly more) digestible.
Seeing things in new ways is often the catalyst to attacking things in new ways, and it wouldn’t surprise me if women, trans men, and nonbinary artists, poets, and writers are the ones who tip the needle, who stoke the blazes of the passion for justice we need to cultivate long-term in order to see this through to the end and remedy this unthinkable disaster.

TRISHA J. WOOLDRIDGE: First, there’s the mental and emotional trauma of experiencing the loss of a the basic human and bodily autonomy for more than half the U.S. population. I’m not alone in feeling its weight sap at my ability to create art…or some days just function. So there will be some writers who will be stunted in their work from just that.

Then you have the writers who may potentially get pregnant in the states with new, draconian laws regarding abortion. Or writers who love pregnant persons in those states. Their entire life is turned upside down. They have to face the health challenges of carrying a pregnancy to term, the massive financial burden, and the affect all that has not just in the immediate time, but for possibly the rest of their life. If they try and leave so they may obtain an abortion, that is its own challenge and trauma with long-lasting effects. This leads to important works that may never be written, published, and read. Authors whose dreams and careers are cut short by forced birthing, death or disability due to unhealthy pregnancies that can’t be terminated, and time and ability to create smothered by financial obstacles.

For those of us who can still create, I expect to see more extreme body horror, fear regarding bodily autonomy, and more dystopian horror.

G.G. SILVERMAN: I feel that most writers already live a precarious existence due to not having adequate pay or adequate healthcare, but then stripping away bodily autonomy and human rights for women, trans men, and nonbinary writers creates an extra level of peril for them. This may force many diverse writers out of the industry, leaving writing only to white cis-gendered men of means, and would strip away the necessary diversity we need in the literary ecosystem—we need writers of all backgrounds to have a voice if we want to create a true reflection of the American experience. We need stories of all kinds if we hope to learn and grow.

In the horror genre, I worry about all the great works from women, trans men, and nonbinary people disappearing. Not just from the inability to write these works due to being financially forced out of the industry, but also from censorship of those voices. Book banning is already happening—how far will it go?

JESSICA ANN YORK: I imagine we will only get louder. I’ve already gotten louder.

The horror short stories I’ve published before this were already heavily rooted in feminism. They will be even more so now.

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

SARAH READ: My greatest fear right now? Well, I’m a worrier, so… Honestly, it’s war. I don’t think any of this will be solved peacefully. And while we’re fighting over this, climate change concerns are taking a back seat. My worry is that we fight this fight, and even if we win, it’s too late. My biggest fear is that we lose either way, we all do. My greatest hope–any hope at all right now is radical hope. But I like the idea of radical hope. I think we need it.

NADIA BULKIN: My greatest hope is that white Americans realize how untenable abortion bans are (along with other elements of Christian nationalist life) and make the pro-life movement an extremist minority. I do think that could still happen, because I honestly don’t think most people have thought through the consequences of this ideology. My greatest fear is that these dots aren’t connected, and the country continues to circle the drain of regressive policy in the name of “making sure everyone is as miserable and resentful as I am,” all the while bemoaning economic collapse and social failure while continuing to vote for politicians whose only platform is grievance.

CHRISTA CARMEN: I have a lot of fears, but my greatest fear is a selfish one: that my daughter is going to continue to grow up in a world where things are worse for women now than they were fifty, or even five, years ago. Following that fear further is… honestly, this is where the power of writing fiction comes in again. I don’t know that I have the ability to simply list out all the factual reasons and realities that cause my stomach to clench when I consider what the future holds for my daughter, but I do think I can—and will—explore those fears in my fiction in the coming days, months, and years.

My greatest hope for where we can go next is that Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha not only pick up this fight, but win the battle for reproductive rights once and for all. What that looks like, I can’t even say, but it obviously has to be more comprehensive and less subject to the whims of men—and I mean “men” literally—than Roe vs. Wade ever was. We can no longer rely on the older generations to get us out of this, or any other politically charged, mess. We need younger people who are willing to step into the political arena, to challenge the status quo, and to present radical novel ways to fight the patriarchy and oligarchy. Reproductive, and all other human, rights—and our very lives—depend on it.

TRISHA J. WOOLDRIDGE: My greatest fear is “what’s next?” That the unknown is leaning more toward losing more rights. The original leak about overturning Roe vs. Wade included mention of the loss of protections for gay marriage, for example. And as pharmaceuticals and interstate health insurance companies adjust for the unreasonable laws of many states, how badly will that affect accessibility to medication and coverage all over the country? We’re already seeing people who could get pregnant being denied medications that could potentially harm a pregnancy. How many of us, like me, had to fight with doctors regarding our reproductive health care since before we lost federal protection of our reproductive rights? How many companies are strengthening their fights to not cover birth control—when many women require birth control for far more than preventing pregnancy? How much more difficult will it quickly become for trans persons to have access to their hormone therapy? Which of my friends or family will have even more of their rights stripped? Health care denied?

My greatest hope is that the backlash to this will bring more people out to vote in November, and they will vote in government officials who prioritize health care and equal rights. I hope that we get a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights and enforcement of privacy in health care. Before too many more people suffer and die because those rights are now at the mercy of conservative political players.

G.G SILVERMAN: My greatest fear is that human rights will continue to erode further and further, and our country will backslide into a dystopic setting where people, animals, and the environment will be abused to the point of destruction.

It’s a scary time, but I’m also hopeful—we have made amazing strides in so many ways in terms of bringing awareness to many issues and creating change, and we have the ability to help all kinds of people live their healthiest and happiest lives. I hope our collective humanity can heal and create a world of safety for all.

JESSICA ANN YORK: I worry about radicalized evangelical Christians and militias taking innocent lives in mass, if the next presidential election doesn’t go their way.

I’ve watched clips of digital church services where preachers are rallying their listeners to “take back America” and “force themselves into the room.” They follow the formula of early Nazi propaganda in how they manipulate the viewers into thinking they are victims who need to lash out against a selected enemy—in this case, usually the LGBTQ community.

There are most likely going to be massive outbreaks of violence, if a Democratic president is elected in 2024. Best case scenario, it will only be in small, scattered pockets, and people will become disillusioned and pull out of these groups, the same way they did after the insurrection at the capitol on January 6th.

My greatest fear is for those who will be caught in the crossfire—and for the morally bankrupt fascists who still stand in solidarity with these violent groups afterward.

Tremendous thanks to this week’s interviewees! Happy reading, and happy voting! Let’s fight fascism together!