Everyone Loves Someone Who’s Had an Abortion

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While the majority of the country supports abortion, much of the mainstream media has a long way to go to represent abortion accurately and ethically. This week, Sam talks to journalist Jessica Valenti and abortion activist Renee Bracey Sherman about how we can “arm the choir” with in-depth and more impactful storytelling. Plus, tips on how you can talk about abortion with your own family over the holidays.

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Gloria Riviera and Samantha Bee are our hosts. Muna Danish is our supervising producer. Claire Jones is our producer. Isaura Aceves and Tony Williams are our associate producers. Ivan Kuraev and Natasha Jacobs are our audio engineers. Music by Hannis Brown with additional music by Natasha Jacobs.Story editing by Jackie Danziger, our VP of Narrative Content. Fact-checking by Naomi Barr. Executive producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs

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To follow along with a transcript, go to lemonadamedia.com/show/ shortly after the air date.



Renee Bracey Sherman, Speaker 1, Gloria Riviera, Jessica Valenti, Samantha Bee

Gloria Riviera  00:01

Hey everyone, First off, we want to thank you for listening to The Defenders. And now we want to hear from you what you’ve learned what sticking with you what questions you still have and what you’re motivated to do as a result of listening. Right now you can take our short survey to help us better understand the impact of our work, and even better once you’ve completed the survey, you can enter for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. The survey is short and sweet and will help us keep bringing you content you love. Take the survey at bit.li/the defenders survey. That’s bit.li/the defenders survey. Thanks again.


Samantha Bee  01:10

Hey, it’s Sam, so I wanted to tell you about this writer whose work I’ve been following super closely these days.


Jessica Valenti  01:17

Hi, this is Jessica Valenti and you’re listening to the audio version of abortion every day. Today is Sunday, October 22 2023.


Samantha Bee  01:25

Jessica has a newsletter and podcast where she talks about me up abortion every single day.


Jessica Valenti  01:32

I haven’t been outside of my apartment in over 48 hours. How are you doing? It is crazy out there right now you guys.


Samantha Bee  01:41

What I like about her newsletter is that she essentially takes all of the news about abortion and synthesizes it for her readers. She’s breaking down anti abortion language strategy. While sharing updates on state bans new criminalization tactics and delivering her favorite roundup of feminist Tik Tok content. It’s a wild ride, but she tries to make it as fun as this topic can possibly be.


Jessica Valenti  02:06

If there was a theme for this past week, it would be conservative delusion delu as the Gen Z kids say.


Samantha Bee  02:13

As we wind down the series only two more episodes after this, we want to make sure that you have great resources to stay engaged for the long haul. Because even though we won’t be in your ears every week, the work does not stop for people defending reproductive freedom. And that is what we’re talking about today. This is The Defenders a show about the fight for freedom in a post roe America. I’m Samantha Bee. This week, I’m sitting down with two incredible guests. First is Jessica Valenti, who shares some simple and essential ways to stay engaged and how she’s tracking the biggest news stories so you don’t have to. Then I talked to reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman, because talking about abortion has to go beyond just the news. Renee is not only an amazing storyteller herself, but as championing others to tell their own abortion story through her organization, we testify. So without further ado, let’s get to my conversations with Jessica and Rene. First up, Jessica Valenti.


Samantha Bee  03:28

So Jessica, welcome to the show.


Jessica Valenti  03:30

Thank you for having me.


Samantha Bee  03:31

Oh, it’s a delight, and want to start by talking about the work that you’re doing. Especially right now, in this moment. Why did you decide to write about abortion literally every day?


Jessica Valenti  03:45

You know, it wasn’t, it actually wasn’t a deliberate decision. At first, it’s something that just sort of happened, I was so pissed off after it was overturned. And I already had substack, I had a newsletter. And I just was obsessed with finding out what was going on. And after a couple of weeks, I realized like, oh, shit, I’ve been writing about this every single day. So let’s just make it a thing. At first, because I had this feeling like, am I really gonna be able to keep this up every like, am I going to find something every single day to write about like, is that possible? Which was so completely naive and ridiculous, because now it’s like, I could write like a newsletter every hour. And it’s still be enough, because that’s how often things are happening. That’s how often things are changing. But yeah, so it’s sort of happened organically, weirdly enough.


Samantha Bee  04:35

So it’s fair to say that you did not know what you’re getting into.


Jessica Valenti  04:38

Not at all, not even not even a little bit. And I still, I still don’t know.


Samantha Bee  04:43

Oh, God and at some point, something clicked and you were like, now I have to work in breaks.


Jessica Valenti  04:48

I run to the bathroom now, in my own home. Like I’m literally in that place where I’m like, okay, I’m just gonna bust it to the bathroom and it’ll be.


Samantha Bee  05:00

That’s fun times fun times good times your newsletter is so super comprehensive. You cover topics from state legislation, national legislation, elections, studies, statistics, how, how long does it take for you to write a single newsletter? How are you getting to all that material in one day?


Jessica Valenti  05:20

Yeah, it takes about seven hours, I think, for each newsletter, seven to eight hours. At first, it was, you know, just doing new searches, right. But I was an early blogger and so like, I’m used to doing like those crazy internet searches. And so, you know, I’m trying to look at like student newspapers, local conservative blogs, crisis, pregnancy center, Twitter accounts, like wherever I think I’m gonna find something that I’m not necessarily going to hear about in the mainstream media is where I’m trying to look. And honestly, that tends to be where I find the most important stories and the stories that people aren’t covering or talking about yet, or that give me a sense of what the anti abortion movement is going to do next, which is like the other thing I’m obsessed with, I feel like they are very much on offense. Like in the real world.


Samantha Bee  06:14

Right? It’s like, historically, we’ve been so reactive to them being so effectively on offense, it’s very difficult to anticipate the level of evil.


Jessica Valenti  06:24

It is, it is, and it’s because also like, the level of evil, like they mask it so well, with the language that they’re using. And the policies that, you know, it’s the something I wrote about recently was how their next big thing like this campaign that they aren’t investing all of this time and money and energy into is, they are calling it a prenatal diagnosis counseling program, which sounds lovely, and caring, exactly like who wouldn’t want prenatal diagnosis counseling. But actually, what it is, is this multimillion dollar program where they’re going to try to convince women to carry doomed pregnancies to term and scare the shit out of them, and try to put in mandatory waiting periods. Just like the worst possible, like most horrific, cruel, possible ideas, but framing it in this like, lovely, like women and baby friendly language. And so when you’re like, hey, don’t fund that program, you sound like a monster, right.


Samantha Bee  07:31

Right, one of the things that I do appreciate about your newsletter, so specifically, is that you define the terminology as it evolves. Consensus limits is another big one that I keep hearing.


Jessica Valenti  07:45

Yeah, I started covering this like, a year ago, just like every, you know, every couple days, I’d be like, hey, here’s another person who used this word consensus. This is coming up a lot, and then I noticed they were just completely eradicating the use of the word ban, right? We’re not using the word ban, they refuse to use it.


Samantha Bee  08:03

They’re using consensus instead of ban to make it sound less, you know, scary.


Jessica Valenti  08:08

Yeah, and I think what is so important about us tracking that and knowing what that language actually is, and what those words actually mean, is that it’s so easy, especially for mainstream media outlets, to fall into that trap. And I think that like the best, the best tools that we have, are staying five steps ahead of them.


Samantha Bee  08:30

Right, very hard to do, thank God, you’re doing it okay, thank you for your life’s work. Really appreciate it. This is Katie, so you’re reading, you’re scrolling, you’re listening, you’re watching. You’re tuned into so much information about abortion and a lot of it is extremely emotionally draining, how do you actually how do you keep your head above water? How do you take care of yourself?


Jessica Valenti  08:55

I mean, I’ll be I don’t like I don’t think that that’s like to be real. Like, I think that’s the case for a lot of people who work on reproductive rights right now. I’m trying to do a better job at it. Because I do know, as my husband likes to remind me like it’s a marathon, not a sprint, like we’re gonna have to be doing this for a long time. But it’s really hard and again, I think anyone who does this work would say this, when the stakes are so high. When you know that if you don’t answer your Tiktok DMS one day, the 17 year old who messaged you about where to get abortion medication, might not get it in time. Like it sort of feels like that is more important than me taking a self care day. That said again, trying to like think about the long game, I think the community of people honestly like at the newsletter and people who care about this issue that sort of feeds you, I think and takes care of you and I also think it’s sort of like self care, honestly, to know there’s nothing that Republicans are doing that they’re getting one over on me with abortion because they know exactly what they’re up to, that, that feeds my soul.


Samantha Bee  10:04

I do feel like there are so many people who are engaged with this issue like, relatively strongly, who still feel like a sense of Doom or like it is actually hard for them to maintain that kind of like necessary outrage, or it’s hard to stay in the fight someone? Are there uncommon ways to maintain engagement that people might not think about.


Jessica Valenti  10:29

I mean, I think honestly, just on an emotional level, remaining as petty and vengeful as possible actually helps. Like, I honestly like, anytime I think about like, oh my god, this is hard or like, Absolutely not, like fuck them like, their whole strategy is to overwhelm us into an action and to make sure that we are like, bombarded and exhausted. And anytime we don’t let that happen, and anytime, like we remain engaged, it is a big fuck you to the people who want us to be exhausted and overwhelmed. And so, you know, I’m a Scorpio venture venture, this drives me maybe that’s just me.


Samantha Bee  11:11

I’m also a vengeful Scorpio, oh, my gosh.


Jessica Valenti  11:16

Wednesdays I, you know, I honestly find it very, I find it very motivating. But I also think that like, listen, this is part of why I did the newsletter because not everyone wants to sit in this all day every day, right? But like if you can take five minutes and read an email and feel like you know what’s going on. Hopefully, that helps.


Samantha Bee  11:38

Okay, as much as we want to take our vengeance everywhere. We are coming up on the holiday season. So after the break, Jessica tells us how to talk about this while we’re sitting next to our loved ones just restraining ourselves as we pass the dinner rolls.


Samantha Bee  13:24

Okay, we are about to get into the holidays with some long family tables. How do you recommend people approach this topic over the holidays?


Jessica Valenti  14:45

I try to tell people I’m like listen, don’t waste your energy talking to brick walls right like as we’ve been talking about, this is a long fight. We need to treat our activist energy like a precious resource and not waste it and if you have like that uncle or or that person who is just never going to change their mind. And it’s just like trying to troll you, which we’re like, why waste your energy on that?


Samantha Bee  15:06



Jessica Valenti  15:07

If you have like a younger cousin, though, you know, maybe slip them the URL to where they should buy advanced provision, abortion medication, literally the last family gathering. I had all my poor young cousins in their 20s. But I was absolutely out of my mind, I was like, what’s your give me your phone number, I’m gonna text you. Here’s, here’s plan, see, here’s eight access, I want you to order some abortion medication immediately, please, and just keep it in your medicine cabinet. But you know, they did it so, so it worked out.


Samantha Bee  15:35

Well, what is the conversation look like leading up to? I don’t get there [..]


Jessica Valenti  15:42

I just like, no, no warming up. No, nothing. I just am I really went up to them. And I was like, hey, you know, they make abortion medication illegal soon, and you should have it. And that’s, that’s really it, and a lot of them they know, but they don’t know and saying to them, you know, I have a couple cousins we’re about to get married. And I said, you know, even if you think you might have a baby soon. And just have this because even if you end up having you know, a miscarriage, if you can’t get this medication, like often, that is the best medication you can take, like you don’t want to miss out on every option available. And I also think with younger people, honestly, they also don’t like feeling like someone is getting something over on them. And they do like feeling like they are getting ahead of something, right. And so saying to them, here’s this website, you should get it, I have abortion medication, like I don’t think I can get pregnant anymore, but my daughter is 13 and the shelf life is five years and so I’m hanging on to it.


Samantha Bee  16:47

That’s like the new rainy day fund. That’s like you need you need six months worth of whatever money you need for rent, you need your martial medications, you need.


Jessica Valenti  16:57

A bunch of plan B’s and the bottom of the sink. Like I’m not fucking around, like my kid is going to be prepared. I’m gonna like send her off to college with like two suitcases full of abortion medication, ready into it.


Samantha Bee  17:11

Speaking of the US, should we talk about the role of Tiktok right now?


Jessica Valenti  17:15



Samantha Bee  17:15

Because you are an avid and very effective user of Tiktok.


Jessica Valenti  17:20

Oh, thank you, that means a lot.


Samantha Bee  17:22

You are anti killjoy, which I love, and on your page, you do a ton of like amazing explainers. You answer user questions, which obviously, as you’ve just said, is super important for people because they just want to help they just want to do something for an abortion advocate. What is a good way to use Tiktok like?


Jessica Valenti  17:46

Oh, that’s a great question. I actually think Tiktok is a great way to disseminate information, like it’s such a powerful disseminator of information in there, weirdly very effective, engaging people. You know, I never thought that like a literal 32nd 62nd video could get people riled up but it really does motivate engagement in this way that feels new to me. What’s nice about it also, is that, because there’s all these different kinds of videos, you have the ability to find a video that can meet someone where they’re at, right.


Samantha Bee  18:24

I saw a Tiktok where someone asked you if you felt like you were preaching to the choir with your work. And I think that that is very, very interesting. What is the actual point of putting all of this information together for people?


Jessica Valenti  18:40

Yeah, I get that I get that question a lot about are you know, aren’t you just talking to people who already know? And my answer is always like twofold? One, we don’t need to change hearts and minds, right? Like we have the votes. America is with us. Americans have wanted abortion to be legal for decades. And we have sort of fallen victim to this idea that the country is evenly split on abortion, it’s not, it hasn’t been for a really long time. We don’t need to be I don’t need to be out there, like convincing people to come to our side. You know, this is about a small group of extremists, legislators who are enacting laws against the will of the majority of voters like that. That is the issue, not that enough. People aren’t pro choice. And the second thing is I don’t think of it when someone says, well, aren’t you preaching to the choir? I really think of it as arming the choir, like giving the choir, what they need to go out and do whatever work they want to do on this issue, right? So that they feel informed, motivated, that they know, you know, what sources to trust, what organizations are doing good work, because one of the things that I’ve noticed for years from like, way back doing feminist blogging, you know, for women, especially, young women, young women even more so they want to be involved, but they are made to feel stupid or ashamed or ignorant if they speak up on something, right? And there is this fear of if I talk about this issue to my friends or my family or at school, is someone gonna say you don’t know what you’re talking about? Is someone going to make me feel dumb? And I just want to make sure that that that they can go into those situations with like a lot of confidence and information and knowing that’s absolutely not going to happen.


Samantha Bee  20:27

Right, because I do also think that there are so many people out there obviously the majority of Americans who support abortion rights, but many people are kind of locked into an old way of seeing things, right. And I’m hearing you kind of say that we there is new there is there is a fresh way to look at it, there is new thinking there is new, relevant information that everybody deserves to have, and an arms you.


Jessica Valenti  20:52

It does, so many people even though we are the majority still have that mindset of this is a controversial issue that we are split on, right. But when you actually look at the polls, that’s just not borne out, like we are seeing that people really understand this issue in a much more nuanced and complicated way than they did even five years ago, young people especially. And I think we just need to give them credit for that and start talking about this in the way we want the policy to look like and in the way that we want our future with pregnancy and abortion to look like and stop holding on to those old ways of thinking and having this conversation.


Samantha Bee  21:34

And the old language, the old verbiage of like safe, legal rare, which we’ll.


Jessica Valenti  21:40

No, like overlooks all over it like it’s, it is. It is so stigmatizing honestly, I’ve struggled with that in my own life like for when I used to talk about having an abortion. At first I only talked about the abortion I had after my daughter was born, and I had a really terrible pregnancy and almost died and being pregnant again, could kill me and so it was not really a choice. I was like, well, you know, I don’t want to leave my daughter mother listened so I had an abortion. It was very easy for me to talk about that abortion, and less easy for me to talk about the abortion I had, you know, four years before or before I met my husband before I had my daughter because that was like not as okay, right? And I’m someone who does this for a living and I internalize that stigma. There’s just so much of that we need to like really move past it.


Samantha Bee  22:35

I could not agree more that stigma can impact any of us, even those who write about this topic for a living like Jessica. So how do we move past it? Part of it is doing the work arming the choir with the information that they need to break it down. Like Jessica’s incredible newsletter, abortion every day, which we will of course link in the show notes for you. But another part of it is in the stories we tell each other. This is something I got to chat about with Renee Bracey Sherman of we testify.


Renee Bracey Sherman  23:09

What feels important is educating the mass on why people have abortions. And we can do that through our stories, and dispelling the myths that exist about abortion that we’ve all believed.


Samantha Bee  23:21

We testify supports abortion storytellers, especially for marginalized backgrounds. Renee was motivated to do this work because of her own experience sharing her abortion story. We dug into her personal story and why she works to train storytellers in our interview. So okay, so can you tell us why? Why did you decide to start this organization? What was the genesis of that?


Renee Bracey Sherman  23:48

I did not see people who looked like me sharing their abortion stories. It was about a little over a decade ago, when I first started sharing my abortion story and it was so isolating, not seeing people of color and their stories be out there especially with who was like interviewed in the news or when when abortion was the topic, right. And when I had my abortion at 19 I  thought I was like the only person of color to have an abortion ever. It was like me and like Romar little kid. That was it right? And and I knew that my cousins and aunts white women in my family had had abortions, but it had not been talked about with black folks in my family. And so I really felt like what do we need to do to create a space and to create a world in which people of color who have abortions feel like they are able to step in and feel supported to share they’re stories. And it was it again, I would be on panels and people of color would come up to me and say I had an abortion too. I had an abortion too. And that was really, really wonderful but it was like, okay, but why am I still like the only on this panel?


Samantha Bee  25:14

Right? It’s just me little came out here and we could use some company.


Renee Bracey Sherman  25:18

Yeah, and I later learned Vanessa Williams. There’s just so few of us, right. And so I, I don’t think that you can ask someone to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself. And it’s not right to ask people to do things without giving them the proper training and support. And when I first started sharing my abortion story, the harassment was so bad, especially so racist. And I definitely heard from a lot of white leaders at the time, well, that’s just part of it. That’s just it is what it is. And there wasn’t this desire to fix it. And so when I thought about how do we actually protect abortion, storytellers, they are the people that were say we’re supporting, they are at the core of this work. But they’re not centered. They’re not invited to be part of our movement. They’re not the leaders of our movement. They’re not the spokespeople of our movement. How do we support them and so then I did an a survey 10, it’ll be 10 years ago next year, where I interviewed abortion storytellers and asked them what it was that they needed. And they said that they needed, they needed harassment support, they needed compensation for their time and their energy. They needed someone to be there with them. And so then I started creating a curriculum for that which later, then became we testify as an organization. And what I have sought to do is just to make sure that all abortion stories are heard, that the stories are as diverse as the people who have them, and that it’s within proportion of who has abortions on why the majority of people who have abortions are people of color, their parents, their spiritual, they experienced financial, logistical and legal barriers to their abortions. But what ends up happening is that white women’s stories get elevated, especially if there’s tears involved. And black folks, black and brown folks, just their stories get deprioritize. So the majority of abortion stories that you hear should be from people of color. But we’re not there yet. We’re getting there, right now. All right, yeah.


Samantha Bee  27:30

I guess let’s can I, we talk about the approach? Because you’re using storytelling as a way to build leadership within the movement? I guess why is that more effective or more important than just trying to run out and change the minds of people who disagree with us.


Renee Bracey Sherman  27:50

Well, couple things. I think there’s a misunderstanding of like, the people who agree with us and people who don’t. The majority of the country agrees with us. I believe in reminding them as we say that we testify, everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion, that the things that you think about abortion, even if you’re supportive of it, you might think of some things that are stigmatizing like, oh, well, it’s dangerous. And so for me, what feels important is dispelling the myths, the pro choice myths that we write, which Paul protrace politicians spread constantly.


Samantha Bee  28:30

Yeah, I was just gonna say that, like generationally, too. There’s like a whole cohort, like a large cohort of people who support abortion, but it’s, you know, there’s some conditional support, you know, people who are like, I’m fine with abortion, but I don’t want people to use it as birth control it things like that.


Renee Bracey Sherman  28:47

That is the stigma right there. And at the end of the day, like, they’re uncomfortable with abortion, and you need to get get deeper into figuring out why you’re uncomfortable with abortion, not shaming people who have abortions along the way.


Samantha Bee  29:01

Right, we’ve just seen because I mean, this podcast is primarily people telling their stories, and we’ve seen that people’s feelings about their abortions are so totally varied. They just run the gamut or to people stories still impact you. Do you still feel?


Renee Bracey Sherman  29:19

Yeah oh, absolutely. I think the most privileged and part of my job is that I get to talk to people who’ve had abortions all the time, and people are always sharing their abortion stories for the first time I went to a conference recently, and veteran activists that I’ve known for a long, long time, finally sharing their abortion stories or just recently had an abortion because they never thought they were going to be someone who would need an abortion. And that is so beautiful to me. It feels like you know that that moment of blooming where you watch someone and come into their own, and you’re just like, you’re just so proud. That is how I feel all of the time. And what is so beautiful too, is that all of those folks, tell me a story of telling someone in their life who was anti abortion or, you know, maybe wofully on abortion and how that person’s like, oh, well, I didn’t realize it was like that, you know, because they have this idea that like, I don’t know, slept with devil horns is the ones who are all the ones who have abortions. But like, the forget that it’s actually that person that you love. And they were scared to tell you because they were afraid that you were going to reject them. That is, that is is the magic? And yes, all you know, do we hope that people will vote in a different way? Sure, whatever, right? But that’s not my focus, right?


Samantha Bee  30:55

So you get to be there at the moment when they take off that like invisible, very heavy backpack.


Renee Bracey Sherman  31:03

It is and I’ll tell you for myself, I felt like when I first started sharing it, it was a weight. It like I was like, oh my god, I stood up straighter. I will also say that I had been doing this work for four years before my mom told me that she had an abortion before she had me. And so surprised, I’m here because of emotion. And I could see that weight lifted off of her. And just, you know, she was a little nervous to tell me. And I was like, wait, what do you mean? Like, you know, why didn’t you say anything? She was like, I don’t know, you kind of kept doing that abortion stuff, so I figured I should tell you eventually. Cool but my mom and I since then have never been closer. And something I told her that day was that I didn’t go to her when I was pregnant and needed an abortion because I was afraid she was going to judge me. And I said to her mom, you know, if you had told me that you’d had an abortion, when I had my abortion, I would have known that I could have gone to you I was so afraid that you were going to judge me that I went through it completely alone. And, you know, I and I learned a lot from that because that’s now why I do I’m an abortion doula and I do practical support and take people to their appointments as well. I still love doing that being present with someone during their abortion experience. But I think that if my mom had told me that, that I would have felt okay to go to her. And that’s what I want to break down that if we talk about it more, you will know who you can go to. And I will tell you, the best people you can go to for advice during an abortion is people who’ve already had them.


Samantha Bee  33:01

I’m amazed by what you unlocked with your mom.


Renee Bracey Sherman  33:04

I know, I know we’ve like never been closer from that moment on like it. It was this change in our relationship. And I recently interviewed her for the books that I’m co writing and he was really interesting to there was so many parallels to our abortions. And I you know, have later learned that, you know, my aunt’s have had them and on the black side of my family right like to find out my cousins have had them folks have had more than one abortion, like just talking about that. It opens up these doors of secrecy and so many things come out with that abortion story because it’s always more than I had an abortion. It’s it’s talking about all of the stories that are left untolds because you know, they’re not proper dinner conversations, but I love talking about abortion over food. It’s my favorite way to do it.


Samantha Bee  34:06

We do too after this episode, you’re going to be ready to talk about reproductive justice at any table holidays or  not. We’ll let you chew on that a while while we take a quick break. When we come back, Renee tells us why Britney Spears is abortion story matters.


Samantha Bee  37:04

I love talking about this with you because it’s such a great reminder about how shame and stigma and secrets can be so corrosive.


Renee Bracey Sherman  37:17

So bad, they eat inside of you and my mom later told me it’s been made dad told me first when I testified before Congress, I was like, I was so scared. I was sharing the self managed abortion protocol, and it was the first time in history anyone had done that. And there was South Carolina was like threatening to make sharing that information illegal and I was like, these Republicans are gonna be thrown out. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I also share the story of that, I’m here because my mom had a choice. And she said to me, Renee, I chose you and my my mom and later or my dad, and later my mom told me that my mom just started shaking when she was watching my testimony and sharing that. And it just released something in her. And to me, I just I think that abortion story sharing is this way to help free people from all the bullshit of society. We have actually testified these closed sessions for people who have abortions, all of our workshops are only for people about abortions, so that we can get real with one another and talk about the things that people might not want us to share the real truths of Britney Spears, his memoir over here. And that, you know, there were a lot of folks and we’re like, why are we elevating this abortion story. It’s not helpful to us. Let me tell you something. Our abortion stories are not supposed to be helpful to you. There are truth and, like, okay, she uses the word agonizing to describe her abortion. If you were in a loan and you cannot go to a doctor, even though you want to and you weren’t sure whether or not you wanted to continue the pregnancy or you wanted to have the abortion, and you feel like you don’t have the support that you need that can anything that appendicitis or whatever that can be an agonizing experience to then be cramping. And then having Justin fucking Timberlake, just playing the guitar over you while you are hugging a toilet. Just like trying to pass this pregnancy. Yeah, that does sound like an agonizing experience.


Samantha Bee  39:40

Truly, I don’t want Justin Timberlake to come hear me anytime with a guitar, okay.


Renee Bracey Sherman  39:46

And so we I think that there has been a way in which our movement has sort of said don’t share those stories because they’re not deemed a perfect story. And that also keeps people like in a in a box and feeling like they can’t actually process what was going on during their experience, because if you read the excerpt, she also talks about how he was cheating on her constantly and she was deeply in love with this man and his noodle hair. And he didn’t love her back. And that is and what she’s processing was not just the loss of the pregnancy, that she was feeling unsure about, right, but also the loss of the relationship, which is something that I identified with, because my abortion also meant the end of my relationship. Toxic one, but that still hurts. And I think that we have to give people the space to hold all of that all at once. And and I think that, that we we as a society can do that. We’ve been told we can’t. But we can, and I think that we just have to practice it. And we practice it starting in our own communities and with our own families and friends right?


Samantha Bee  41:01

How of the stories that you have been listening to shifted and evolved since you started to do this work?


Renee Bracey Sherman  41:12

You know, one of the things that has really shifted is how many people are sharing that they’ve had more than one abortion, or that their abortion was later in pregnancy? there for a long time, there were folks who would they’ve had more than one abortions, half of people who have abortions have more than one. Like that’s just it, right. But they would only talk about one abortion or just not say how many they had or how far along it was. And so I think that the conversation that tide is shifting, where people are feeling more comfortable saying, I’ve had two abortions, I’ve I’ve had four abortions, I’ve had six abortions, half of our staff has more than one abortion. People are saying, yeah, I had an abortion at 19 weeks, whatever that is, they’ve been feeling more comfortable to say that. And that’s a testament to the public being more supportive, and openly supportive of abortion, that they feel that they can talk about that, that they they can talk about it without being villainized. That has been the biggest shift. And that is huge that was absolutely huge.


Samantha Bee  42:39

It is really refreshing to hear that the public is becoming more and more supportive of abortion. You know, that kind of change doesn’t just happen. Like you’ve heard it comes from people like Renee and Jessica, getting shit done. They are elevating underrepresented stories. They are sharing vital information, the heart total defenders of reproductive freedom. So we are going to wrap up by hearing who they look to for inspiration, their defenders.


Jessica Valenti  43:15

Obviously, there’s so many but like the the two or three organizations I think about the most are pregnancy justice, which has been around for a really long time doing really difficult on the ground defense work of people who are being directly impacted by these laws. And so definitely pregnancy justice, the folks at if, when how they run a reproductive legal helpline. So if you’re worried about breaking the law in your state, if you’re worried about is it legal for me to get an abortion or travel, you can call their helpline and they’re there, and they can give you that advice. There’s terrific people at the miscarriage and abortion hotline. And this is a hotline that staffed with nurses and physicians. So for folks who are self managing their abortions, maybe in a state where abortion is illegal, and they’re afraid to go to a doctor or a hospital, they can call this hotline. And these doctors and nurses can walk them through whatever it is they’re going through. And that honestly like I know I said before, like I don’t take care of myself mentally. That takes care of me like knowing that there are people out there who are really just so specifically and narrowly focused on what people need is amazing.


Renee Bracey Sherman  44:29

I want to organize with people who have abortions. I look to them for inspiration. They are leading abortion funds, they are running clinics, they are running self managed abortion networks across this country. They are driving folks to their appointments. There are new folks joining our ranks every day and they are making it through this lake complete mess. They are pushing back back against the stigma, they are changing the conversation. And that is who I turned to I, I was getting my nails done the other day. And the nail tech was like, what do you do? And so I told her what I did. She was like, oh, she starts talking about her two abortions, right? Like, it’s just, the girl cuts my hair, we start to talk about her abortion all the time. We’re everywhere. We’re living our lives and what I want to do is create a space in which they feel safe to be able to say that and continue living their lives.


Samantha Bee  45:39

My biggest takeaway from these interviews is that storytelling works. And there are so many ways to do this work big and small. Whether it’s sharing your own abortion story, like Renee, or sharing a story from Jessica’s newsletter to help educate your friends and family. These small exchanges with the people close to us matter. And we need to be paying attention to the language we use, and how stigma can creep in whether we are aware of it or not. Storytelling is not necessarily about changing minds. It’s an effective way to build trust, break down stigma, and create connection with your loved ones. I think hearing these two interviews together reminds me how much the personal and the political are intertwined. We can’t fight for one without the other.


Samantha Bee  46:41

Next week, we get to hear from more people making that clear. We’re wrapping the season with a two part finale. First we will meet an abortion doctor who at 85 isn’t retiring anytime soon, even though his safety is at risk. If the anti abortion people know where I am, I’m not safe, that’s all good. And then we’ll follow a recent college grad just getting started on their activism journey.


Speaker 1  47:06

Seeing it like literally inked into law and signed was oh my God, I did that we worked really really hard for something.


Samantha Bee  47:17

That’s coming up on The Defenders.


Gloria Riviera  47:23

There’s more of The Defenders with Lemonada premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content like extended interviews with organizers, abortion providers and experts. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts.


CREDITS  47:35

The Defenders is a production of Lemonada Media. We’re your hosts Gloria Riviera, and Samantha Bee. Muna Danish  is our supervising producer. Lisa Phu  is our producer. Isaura Aceves and Tony Williams are our associate producers. Ivan Kuraev and Natasha Jacobs are our audio engineers. Music by Hannis Brown with additional music by Natasha Jacobs. Story editing by Jackie Danziger, our VP of narrative content. Fact checking by Naomi Barr. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs. This series is supported by Charles and Lynn Schusterman, Family Philanthropies, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Levi Strauss foundation. Follow The Defenders wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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