They Haven’t Seen The Last of Us

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What does it mean to be an abortion activist in a state where abortion is completely banned? We travel to Tennessee alongside two activists who are risking everything to expand access to care.  

Learn more about Abortion Care Tennessee at

Follow Tia Freeman on Instagram @slipp3rywhenwet and their work with Beyond Roe Collective @beyondroecollective.

Gloria Riviera and Samantha Bee are our hosts. 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.

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To follow along with a transcript, go to shortly after the air date.



Samantha Bee, Senator Oliver, Robin, Gloria Riviera, Blaise Gainey, Vidalia Anne Gentry, Tia Freeman, London Lamar

Tia Freeman  00:44

Getting here this morning was a little bit of a cluster barking in Nashville is always a headache. And I was driving around for like an hour this morning because I was like I don’t want to pay $40 for parking. And then I wasted all that time because I end up paying $40 for parking.


Gloria Riviera  01:46

Parking isn’t cheap at the Tennessee State Capitol to Freeman has been here a handful of times but that doesn’t mean she knows exactly where she’s going.


Tia Freeman  01:55

So if you’ve never been in this building, you’re probably going to get lost. Like I’ve been here three or four times and I get lost every time.


Gloria Riviera  02:02

Get it, the place at first it’s like a maze of sameness.


Tia Freeman  02:07

Eyes stumbled upon the wrong room when I first got up here, but you know I’m too I’m gonna listen. It’s a lot bigger out where in the world is Carmen Sandiego.


Gloria Riviera  02:18

Finally finds the right place all the way up on the eighth floor.


Tia Freeman  02:26

We’re in just two little rooms set up with food breakfast T shirts, pins, folders so that we have the right information for what we’re going to do today. So so far, it’s been a little hectic, but very productive.


Gloria Riviera  02:39

Tia is here for a lobby day organized by healthy and free Tennessee. The event brings people to the Capitol to spread awareness about reproductive justice issues like abortion and trans health care. Both were banned in the past two years, the ladder specifically when it comes to gender affirming care for youth, while she’s there to go to an advocacy training on how to talk to politicians, attend a parenting panel. And lastly, talk to her legislator, Senator Charlene Oliver. They’ve never met before. Well, not exactly.


Tia Freeman  03:12

I have not spoken with her before in a legislative capacity. Once upon a time I accidentally stumbled in a club and it was her birthday. So I celebrated her last birthday with her I don’t think she would probably remember that. You know, like an agent of chaos. Things kind of happened to me.


Gloria Riviera  03:30

As you can probably tell Tia is outgoing and chatty the type of person who totally would make friends with her Senator uninvited at her birthday party. She’s a sex educator. Her company is called slippery when wet, which is maybe the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. And as an activist, her upbeat energy comes with a sense of defiance that’s contagious, even when she’s talking about stuff like abortion bans.


Tia Freeman  03:55

We lost legislatively we lost right? Ever we’re fighting every day we’re showing that we’re fighting. You know, we’re getting people care. We’re fighting. We’re telling people where they can go we’re fighting. You know, and I think it’s important to remember the fight there’s fun in the fight. There’s fire in the fight. There’s passion in the fight, you know, and this is not the last day gonna see of us.


Samantha Bee  04:14

Turns out that day in February two was right. Just over a month later, that same capital would be absolutely packed with protesters plastered all over the national news.


Samantha Bee  04:36

Reporter Blaise Gainey with Nashville’s public radio station WPLN. Was there.


Blaise Gainey  04:47

This is usually where lobbyists sit right here but during the protest, I mean these floors were packed with people. It was loud. I mean, obviously I’m just speaking and you can sort of hear an echo just a mouth imagine of like hundreds of people in You’re screaming and chanting it just it almost gets stuck in your ears almost in you go home and you still hear it.


Samantha Bee  05:19

Now, not one more. These protests started after the covenant school shooting in March when a shooter killed six people at the Christian school, including three, nine year old children. Sadly, we have heard this story before, but for Tennesseans, it felt like something was different this time, the Capitol had never seen anything like it.


Blaise Gainey  05:46

Even just walking into the building, you had to walk through hundreds of moms kids all protesting holding signs, really wanting lawmakers to acknowledge that there was a need for gun control in the state. People were upset.


Samantha Bee  06:01

But it wasn’t just about gun control. In March, Tennessee had also passed a drag ban outlawing drag performance in public spaces. Oh yeah, they came for the drag queens. It was the first state to do so with several others jumping on the bandwagon. The state had also passed the ban on gender affirming health care for youth. And then in April, just when you thought the Tennessee House might be taking a little rest from the chaos. They expelled two of their members for participating in a protest on gun control. Both members Justin Pearson and Justin Jones were Black. This move sparked even more outrage and protesters and you probably heard about it. It was all over the national news. Ganey says it led to an abrupt end to the legislative session.


Blaise Gainey  07:14

I don’t think session was supposed to end on April 21. I think it was sort of a rush by Republican lawmakers to get out of here because they didn’t know when the protests would stop. I mean, I didn’t know either.


Samantha Bee  07:27

People were fighting back and too many it felt like for once their representatives were to Jones and Pearson were taking a stand.


Blaise Gainey  07:36

They were doing what they thought was right, and whether it was right. For the rules, obviously, no, they broke rules. But that doesn’t mean that the rules shouldn’t have been broken.


Samantha Bee  07:48

Especially when the rules are made by people who don’t look like you, Tia Freeman, again.


Tia Freeman  07:55

A lot of our legislators are white males, older, white males, right? They have not lived our lived experiences, they don’t have the support or lack thereof that we have, right. And so unless we come unless we make our demands known and apparent and repetitive, they’re not going to do this work. And I get it, you know, the walls look tall, and they look impenetrable, you know, but what I’ve seen throughout history is that people have made changes.


Samantha Bee  08:26

And that change, despite how urgently it’s needed, often comes very slowly.


Tia Freeman  08:34

These things are decades and centuries in the making, right? And so instead of getting overwhelmed by how hard and how high the wall is, we have to show up, because every day we chip away at it a little bit more, until one day it comes crumbling down.


Gloria Riviera  08:50

Every day Tia and her fellow activists are doing the work chipping away at the injustice as they see gun violence, the ban on abortion, the attacks on queer and trans people, the loss of federal funding for family planning and HIV prevention. The work doesn’t just mean political organizing. It means creating community and building a more inclusive and intersectional movement when that goes beyond Roe, because as we know Roe was never enough. This is The Defenders a show about the fight for freedom and a post roe America. I’m your host Gloria Riviera.


Samantha Bee  09:28

And I’m your host Sam Bee. This week what the abortion fight looks like on the ground in one of our country’s most restrictive states.


Gloria Riviera  09:37

From protests to abortion trainings and drag shows. We’ll see how a whole community is rising up.


Samantha Bee  09:43

And how abortion is just the beginning of a bigger fight for bodily autonomy in Tennessee and in the country.


Gloria Riviera  09:56

In Tennessee today, abortion is illegal in fact per Providing an abortion is a felony, do so and you’re facing up to 15 years in prison. The ban applies from the moment of fertilization. It doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest. The only time you can get an abortion is if your life is at risk. And even getting lawmakers to agree to that was a contentious and drawn out legal battle. Imagine a bunch of politicians and lobbyists trying to determine just how close to death a person needs to be before their doctor can legally help them. With those stakes very much in mind to knows the importance of showing up and making her views known, visibly known.


Gloria Riviera  10:45

Missy and miso stand for […]. Two pills used in medication abortion. We’ll hear more about those later. Today T is meeting with Senator Charlene Oliver, one of the few black representatives in the Tennessee State Senate. Our field producer Laura Bucha is with her. How are you feeling about this coming up?


Tia Freeman  11:14

I feel great. I feel out of place looking at all these white people on the walls but like we’re here now. We’re here the white people on the wall. I have no clue. But there’s nothing but.


Gloria Riviera  11:26

Finally she gets to Senator Oliver’s office.


Tia Freeman  11:35

I didn’t know what to wear today. But I felt like I had to wear something that like made a statement. Yeah. So I was like, yeah, I gotta go with my abortion pill.


Gloria Riviera  11:58

Either, senator Oliver has an amazing memory, or TIA is just incredibly memorable. Personally, I think it’s the latter. Anyways, on the wall in Senator Oliver’s office, there’s the Black Power Fist painted with vibrant colors on a backdrop of the American flag, not something you’ll see in most legislators offices in Tennessee, to quickly launches into why she’s there.


Tia Freeman  12:23

It’s kind of just discussing like, what, what are your views on the things going on? And what are your stances on you know, reproductive justice, abortion access? And then, um, you know, gender affirming care.


Senator Oliver  12:33

And yeah, I mean, I, first of all, like, a lot of these issues are very, like personal to me, because I’ve lived them. As a Black woman. I’ve got three kids, and I’m a sexual assault survivor. And you know, I’ve had an abortion before. And so I know what that’s like. And I do think that having an abortion is a medical procedure is healthcare. And I just find it really hypocritical, but also just like a slap in the face that we have a bunch of white men who are making these decisions for us who have never spit out a baby. Like you just don’t even know what that’s like brown like, Oh, you don’t understand. Just the shift, right?


Gloria Riviera  13:19

And Senator Oliver explains that as a Democrat governing in a deeply red state, her hands are basically tied.


Senator Oliver  13:26

You know, the most I can do is, is vote no on these bills, even though I know we’re out number as Democrats and fight to make sure that we can get people’s rights back. I don’t think the work only happens inside this building. As an organizer. We need to be coordinating on the outside.


Gloria Riviera  13:47

Coordinating on the outside. That’s exactly what TIA is doing. She tells us that her work goes way beyond advocacy at the Capitol.


Tia Freeman  13:58

understand that politics plays a substantial role, right and our liberation. However, my primary focus is not the legislative landscape. My primary focus is creating communal infrastructures to insulate us from legislative harm. Because one thing that my identities have taught me is that, you know, the government and state violence is always going to come for us, right, like, and culture changes. First, politics doesn’t happen. And then culture shifts, culture shifts, and then we get the politics as a fallout.


Gloria Riviera  14:36

Tears realistic about the possibilities of political change, especially in a state that’s so read. It’s hard not to be kind of cynical when your districts have been gerrymandered to the point that your congressional map looks like a jigsaw puzzle. Like how exactly do you get progressive issues passed in that kind of environment? That’s something that came up with another senator that day. Senator London Lamar.


Tia Freeman  15:03

And I appreciate the work that you’re doing. But my question is about like, at the same time that we’re having all of these like attacks on abortion access, we’re also having attacks on like gender affirming care. But a lot of times when we’re discussing like women’s health and women’s reproductive issues, especially on the topic of abortion, we tend to leave outside of the conversation a little, you know, gender expansive people trans to intersex peoples. So how do you think that in, like, in conjunction with our attacks on trans people and their existence, how will this affect? And how are you working to help it?


London Lamar  15:43

That’s a lot, because you might not like my answer. But I’m a legislator, and I gotta be strategic, I have to keep those separate. Because I combined them, everything dies, like, I get the support, I can get more women behind this, and bring this along under it, versus lumping them together. Because you’ll be surprised how many progressive Democrat people are on this side, and they’ll debunk the whole thing. So it makes it harder because you want to do more, but you can’t sacrifice what you’re doing over here. So you try to walk a fine line. But at this point, everybody gets on the bus.


Gloria Riviera  16:22

So what Senator London is saying is, unfortunately, what we hear from a lot of politicians, I have to keep those separate, because if I combine them, everything dies. In other words, we have to pick and choose our issues. Rather than build a bolder, stronger, more inclusive coalition. This has become the standard operating procedure for our politics. But it’s also incredibly short sighted, because of course, these issues are connected. And when they’re siloed, they’re a lot easier to target. We’re seeing that play out now with abortion and gender affirming care. The thing is, tears work can’t separate those things. After roe fell, she started deep beyond roe collective, a group that provides on the ground support and education around abortion and reproductive justice. They do trainings, direct action, and even have a community cabinet with contraception period products and plan B, all available for free. That’s because for Tia and the beyond row collective, the work needs to go beyond just abortion.


Tia Freeman  17:29

So I’ve always been someone who believed deeply in intersectionality, even before I had the language to articulate that my identities intersect, I am not black first or a woman first or queer first, right? I am all over things all at once. We live intersectional lives and so our politics need to reflect that. Also, as a black person, anything that’s done to somebody else is going to hit my door, if I’m talking about reproductive justice and reproductive justice framework says I have the right to have a child to not have a child and parent the child or the children that I have, and safe and healthy environments. How can I do that if police brutality is a constant problem in my neighborhood, it’s how can I do that? If I’m facing housing instability, how can I do this if I don’t make enough money or a livable wage to support my family, right? And decisions made under duress aren’t choices. Right? That’s coercion. And so I think that people have to understand that the freedom to make actual choices is what we’re fighting for.


Gloria Riviera  18:31

This distinction is important, and very much influenced by sister song, a collective of women of color founded in the 90s, who have pushed for a larger and more inclusive approach to reproductive rights. And actually, that reproductive rights and reproductive justice are different things. Justice is about having the freedom to make many different choices, not just having the legal right to an abortion. So if you’re pregnant in Tennessee, it’s fair to ask yourself, will this child be safe if they’re queer? Will they make it home from school today? Or become another statistic and our epidemic of gun violence? Tia has pondered these questions because she’s also a parent to a five year old son. And like many parents, she’s also had abortions, the first when she was in college. She was about a year from graduating when she realized she was pregnant.


Tia Freeman  19:30

When I found out I was devastated, I mean weeping in the bathtub as the shower water runs my skin like r&b Music looking outside longingly like look, there it goes in my life. I mean, I was devastated. And it wasn’t until I was able to schedule my appointment. I paid for do the procedure and have a procedure that like an immense sense of relief was let go.


Gloria Riviera  19:55

Tia’s second abortion was in 2021 a few years after she had her son it was not a hard decision for her.


Tia Freeman  20:02

I know the lifestyle that I wanted to live, right like financially, I didn’t want to try to manage multiple children, right? Mentally I know that first year postpartum was horrendous for me, and I did not want to go through that again. And so that was another easy decision.


Gloria Riviera  20:19

And one that she made publicly with no shame.


Tia Freeman  20:23

I’ve lost my second one. I did it during the pandemic, it’s just like, get ready with me to go to the clinic.


Gloria Riviera  20:31

True Tia fashion, the day after her abortion, she did a Q&A on Instagram Live.


Tia Freeman  20:37

So I will be talking about why abortion. I had it yesterday. So I’ll be talking about what it was like during a pandemic. And then I’ll be answering anybody’s questions. And yeah, that’s it. Like, I’m pretty much an open book.


Gloria Riviera  20:55

She did a full play by play of her abortion, including the pain medication and the cramps she felt during the procedure.


Tia Freeman  21:02

It feels kind of like, I don’t want to say contractions because contractions were a bitch. But if it was nothing that severe, but um, it has the same like cycle, like if you have cramps on your cycle, it has those waves.


Gloria Riviera  21:17

After sharing her story so publicly, Tia got a lot of responses.


Tia Freeman  21:22

I think that’s when it really hit me. How difficult and tumultuous a whole place abortion was, but like getting the people’s responses being like, Oh, my God, thank you so much. Like I didn’t know about this.


Gloria Riviera  21:36

It’s sad and true. Abortion is stigmatized. So our knowledge around it is limited. Tia is trying to change that. She is radically open with her community, not only on Instagram, through the beyond row collective, she organizes self managed abortion trainings, that is trainings on how to use the abortion pill to have your abortion at home.


Tia Freeman  21:58

Tennessee sucks. We’re Ruffo regressive state. And so what that looks like is how do we still get people access to education and resources


Gloria Riviera  22:10

And do that in a way that doesn’t get her in trouble with the law.


Tia Freeman  22:15

So, according to the World Health Organization, if someone was to self manage their abortion, this is how that person would self manage their abortion because your quotes air quotes right because it’s not illegal to share information.


Gloria Riviera  22:29

Tia isn’t the only one doing these trainings. This past spring she partnered up with another group, abortion care Tennessee or act. After the break, we’re going to talk to an activist from ACT and we’ll hear more about medication abortion.


Robin  23:25

My name is Robin and I am the development coordinator and one of the original founders of abortion care Tennessee. And what y’all don’t know is that you’re existing in my dream sequence right now. Because when in my like earliest visions of act this is exactly what it was.


Gloria Riviera  25:35

ACT, aka Abortion Care Tennessee is an abortion fund Robin Baldrige co founded in 2019. Robin works closely with Tia. She’s introducing herself at the training that she and Tia organized this past April. Tia unfortunately wasn’t able to make it due to a death in the family. So Robin took the reins. There are about 20 people here they’re at a bar and event space near downtown Nashville. As people trickled in Robin started with a disclaimer.


Robin  26:09

For this training, abortion care Tennessee cannot tell anyone how to access pills in the state of Tennessee. What we can do is direct you to plan C and aid As a community, it’s up to us to help navigate care in a post Roe, Tennessee. I think I can speak for a lot of us that feel like a lot of our lawmakers have really like put this on us so it’s on us to take care of us.


Gloria Riviera  26:37

She opens the training by sharing information about Mr. prestone and miso Postel. The abortion pills used to self manage and abortion. Providing these pills to abortion seekers is illegal in Tennessee. But sharing information about them in this type of training is not. Of course, what is legal today may change tomorrow. Robin and other organizers know that it’s very much a gray area. But Robin is charging ahead. She does a quick demo of how to take these pills beautifully. That means inside your cheeks. Only instead of pills, they’re using candy.


Robin  27:11

Okay, so what we’re going to do with those little m&ms, did everyone get m&ms? We’ll grab those now. Okay. And usually what that means is that you’re going to take two tablets, you’re gonna take all four tablets, and you’re going to put two on the left side and two on the right side in between your cheeks. And you’re going to hold them there. Okay, so all four pills are left in the mouth and we are going to hold them there for 30 minutes. So I’m going to set a timer. You do not swallow them so beautifully is to hear and to hear can everyone see?


Gloria Riviera  27:43

So someone in the audience raises their hand.


Robin  27:46

Obviously in this situation, you wouldn’t really care that much. But I’m just curious how bitter they are. Because these are m&ms their tastes really good. But like No, like really bad, like really bad or medium bad.


Gloria Riviera  28:09

Okay, so unlike m&ms, the pills don’t taste great. Good to know, no matter how small your question may seem, Robin is there for you, to make you as mentally prepared as possible for the day when you might need to follow all of her very detailed steps. And she goes into way more depth on everything from cramps and bleeding to how to comfort yourself at home to encrypted text messaging to protect yourself. Her goal, just like tias is sharing information and building community.


Robin  28:39

What happens with these trainings is that they kind of just naturally evolve into a community sharing conversation, you know, then it just became kind of like this bouncing off talking sharing circle. And that’s what we all really need right now not just to be able to access the information, but also to be able to process like it’s everyone kind of processing.


Gloria Riviera  29:03

This type of Community Meetup is so necessary, not just to share information, but also as a form of emotional support. It’s kind of like combined group therapy and medical advice, which as nice as that sounds. Can I just pause for a second to acknowledge how strange this is? The fact that these people have to go to a bar to get medical advice. Well, it wasn’t always like this. I’m bringing back Samantha Bee our go to for processing the wild ride of ever changing abortion rights to tell us what happened.


Samantha Bee  29:39

How did Tennessee become so anti choice? To understand that we have to go back to September 2000. Think flip phones, minimal security at airports and season seven of France. That month, the Tennessee Supreme Court struck down a number of restrictions that made it difficult to get an abortion. And in doing that they said that the Tennessee constitution protected the right to privacy, including getting an abortion. Yeah, they confirmed abortion was protected in the state constitution. Now you’re probably thinking it’s the south mm, best episode A lot of people off, you would be right. But Tennessee was a lot more moderate than than it is now. Democrats mostly helped control over the State House and the State Senate and they were in and out of the governor’s office that all of that changed at the top of the 2010s.


Samantha Bee  30:59

And what a tea party it would be no tiny sandwiches, no scones, but all the racist conspiracy theories about whether or not the President was born in Hawaii. So fun. The Tea Party wave swept anti abortion politicians into power across the country and Tennessee was no exception. In 2011, the Republican Party won their first ever Trifecta control over the governorship State House and the State Senate. They didn’t waste any time quickly gerrymandering the hell out of the state to make sure they could stay in power. Since then, Democrats have never won a single statewide election or control over either chamber of the legislature. In fact, today, the Republicans have a supermajority of Tennessee’s 131 state legislators 101 or Republican. It has been one of the wildest political swings in the country, and it has had a massive impact on reproductive rights. Pretty much as soon as they took power, the new state government started pushing laws that made accessing abortion more and more difficult. A lot of these laws were supported by Tennessee right to life, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the state. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to see one of their awesome ads on TV. And for my birthday this year, I’d love it if that right to life commercial had never existed, but we don’t always get what we want. Anyways, Tennessee right to life has been around for a while. They were founded a couple of years after Roe was decided in 1975. And they have a lot of political muscle to throw around. Back in 2014. They launched a massive campaign to remove the right to abortion from the state constitution.


Samantha Bee  33:46

Why am I crying? The music feels like a funeral. I mean, actually, it kind of was for abortion rights in Tennessee. Amendment One passed by 53% of the vote. Let me just clarify all of this in case you missed it. In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed that the Tennessee constitution protected abortion. So by 2014 right to life and their allies had passed an amendment that changed the state constitution. Lawmakers moved almost immediately to make abortion as difficult as possible.


Samantha Bee  34:23

By 2017, 96% of counties in the state did not have an abortion provider row was basically dead in Tennessee. All of this led up to the passage of the state’s trigger law in 2019. The law said that in the event Roe was ever repealed and near total ban on abortions would go into effect and of course So that is exactly what happened. The ban took effect in August 2022. And abortion has been illegal in the state ever since.


Gloria Riviera  35:12

Ah, well, if I have to hear a doomsday dissertation, I’m glad I get to hear it delivered by Sambi. But one surprising takeaway of all this, it happened fast. Today, this abortion ban in Tennessee feels like the status quo. Like it’s always been this way. But that shift happened over just 14 years from 2000 to 2014. That is not a long time. While the work can feel demoralizing, it’s also clear that we can mobilize lobby and the tides can change.


Gloria Riviera  35:52

Robin has had a front row seat to the impact this has had, she moved to Nashville in 2015. It was a stark difference from her time organizing in New York.


Robin  36:02

In New York, we were doing so much. So kind of like legislative work around like row and keeping row and making sure row stayed which obviously it was really important. And then when I got to Nashville, what I saw specifically when I started volunteering, and then eventually a year later started working in clinic, I was just like, oh, they just can’t access it. Even though we had roe. I had no idea about stuff happening in these other states where they were finding these like really crafty manipulative ways to keep people from accessing it, even though it was legal at the time.


Gloria Riviera  36:35

In our reporting for this series, we heard some version of this again and again. That is things were already bad pre Dobbs, roe wasn’t protecting a lot of people in the country who are dealing with barriers for decades. Robin saw that firsthand once she started working in the Nashville clinic.


Robin  36:53

So many patients were coming in and they had used every last dollar to get their thinking they were getting their abortion that day. And I was having to tell them, Oh no, we have this 48 hour waiting law. And then they’d be like, Okay, I’ll get back here in 48 hours, and then I’d have to tell them. No, we actually have now a two week wait for the procedure because this doctor just lost their privileges because they need hospital admitting privileges to do this very simple outpatient procedure. So now it’s longer than 48 hours. It’s a two to three week wait for this patient.


Gloria Riviera  37:28

These laws the 48 hour waiting period, the one requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers have significantly chipped away at the protections of Roe v Wade for years. Robin wanted to help people in Tennessee get abortion care beyond the support she was providing and clinics. So she started abortion care Tennessee, they launched in March of 2020. Just as the country was first being hit by COVID-19.


Robin  37:55

We were like a community funded organization trying to get off the ground. during a pandemic when the community couldn’t be together.


Gloria Riviera  38:03

It was a slow start. But after a few years, they hit their stride. They had their first in person fundraising event last April.


Robin  38:11

And then the Supreme Court leak happened. And a real shift happened and the way we talk about these things in general.


Gloria Riviera  38:21

I.e, abortion funds are now in the spotlight. You probably remember seeing them pop up on every social media post around then telling you what you could do.


Robin  38:32

In the first two days after the Supreme Court leaks we had close to $50,000 in donations. I’ve literally thought it was like a glitch like I was on our Pay Pal thinking there’s no way that this can be a real thing that’s happening. And it catapulted us to be able to actually actually fund abortion in Tennessee.


Gloria Riviera  38:52

Overnight, robins small abortion fund was doing big numbers. And it felt like the people of Tennessee or sending a message.


Robin  38:59

They literally have just said no, like you’re going to try and ban abortion and we’re going to make sure people in the community can get where they need to go.


Gloria Riviera  39:06

The influx of donations act could still get Tennesseans access to abortion. It was a lifeline.


Robin  39:13

Everything with Act was just blowing up and it was finally like all of these opportunities that I had wanted within our community of people wanting to fundraise for us and people wanting to have meetings with me and do interviews.


Gloria Riviera  39:25

Robin was doing fundraisers, media interviews, and very much became the public face of act. They even got a shout out from Hayley Williams of Paramore in Billboard magazine. But all that newfound support came with a downside. Robin says as her public profile was growing anti abortion extremists were targeting her.


Robin  39:46

My car was broken into a few times and they took personal documents like they took only my like registration and insurance card and stuff. There was one day where I came home and my door was unlocked when I was living alone, I never didn’t lock my door. There was a few times where I came home and people were idling in front of my house. And then when I pulled up, they did a very dramatic pull away. The brakes on my car were messed up after I had like, just replaced my brakes. And the mechanic was like, I have no explanation for why these breaks would go out.


Gloria Riviera  40:21

These small but questionable things all happen in a short period of time. At first Robin had no idea why.


Robin  40:30

It was my dad, who was the one who kind of like threaded all this together. And I think in the first time in like years, up until this point that he had mentioned what I do. He just like the phone got really quiet. And he said, Well, aren’t there some people that are probably pretty mad at you right now for what you do? And that kind of like clicked it all together for me. I was like, oh, yeah.


Gloria Riviera  40:55

She moved out of Tennessee in October 2022, fearing for her safety, and she isn’t the only one. threats of violence have become increasingly common against abortion providers, especially postdocs. She has also had concerns with her personal safety.


Tia Freeman  41:12

I’m a parent, I have to make contingency plans. I’ve talked with my family about like the state of affairs and what that would look like, hey, so there might be a day where I get arrested for something right. And my grandmother lives with me. I moved her in when I had my son. And so like in that instance, I would already have someone at the house like Hey, call my grandmother. She’s got to pick him up from school today because I’m going to jail. Right? Somebody do this right?


Gloria Riviera  41:35

There’s a lot of scenarios Robin and Tia have to plan for in this post row world. When we were in Tennessee this past spring reporting this episode, we got them in the same room to talk about it. On a muggy day at Robin’s friend’s house in a suburb just outside Nashville. We talked over noodles and bonds.


Robin  41:54

It looks nice. It’s sorry I don’t have any regular napkins so it’s perfect. This is how I eat at my house all the time. Yeah, paper napkins. I’ve never had a table.


Gloria Riviera  42:04

And pretty soon they found they have a lot in common.


Robin  42:08

So like at the training we did I offered myself I was like apart from ACT I’m an abortion doula This is my you can take a card if you’re managing or an abortion, you just want to like reach out to me, I have like a I have like a burner phone and an encrypted number to get a burner. I mean, when I bought a burner, I was just like not that bad. I’m gonna tell you the same thing that my best friend said to me. I was like, I am not a person who should have a burner phone like, This is so insane. I am not this person. Like I’m holding this thing in my hand and I’m just like, What am I doing? Like, what am I going and she was just like, this is imposter syndrome, babe, like you are this person, you’ve been this person because


Tia Freeman  42:48

I just never thought about it. Because to me I’m like burners are for people who are like, into illegal activity that like it never clicked to me.


Gloria Riviera  42:56

To clarify, Tia and Robin are not doing anything illegal. But the way the laws are going, it can feel that way to them at times. All the burner talk aside, Robin and Tia are doing what they can to protect themselves. But at the end of the day, the fear of criminalization, and this legal gray area isn’t stopping them.


Robin  43:18

For me, I’m just like, if I stopped doing this work, and no one’s doing this work, and we’re all just letting abortion being illegal, like what do I have? I don’t have freedom over my own fucking body. Like, you know, there’s so it’s so like, and so I can say like, what have I got to lose? Because I don’t have a child right to come home to or whatever. But there is a just like, and like, I don’t, I can’t I can’t be a free person. So it’s like, so then what am I fearing? Some days it’s different. But today I am just to like, come from it truly. Try and stop me try it try and stop me.


Tia Freeman  43:54

I think people are immensely stubborn, right? And people have a deep seated almost primal desire for freedom and autonomy and agency. And even before Roe, there was a robust network of people, right, like, even when people were dying, it didn’t stop people from going and getting back alley abortions, right? Because I think what you’re talking about a need, you don’t there’s no other option, right? And so I think the longer they keep row illegal or at least not nationally legal and accessible, the longer they give people on the ground to build stronger infrastructures.


Gloria Riviera  44:32

In a sense, roe being overturned is given way to a growing network of community support, things like abortion funds, self managed abortion trainings, abortion, doula collectives, and practical support. It’s all making the movement that much stronger.


Tia Freeman  44:49

One thing that has I’ve been raised with is nobody got us like we got us right. And so I think that there should have already been infrastructures in place because abortion even with Roe wasn’t accessible to all All people. So we should have already been establishing these you know these communal infrastructures, because there is no liberation without community.


Gloria Riviera  45:08

Tia and Robin believes deeply in the power of community of lifting each other up and creating a world where you can always access abortion despite what the law says. After the break, we see that community power inaction.


Gloria Riviera  48:56

Vidalia Anne Gentry is onstage performing to Laura Bell Bundy in a big curly red wig and sparkly blue jumpsuit. Gay way to greet yourself. She’s one of several drag performers giving their time and hottest looks to abortion care Tennessee’s spring fundraiser. They’re the same bar in Nashville where Robin held the abortion training. As the show kicked off, Robin gave a little speech to the audience.


Robin  49:46

This was always going to be a drag show drag was always going to be a part of our brand for the very beginning. And the reason for that is because we’re all advocating for the same thing which is bodily autonomy and freedom of expression. We’re all people. And this sentiment of abortion no matter what drag forever no matter what it is that abortion is not going anywhere. What we say in this field is that we do ancient work and so we’re here act is here for you. We will take care of you if you will take care of us and keep that momentum up like that’s what this is. It’s radical community care.


Gloria Riviera  50:23

As people chatted and ordered drinks cocktails like my body, my choice and Miffy and miso, the show got started with standup from local comedians, including a set from MK […],


Robin  50:34

if I can be vulnerable for a second. In my life. I’ve actually had two abortions. I’ve had two. Thank you. So according to my punch card, the next one’s free. So that’s fun. Like a sandwich from Jersey Mike’s that’s fun.


Gloria Riviera  50:53

From there, it rolled into drag performances, like the one you heard earlier from the dahlia. We asked Fidelio why she was there that night supporting the abortion movement.


Vidalia Anne Gentry  51:04

If you look at this list together, if you look at abortion rights, the drag ban the gender affirming care ban the removal of protections for interfaith interracial and same sex marriage, the removal of money for HIV care, I myself am HIV positive. So I’m you know, HIV positive drag queen, visibly queer living in the South. I mean, there’s a lot of intersectionality that’s being taken advantage of abuse. And I think that the real point is to terrorize bully and scare out a liberal voter base. You know, unity is really what we need to be looking to unity intersectionality reaching across these proverbial bridges to people who are maybe not exactly like us.


Gloria Riviera  51:50

Vidalia is echoing something we heard from many activists in Tennessee, the need to approach our organizing and coalition building with intersectionality. That need was stronger than ever amidst the recent shooting, the Capitol protests, the bans on drag and gender affirming care. A lot was going on politically in Tennessee at the time, but Robin was determined to bring together the community, despite all the unrest.

Robin  52:17

It was always going to be a drag show. And then we saw the bands coming and we double down on the drag to be like, Nope, we’re not fucking going anywhere. And so not only are we radically caring for our community members, we are also sending a message that the people of Tennessee demand access to abortion, whatever that looks like. So if most of our GOP lawmakers are not going to show up for us, then we’ll show up for each other.

Gloria Riviera  52:39

That’s exactly what they did that night at the drag show.

Robin  52:42

I would say at least 90% of the people in that room had been the same people that were packing the capitol for the last two weeks. And it was it’s so many like deeply, deeply grieving people, and I was one of them.

Gloria Riviera  52:56

At the event, Robin was emotional. The past few weeks had taken a toll. And the fear of gun violence was top of mind for her.

Robin  53:04

When it comes to an event like this, you know, we can ramp up security but what can you do to ramp up security if someone wants to come in here with an assault rifle? There’s literally nothing you can really do to increase security to prevent a tragedy like that. So it really it’s a radical act for any of us to be here tonight.

Gloria Riviera  53:28

There was a real feeling of resistance, defiance and joy in the room that night. You could practically see it on attendees faces as the evening wrapped up.

Robin  53:39

It was a really joyful night.

Gloria Riviera  53:48

At the end of the night, Robin felt the same.

Robin  54:06

The biggest takeaway is always the how much fun everyone’s happy. And like that always makes me emotional, like this space of joy, but knowing what everyone’s like been through. I’m real proud. Yeah. We like really did it like I mean, we’re still doing it. There’s so much we’re up against so much, but like this was the goal like bringing people together, neighbors helping neighbors, and ideally doing that while having a really good time.

Gloria Riviera  54:36

Not to mention the fundraiser was a huge success. Robin says they raised around $7,000 for abortion care Tennessee that night, that money will go directly to fund people’s abortions. This type of on the ground support is meeting a real need in Tennessee, and the community is coming together to push back. But how they do That is different in Tennessee than it is in Texas or Florida or any restrictive state. Because this is our new reality. There are 50 different states 50 different approaches to reproductive rights 50 different definitions of where freedom starts and ends. It’s a constantly changing landscape. And Tia and Robin are trying to keep up. They told me that means getting out of a defensive position.

Tia Freeman  55:27

We weren’t playing offense, like we needed to be playing offense, right. Like, they were making all the shots, and we were just responding. And so now we’re thinking like, how can we like to get back in the game? Right? And so I feel like this is one of those like they had us in the first half. But we come in back, right? Right, yeah, game’s not over. And I think that there’s a lot of people who are coming in who are gonna like who got the fire. And now we just have to figure out not just how to mobilize on this one, it’s Bitsy moment. But how we build movements that are intersectional and who like, are long lasting? Because if you look back in our history, none of these movements happened overnight. We’re not getting rolled back tomorrow. I hate to break anybody’s heart because Rose is not coming back tomorrow. And it’s not coming back next year. Right. Like and it shouldn’t. It should because Roe was in hell.

Gloria Riviera  56:14

Roe was in  hell. I e, Ro is not protecting everyone. It was the baseline, the lowest bar possible in the eyes of Tia and Robin. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on legal change altogether. Nope. It means we can create something stronger than row because we deserve better not just to return to the system that failed us.

Robin  56:40

The system needed to topple, do I like the way that it happened? Am I happy with the way that we didn’t have the structures in place when it toppled? No, but now I think it’s gonna be like from the ground up a reexamining of like who did all of the people that were up in arms and Roe v. Wade was overturned. It was all the white women that Roe v. Wade, protect it. Those were the people frantically DMing us.

Tia Freeman  57:03

And I think we as a movement have to learn how to center the most marginalized outside of just talking points, right? Like, it’s one thing to get up at a rally and say like, you know who this is gonna hurt poor people, queer people, black people, communities of color, but the rally was held at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday baby, those folks are at work exactly can’t create movements the same way we did the last time because it didn’t work.

Gloria Riviera  57:28

We can’t create movements the same way we did the last time. And the intersectional approach that Tia Robin and other activists and Tennessee are taking gives me hope. It’s a total reimagining of what the movement is about the right to choose an abortion, yes, but also the right to bodily autonomy in a more expansive sense. Because once these issues get siloed and separated, they’re easier to target, which is exactly what we’ve been seeing with the hundreds of anti LGBTQ bills introduced this year. And beyond that, Robin in tears work centers community rather than the courts. Sure legal rights have a place but they’re not the ultimate goal. The goal is freedom. And the path there is through community joy and connection. There’s something radical and incredibly sustaining about that. Next week, we’ll learn about the ban on gender affirming care for youth in Tennessee, which went into effect in July 2023. We’ll look at what it means for trans youth in the state.

Gloria Riviera  58:49

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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