In talking to the young women we work with through SAFIRE, I am reminded just how much low-income women of color have to carry in the fight for reproductive rights. Together, alone, in wholeness, and in pieces, they carry long legacies of hurt, ugly, and shameful insufficiencies. While education, safe and affordable care, and legal support are necessary to help all women access their rights around their bodies, young, low-income women of color are also growing the catalyst for a deeper transformation: shame resilience.
After making it past numerous financial and legal roadblocks, choosing an abortion is still not an easy thing to go through. There is still silence, shame, and sadness that may be connected to having an abortion, especially for working class, young women of color, who have yet to feel that dreamy vision Roe v. Wade seemed to promise 40 years ago.
When I asked one of our young women what she wished had been different, she said that she wished that when young women had abortions they could talk about it with pride. She said that young women who make hard decisions and pull together the strength within themselves and their communities needed to move through the abortion process—these women deserve to be proud of themselves.
The young women I have talked to spoke of loneliness, self-isolation, and confusion. They spoke of not knowing where to go for an abortion or how to access one. They spoke of the difficult conversations they had to have with partners, mothers, and friends. And they talked about the hurdles of money, paperwork, documentation, and transportation getting to and from the clinic.
But they also told me how all of these things felt mountainous on top of the already challenging demands of everyday life—work, school, family, homework, and relationships. They told me that although financial assistance to pay for an incredibly expensive procedure made the choice for abortion possible, the critical roles that friends had played in supporting them through their process was important both logistically and emotionally. They talked about how mothers showed up strong and lovingly and how youth program coordinators provided much needed space to talk openly and become whole again.
We are always surrounded by things bigger than us. At the same time, we are also filled with the bigness of ourselves, our strength to shift the narratives within ourselves to make more room for our own necessary truths. As a country, we need to show up for women making these difficult decisions, not just by addressing the physical challenges around abortion access, but by actively creating space for the shame and silence to unravel, for all that weight to dissipate, and for the burdens carried by working class, young women of color to transform into something much lighter and more reflective of their courage and resilience.
Mai Doan is a Youth Organizer at Forward Together. She has been exploring the integration of creative writing, cultural work, and youth organizing for the past four years. Through her work with SAFIRE, she continues to pursue her passion of developing transformative spaces for young people that lead to both self-empowerment and collective action.