This article, written by Sayaka Matsuoka, originally appeared in the Triad City Beat.
“We’re calling upon people to do more than they may have ever done before.”
That was the message Terry Salas Merritt, strategic communications manager for A Woman’s Choice, had for the audience on Tuesday evening.
A crowd of more than 60 abortion rights supporters gathered at the Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem to hear from a panel of experts, including Merritt, who works for an organization that operates abortion clinics in North Carolina and Florida.
“Volunteer at our clinics… what we mean by volunteer we mean more about talk, connect, being able to attend events like this and get more people out to events like this,” Merritt said. “Being able to show up at city council meetings and speak up… being able to send postcards with notes of encouragement to clinics to your legislators… and let people know you are watching and you’re noticing everything they do.”
During the Reproductive Rights Forum — which was hosted by Triad NOW, a local chapter of the National Organization for Women — four panelists talked about the history of abortion access in the state as well as strategies and ways to continue to fight for abortion access in the future.
“There’s an awful lot of work that continues to need to be done,” said NC Rep. Evelyn Terry (D-Forsyth).
“We’re bumping against a very difficult wall. It isn’t impenetrable… but the reality is that it takes this advocacy and this work and of course, ultimately to get [these lawmakers] out of there, because we know that it’s wrongheaded and it’s barbaric….”
NARAL Pro-Choice NC Executive Director Tara Romano talked about the number of abortion restrictions that have been passed since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
“We have a very emboldened anti-abortion movement at the moment,” she said. “Since 1973, there have been over 1,000 abortion restrictions introduced.”
Citing the appointment of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court — Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — Susanna Birdsong, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, noted that the court has a conservative majority, which anti-abortion lawmakers hope will be able to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Constituents have a duty to make their voices heard in the 2020 election to keep abortion access legal in the country, she said.
“We killed an anti-abortion bill in the legislature this year… that was because of you,” Birdsong said to the audience. “That was because of constituents who spoke out early and often and let their legislators know that this was important to them, let Governor Cooper know that this was important to them and that they would be thinking about this when they went to the polls.”
Panelists and audience members also spoke about the importance of connecting with those with who, they may disagree in ways that build understanding.
One woman recalled the days before Roe v. Wade in which abortion was still illegal in most parts of the country and what narratives helped to pass the case for abortion access.
“It was this idea of shared values of fairness and compassion,” she said. “Compassion was the big thing. I remember the stories were about the women who had gone to illegal abortionists and died trying to get abortions…so there were all these stories about trying to build understanding for the women in these situations…we need to go back to pushing those stories forward more.”