‘It’s Time to Raise Hell’: Activists Today Are Shouting About Abortion Pills

Shout Your Abortion aims to shift the conversation on abortion pills—and its founder is taking mifepristone in front of the Supreme Court.

Photo of a mural of abortion pills
This abortion pills mural in Los Angeles is one of the installations happening around the country for abortion rights. Mural and photo by No Touching Ground in Los Angeles

For more coverage of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, check out our special report.

In 2014, Amelia Bonow had an abortion. A year later, when Planned Parenthood was under attack in Congress, Bonow shared her story on Facebook. Her friend, writer Lindy West, screenshot the post and shared it to her own Facebook with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion.

This set off a chain of events that would birth (pun heavily intended) an organization by that name, along with a nationwide movement aimed at radically reframing the abortion conversation toward an unapologetic and uncensored embrace of abortion as a social good—and as health care.

As advocates prepare for oral arguments this morning at the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Shout Your Abortion will once again be working to shift the abortion discourse. Their focus today? Abortion pills.

Rewire News Group spoke with Bonow ahead of what promises to be a day of energetic activism by SYA, with banners and billboards, vending machines and art installations, all aimed at raising awareness of the accessibility and safety of abortion pills. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Bonow’s message? Fuck the Supreme Court—we’re doing it anyway.

Rewire News Group: Can you tell us how this action started?

Amelia Bonow: SYA has been watching the conversation about abortion pills move forward over the last couple of years. And then over the course of the pandemic, right as Republicans were lining up checkmate on the legal stuff, things just got dialed in really quickly in terms of service provision. Pills have become a new reality of abortion care—clearly something that has the power to make early abortion more accessible than it’s ever been, even in the face of whatever anti-choice legislation we’re about to see in coming years.

So one major factor in putting together this action is that relatively few people are aware that abortion pills are now widely available by mail in all 50 states, and that needs to become common knowledge ASAP.

The Court is about to take away a 50-year-old constitutional right, in a striking example of minority rule, both in terms of the makeup of the courts and in terms of the fact that 77 percent of the population supports Roe. But looking at social media, looking at the signs in people’s yards, looking at just the lack of people in the streets, it feels like we are descending into hell, and people outside of our movement seemingly don’t have much to say about it.

And I think that silence is a huge part of the reason why politicians on both sides do not seem to feel political pressure around abortion. Given what polling tells us, people should be approaching passing an abortion ban in their state like it could potentially end their political career. Politicians don’t feel that pressure, in part because so many people’s pro-choice beliefs are quietly and privately held. And we need to enter a new era, where folks understand that being quietly pro-choice isn’t enough, and that silence is a part of the reason why we’re living in a country where the legislation of this issue does not match popular opinion or needs or values. I think that we need to push folks into that new era.

It’s time to completely raise hell. It’s time to shut this country down. It’s a fucking coup. All of us who work in repro are so used to people being like, “I’m uncomfortable with you saying abortion, or how you’re talking about it.” That’s a weird thing to be uncomfortable with at this moment. I would really like more people to be outwardly uncomfortable with the fact that abortion is rapidly becoming a class privilege, you know?

Why did you choose abortion pills as the rallying cry behind this action?

AB: Abortion pills are widely available, and they have the power to greatly mitigate the harm done by anti-choice legislation. And also, we have no faith in this Court to protect our 50-year-old constitutional right to abortion, but beyond that, we completely reject the idea that they ever had the moral authority to tell us we are not allowed to end our pregnancies.

Fuck this Court, we’re doing it anyway. And yes, we are going to continue fighting tooth and nail, every single legal fight, because of course we know that criminalization will target the most marginalized among us. And yes, we will keep fighting to keep every abortion clinic open as long as possible, especially independent clinics that provide the vast majority of care later in pregnancy. Pills do not and will not work for everyone, and we still need to fight to keep clinics open, as many clinics for as long as possible, and also bolster the capacity of clinics in neighboring states like Texas or wherever the next ban goes into effect.

For many decades we’ve held signs that are about protecting our rights. And I am really interested in pushing forth the idea that our right to bodily autonomy is inexorable. I’m not asking any court for permission. I want people to think, “Oh, my state is passing an abortion ban? Fuck that, I can still have an abortion, and there are networks and organizations and resources that are going to help me do that and help me stay safe in the process.”

We need to start talking about how to have illegal abortions that are medically safe because a whole lot of people are going to need to. And I think we need to separate those things consciously at this point: safety and legality. Especially now that pills have arrived on the scene and are safer than Viagra and Tylenol.

And when you think about it, what’s more dangerous than an unwanted pregnancy?

There is a legal risk with pills, especially for marginalized folks. Talk a little bit about that.

AB: The demographic that faces disproportionate legal risk for acquiring or using abortion pills is the exact same demographic that needs to know that they exist and how to minimize and mitigate whatever legal risk there may be, so that they can acquire and use these very safe drugs without facing unjust consequences. The fact that we know more and more states are going to start criminalizing pills is all the more reason to push this conversation forward right now and help direct people towards organizations like If/When/How and resources like the Repro Legal Helpline so that people know what their options are and can navigate that risk assessment themselves and know that there are resources to help them in the process. We know that this shit is less safe the more alone that people feel.

There are also resources like the miscarriage and abortion hotline that are staffed by anonymous pro-abortion medical professionals that will take the call of anybody who’s experiencing pregnancy loss, and will offer medical advice and support them through the process, if something is happening that seems weird or seems scary.

I think we need to acknowledge the fact that many, many people are going to be having illegal abortions, and also that those abortions can still be medically safe and there are ways to mitigate legal risk. And let’s not talk about legality and safety in one breath in a way that deters people from finding safer avenues within a legal minefield. I also think raising public consciousness about pills can help provide cover for more marginalized populations to access them, because it makes it more normative.

What can we expect from SYA today?

AB: A lot of people in the streets shouting about abortion pills from the rooftops in all sorts of different ways, all over the country. We made posters, yard signs, stencils, these gigantic highway signs that are the size of a couch. We printed and distributed thousands of these things to partners and activists all over the country, and we also created a toolkit where folks can print those assets themselves.

We have a giant digital billboard truck that says “abortion pills” driving around Hollywood for eight hours and a plane with a giant banner that says “share abortion pill info” flying over Arizona. We also printed 10,000 of these small boxes that say “abortion pills”; inside of this box is a card that links to our pop-up website that we built—that is shareabortionpill.info.

And we’re distributing these boxes all over the country in a range of ways: There’s an artist in Los Angeles that’s building a Supreme Court-shaped installation in a gallery, there are four vending machines full of pill boxes in Arizona, and a claw machine full of boxes at an arcade in Brooklyn. And dozens of organizers all over the country are distributing them into drug stores and coffee shops and all sorts of places in small guerilla ways. And then also we are bringing a thousand of these boxes to the Court with us on December 1, where a group of us are convening.

And here is the best part of all: Four of us are going to stand with a banner that says, “We are taking abortion pills forever,” and we are going to take mifepristone in front of the court.

All of us procured our abortion pills legally through Aid Access, which is now offering advanced provision, meaning you can get these pills whether you’re pregnant or not, just to have around the house. This action is not only about elevating information about this potentially lifesaving, totally urgent public health bulletin that is the existence of abortion pills, but it’s about us standing in front of this court and taking these pills and just radiating, “Fuck you, this is completely out of your hands, you will never stop us,” energy. And also, “Fuck you, Stephen Breyer, retire bitch. You dusty old bitch.”

This country is unlivable without abortion. And if you give a fuck about economic justice or racial justice, or just basic human rights and who is allowed to exercise those rights, you should be shutting this country the fuck down right now. I’m so sick of seeing people who talk about every other political issue on Twitter or wherever and have never said a word about abortion. If you’re not saying shit, you really are part of the problem.

I want to just rip this issue out of this siloed little feminist activist corner of “lady stuff” and just drop it into America’s lap like a bleeding head and just say: This is a fucking nightmare. Welcome to it. Freak out with us.