Currently, while I write this, the looming threat of a Roe v. Wade overturn, the future of our rights to bodily autonomy and those whose bodies are most affected by white supremacist patriarchy are on the mind of many. When the most basic rights and needs are attack, it’s hard to remember the liberation we truly deserve. With such overwhelming white supremacist violence, a landscape where the effects of imperialism, body terrorism, and dehumanization show up as shame in our bodies envisioning better is hard. Recognizing in fullness the autonomy and right to our own bodies that every one of us deserves is hard. Remembering collective liberation for all, at times for me, feels impossible. Despite this, SPIRAL Collective, a group whose goals center around supporting people in areas of reproduction, abortion and loss, continues to envision a world in which people of all identities and families of all forms have access.
SPIRAL Collective, whose efforts are lead by 5 directors in Leadership and a team of volunteers, started work 7 years ago. Its leadership team, comprised of founders cheré and Nafessa, directors Rowan and Corenia, as well as 2 interns Angie and Kate has a combined experience of over 20 years of abortion and full spectrum care. Located in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, SPIRAL Collective offers support for all pregnancy outcomes. In Rowan’s words “SPIRAL Collective formed to meet a need in the community for inclusive and affirming reproductive support…We push back and facilitate space where clients can be wholly seen, respected and acknowledged”. For this interview, I spoke to Corenia (she/her) and Rowan (they/them) about their thoughts on reproductive justice.
Before beginning, this interview SPIRAL Collective wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the land SPIRAL Collective occupies. Honoring that request, before starting the rest of this interview take a moment to acknowledge the colonization of the land you personally occupy as well.
Take a moment to honor & acknowledge
“As part of our commitment to decolonization and dismantling white supremacy, we acknowledge that we are currently on occupied land that was stolen from the Dakota and Anishinaabe People. This country itself was founded upon genocide against First Nations People & enslaving Africans. We recognize that full collective liberation will not be possible until these histories are reconciled until this stolen land is returned to its original stewards, & until full reparations are paid to those to whom they are due.
In that spirit, we acknowledge that we are under imperialist US occupation. We strive to be in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock, Embridge Line 3, Trans Pecos and with all protectors/warriors/healers of the water, the environment, our collective selves & First Nations people all across Turtle Island aka North America. We recognize that clean water is also essential to reproductive justice. Water is our first relationship & our first caretaker.”
Access to reproductive health care and support in the United States is increasingly scarce, restrictive and inaccessible. Although people across the nation are impacted, people in the South, as well as the Midwest, are some of the most impacted by the restrictive laws, lack of access and misleading as well as absent information about reproductive care. In the Midwest, Illinois as well as Minnesota remain some of the few states with less hostile laws towards issues of reproductive rights and abortion. Occupying stolen Dakota and Anishinaabe territory in Midwestern Minnesota, land surrounded by states conservative hostile colonized rule, SPIRAL Collectives serviced community extends beyond the bounds of the twin city. Because of this, their community is expansive “folx travel from all over Minnesota and the Midwest for a procedure in the Twin (occupied dakota/annashinabe territories) Cities. Indigenous, black and people of color.” Rowan explained. “Young folx, folx with access barriers, queer folx, trans folx, folx who do not speak english, chronically ill/disabled folx, privileged folx, white folx, folx with a support system, folx without support system”are included in this. Focusing on inclusion, SPIRAL Collective supports, affirms and educates all, pushing back against misinformation, stigma and practices in reproductive support that exclude vulnerable peoples.
Language can be an important way of ending exclusion. When I asked about the importance of language to the Collective, Corenia said this; “In our collective we strive to not use language that is oppressive, and detrimental to the identities and history we all hold”. In conversations about reproductive rights, queer bodies and experiences, trans and gender non conforming people, disabled folks, poor folks and people of color are often left out. Trans inclusive healthcare in the United States, can be incredibly difficult to find especially that which is gender affirming. For the poor and disabled, reproductive health care and support can be exhausting,expensive and confusing. Often times health care providers fail to know and understand the language, culture and dialects of the people they are serving leading to life threatening outcomes.
More Radical Reads: When Silence is Shame: Stepping Into the Light of My Abortion
Shifts to more inclusive language and better awareness can be used to expand conversations. Language in many circumstances, can be complicated however. It can be used to name, understand and connect to the experiences we have to those of others in ways that can feel liberating. It can be used to reclaim or redefine identity and experience. On the other hand, language can also often be an access barrier where especially in social justice spaces where elitism can be used to shut out the very same vulnerable people it intends to center. She acknowledged that “Language is a privilege and one that people need to be aware of in the ways that they use it because language can be tough, scary, and deeply dividing. Someone’s intent may mean well but the impact is equally, if not more important.” Part of the support the collective does is through stigma busting and education, working with healthcare professionals, community and clients alike to decolonize, uplift and inform. In doing this work, and forming these close relationships, communities slowly become more conscious, informed and accessible over time.
Work around securing care and access to reproductive care and support that promotes all pregnancy outcomes- has been a generational effort. One of the most stigmatized and most fought for in recent years has been to have the right to access abortion legally and safely, without fear of prosecution. Abortion has existed since before both outlaw and legalization. It has been induced by pregnant individuals, communities, those who mean to harm or heal in safe and unsafe ways for over 4000 years. Rowan sees the history of reproductive health care justice and abortion access as an effort made “as an act of violence/eugenics but also and importantly too, as an act of survival, rebelion; choice” that has spanned across time. Abortion has existed for as long as there have been people who have been pregnant and will continue to. In similar fashion laws, restrictions and persecution have also existed across time, resulting in shame, fear and even death because of lack of access, support, and education. This history follows us as well as histories of resistance that continues to this day. This system is intrinsically tied to harm and separation according to Rowan; “We need to name, not forget” this history to “learn, grow and heal from these realities”. Especially in a world where access is only given to those with socio-political and socio-economic power, “The honest reality is this is the system we have to interact with to get what we need”. They conclude “We can do is show up and support each other as shifts happen, as we reclaim our stories, our bodies, our choices and the ability to access true non-judgmental ‘safer care’ and services”. For this reason, services that SPIRAL Collective and its volunteers provide through supporting individuals and families as abortion doulas, full spectrum support people, well as gender and body-affirming advocates, is so important.
While supporting people through all pregnancy outcomes, results and reactions widely vary. “Shit is fucked for some, great for others” said Rowan. In terms of abortion, “An experience can be uplifting, beautiful and soo soo validating, the complete opposite or somewhere in between.” Similarly with loss “it looks different for everyone” supporting someone through loss “without judgment meeting them where they are at” is crucial. When it comes to reproductive outcomes “We need to honor, recognize and hold all experiences” . Lessons about care, support, and knowledge around birthwork and pregnancy outcome support have evolved and grown generationally. Currently and ancestrally, birthworkers, granny midwives, doulas and parteras as well as many others have paved the way towards the practices of care, healing, advocacy and understanding we have now despite western colonization. Resistance, in order to gain access to abortion, reproductive care, and collective liberation, against white supremacy and powers meant to control vulnerable bodies has always been a battle in process. Rowan emphasized that “The history of reproductive justice and abortion access…and those who kept the knowledge of tradition and teachings in their bones, in their mind and with each other” is important. It is inseparable from the current efforts to decolonize ourselves from internalized shame. Work is also done individually and communally, through choice and rebellion, through reclaiming experience and sharing. This work and vulnerability helps create culture shifts and culture shifts move us to new realities.
More Radical Reads: Why Access Matters: What’s Missing From the Conversation of Reproductive Justice
It is in the cultural shifts, the building upon ancestral knowledge, and the work that we find a future for reproductive care that marginalized people deserve. As the SPIRAL Collective does the work to create shifts in culture, it also inspires others to imagine more ideal futures for marginalized folks to receive better and support care. For Rowan, the future moves beyond being able to empower others, “[facilitating] access, dismantling the current systems, violence, and trauma so you can empower yourself and be with your autonomy and the autonomy of community” is the goal. Giving access and power is one thing, but those marginalized in the fight for reproductive access should not have to be given access. They should have it. Ultimately believes Rowan it comes down to this:
We want our communities and people in them to feel like they have the knowledge and resources or know of them to be able to care for themselves and loved ones. To make the decisions that best support them and their desires regarding their bodies and future. To hold space and remember tradition, to reclaim what is our, your and collective within abortion and how we experience and receive it. Uplifting the self, the right to just be.
The fight for reproductive justice, access, and support comes down to that. The right to just be. The right to chose. To be uplifted. For bodies that aren’t respected by patriarchy and slews of other white supremacist violence to have bodily control, autonomy and for all of us to have collective liberation from those types of harm. These are things worth working towards, worth fighting for.“ Free, accessible, safe and affirming care without question or exception” is something that all individuals and communities should have they concludes; in an ideal future these ideas shouldn’t be radical, they should be common. All are worthy of this. All are included in this. All deserve to be loved, honored and valued in that way, especially ourselves.
If you live in the Midwest region or would like to get in contact with SPIRAL Collective to volunteer, receive reproductive related resources and support or learn more about SPIRAL Collective and their services you can go to their website here. You can contact them directly at 612-643-0563 or [email protected] for support as well.
[Featured Image: A brown hand with tattoos holding a pale hand. Both of whom have bracelets on them. Source: pexels.com]