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The Students Trying to Get Their Peers to Say the Word 'Abortion'

College students in Texas are bringing abortion to the stage in order to start a dialogue about women's health.
Photo by Rob and Julia Campbell via Stocksy

When Sadie Hernandez first saw Senator Wendy Davis filibuster Senate Bill 5—a bill that aimed to enact sweeping changes to the state of abortion in Texas—Hernandez knew that she had to get more involved in the ongoing battle for women's reproductive rights. She was right.

In July 2013, 17 days after Davis' halted attempt to curb legislation that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and require all abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, not clinics, HB2 was signed into law. With the same stringent criteria for abortions as its predecessor, the bill has since shut down nearly all abortion clinics in the state and left pregnant women with very little options.


Read More: 100,000 Women in Texas Have Tried to Self-Induce an Abortion

A student at the University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley and a Planned Parenthood volunteer, Hernandez is familiar with the bill's consequences. In Rio Grande Valley, there is one abortion clinic: Whole Women's Health in McAllen, Texas. When that provider was forced to close in 2013 because of HB2, getting to the nearest abortion clinic involved a 300-mile round-trip drive to Corpus Christi. "We've been disproportionately affected by this bill because there are a lot of Mexican–American, low-income women here," Hernandez tells me over the phone. "Being on the border, we're hit the hardest when it comes to bad legislation."

I just want people to use the word abortion and to talk about abortion openly.

Because of this, Hernandez is now taking action to get more people talking about the issues that young girls now face on campus. Namely, that the only abortion provider in the area has been under the constant threat of being shut down; Whole Women's Health was only recently reopened when the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals made a special exception for the only clinic in the remote area. But if the McAllen clinic is ordered to shutter, that would mean students would have to leave class and begin a days-long trek to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. Or that they won't even be able to do so, because the trip is too long, and too far, to get away with hiding their attempts to get the procedure from their parents. So in order to help bring abortion out of the shadows, Hernandez teamed up with the 1 in 3 Campaign—the organization that's been bringing awareness to the fact that one in three women will get an abortion in her lifetime—to put on a performance of the play, Out of Silence.


Since she announced that she's bringing the play to the university, she's encountered mixed reviews on campus, but most have been positive. "A lot of women have sent me their stories about how they wanted to get an abortion but they were afraid to be judged. Or that they simply couldn't afford to travel for one," Hernandez says. "Everyone that's been involved in the play has also been getting messages like this from women who just need someone they can vent to. Since we're being so openly pro-choice, women finally have a comfortable place to tell their stories."

Julia Reticker-Flynn, the director of the 1 in 3 Campaign, underscores the importance of getting college students involved in abortion activism. "We see these conversations happening in Texas as really critical," she says. "It's important to shift the conversation that was really being led by politicians to focus on uplifting the voices of women who have had abortions and contextualizing abortion as something that is part of people's lives."

Since we're being so openly pro-choice, women finally have a comfortable place to tell their stories.

in light of the ever-increasing restrictions on access to reproductive services in Texas, Out of Silence: Stories from the 1 in 3 Campaign is also being performed at Trinity University in San Antonio and Texas A&M this week. But not everyone on Hernandez's campus is enthused about the play. When she first brought up the idea for an end-of-the-semester project in her gender and communications class, a "small, anti-abortion minority of the class said we were promoting a horrible agenda and all these other sad things." Hernandez is hoping that there won't be any protests on opening night, but she's prepared everyone in the play for confrontation, just in case. "I just tell people to not engage," she says. "It'll just look bad on us if we start forcefully engaging with anti-abortion activists."

While she's not looking forward to being harassed online by anti-abortion trolls (which she's had experience with in the past), she is looking forward to seeing the reaction to a play about abortion. "I just want people to use the word abortion and to talk about abortion openly. I think that just erasing the stigma around the word is important."