Roxane Gay on Reproductive Freedom

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illustration of Roxane Gay by artist Kate Worum

NARAL Pro-choice Minnesota featured keynote speaker author Roxane Gay at its annual fundraiser December 1. She spoke virtually with Karin Mrotz of Jewish Community Action about the pandemic, cancel culture, George Floyd, and abortion rights. 

The discussion began with a reflection on the unique historical moment we are living through. “The pandemic has made a lot of us realize just how important face-to-face interactions can be,” Gay said, noting that this is as true for introverts like herself as it is for more extroverted folks.

Gay spoke about cancel culture. “I often lament when great artists reveal themselves to be criminals, and then I can no longer enjoy their work.” She pointed out that as much as she might regret not being able to engage with certain art anymore, “I feel far more sadness for the people [artists who have behaved criminally and immorally] have victimized.” 

Gay added, “Frankly, cancellation does not exist. These artists continue to thrive, they continue to be incredibly wealthy and successful. And they still hold quite a lot of power.”

Mrotz then pivoted to the Black Lives Matter movement. She asked Gay whether the outpouring of outrage which followed the murder of George Floyd gave her hope. “It was a [big] moment, but inflection points don’t always create change. We have to hope that the momentum that began with George Floyd’s murder is sustainable.” 

The conversation then turned to the main topic of the evening, reproductive freedom. Mrotz asked Gay what she thought about the impact the Biden/Harris administration might have on the pro-choice movement. “Biden/Harris is definitely the better ticket when you’re comparing it to Donald Trump. I’m thrilled to see a Black woman, a South Asian woman, as Vice President and potentially our first woman President.”

However, “they [Biden/Harris] are both centrists. They believe that abortion should be available, but I also think they are the kinds of people who don’t want to say the word.” Gay noted that the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court represents a significant threat to abortion rights. That being said, Gay believes “we have a far better chance to maintain the reproductive freedom we have, and to prevent retrenchment, under a Biden/Harris administration. And that matters.”

Gay continued to share her thoughts on the incoming administration. “I hope that they don’t do what they have already started doing, which is [to] speak to the middle. The reality is that when you speak to the middle, so many people get left behind. And that is just not how progress is made.”

Speaking about the availability of abortion services, Gay said, “I think that in most places abortion access is in danger.” She proclaimed, “Women and people with uteruses are tired of living with the anxiety of wondering whether our reproductive freedom is going to be taken away at any moment.” 

Gay added, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I do know that people with money are going to be able to avail themselves of abortions. And people without are not. And it [will] only deepen the class divide.”

Gay explained “There’s a lot of complexities in abortion access. It’s not just having a clinic. It’s having the resources in every sense of the word.”

Inclusivity in the fight for abortion rights comes in many forms. “You have to fight not only for like-minded women. You [also] have to fight for that woman who is marching in a pro-life rally right now. In three years, when she gets pregnant, and she has three children and cannot handle a fourth, she’s going to go to an abortion clinic. She’s going to have that abortion. And the next week, she will probably march against it again. But I will still protect her right to do that. And I think it is incumbent upon all of us to do so.”

Of course, hypocrisy like this can be frustrating. Gay says, “People who are anti-choice, [many of them] choose not to wear a mask. They say that is a matter of personal freedom and that they have bodily autonomy. But when it comes to people with uteruses making decisions about their pregnancies, then all of the sudden bodily autonomy doesn’t matter.”

The fight for justice, for reproductive freedom and so many other basic human rights, goes on. Gay is pessimistic about a lot of the obstacles which await us, but determined to forge on. The battles are simply too important. 

As Gay put it, the bottom line is: “Trust women and people with uteruses. Trust us to make the best decisions possible for ourselves, our families, our bodies.”