A play based off of people’s real experiences with abortion has hit the road, heading to college campuses across the country — many of them in states where abortion isn’t exactly applauded.
Last week, students at the University of Montana at Missoula performed the play, called Out of Silence, in an area where one of the few abortion clinics in the state is located. And on Wednesday, a school in the far southern Texas town of Brownsville, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), will host the first of the three performances at different colleges across Texas, the state with the most extreme restrictions on women’s access to abortion in the country.
“We can’t collect abortion stories here, because there’s too much stigma around it,” said Sadie Hernandez, UTRGV student representative for the 1 in 3 Campaign, the advocacy group behind Out of Silence. “So it’s important we can share other people’s stories on stage to get people talking about it.”
The 1 in 3 Campaign, whose name references the fact that one in three U.S. women will have an abortion in her lifetime, has collected over 600 stories online from women about their experience with abortion. The script for the play, written by 10 different female playwrights, includes 13 of these stories, each touching on a different perspective or situation regarding abortion.
“We see art as a powerful medium to capture stories,” said Julia Reticker-Flynn, Director of the 1 in 3 Campaign. “In the play, people can see their lives reflected through other’s experiences. It’s more than just a 3-minute campaign soundbite.”
The play debuted in D.C. earlier this year with a set cast. But now, students at each college are sent the script to perform the play to their peers. They’re also encouraged to add local stories to the script.
“It helps answer the question: ‘What does abortion look like in my community?'” Reticker-Flynn said.
So far, these performances have seen little protest from local anti-abortion groups. But the Texas schools have reason to be prepared — their state has gained national attention for its push to dangerously restrict women’s access to an abortion, an issue that now faces a Supreme Court decision.
And the Rio Grande Valley is one of the Texas communities threatened the most by growing restrictions to abortion access, due to its population. Since the enactment of the 2013 state law that places additional restrictions on the procedure, 28 percent of state-funded family planning clinics in the Rio Grande Valley have closed entirely, and many more have cut their services while raising their fees. The valley is also home to the two poorest cities in the United States.
And while the UTGRV, created in 2013, is too new to have solid data on its demographics, UT officials say UTRGV is likely the top producer of Hispanic graduates in the country. Multiple studies have found that Latina women living in poverty are much more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy — and much less likely to afford an abortion.
“We are the most vulnerable living in south Texas. We want people to know that options are possible,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully this will start people talking on campus. Even if it’s, ‘Hey did you see that crazy abortion play?’ That’s a start.”