This essay appears in print in On Solidarity.

Not long after the passage of Texas SB 8—the 2021 law that banned abortion at six weeks and allowed anyone to sue anyone who “aids or abets” the termination of a pregnancy—a Galveston County resident used the law against the women who helped his wife procure pills for a self-managed abortion. Two of the three women, Jackie Noyola and Amy Carpenter, filed a counterclaim against the man, Marcus Silva. In it they filled in the story of his longtime emotional and physical abuse of Brittni Silva, his attempts to prevent her from divorcing him, and his scheme to win a million-dollar bounty.

“Jackie’s and Amy’s only offense was their willingness to talk with Brittni about her options, share information about available resources, and ultimately support her decision to self-administer abortion medication so as to terminate a possible pregnancy,” the countersuit reads. “In essence, they are being sued because they were good friends. Indeed, Jackie and Amy are the friends we all wish we had. They gave Brittni solace and safe harbor when Silva sought to abuse and control her. They helped her break the cycle of emotional abuse. They don’t deserve to be sued; they deserve to be applauded.”

What Jackie and Amy did for Brittni is beautiful, but it is ordinary—or it was ordinary between 1973 and 2022, after Roe v. Wade and before Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe. That ordinariness represents a huge achievement of the fight to decriminalize abortion—the defeat of shame and isolation. A movement was born when a secret went public and an individual problem became a shared one, when personal support became mutual aid and mutual aid coalesced into solidarity.

The right has worked indefatigably—and not without success—to revive the shame of abortion. In the year since Dobbs, antiabortion lawmakers are legislating the isolation. By devising forms of surveillance that turn acquaintances, colleagues, and even family members into potential informants, and by instituting penalties as severe as life imprisonment, the antis have made it perilous to be a friend.

The story of abortion and its prohibition is always a story of relationship.

This does not mean that no one will dare to help abortion seekers, now that it is banned or severely restricted, or expected to be soon, in nearly half of states. The aiders and abettors, like Jackie and Amy, may be moved by personal love, political conviction, or both. If bodily autonomy belongs to the individual, the concept of reproductive justice reminds us that pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing (and their refusal) are not just bodily, not just political, but also social—socially determined and socially enacted. The story of abortion and its prohibition, in other words, is always a story of relationship.

This is the lesson of a long line of films about unwanted pregnancies. And whereas in the past the drama usually unfolded within the tense privacy of the heterosexual couple—or focused on the pregnant woman alone—contemporary abortion films overwhelmingly narrate the stories of women’s friendship and solidarity. In doing so, they also explore how antiabortion laws can strain even the truest friendships and how feminist solidarity can keep reproductive liberty alive when individual acts of love become too risky.

The devastating 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), by writer and director Cristian Mungiu, transpires over one day in 1987 in an unnamed city in Romania. Abortion had been legal in Romania from 1957 to 1966; during that decade, with reliable contraception unavailable, 80 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion. No doubt for complex reasons, including the penury of life in communist Romania, the birth rate plummeted. Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu blamed the decline on abortion and instituted far-reaching pronatalist policies, including mandatory gynecological exams of unmarried women, the prohibition of contraception, and the criminalization of almost all abortions, with heavy penalties both for patient and provider. Between 1965 and 1989, more than nine thousand women died from complications from illegal abortion.

In 4 Months, Găbița (Laura Vasiliu), a university student, has an abortion, and her roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) goes to extraordinary lengths to help her. Găbița is a flake, with an almost infantile demeanor. She flubs the hotel reservation, and sends Otilia to meet the abortionist in her stead, against his instructions (Why? “It was really hard for me,” Găbița later explains). She cannot find the money; Otilia asks her boyfriend, Adi, without telling him why. Găbița brings homemade cakes to the abortion but forgets the specified plastic sheet. She lies about details small and large, including the stage of her pregnancy: over four months.

Each misstep increases the power of the abortionist, a menacing misogynist named Mr. Bebe. His every word insinuates and humiliates. “Why should somebody else pay for your actions? Was it me fooling around?” he asks. He explodes when Otilia tries to negotiate the now much higher fee. “Do you think I’d risk ten years for 3,000 lei? What do you take me for, an idiot?” But there are other chips to ante. “If I’m nice to you, won’t you be nice to me?” he coos. He moves to walk out; Găbița begs him to stay. Otilia sits on the bed and takes off her clothes. Găbița waits outside the room.

Bebe does the job—inserting a probe into Găbița’s uterus to stimulate a miscarriage—without anesthesia or guarantee that it will work, or even that Găbița will survive it. 

With one ordeal half finished, another begins. Adi has pressured Otilia to come to his mother’s birthday party. She leaves Găbița on the bed and gives her Adi’s parents’ phone number. At the parents’ apartment, the phone rings but Otilia cannot get to it, and when she calls the hotel, Găbița doesn’t pick up. Otilia extricates herself from the party and escapes into the dark city. Distant lights flicker; dogs bark. There is no cab; she takes the train. Arriving breathless at the hotel, she finds Găbița dozing. On the bathroom floor, in a blood-soaked towel, lies the fetus. Otilia stuffs the bundle into her handbag and runs back into the night. She finds an unlocked apartment building, dashes up the stairway, and drops it all down the trash chute.

Almost the entirety of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days elapses in two locations: the shabby hotel room and the streets. The room is brightly and flatly lit; the shots are long and static. The outdoor scenes spin and carom; they’re so dark as to be virtually illegible. Claustrophobia and terror, rigidity and chaos are the conditions of women’s lives in a patriarchal police state.

Happening (2021), adapted by Audrey Diwan from Annie Ernaux’s autobiographical novel L’Événement, also tells the story of an abortion under near total prohibition, this one in France in 1963. Annie (Anamaria Vartolomei) is a gifted and serious student, destined for university, the way out of a provincial life of perpetual labor and housework, like her parents’. When she gets pregnant, she knows what she must do. “I’d like a child someday,” she tells a doctor, as if seeking pardon, “but not instead of a life.”

Annie’s torment, like Găbița’s, is measured in passing time; the film is divided by gestational week. Two doctors refuse to help. “The law is unsparing. Anyone who helps can end up in jail. Including you,” the first one tells her. The other prescribes a drug Annie thinks is an abortifacient but in fact strengthens the fetus.

Annie gets sicker, more fatigued, more panicked. She fails at school. She punches her belly, sticks a knitting needle into her cervix. At week nine, she travels to Marseille to see Maxime, the guy who got her pregnant. He is aloof. At the beach with Maxime’s friends, Annie swims far out—alone, in danger. Finally, he connects her with an acquaintance, who gives Annie the address of the woman who performed her own abortion, along with a password. Lifesaving intelligence passes from woman to woman like a water bucket at a fire, with as little excess interaction as possible. 

The abortionist warns Annie that any noise will end the procedure. But it is so agonizing that a cry escapes her lips; the abortionist narrows her eyes but finishes. Unlike Bebe, who relishes his clients’ abjection, this woman is just taking the necessary precautions of an illicit trade plied in a thin-walled apartment.

Annie’s abortion takes two tries. After the second she expels the fetus into a toilet in the dorm; she implores a girl who finds her to cut the umbilicus hanging from her vagina. She blacks out and wakes up in the hospital, where the emergency is recorded as a (legal) miscarriage, not an abortion. Annie goes on to take the university exams, thanks to a stranger’s trust, a dormmate’s levelheadedness—and luck.

In these two films, the abortion scenes are unflinching yet unsensational. The rooms are not sordid, the instruments are clean, the practitioners skilled. Găbița’s and Annie’s pain is unmistakable, as is the anxiety of possible exposure, not to mention injury or death. There is no need for melodrama.

In these two films, the abortion scenes are unflinching yet unsensational.

As 4 Months and Happening suggest, the more radically criminalized abortion is in a film’s setting, the more detailed are the depictions of its logistics and mechanics. When abortion is legal, the stories, like their protagonists, have space to breathe. But legality is relative, and not every contemporary character has a lot of breathing room. The American features Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020), Grandma (2015), and Obvious Child (2014) are all set in a period of de jure legalization and de facto restriction, between Roe and Dobbs. These films expose the unequal distribution of harm—and freedom—when bodily autonomy is accessible only to some people, in some places. And the less accessible abortion care is, the greater the burden on relationships.

Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), the protagonist of writer-director Eliza Hittman’s understated yet wrenching Never Rarely Sometimes Always, is the wrong person in the wrong place: a pregnant working-class seventeen-year-old in rural Pennsylvania, a state with stringent restrictions, including parental consent. But because Pennsylvania abuts New York, she is not without options, and the journey to the city to get the abortion is the occasion for the casual bond with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to be forged solid through sacrifice and earned trust.

Having gotten pregnant by one of her classmates—the viewer does not know which boy is the father—Autumn finds her way to a crisis pregnancy center, a faux clinic where opponents of abortion try to persuade pregnant people to keep their babies. She is given a drugstore pregnancy test and a sonogram of her “baby,” and is misinformed of its gestational age, wasting time she does not have. Autumn knows her parents will not give consent, so she and Skylar search the internet, make an appointment, and take a bus to New York. Expecting to return later that evening, Autumn learns at the clinic that she is too far along for a vacuum aspiration or medication abortion and must undergo a more complicated two-day procedure. If she uses health insurance, the fee will show up on her parents’ statement, so she hands over almost all the cash she’s got.

The girls wander the city, schlepping their suitcases, eating little, sleeping on the subway. Out of curiosity or boredom, Skylar texts Jasper (Théodore Pellerin), a boy—older, cooler—who hit on them on the bus. They stay up most of the night, Jasper plying Sklyar with drinks, Skylar paying scant attention to either him or her cousin.

Skylar and Autumn speak rarely, and don’t say much when they do. Their faces—Autumn’s grave and Madonna-like, Skylar’s conventionally pretty, never without lipstick and eyeliner—telegraph subtle but unarticulated emotional changes. They communicate through acts. In one scene they quarrel and Autumn storms off. In the next, Skylar is doing Autumn’s makeup in a public bathroom. They are far from home in a huge, frenetic city. They are missing school and their supermarket cashier jobs; their parents are probably furious. But Skylar sticks by Autumn.

The trials a girl must undergo to realize a rational choice—“I’m not ready to be a mom,” she tells Skylar—make the abortion a crucial narrative turning point. But the emotional climax of Never Rarely comes later. The girls return to Port Authority without money for the bus home. Skylar texts Jasper and goes off with him, leaving Autumn to wander the empty terminal and search the streets for her cousin. When she returns she glimpses Skylar behind a thick round pillar, making out with Jasper. From the other side of the pillar, Autumn taps Skylar’s arm; Skylar reaches back and they clasp hands. As Jasper continues to kiss her, Skylar’s face registers dissociation, then pained forbearance. Afterwards, Jasper withdraws cash from an ATM. Skylar promises to pay him back. He says he will text her. But both know the transaction is over.

Where the politics are blue, the darkness around abortion lifts. When it is a normal part of a young person’s reproductive life, it is not a nonevent, but not a calamity either—a life enabler but not a life changer. Accordingly, the filmmakers who set their stories in legal-abortion states can push abortion from center stage and give friendship star billing.

In Paul Weitz’s Grandma (2015), abortion is more MacGuffin than plot. An urgent need and a deadline—$630 for an abortion at 5:30 on the evening the action begins—send pregnant teenager Sage (Julia Garner) to her grandmother Elle (Lily Tomlin), a lesbian poet, for help. But Elle is broke, having cut up her credit cards to make a mobile. So the pair take off in Elle’s beater on a quest. They are seeking cash, of course, but what they gain is mutual appreciation where there had been annoyance, and new protectiveness and loyalty between grandmother and granddaughter. There is even cautious reconciliation between Sage and her distracted and judgmental mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) and between Judy and her mother, Elle. The abortion is so incidental that it takes place offscreen.

Where the politics are blue, the darkness around abortion lifts.

Obvious Child (2014) by writer-director Gillian Robespierre, is a genre of one, an abortion rom-com. More extraordinarily, the abortion and the romance have intertwined, happy endings. Donna Stern, a potty-mouthed New York standup comic (played by the New York standup comic Jenny Slate) has a night-long drunken debauch with Max (Jake Lacy), which ends in unprotected sex and, Donna discovers later, pregnancy. “I remember seeing a condom,” she sheepishly confesses to her best friend, Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann). “I just don’t know, like, exactly what it did.”

It is a stressful time in an already messy life. Donna’s boyfriend has slept with her close friend and broken up with her. “I would love to just murder-suicide them,” she grumbles into the mic, in a routine that goes from cringy to disastrous. The bookshop where she works closes. She is twenty-eight, still begging for laughs in a tiny dive bar, and drinking many nights away. Max is too preppy, too Vermont-y, too nice to be a plausible boyfriend. “He’s so Christian. He’s like a Christmas tree,” she tells her friend Joey (Gabe Liedman), the programmer at the bar. “So be the angel on top!” he exhorts. “I’m not the angel on top. I’m the menorah on the top of the tree that burns it down,” she replies. 

The pregnancy contributes to what Donna calls an “emotional crisis.” But the abortion is not a crisis. There is no anguished decision, no legal impediment. Her friends are unswervingly supportive, unambiguously feminist. “I never regret it,” Nellie tells Donna about her own abortion, adding that Donna owes Max nothing, not even the information that his sperm has helped create a living embryo. “We already live in a patriarchal society where a group of weird old white men in robes get to legislate our cunts,” Nellie declares, in what might be a tagline for every film about abortion. And when Donna finally unveils her plan to Max, he rises to the occasion—pays his half, accompanies her to the clinic, and even brings her flowers.

On the operating table, Donna looks content as the clinician works below. In the recovery room, she smiles at another patient, dressed like her in a pink hospital gown and booties, and the other woman smiles back. In the last scene, she and Max are hanging out on the couch while she recuperates, about to watch Gone with the Wind. It is as if ending the pregnancy has liberated her to fall in love.

For Donna, as for many young people—Annie, Sage, perhaps Găbița—abortion is a rite of passage. In choosing their own lives over those of their fetuses they are forced to assess their futures and assert that their goals are worth pursuing. Friends and family accompany them to the threshold of adulthood—whether a black-market abortionist’s backroom or the door of a legal clinic—and bear witness as they pass through.  

If women friends are heroes in these stories, the men are ciphers, cads, and villains. (Just doing what should be minimally expected of him makes Max a Supermensch.) As steadfast as the women are, the men are squirrelly. As resourceful as the women are, the men are clueless. Maxime washes his hands of Annie’s mess. Găbița’s lover—or whatever he was—is never mentioned.

Of course, unwanted pregnancy is the result of heterosexual sex. But sex—much less sexual love—rarely occurs in these films, and when it does it is almost always a contest of power.

For many of the men, the women’s desperation is a sexual bonanza. When Annie approaches her friend Jean for help, he interrogates her pruriently and suggests they go to bed—why not, since she is already pregnant? Otilia gives Bebe her body as the premium for the extra months of Găbița’s pregnancy. Skylar trades a make-out session for bus fare. Elle endures a kiss with a long-ago male lover in exchange for $500—before he learns its purpose and refuses to contribute.

Mistrust in their male intimates is the default emotion, and the men prove it is warranted. In 4 Months, when an agitated Otilia tries to leave the party, Adi pulls her into his bedroom and demands she tell him what is going on, assuring her he will not get angry. But as soon as she informs him, he does. How can she take such a risk? Is she crazy?

As they spar, she begins to simmer. “And if I was pregnant, what would we do?”

“How can you talk about this now?” he pleads. “I don’t see the point if you’re not pregnant.”

Suddenly, clarity: “I want to know what I can expect of you,” she replies.

 “You’re saying I wouldn’t help? . . .  I said I’m against abortion because it’s dangerous.”

“What’s your solution?” Otilia asks.

By the time she puts on her coat, the viewer knows Otilia is going to break up with Adi.

Misogyny is the smog through which these women navigate, a miasma of masculine moralism, disinterest, sexual opportunism—and violence. Bebe vibrates with it. When Elle insists Sage’s ridiculous boyfriend contribute to the cost of the abortion, he threatens to “fuck [her] up” with his hockey stick. (Grandma whacks him in the balls with it and appropriates fifty bucks from his dresser drawer.)

And in three and a half quietly heartbreaking minutes, Never Rarely charts a continent of masculine power and misogyny extending from Nellie’s “old white men in robes” to the local enforcers in small-town high schools. On the second day at the clinic, the social worker administers a routine interview with Autumn. It is about “your relationships,” she says. But the questions are not about relationships; they are about intimate partner violence. Each query names a harm and asks Autumn whether she has experienced it. The seriousness of harm escalates, from refusal to wear a condom to rape, and after each scenario come the four words that give the film its title: “Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?” Autumn pauses for a long moment each time, her eyes glancing sideways, upwards, downwards—everywhere but at the other person in the room.

The only aggression to which she can answer “never” is her partner messing with her birth control. To the rest she responds, “Sometimes?” The upspeak is not just a teenage girl’s verbal tic. It signals emotional precarity, maybe shame.  

“Your partner has threatened or frightened you. Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?”

No answer. Then: “Why are you asking me this?”

“I want to make sure that you’re safe,” says the social worker and asks again. 

“Um, rarely?”

“Your partner has hit you, slapped you, or physically hurt you. Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?”

Autumn’s lips tremble, her eyes grow blurry. She says nothing.

The social worker does not push; there are only a few more questions, she reassures. “Your partner has made you have sex when you didn’t want to. Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always?”

Autumn is now crying openly. She wipes her nose with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.  

“I have just one more question for you, okay, Autumn?” A pause. “Has anyone forced you into a sexual act in your lifetime? Yes or no?”

“Uh . . . yeah.” Barely audible, she has nonetheless spoken the words—a start.

Then Autumn goes in for the final phase of her abortion. The camera scans her body from half-exposed leg to pale, impassive face. A monitor beeps. The anesthesiologist preps her arm for the injection. The social worker holds her hand. The doctor asks her name, birth date, and what procedure she is having. Autumn answers the first two, then forgets—or blocks—the third question. The doctor repeats it. “I’m having an abortion,” replies Autumn. It is a statement of informed consent. But it is also an affirmation, however tentative, of self. Hittman has described Never Rarely as “a narrative about a girl carrying around a lot of pain and burden, and the loneliness of it all.” But Autumn is not alone. When she emerges into the waiting room, Skylar is there. “Are you okay?” she asks.

Sex rarely occurs in these films, and when it does it is almost always a contest of power.

These films—Never Rarely and 4 Months most of all—remind us of the lengths to which millions of pregnant people must go to realize the human right to bodily autonomy and the risks their friends take to help them. But sometimes the peril and trauma of the experience are too great for the friendship to survive. When Otilia returns to the hotel after disposing of the bloody bundle, the room is empty. Again, she searches frantically for Găbița, whom she finds in the dining room, looking at the menu. “I was hungry,” explains Găbița, insensate to her friend’s panic.

Otilia stares across the table. “You know what we’re going to do?” she says. “We’re never going to talk about this, okay?” Găbița nods. The waiter brings a plate full of meat and offal. Otilia drinks mineral water. She turns from Găbița, toward the camera. The film ends. Criminalization enforces silence, and institutionalized misogyny can splinter the bonds between women. The conclusion of 4 Months is ambiguous, but it is not optimistic.

The shattering of social bonds is not just a side effect of anti-abortion law. Suspicion, paranoia, and isolation are among the intents. Vigilante enforcement may be written into the law, as it is in Texas, or it can be informal, generalized to everyone and anyone, as it was in France in 1963, Romania until 1989, in the United States before Roe—and now, after it. We know that many people continue to get abortions whether it is legal or not; they just get dangerous, illegal abortions. (Nationally, legal abortions have dropped to nearly zero in total-ban states but increased where they are legal—an overall decrease of 6 percent in the first six months after Dobbs. Long-term global trends show the opposite effect, however: In countries with fewer restrictions, abortions have declined since 1990—probably because of more liberal contraception laws and better sex education—and risen in more restrictive countries.) This is why it is critical to build networks of pro-abortion activists, lawyers, journalists, and providers, both lay and accredited, to maintain access to safe, mostly self-managed, abortion and reinforce the solidarity these laws seek to erode.

Two recent documentaries, The Janes (2022) and Plan C (2023), are portraits of what Rayah Feldman called, in 2011, feminist “humanitarian subversiveness”—humanitarian in that it offers aid and solace to individuals and subversive in that it transmits the message that the state cannot stop pregnant people and their helpers from doing what needs to be done. The Janes, by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, documents the eponymous Chicago collective that arranged or performed approximately eleven thousand clandestine abortions before Roe. Plan C, by Tracy Droz Tragos, follows a network of advocates, health care workers, medical and legal hotline operators, and providers of web-based information and referrals for self-managed abortions as they move into quasi-legal territory as distributors of abortion pills to people in red states. The film begins in Texas after SB 8 and ends as the leaked opinion in Dobbs foretells cataclysm. Bookending what can now be called the Roe Era, the two documentaries belie the fantasy that progress marches forever forward.

These films say a lot about the courage of individuals. But more than that, they are testaments to solidarity. Solidarity is a kind of sympathy; mutual aid can engender love in both the giver and receiver. But solidarity is not the same as friendship. It is mobilized by principle, not warm feelings—and that is its strength.

Solidarity is a kind of sympathy—but it is not the same as friendship.

In any form of civil disobedience, individuals make personal decisions about how much risk they will tolerate (when they were caught in 1972, seven Janes each faced up to 110 years in prison; luckily, Roe nullified the indictments). But underground operations develop security measures to protect anonymity, providing a measure of safety that even clusters of friends like those who helped Brittni Silva cannot. Agreed-on rules prevent people from carelessness and “just-once” exceptions. Group discipline is reinforced by the understanding that any one person’s false move endangers everyone. When fear of surveillance and extreme punishment undermine the human instinct to help the people we love, solidarity can carry on.

The women who formed Jane came from the left, the antiwar and civil rights movements, and other movements for social, economic, and racial justice, including feminism. They were used to thinking and acting politically. Meanwhile, pregnant people were taking potentially fatal measures to end their pregnancies; septic abortion wards were full. “Sometimes there are unjust laws that need to be challenged,” says one collective member in The Janes. Says another: “I couldn’t see myself sitting on the sidelines.”  The collective made its members brave. “We were ordinary women, trying to save women’s lives,” recalls a third Jane, cheerfully. “But we were felons.”

Plan C was filmed as abortion bans started pressing in on doctors and clinics prescribing and providing self-managed abortions, on the distributors the Plan C website links to, and on other volunteers and professionals who in some way abet medication abortions. The film shows the enormous dedication, skillful and generous collaboration, and mutual respect of the people working in these networks. But a strategic tension also builds, one that characterizes the whole reproductive justice movement post-Dobbs. Some want to take maximal advantage of irresolution in the law. “What’s legal and what’s not. . . .  has to just be proven by doing it and finding that in fact nobody [comes] after you because [the law] probably won’t stand,” says Francine Coeytaux, cofounder, along with Elisa Wells and Amy Merrill, of Plan C. The legal ambiguity that Coeytaux wants to exploit is also what is staying the hands of hospital staff, leading to dangerously substandard ob-gyn care. “I get frustrated with everybody trying to follow the rules instead of what really needs to be done,” says another speaker in the film. An underground distributor is packaging and sending out pills on her own, to avoid implicating anyone else. “I come from a long line of firefighters,” she says. “The recognition of an emergency and the need to respond to it is something that is part of who I am.”

Others in the film, like Robin Marty, operations director of the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, are as enraged and heartbroken about the bans as anyone. But, with abortion a criminal offense carrying penalties of up to ninety-nine years in Alabama, the clinic has no choice but to follow the law to the letter. Before the ban 95 percent of its patients were terminating pregnancies, with both surgical and medication abortions. Now the clinic provides full-spectrum reproductive health care, minus abortion, to low-income patients, who are already severely underserved in the state. But without the income from abortion, the thirty-year-old facility may have to close.

Some are just cautious. Planned Parenthood has been criticized for its exceedingly risk-averse corporate policies, leaving independent providers to shoulder the bulk of the clientele and the legal exposure. Other would-be organizers have interpreted “aiding and abetting” broadly, to include sharing any information publicly or privately about abortion. Communicating such caution can come across as fanning panic. In Plan C, Farah Diaz-Tello, senior counsel of the nonprofit If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, warns that telling a friend about your abortion opens the door for that friend to tell someone else, who then informs the police. “If you tell somebody, you effectively told law enforcement,” she says. Is she suggesting that people who have abortions confide in no one? That organizers shut up? “Organizing and mobilizing is really hard when you’re scared and you’re censored,” says Coeytaux. Maybe the lawyers need reminding that the First Amendment hasn’t been overturned—yet.

Survival before legalization depended on sharing secrets. Otilia tells Găbița that “we’re never going to talk about this” again. But Găbița found Bebe by talking to other students, and it is not unlikely that she and Otilia will pass along censored intelligence, including warnings to avoid him. Speak-outs sparked the U.S. abortion rights movement.

Today, “Shout Your Abortion” and “I Will Aid and Abet Abortion” are becoming more than slogans on T-shirts. The abortion underground is acquiring the skills to keep ahead of a sophisticated surveillance state backed up by private snitches and litigants. But all the encryption in the world does not eliminate risk. Resistance movements are built on trust, and the power of the surveillance state rests in corroding the sense that strangers can count on each other. In these circumstances, the public sphere shrinks, and as the Silva case shows, even the family can be an abortion seeker’s worst enemy. 

It is important to remember that the Janes were not friends of the abortion patients they served. They asked for only the most essential identifying information and destroyed it afterward. Plan C shows a volunteer crying as she listens to a pregnant person telling her story on the phone—a person she will never meet. But if these helpers and their beneficiaries are not exactly friends, they are not exactly strangers either. They are sisters—or what we now call, more gender-inclusively, siblings. Siblinghood is where solidarity and friendship merge. We need it more today than we have in decades. The state can try to control our reproductive organs, but it cannot subjugate our hearts.

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