Abortion rights are in trouble. Here are 9 actions you can take to protect them.

It's been a tough start to 2017 for abortion rights.

Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images.

Just days into office, President Trump reinstated the Reagan-era "global gag rule" that strips aid to nongovernmental organizations that offer (or even discuss) abortion services with patients. On Jan. 24, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would make the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment permanent. Trump's choice for secretary of Health and Human Services is staunchly anti-choice. And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced a "heartbeat" ban on abortion (almost certainly meant to provoke a legal challenge to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision).


Like I said, it's been a tough start to the year for abortion rights — and it's only January.

With so much happening all at once, it's easy to feel lost and unsure how best to show your support. Luckily, there are ways. Many ways.

First off, it's important that those of us who support reproductive rights recognize that we're not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans (57%) believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the highest level of support in more than 20 years.

So let's say that you're part of that 57%. Now what?

Here are nine real things you can do and groups you can support in the fight for abortion rights in the U.S.

1. Support national and local abortion funds by donating or participating in fun fundraising campaigns.

Most people who want to support family planning, abortion rights, and factually accurate sex education donate to Planned Parenthood. And that's great! Keep doing that! But if you want to support an organization specifically to help make abortion more accessible, you should check out the The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). Abortion funds help individuals who need abortions, but can't afford them, pay for them. When you donate to the NNAF, your money is going directly to help people exercise their constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

In the past, people have found creative ways to help fundraise for abortion funds. For example, there's the Taco or Beer Challenge modeled after the Ice Bucket Challenge. Another fun way to help is by signing up for events like the annual National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon (which will be back this April).

A graphic from the 2016 TOBC. Image from NNAF/Tumblr.

The NAFF centers around tenets of intersectionality, autonomy, collective power, and compassion for people in need of abortion. The group provides support to around 70 organizations throughout the country (many of which you can donate to directly if you'd like — they'd probably appreciate that).

2. Support reproductive rights and abortion advocacy organizations.

There is a long list of groups fighting for safe, legal, and accessible abortion throughout the U.S. — some better known than others. Of course, there's Planned Parenthood (a group that seems to be under near constant attack from anti-choice politicians), NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion Federation, and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Other organizations to consider supporting include the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), All* Above All, A is For, Backline (known for their national pregnancy talkline), the Sea Change Program (a group working to reduce stigma), Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equality (URGE), the National Black Women's Reproductive Agenda, the Lilith Fund (helping abortion-seekers in Texas find access), DKT International (the largest family planning organization in the developing world), the Haven Coalition (a New York-based group providing travel and lodging assistance for women traveling to New York for an abortion), the National Women's Health Network, the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), Ipas (a group dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion), PCIGlobal (a group focused on ending physical, sexual, and mental violence against women), and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

3. Participate in abortion storytelling campaigns.

You or someone you know has almost certainly had an abortion. While the "1 in 3" estimate that's often tossed around is almost certainly a bit high, the fact is that abortion is more common than you probably think. Unfortunately, abortion remains pretty stigmatized by society, and that's why it's so important that those who are willing and able to speak up about their experiences do so.

For many people, having an abortion isn't really a huge deal and the overwhelming majority (95%) of those who have had one don't regret it. Still, because of the stigma surrounding it, many might not feel comfortable discussing their experiences. You can help change that!

Whether it's participating in social media campaigns like #ShoutYourAbortion, telling your story through a site like We Testify, or hosting a teach-in through the Abortion Truth Project, sharing abortion stories plays a powerful role in battling the stigma that surrounds the procedure.

4. Call your legislators at both local and national levels.

Calling your legislators is one of the best ways to show your support or opposition to any issue close to your heart. Is your representative pro-choice? Give her a call. How's your senator planning on voting on an upcoming bill? Give him a call. It's important to remember that our elected officials are meant to represent their constituents — that means you!

There are some great guides too. Former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth's "Call the Halls" guide is a tremendous resource to have at the ready. If you're the type of person who struggles with phone anxiety, here's a really cool Tumblr graphic. And if you need help coming up with a script or finding the right number, check out 5 Calls.

It doesn't have to be boring either! Maybe you can organize a call or postcard writing party with friends, complete with drinks, food, and prizes where you get together and contact your reps.

5. Run for office. Yes, you.

The day after the massive global Women's March, 500 women in Washington, D.C. gathered to discuss taking the energy from the march and channeling it into a political movement. The group worked together with EMILY's List to learn the basics of getting involved in politics, and you can too!

As our new president has shown us, no prior political experience is no problem. But you don't have to run for president or Congress to make a difference. Consider getting involved with smaller local races if that's more your speed. Getting involved on a state, county, or municipal level can help make a real change in the world.

6. Promote comprehensive sex education.

Photo by Ted Aljibe/Getty Images.

It turns out that there are a couple surefire ways to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the world (which, in turn, has the effect of reducing the number of abortions as well): ensuring access to contraception and improving the type of sex education we provide in schools. In fact, a recent study found that abortion is at an all-time low, and it appears to be a direct result of an improvement in both of those areas.

One obvious way to get involved in setting the agenda for sex education is finding a spot on your local school board (see point #5) or at least attending the board's meetings with the public.

7. Talk to friends and family about why abortion rights matter to you.

Large-scale projects dedicated to helping change public opinion using celebrities and stories from strangers about why pregnant people should have the ability to make their own decisions about their bodies are one thing, but there's nothing quite like hearing something from someone you trust. Sure, it might be a bit awkward, but at the end of the day, it might help reduce stigma (see point #3) and inspire others to feel more open in discussing the topic.

The National Network of Abortion Funds put together a quick guide on talking to your loved ones about abortion.

8. Volunteer as a clinic escort.

It can be hard for some people to feel safe and comfortable walking into an abortion provider's office. Protesters can make going to a clinic a scary event, but that's why clinic escorts exist.

Clinic escorts are individuals who help guide patients and staff in and out of abortion providers' offices, offering distractions to patients and just generally trying to reduce what can be a traumatic time. Planned Parenthood recently shared information on how to become a volunteer clinic escort.

Additionally, you can support the Clinic Vest Project, an organization that provides brightly colored escort vests to volunteers for free.

9. Vote. Really — vote.

Photo by Ringo Chiu/Getty Images.

One of the most direct things you can do to help influence policy is to become an informed participant in the democratic process. It's an unfortunate fact that more than 92 million eligible voters stayed home this past Election Day. The presidential election, itself, came down to around just 80,000 votes spread out over three states. Your vote matters!

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

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Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."