This summer’s hot baby gift? Funds for abortion rights

Cleveland first-time moms Melissa and Kimberly Connelly planned every detail of their daughter’s arrival, from her pink elephant pacifier to the Korean-American firefighter whose sperm they fathered earlier.

But when the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights just days after her baby shower in June, the life Melissa had dreamed of for her child suddenly felt threatened.

“I wanted to bring a daughter into the world knowing that she can be anything, and that starts with physical autonomy,” she said. “To lose that right a month before she was born and then to know that as a fetus she has more rights – that is absolutely absurd to me.”

Filled with outrage, desperation and pregnancy hormones, she posted a letter to her 30,000 followers on Instagram and joined numerous expectant parents across the country who are using pregnancy charts, birth announcements and baby registries to fight for abortion rights.

“They say a fetus can hear at 27 weeks. Shall I tell our daughter she now has the most rights she will ever have?” Melissa captioned a photo of herself beaming at her wife as the couple applied streaks of rainbow paint to her stomach. “When is the right time to explain to her that her parents’ marriage might have broken up? …Must be nice not to worry about those conversations.”

A pregnant woman with rainbow paint on her stomach is hugged by another woman

Melissa, left, and Kimberly Connelly are among a growing number of expectant parents using social media and baby registries to strengthen abortion rights. The mothers were criticized for posting this picture alongside a pro-choice message.

(Jodi Hutton Photography)

The post received thousands of likes and hundreds of messages of support. But it also brought backlash.

“We’re talking about you getting upset that your power to kill a baby like your daughter is now severely limited,” one commenter wrote. “She has no value just because you want her.”

Like baby feet, pregnant bodies have become a metonym for anti-abortion views. Those who oppose reproductive rights portray expectant parents who support them as unfit, baby-hating hypocrites.

Now that abortion is under threat, many of these parents are risking their bellies for reproductive freedom.

“We had [pregnant] People run social media campaigns for us to raise funds, and we let individuals list us on their registers instead of gifts,” said Sylvia Ghazarian, executive director of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, a national abortion fund. “People do that all the time.”

Indeed, while opponents have long positioned abortion as an abomination of motherhood, statistics show the opposite.

“For us, 74% [of patients] are already parents,” said Ghazarian. “I have more and more patients in need.”

Across the country, the majority of abortion patients have children. Many patients continue to give birth in the future. After the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe vs. Wade, some families want to make that connection clearer. A growing number use the birth of a baby or a wedding to raise money for abortion rights.

“Couples still want a KitchenAid blender and a Le Creuset Dutch oven, but they also really want to register for cash,” said Emily Forrest, a spokeswoman for wedding registry website Zola. “We’ve noticed a growing trend over a number of years for couples to add a charity fund option.”

This year, the number of users signing up specifically for funds to be given to charities supporting abortion and other reproductive rights has increased by nearly 200%, she said.

“That’s a very big leap,” Forrest said. “It correlated very directly with the timing of the leak [Supreme Court] Draft and then the decision to tipping Roe vs. Wade.”

In May, the leak of a draft majority opinion by Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case sent shock waves across the country. Activists who had long predicted Roe’s fall were nonetheless stunned by other precedents that appear to be under threat, from marriage equality to contraception.

Since the leak, appeals for donations to the Brigid Alliance and Planned Parenthood have increasingly appeared on baby registry sites alongside Lovevery toy subscriptions, Kanga Care cloth diaper kits and Uppababy stroller systems.

“When you have a baby, people want to give you things — but she has everything she needs,” said one woman-to-be, who asked not to be named for fear she might be targeted by anti-abortion advocates. As part of her registration, she solicits donations to the National Network of Abortion Funds.

“Please donate any amount you are comfortable with!” the DC-area woman wrote on her registry. She said a group of family members donated together.

“I’ve always been very committed to reproductive rights, but pregnancy has strengthened my commitment to it,” she said.

Others became pro-choice advocates on their way to motherhood.

“I grew up in a very Catholic household in rural central Pennsylvania, where the collective view of abortion was that it was the result of irresponsibility or the killing of babies — I had absolutely no clue about health care,” another soon said expectant mother who asked not to be named for fear of being harassed.

She signed up for donations to the Brigid Alliance, which provides financial assistance to people who have to travel long distances to have an abortion, especially those who are late in pregnancy.

She had long opposed an abortion — until last year she needed one to treat a miscarriage.

“It struck a chord with me that abortion is 100% health care,” she said. “Until you go through the process yourself, you don’t realize the scope of abortion.”

Huntington Beach photographer Chelsea Maras was already an abortion advocate when she had to have an abortion to fix her miscarriage in 2021. When the Dobbs verdict was announced on June 24, it seemed only natural to use her new, growing baby bump to direct her Instagram followers to abortion funds.

Chelsea Maras, 22 weeks pregnant, is photographed at home in Huntington Beach

“Pregnant women have a unique voice right now because our lived experience, which we are having in real time, is a topic of conversation,” says Maras.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

“Pregnant women have a unique voice right now because our lived experience, which we are having in real time, is a topic of conversation,” Maras said. “I think it’s very important to show up with a pregnant belly and make that statement.”

So she pulled on a t-shirt that read “My body my choice” in rainbow block letters and tucked it up to reveal her midsection.

“Bringing a child to that particular country that doesn’t offer paid parental leave, health care, postnatal support, childcare can feel like an impossible choice,” she wrote in the caption. “If you’re looking for action steps … donate to local abortion funds, give to the organizations helping with local care.”

For many, using their own wanted pregnancy to combat the loss of reproductive freedom was a way to regain power in a moment of both physical and political vulnerability.

“It was our way of coping because we feel so hopeless and powerless,” said Taylor Ecker, a Pennsylvania photographer who specializes in maternity and newborn portraits.

She described a recent maternity shoot that turned into an impromptu photo protest when her client pulled a black Crayola erasable marker from her purse and asked Ecker to write abortion rights slogans on her stomach.

Motherhood should be a choice. Our shelves are now empty. There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States.

The client posed in the tall grass wearing her cream floral robe open to reveal her stomach. In one image, the slogan “Ban our bodies” is framed to reveal a tattoo on her thigh of Casper the Friendly Ghost flipping the bird.

“I told her, ‘If we do that, it’s going to be a faceless shot because I want to protect you,'” Ecker said. “We literally cried together while doing this. For her to believe that her daughter would be born into a world with fewer rights over her body than her mother was born into – that was a very heavy burden on her heart.”

Still, many women said they were nervous to protest despite feeling compelled to speak out.

“Is someone going to attack me in a way that will also attack my unborn child?” asked Riley Moos, 28, a lawyer in Tacoma, Washington, who posted an abortion-rights photo of her pregnant body in June. “Will anyone say I’m a bad mother or a bad person?”

Moos feared she might offend her own mother, a Costa Rican adoptee who the family believes was the product of sexual assault.

“But right now it’s my body. Every time I post a picture, the bump is in there,” Moos said. “People want you to think I’m not my own person [being pregnant] at the moment. That is exactly why I have to do this post.” This summer’s hot baby gift? Funds for abortion rights

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