“Roe Roe Roe your vote,” “I am an object,” “We won’t go back,” and “Why make it harder?” are some of the messages that can be seen on T shirts in an art installation by the Unitarian Universalist Society in Vineyard Haven to make a public statement about their stance on abortion.
Spearheaded by Rita Brown, president of the congregation, members of the church hosted T shirt making, the decorated shirts hung on a clothesline to advocate for reproductive rights in light of the SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this summer. Brown tells The Times the idea came from one of the church’s retired ministers, who saw another congregation doing a similar event. She said she thinks it is a great way to “live [their] values out loud.”
Brown recalled that the idea quickly gained support from within the congregation, saying of about 100 members, from 96 years old to far younger, all were in support of the event. Curious about the male response, Brown noted that when presenting the idea to the congregation, the first response she got was from a man who could not be on-Island when it took place but bought three T shirts for other members to use. Erin Conway, a 58-year-old mother who attended the event Thursday, added her opinion on the importance of male support, saying, “Until they can stand for us, we’re doomed.”
One male who definitely stands for these women is the Rev. Robert M. Hardies, interim pastor at the church, who gave his thoughts about the event as a male in a respected position within the congregation. “As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to the inherent worth and dignity of every person … to deny women access to abortion and reproductive health services is to deprive them of the inherent reproductive healthcare that they need,” he said. Hardies called reproductive rights “an important component of gender equity for women.” He added, “So, for us, this is an issue of faith. And you often hear faith voices on the other side of this issue, but as people of faith, we are really committed to reproductive justice.”
While two beautiful beach days may have deterred a big crowd from attending the event hosted on July 28 and 30, according to church members, the message on the shirts caught the attention of some passersby. Included in this was a family with two little girls riding bikes, one of them pausing for a minute to watch the shirts being clipped to the clothesline — a telling and impactful sight on its own. Additionally, two moms walked past the event and asked if the church was selling the shirts, to which members of the church explained that they were “trying to sell the message.”
In a conversation with Brown and Conway, the two discussed how it felt to carry out the event. “It’s important for people to be courageous enough to take a stand on something that’s not popular, or something that is … We have a lot of conservative people on this Island, we’re not all liberals, as much as we like to think we are, so we hope this message goes to people who need to see it,” Brown said.
Conway added to that comment, saying, “It starts conversations …We need to start talking about this. It’s not a women’s issue, it’s all of our issue. And the people it’s going to affect the most are the poorest of the poor.”
Brown then explained that it is going to be increasingly difficult for individuals in poor communities to get an abortion “if they want one,” and to “make choices for their family,” as Conway put it. The conversation shifted to issues of pro-life arguments, with Brown saying that those who push pro-life “only want to talk about it while the baby is in the womb, and make sure it doesn’t get aborted. But once the child is born, then what happens? … Too many kids are up in the foster care system.”
As a mother of four, with three girls and one boy, spanning the ages of 21 to 28, Conway told The Times she recognizes this time of post-Roe could have “profound implications” for people like her kids, who are in an age where pregnancy can be especially common. But Conway adds, “Or not, because they are going to be able to have their abortion tourism and go wherever they need to. That’s a sad term, ‘abortion tourism’; when I’m hearing that I know everything has gone wrong.”
The church’s clothesline, specifically using coathangers to hang up the shirts to be displayed, is no random choice, as it embodies a transition into post-Roe time and, according to a press release for the event, “serves as a symbol of the reproductive rights movement and a reminder of the gruesome pre-Roe era.” The coat hanger is reminiscent of the progress made to outgrow a fearful and dangerous time for women, but with recent SCOTUS action, it is becoming a call to action for the need for justice again, to build back the progress that was torn away.