Abortion rights, enshrined since 1973 in a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, face their greatest risk in half a century. Legislation that would ban abortion has been introduced in 31 states this year alone, and a leaked draft opinion of a Supreme Court decision expected in June would reverse Roe v. Wade and allow such bans to be enacted.

While the right to an abortion is protected in Maine under state statute, a reversal of Roe could lead to that law being undone if abortion opponents win the governorship and enough seats in the legislature. Over the past week and a half, Press Herald photojournalist Brianna Soukup spent time with six local women to understand what abortion rights mean personally to people in Maine. (Interviews have been condensed and edited.)


Nuna Gleason, 34, of Gorham, is an asylum seeker from Kenya, activist and founder of an organization that supports sexual violence survivors:

I came to America because I was threatened in my country. I came here to find safety because I spoke out after I survived sexual violence in Kenya. When I came and I learned how there is access to abortion, sexual and reproductive health, I felt good, because that’s something we don’t have in my country.

I founded Wounded Healers International. I started it from my own experience. Wounded Healers is a community of survivors of sexual violence fighting to end the cycle of sexual violence. Sharing my story made my life very, very insecure, because the guy who raped me felt I was going to expose him. He has a high level in Kenya, and he started wanting to silence me. I have a son from the experience. I have a baby boy. He’s grown up; he is 14. I felt like I was putting my son in danger. I felt like my life was very, very much in danger, because I couldn’t close up my organization and he wanted me to stop.

I tried abortion myself. It was so hard, because for me pregnancy was the only thing that was evidence that I was raped. So, I really wanted to do an abortion, but it was not accessible. I took all the chemicals that I could. We were told that you take laundry detergent and diluted juice. I did all that. I really tried, and it never happened. I went through pain. I wished every day that I could have an abortion, but I didn’t get access. That was very, very scary for me. I am happy that I have my son right now, but what I have gone through, especially mentally, I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through.

So many girls have died. A girl died that I knew very well trying to do an abortion, and many, many, many, many other girls (in Kenya) are still doing (illegal) abortions.

Being raped is really traumatizing, and realizing that you’re pregnant is even way more traumatizing. When I was raped, I decided because of all the threats, I’m not going to tell anybody. I’m just going to swallow it, but when I realized that I was pregnant, I couldn’t hide the pregnancy. A baby should be a source of joy, a happiness. But you’re getting a baby with somebody that you didn’t even have joy with, you didn’t have any relationship with. A baby is a lifetime job. You’re going to have this scar the rest of your life. Not that being raped is going to leave, or you’re going to heal and forget, but it is easier for you to move ahead if you don’t have a child.

Listen to Nuna’s story:


Jennie Ferrare, 32, is co-owner of Arcana in downtown Portland, a yoga teacher, Women’s March organizer and adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine:

I have two kids, both under 5, and I became way more involved (in advocating for abortion rights) after having them, in part because I had these two very traumatic births. I was in labor for 36 hours with my first, and my heart almost stopped. In labor I had this insane spiritual experience where I felt very much like I was going to die and my vitals were all dropping, and then I was fine. I survived, and I had a healthy baby, and it was great, but I was kind of terrified to be pregnant again. I realized it’s (giving birth) life or death sometimes. My second labor was also traumatic. I had an emergency C-section for that one. It is a life-threatening ordeal to give birth, and the idea that it could be forced upon someone is just terrifying to me.

The reality is one in four people who get an abortion are already mothers. I have these two beautiful kids, and they are all I want. I don’t know if my daughter will have bodily autonomy growing up and if we’ll have the money to house ourselves in this area and survive. I feel really grateful that I can make these choices for myself, that I got to become a mother by choice, and also prioritize the kids that I have now, by choice.

I used to be someone who would say I firmly believe in anyone’s choice, but I myself would never get an abortion. Now, looking back, it is so strange to me that I said that, because the reality is you can’t know until you’re put in a situation. Maybe you were a victim of sexual assault, or maybe you already have several children and you can hardly afford to feed them, or you have a health condition that makes your pregnancy super risky.

I’ve been screaming this stuff for a couple of years, and everyone is like “Why’re you so obsessed with abortion?” and I say, “Because our bodily autonomy is the foundation for human rights, and without it we don’t have anything.”

Listen to Jennie’s story:



Kerry Michaels, 65, is a photographer in Freeport:

Abortion is a complicated, thorny, thorny issue, but it comes down to an individual’s decision about that issue and self-determination about your own body and your own health and how you want to live your life in the world. No one is saying it is a walk in the park. No one takes it lightly. It’s incredibly important to have control of your life, determined by your own beliefs.

I think everybody should have access to the abortion pill, but I also think people who need surgical abortions should have access to them. They should not have to run a gauntlet because, believe me, they have run their own personal gauntlet before making the decision.

I’ve had four pregnancies. I have two children; I had a miscarriage and an abortion in my late teens. I have experienced a pretty wide swath of pregnancy, and I know so deeply in my soul that no woman should have to bear an unwanted child. No man can truly understand this. My husband is amazing, and my son is amazing, and they understand it, but not viscerally like my daughter and other women do. If I know anything in the world it’s that this should be between a woman and her doctor and it is a private matter. It is very difficult to speak publicly about it, but I think it is critical to do that.

It is women without resources and children who will be the most devastated by this. It’s not the Supreme Court justices’ relatives and friends and children. (They) will be able to have access to legal abortion by traveling to states where it is legal. For marginalized women, it’s an impossible situation. If you take the right of abortion away, you’re condemning women and their children to lives of poverty and it’s incomprehensible that we could let that happen.

Listen to Kerry’s story:


Quinn Bolster, 16, of Portland is a sophomore at Casco Bay High School:

My best friend’s aunt is a midwife, and she has a tattoo of a coat hanger. She explained the difference between safe abortion and dangerous abortion. And we got into the conversation around pro-choice. I didn’t talk to my parents about it as much just because it didn’t come up, but I think that kind of sparked my interest in it.

I am subscribed to The New York Times, and I got the little notification (about the draft opinion) on my phone, and I kind of freaked out and I couldn’t articulate my words well. I have a friend who I’ve known for a really long time, and I wanted to talk to her about it. The next day at school I just couldn’t bring it up. I don’t know if that was the stigma thing or if I was just scared. But I didn’t bring it up at all. We didn’t talk about it in social studies class. I’m not sure why, and I want to figure out exactly why, because we’re open to that sort of conversation in school. We have “courageous conversations,” where we basically talk about those subjects that are kind of scary to talk about with your parents or in a normal class setting, but it hasn’t come up in any of my classes. We were supposed to talk about it today in humanities, and we didn’t get to it. It’s just feels different to me than other things.

We have a Roe v. Wade task force at my school that started last week. It is a teacher-and-student-led situation. We’ve started breaking into how we can educate students because we aren’t able to have this conversation about it. The idea of having either a school-wide or class-wide discussion about it has been brought up but shut down because of polarization. So, we’re looking into just focusing on educating people and answering the questions they have so they can come to their own conclusions. People are trying to figure out a way to help get seniors signed up to vote and ways that we can write to legislators or representatives.

If it is overturned, where does it stop? Where does it stop? The Maine GOP is looking into anti-gay marriage, anti-sex education. Where does it end, and how far are we going to go back? Because taking away all that progress is so scary to think about.

I just hope that people are getting the information that they need. I feel like for young people, that’s where we have to start. It surprises me, but there’s been so little conversation throughout my schooling that I know there are people who don’t know what’s happening.

Listen to Quinn’s story:


Eisha Khan, 26, of Biddeford is a strategy analyst at MaineHealth who grew up in Pakistan and Texas, and moved to New England for grad school:

I grew up in Pakistan. It’s a Muslim majority country, and in my understanding of Islam this is not a debate. It’s not a contested issue at all. This is a right that people exercise. Obviously it’s done with a social kind of sadness. Everyone feels like having children is a blessing, and it’s only a blessing if you’re ready for it.

I remember as early as 10, before we started having our menstrual cycles, going to Islamic school on Saturdays and Sundays. That schooling preps you so you know what to expect. They would tell you about your cycle, what it meant, how to take care of your hygiene. It was done in a very casual way, like this is normal, these things happen. And part of that was abortion. The talk around abortion was definitely very open.

My understanding from a religious perspective is that abortion is a right that we all have within the sphere of Islam, and it could be done due to extreme conditions, which could be rape or because it’s (a choice) between the life of mother or child. That’s the extreme, but other circumstances include if you are physically or mentally unable. In Islam we believe that if you don’t feel physically and mentally able, you can have an abortion within the first 40 days, and then, after consultation, until 120 days.

As Muslims know, this is a religious right that is at stake. As a woman of color and as a Muslim, I feel like there are laws being made on my behalf – on behalf of my identity, my body, my belief – that are adversely impacting me. For the Muslim community, I feel like this is a prime opportunity for us to raise our voices, be our authentic selves and hopefully find community in this larger topic and find a voice. To be able to be seen and to be visible and to be heard –that’s an important thing.

There is no Muslim representation (on the Supreme Court). There never has been. So, even as one side is using religion to undo abortion rights, the side that is an affirmation of abortion isn’t able to bring this diverse perspective.

Regardless of your political party, health equity is a shared goal that we as a society want to achieve. I think a big part of that is having safe abortion, because whether we like it or not, abortion is going to happen. It could be your religious right that you want to exercise and you will find whatever means that you can … you’re going to find a way.

We’re not living in a society that is pro-life for anyone – those born and those yet to be born, and those living. We don’t have a universal health care system. Being pro-life is not just saying you are.

Listen to Eisha’s story:


Fidelis Taylor, 91, of Portland is a retired teacher:

I grew up in the Boston area. I’m the eldest of four, and I never knew growing up about abortion. It wasn’t discussed in my home. I think the first time I may have heard about it was when I was in high school. Back in those days, they talked about back-alley abortions a lot. If they talked about abortion, they didn’t talk about a real medical abortion. Yeah, it was terrible. We thought it was just awful, my friends and I.

As I got older I learned more about it and reasons for it. It is a private, very private, occasion, and most women are old enough to make a decision on their own. If we’re old enough to vote and old enough at, say 21, to get married, can we make that decision?

In my day if you were a woman you had to be a housewife. When I graduated from high school the choices were, you could be a teacher, you could be a nurse, you could be a secretary, and you could be the homemaker. In other words, the housewife. But you would never be where women are today. Can you imagine in 1930 a vice president of the United States being a woman?

We can’t treat women like things. We’re not things. We’re human beings. We have intelligence. And sometimes I think men degrade women in thinking they don’t know what they’re doing.

This is a wonderful country. What are we doing to it? Now if this abortion thing passes, what’s the next thing that will be taken away? I think people ought to think about their own children. What’s the future going to be like for them? I think about it a lot.

I’m just terribly disappointed in the Supreme Court if this comes to pass. I don’t know how people, how women are going to be able to cope with it, actually. I think we’ll have a lot of very poorly attended children. We can’t take them all to a fire station and leave them at the door.

Listen to Fidelis’ story here:

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