Work That Heals A Wound In The World: The Magic of Abortion Access

I see myself as carrying on the tradition of wise women and witches throughout the ages who have helped women take control of their lives and bodies by managing their fertility.

Erin R. Johnson
Nov 21, 2023
4 min read
Activist MagicEmbodied Magic
Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

Three mornings per week, I get up early to do magic. My alarm goes off at 6am, and as soon as I turn it off, I open my laptop and log on to Reddit. I volunteer for the Online Abortion Resource Squad (OARS), which runs r/abortion. We provide medically accurate, non-stigmatizing information, resources, and support to people considering, undergoing, or recovering from abortion. Volunteers make sure every post receives a high quality answer quickly, and moderators read every post and comment to check for misinformation and stigmatizing language.

Although answering questions on Reddit may not seem like an inherently magical practice, it’s honestly one of the most consistent and powerful things that I do. I like to think that every time I post - every time I offer resources or reassurance - I am doing a little magic to make that person’s life better. I also see myself as carrying on the tradition of wise women and witches throughout the ages who have helped women take control of their lives and bodies by managing their fertility. Even beyond that connection, though, there are many similarities in the values and work of the witches and abortion access workers I know.

“we take care of us”

Both groups value community - and not just in the sense of having people to be social with. They want to be there for each other in whatever ways other members of the community need them. They are willing to step outside of the systems and structures of society that would relieve us of our responsibility to each other and boldly proclaim that “we take care of us” - all of us, constantly pulling those in the margins toward the center to ensure that everyone gets what they need and none are left out in the cold.

Both groups also value autonomy and self determination. They embrace a joyful liberation from social expectations and authorities. We witches don’t need priests or potentates or theologians telling us how to live and believe rightly. We will delve into the spirit world or the philosophy section of our local libraries and figure it out ourselves. And as abortion access workers, we know that while medical advice and research have their place, ultimately everyone gets to decide what to do with their own body, and an abortion managed at home with pills ordered online is just as valid as one done in a clinic. We understand that abortion is not “between a pregnant person and their doctor” as we so often hear these days, but a decision made by a pregnant person with the help and support of their community, including medical professionals if needed.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Finally, both groups do work that is restorative - work that heals a wound in the world. The work may be physical or metaphysical, spiritual or emotional, practical or supernatural, legal or extra-legal, but it always focuses on setting things to rights. Witches and abortion access workers are engaged in envisioning and enacting the world as it should be - a world where we care for each other, where we value each other for our differences, where we find healing for spiritual and emotional traumas, and where communities support rather than squash our individuality and personal autonomy.

I see a lot of tragic, difficult situations doing this work. I have helped teenagers afraid to tell their conservative parents about an unexpected pregnancy, folks fleeing domestic violence who know having a child with their partner will tie them to the abuser for the rest of their lives, and parents mourning the need to end a much wanted pregnancy due to a fetal diagnosis or maternal health complication.

"Abortion, much like magic, is so much more normal than we think it is."

I also see a lot of very normal people doing what they have to do to get through life: people who are already parenting and can’t support another child right now, people who want to be parents but know they won’t be able to parent the way they want to right now, and people who want to do other things with their lives - whose dreams and goals don’t include parenting and who want the freedom to pursue those other things. Abortion, much like magic, is so much more normal than we think it is.

OARS runs r/abortion on an all-volunteer basis with a shoestring budget that mostly goes towards setting up and maintaining the tech infrastructure needed to make sure that our work can be done efficiently. Since 2019, we have averaged 65,000 users and around 900,000 views per month, but those numbers have been increasing since the fall of Roe last summer. In June of this year, we hit one million monthly views for the first time. Our volunteers read, answer, and moderate the conversation around 46 posts per day, all while receiving near constant abusive messages and even death threats. Please consider helping us continue this work by making a one time donation or becoming a sustaining, monthly donor. Every little bit helps us ensure that we can take care of each other!

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Erin R. Johnson is a (mostly) solitary, eclectic witch who loves asking questions and making things. Her research and activism focus on understanding and eliminating the impact of stigma on access to healthcare – especially regarding contraception, menstruation, and abortion. At home, she cares for an opinionated terrier mix named Watson, a bevy of house plants, and a very resilient sourdough starter named Gertrude. You can learn more about her research and activism by following her on Twitter, where she is @erinrjohnson3, or follow her witchy journey and crafty adventures on Instagram as @between_the_spokes.

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