By: Mia Saidel
Laura Gerson has a small tattoo that goes down her left forearm. It spells the word “strong” and is followed by a small orange butterfly beside it. The tattoo is symbolic of a path she envisions herself and other women should follow in order to be powerful.
The sophomore, who is a public-health major and double minors in women’s gender and sexuality studies and corporate responsibility, is a member of the Students to End Abortion Stigma group on campus. She serves as the director of membership and outreach for the organization, which was founded at American University in the fall of 2016. Born and raised by a single mother in the city of Stamford, Connecticut, Gerson says she grew up with a prevailing belief in women’s bodily autonomy.
“Women’s health is one of the most important things for everyone,” Gerson said. “We need healthy women to have a healthy population, and one of the fundamental rights provided to us as women is the right to choose when to have a family and when not to.”
Gerson was influenced by values instilled in her household by her mother to pursue abortion activism, and became involved with Students to End Abortion Stigma since its inception.
“My mother is my biggest inspiration, she always supported my independent decision making and taught me that women should be responsible for their own choices,” Gerson said. “I also am aware that the only reason I’m able to do what I do is because I have been granted an immense amount of privilege coming from a middle class household, being white, and being cis gender. People take my voice more seriously than those who don’t have those things, so I want to use these privileges as a platform to elevate others because everyone deserves to have their voice heard.”
Gerson said Students to End Abortion Stigma was founded on a commitment to start an open conversation about abortion and sexual education. The organization’s mission is to provide a safe place to learn about and support pro-choice values regardless of race, ethnicity or LGBTQ status. Its collaborators include the AU College Democrats and the Interfraternity Council, and together, the organizations have spearheaded projects such as pushing for the election of pro-choice public officials and providing free condoms to fraternity houses. In addition to forming these strategic alliances, the club promotes communal activities to engage its members. A screening of the film “Trapped,” which centers on the controversial debate being waged over TRAP laws—Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers—is being planned for March.
Since Donald Trump was elected as president, the group has held a fundraiser that sold necklaces fashioned out of coat hangers, the symbol for self-induced abortions, to raise awareness, and will soon host a campaign to send postcards to Democratic representatives as a signal to urge them to stand up for women’s reproductive rights. Gerson said that the group is opposed to the Trump administration.
“Our president, who is our leader and is supposed to look out for Americans, is violating some of our most basic human rights, including those of women and minority groups,” Gerson said. “I have no idea what will happen if these proposed bills against women’s right to abortion are passed, but I don’t want to have to imagine it because I know that so many women will be negatively impacted.”
Gerson’s mother recently moved to York, Pennsylvania, where anti-abortion support is more widespread. Gerson said that the Pennsylvania Senate approved a bill to limit abortions in early February. The bill shortens the period for legal abortions from 24 weeks to 20, except in medical emergencies. Despite her involvement in an organization that takes a pro-choice stance and her own staunch opposition to the removal of abortion rights, Gerson understands that it is important to be respectful of other beliefs.
“The opinions I was so used to hearing back in Connecticut are a complete 180 in Pennsylvania,” Gerson said. “It’s a real culture shock, but it’s just as important to remember that cultures vary and you need to be considerate no matter what people believe, even if you disagree.”
However, for Gerson, the battle cry for women’s reproductive rights has to be loud and resounding in order for abortion rights to remain sound.
“Because it’s so divisive, it’s hard to have a conversation with the other side that doesn’t end in a screaming match,” Gerson said. “So those of us who are pro-choice need to come together and be ready to fight, because unfortunately, we’re fighting battles that our grandmothers already won before. But we need to pick up and make sure we use our platforms, privilege and resources together to make sure that we are providing the same rights that we currently have to our children and grandchildren.”