Comedy: The New Hero for Abortion Rights
By: Benjamin He
What do we think of when we hear the words: Fighting for rights? What instantly pops up in our ever-busy minds? Is it racism? Sexism? Voting rights, especially women’s, perhaps? Now, what do we think of when we hear about fighting for injustices? Protests? Speeches? Angry letters? What we probably don’t think of is, “fighting for abortion rights with comedy.” But that is exactly what is happening in the real world right now.
“Don’t be ashamed of having an abortion,” comedian Joyelle Nicole Johnson said onstage at “Bro v. Wade,” a benefit show in Brooklyn that Lizz Winstead organized recently with her group Abortion Access Front. “Maybe be ashamed of how you got pregnant. I got pregnant the classy way: On the floor. On an Amtrak train. In the handicapped restroom, babeeey!”
These are simply one of the many quotes of the comedians that have stood for abortion rights. That quote was from the comedian Joyelle Nicole Johnson, who stood on stage with another comedian, Lizz Winstead. Winstead is the co-creator of “The Daily Show” and a host and director of the now-defunct left-wing radio network Air America.
Winstead’s goal is much more thorough than just raising some cheap laughs by joking about abortion. She leads a nonprofit whose purpose is to push abortion into the light as a fundamental human right. The nonprofit uses some not-exactly-ideal tools to achieve this goal—things like humor and men.
Winstead is also among the many that have undergone an abortion process. She spoke of this during a Comedy Central special in 1992. Way before the last month, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, Abortion Access Front was already getting ready to present itself to the world. Now it has taken a call to arms and is spreading like never before. They are preparing to host “Operation Save Abortion” on Sunday, a live-streamed, daylong training session (it is equipped with more than 60 partners and 25 panelists from local and national care). The session will be capped off by a set from Johnson, a ride-or-die touring performer and also a board member.
“Politicians aren’t going to save us,” says 60-year-old Lizz Winstead. She hopes to be able to erase the shame of having undergone an abortion and give people the tools to get involved in this process. “If people have to march one more time, and rage and feel helpless and hopeless, they win,” she said of her anti-abortion opponents. “We need to give people who are, like, ‘What can we do?’ an answer,” she added.
There’s also a whole new gender that they have to worry about as well: men. Luckily, the nonprofit seemed to have that part under control. Last month, on the evening of Father’s Day, Abortion Access Front set up a “Dad’s for Choice” video starring W. Kamau Bell, the comedian, CNN host, and commentator, where he invites men to endure the costs of contraception.
In 2016, the shows toured annually across dozens of cities and states, even ones that were hostile toward the idea of abortion. One of the messages is that everyone can find a way to contribute. The supporters don’t need to march or reach into pockets feeling for green. “If you have 10 minutes a month to give, I can give you something to do that’s meaningful,” Winstead said. “And I don’t want you to feel bad that that’s all you can give. Life is too messed up right now.”