By Thais Menendez, actor in Abortion Road Trip
At first glance, the title Abortion Road Trip leaves little to the imagination—you can more or less guess what this play is about. And yet, while a title laden with such a hot-button term is initially jarring (just ask the anti-choice protestors present at our performances), it is equally riddled with nuance both uplifting and unsettling.
Think about it: an abortion road trip. What is more cheerfully American than a good old-fashioned road trip? And what is more painfully American than having to cross state lines to terminate a pregnancy?
Rachel Lynett’s play follows Lexa, who, accompanied by her older sister Minnie, takes an 11-hour cab ride from her home state of Texas to seek an abortion in New Mexico. On the journey, the sisters and their cab driver grapple with issues of women’s bodily autonomy and their own varied identities, ranging from relationships and past regrets to whether or not lesbians have better sex. Other characters in their lives emerge via flashbacks, giving the audience a glimpse into the larger issues that are often woven around the decision to terminate a pregnancy.
Lexa’s reasons for the road trip are varied and complex. She’s not in poverty—why not just fly to Albuquerque? She’s not from rural Texas—aren’t there abortion clinics in Houston? For starters, Lexa is appreciative of the time to think about what she considers a life-altering decision. On a more sinister note, her options for abortion care in Texas are incredibly limited.
In 2013, Texas passed a law approving some of the country’s strictest requirements for abortion. These restrictions banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and required clinics to adopt hospital-style standards. Unable to meet the high financial demands of these new requirements, more than half of Texas clinics were forced to close or discontinue abortion services. By the time the law was reviewed by the Supreme Court, only 19 of more than 40 abortion clinics remained open, most of which are concentrated in major cities.
Even if a woman in Texas can access a clinic (for many, this means driving up to 8 hours to find a clinic, which also requires taking time off work and other financial burdens), several requirements are currently in place that bear no other clear aim than to dissuade a woman from undergoing the procedure. For example, women must make at least two trips to a clinic for the abortion (the first being for a mandatory ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure); physicians are required to give women state-mandated information about medical risks, adoption alternatives, and developmental stages of the fetus (information which, as Lexa states, “sounded like bullshit”); and, most recently, healthcare facilities are now required to perform funeral services for aborted fetuses. The list goes on.
Lexa’s several attempts to get an abortion in Texas prove unsuccessful for various reasons, including her general discomfort with all the requirements. But while the play centers primarily on Lexa’s personal struggle with the decision, and multiple perspectives surrounding abortion, it is framed by a larger question of women’s reproductive rights.
The play’s action is (literally) driven by how difficult it is for a woman to get an abortion in a very large state, where 50.4 million women of reproductive age reside. In the time it took for the Supreme Court to overturn Texas’ crippling law, millions of women were left without access to the care they might need. And there’s no guarantee that those clinics will reopen.
It’s not just Texas. Across the country, access to abortion care is shrinking under our noses with similar laws that target Roe v. Wade rulings—just one clinic remains open in Mississippi, and lawmakers are actively trying to close it. The idea that lurks above this dark comedy, then, is that regardless of what the highest court in the land decides, there is an active war on women’s reproductive rights surviving entirely on loopholes.
The reality is that without affordable and unencumbered access to abortion care, more women will resort to unsafe measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies—and they already have. Any political or even ethical agenda served by restricting abortions is overshadowed by this gross negligence shown toward women’s healthcare.
When I joined the cast of Abortion Road Trip, I mused that this was the second play about abortion I would perform in back to back. In both cases, the story isn’t “just about abortion,” because abortion is rarely a single-issue topic. Our story treats women’s issues of sexual identity, race, and complex relationship questions as equal factors in the larger picture, without ignoring the array of emotions and thoughts that often accompany these issues.
As director Tracey Erbacher writes,
Abortion doesn’t have to be tragic. It doesn’t have to be the most difficult choice a woman can make. Sometimes it can be funny. Sometimes it can be serious. Sometimes the choice is easy, or nuanced, or exactly right.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are telling these stories more and more. The struggle for female bodily autonomy is not new, and it’s not going away anytime soon. It wasn’t long ago that women were considered property of their husbands.
Plays like Abortion Road Trip use theatre as a means to start conversations about these complex issues. In my eyes, theatre as a platform is most successful when reflective of the greater issues affecting our society, bringing to life these human stories and driving them further into our collective consciousness. As artists, we have a responsibility to imbue our work with truth and relevancy that can resonate with a range of audiences—that is the power of theatre. And that is the power of Abortion Road Trip.
Thais Menendez is an actor, writer, theatre educator, and yoga instructor in DC. She is also a #nastywoman and lover of Cuban pastries. Catch her in Abortion Road Trip during this summer’s Capital Fringe Festival. Up next: Rorschach Theatre’s Fall 2017 remount of Neverwhere.