Quilting For Reproductive Rights

Ever since the 2013 Texas law HB2 went into effect, millions of women have lost access to abortion coverage in Texas. And now artist Chi Nguyen wants to illustrate that problem by creating a giant quilt representing all 5.4 million Texas women of reproductive age, demonstrating just how many women stand to be affected by the restrictions on abortion in Texas. The quilt, which could measure as much as 86 feet on each side, will then be brought to the Supreme Court rally organized by Center for Reproductive Rights on March 2nd.

Disguised as a measure to protect women's health, HB2 requires clinics that perform abortions to meet hospital-like standards, which experts, including the American Medical Association, say is unnecessary for a relatively safe medical procedure like abortion. The bill's true purpose was to force clinics to close once they were unable to afford the necessary upgrades. And indeed, since the bill went into effect, roughly half the women's health clinics across the state have closed, which not only means that the clinics that remain must make women wait for appointments because of they can't keep up with demand, but has also resulted in a measurable increase in women attempting to terminate pregnancies themselves.

The Supreme Court has blocked the law while they hear arguments on whether the law is constitutional, but if they uphold HB2, trying to get an abortion will be a nightmare for Texas women, not to mention trying to find a replacement for the other vital services that the shuttered clinics once offered.

And to illustrate just how many people will be impacted by the decision, Chi Nguyen decided to represent each of the 5.4 million women of reproductive age on a quilt.

"To me, it's not a Texas issue but an all-of-us issue," Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam, immigrated to the US as a child, and now lives in Brooklyn, told Vice in an interview. "The decision of this case will impact the state of reproductive and abortion care for decades across the country. It could be you, me, or the women we love who might have to face these hurdles when we need a safe and legal abortion. Texas is also where my niece is growing up. It scares me to think that she might have less control over her body than I did—than women in 1973 did before Roe v. Wade was decided."


To create the quilt, Nguyen has partnered with the Textile Arts Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights, and has hosted a series of "stitch-ins" in New York City, where people can help by stitching tally marks representing Texas women into quilt squares. The squares will then be assembled into a quilt and taken to the Center for Reproductive Rights rally outside the Supreme Court on March 2nd. And it's not just women in New York who are helping out — women from across the country who have heard about the project have been mailing in squares as well.

"I really wanted to use a quilt because it represents comfort, safety, and security, and the lack of access to abortion care and reproductive health care in general is anything but that," Nguyen told Vice. "The quilt represents those things for me and also creates a sense of unity from supporters across the US who can send in swatches, which we will sew together."

Using quilts to make a political statement isn't a new phenomenon. The most famous example is probably the Names Project's AIDS Memorial Quilt, which honors those who died in the AIDS pandemic. It was deemed a National Treasure in 2005. Other major examples include the Monument Quilt, which documents the stories of sexual assault survivors and which was laid out on the National Mall in 2014.

Nguyen told Vice she likes the idea of using a traditionally "women's craft" to make political statements. "I honestly love the idea of the subversive stitch where you reclaim that form of craft. As a woman, [I think] anyone who identifies as a woman [should] challenge the idea of what a woman's craft is, and if it is a woman's craft, reclaim it and use it as an activist's tool to make sure that we have the right to our bodies, our choices, and our destinies."

If you live in New York and you'd like to participate in the project, there is still one more stitch-in left before the rally, Sunday, February 28th. You can find more about the project — and see more examples of quilt squares — on Tumblr here.

Image: Wikipedia Commons