12/27/2013 02:02 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2014

Overdose Prevention and Abortion: What's the Connection?

Written with Wyndi Anderson.

When Provide shifted our focus to rural communities and the South we organized ourselves around one central question: what does it take to move the issue of abortion in hard places? Our explorations into this question led us to believe that we can reach new audiences if we can change the way that we as advocates talk about abortion: contextualizing abortion within a range of unmet health care needs, treating abortion not as a matter of politics or rights, but as a matter of good patient and client care; seeing abortion as an issue around which health workers and social service providers, in addition to women themselves, need resources and support regardless of where they stand politically. We built our abortion referrals training program around this premise, and we are now bringing this work to agencies throughout the four Southern states where we work. As we do, we are asking not only, what does it take to move the issue of abortion in hard places, but also, when we do it in this way, what else happens?

What we are finding is that when we succeed at creating a safe space for the hard conversation about abortion, other conversations surface as well. When we invite people to think about abortion in context: in the context of their workplace, in the context of their patients'/clients' lives, other issues and needs pop through. These stigmatized health needs can range from drug use, sexual and gender identity, mental health, HIV, sexual health and many others that communities hold a harsh standard of silence and judgment around. When we hold in our networks -- formal or otherwise -- people and organizations working on a whole range of tough issues and we value and nurture these, we are able to facilitate work that makes things better for all kinds of hard stuff life throws people's way.

What potential lies within this space?

Is there a core competency we can develop within our health system along the lines of "ability to deal with really tough, marginalized s*&t?" and is this the point of intersection where we can build multi-issue movement/momentum that includes abortion? The reproductive justice movement has long brought an analysis and approach of intersectionality to its movement organizing and advocacy. National Advocates for Pregnant Women's advocacy sits precisely at the intersections of drug use and pregnancy. What might these types of intersections look like in the context of health and social service delivery?

Perhaps addressing dire needs can build the capacity and willingness of institutions and individuals to also take on abortion, which like many other issues is burdened by stigma.