Woman Project’s quilt represents reproductive rights

Women from across Rhode Island hold up The Woman Project’s “Petition 2.0” during a performance of “Codify” Wednesday in the library of the statehouse. Nancy St. Germain, 70, of Warwick, has advocated for years for the right of women to have safe abortions.

 

PROVIDENCE—In the statehouse library, a group of women shed their clothing Wednesday and read aloud sections of the Roe v. Wade decision next to excerpts from the Reproductive Health Care Act. Old books above them, a long, handmade quilt behind them, they had came from all over the state to stand up for the rights of women across Rhode Island. 

The performers—with Tammy Brown of Cranston at the helm—were there to celebrate the statehouse debut of The Woman Project’s “Petition 2.0,” a quilt made of nearly 2,000 squares, each representing the signature of an individual Rhode Islander in support of The Reproductive Health Care Act.

“We finally got the quilt done enough that we can display it,” Jordan Hevenor, a South Kingstown resident and member of The Woman Project, said Wednesday. “We came today to bring all of these voices to the statehouse.”

Founded by a group of South Kingstown women after the 2016 election, The Woman Project uses art to advocate for human rights and social change. And what began as a handful of mothers in Wakefield has extended to every corner of the state, with members and supporters advocating for a bill which would guarantee the right to a safe abortion to Rhode Island women.

Reintroduced in the General Assembly in January, the Reproductive Health Care Act would prohibit state interference in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, essentially codifying into state law Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which lead to legalized abortion nationwide.

The bill has been The Woman Project's top priority since its founding. By focusing on one item at a time, the group can channel “the bulk of its energy, attention, and effort to best creating one sizable and important advancement for a better future,” according to its website.

“It’s such a steep climb,” The Woman Project member and South Kingstown resident Jocelyn Foye said Wednesday. “And it’s going to take so many different organizations working with each other and a lot of our time is being spent making those relationships throughout the state.”

The quilt petition is an iteration of a previous petition supporting the bill.

“The petition was a paper one, but you couldn’t really tell how many people had signed it,” Hevenor explained, adding that The Woman Project will continue to bring the quilt petition—a bit sturdier than the last one—to the statehouse throughout the legislative session. 

Women and men statewide have decorated—and continue to decorate—squares. During a series of sewing bees held throughout the state the squares have been stitched together into the quilt presented Wednesday. 

“It’s a good signifier of what represents The Woman Project,” Foye added. “It’s creative activism.”

“And it’s bringing together as many voices as we can to make a statement,” Mara Trachtenberg, member of The Woman Project and South Kingstown resident, chimed in. 

The performance Wednesday in the statehouse library, “Codify,” combined pieces from Roe v. Wade and The Reproductive Health Care Act. 

“Some of the rights and protections of Roe v. Wade are kind of under threat,” said Brown after debuting the performance art piece, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with over a dozen other women from around Rhode Island. 

If the U.S. Supreme Court is to strike down Roe v. Wade, because there’s currently no state law making abortion legal the procedure would then become illegal in Rhode Island. 

“I think juxtaposing that struggle that we had 45 years ago with the struggle going on still today is important,” Brown continued. 

From the library, those in attendance Wednesday carried the quilt into the rotunda, hanging it from the balcony before draping it down the marble steps. A carefully sewn blanket of colorful squares gently calling Rhode Island’s legislators to action, on closer inspection the petition gives a clear demand. 

“My body, my rules,” one square states. “For my daughters and my granddaughter,” another declares. 

“Today is the just first time [bringing it to the state house], but the goal is that it keeps growing,” Foye explained, as several of the women who performed “Codify” took turns signing their own squares. 

She added that squares are being collected at about six locations throughout the state, with college and high school students holding their own events to collect them.

People mingled in the library following the quilt’s big reveal and the “Codify” performance, discussing the bill and the petition. 

“I’m glad to support this,” said Amy Thompson, a resident of Riverside and performer in “Codify.” “Although I’m at an age where I don’t have to worry about this anymore, many people I care about are young enough to have this as a concern in their lives.” 

Thompson said she remembers when Roe v. Wade was passed.

“Seeing it gradually erode over the years has been a concern,” she said. “I understand this is a complicated matter—I’m alive because somebody chose not to [have an abortion]—but I firmly believe this should be an individual’s choice.”

To the women who have fought day in and day out against threats to their bodily autonomy, the legislation is long overdue. 

“Men shouldn’t have any say in what women can do with their own bodies,” said Nancy St. Germain, a 70-year-old Warwick resident who’s fought for years for the right of women to have safe abortions. 

And although the fate of Roe v. Wade is uncertain, St. Germain said she’s been inspired by the revived efforts of people across the country to advocate for women’s rights.

“It’s just terrific,” she said.

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