Though Laura Wexler was prepared for the news that Roe v. Wade would more than likely be overturned by the Supreme Court, actually hearing the decision come down on June 24 proved to be more upsetting than she anticipated.
“I thought ‘What country am I living in?’” says Wexler, who co-founded the popular Stoop Storytelling Series—a live show and podcast in which Baltimoreans share their own personal tales tied to a given theme—with Jessica Henkin. The writer and producer says their 16-year-old program launched with hopes of liberating locals through relaying honest stories, but that it’s seen a shift in recent years to focus on aligning with community goals.
“We wanted to harness the power of personal story—to make strangers familiar to each other,” Wexler says. “A personal story has the capacity to bypass or surmount the things that often divide people. All the research shows that, no matter who you are, deep in our brains, we respond to [them] almost identically.”
With this in mind, Wexler says Stoop saw the news of Roe v. Wade as a catalyst to do what it does naturally—provide a welcome space for Baltimoreans of every walk to listen and share their own unique abortion stories. On August 26 at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown, the series plans to do just that with “Abortion is Autonomy: Stories About Freedom, Challenge, Care, and Joy.”
“There are abortion experiences that are difficult, but ultimately joyful,” Wexler says. “There are experiences where the main thing people felt coming away [from the procedure] was the care and the support. Then, there are others that are harrowing. We’re trying to program the fullest range of experiences possible to give people a way to see behind the headlines.”
Preceded by a cocktail hour and live music by experimental pop artist Glorian (Joseph Mullhollen), the 8 p.m. event will donate proceeds from donation-based ticket sales to the Baltimore Abortion Fund—which helps eliminate financial and logistic hurdles for those seeking an abortion here in Maryland, or those traveling from out of state.
Lynn McCann, co-director of the Baltimore Abortion Fund, hopes that Friday’s stories will spark empathy and push back on the stigma that still hangs over having an abortion.
“At the root of every abortion is a person who is making the best decision for themselves and their families,” McCann says. “I hope that storytellers feel empowered, liberated, and connected as they talk about abortions. And I hope that audience members will see pieces of themselves reflected in those experiences, whether they’ve had an abortion or not.”
Though the show has worked to stray from politics when curating events throughout the years, Wexler felt that, in this case, The Stoop team needed to be straightforward.
“Regardless of their [stance,] we want everyone to feel comfortable coming to The Stoop,” Wexler explains. “So it was an interesting thing, in this case, to be clear with ourselves and to be clear in our language that we wouldn’t be open to sharing any anti-abortion stories. We feel like it’s a fundamental human right.”
Acknowledging that the content in these stories could potentially be triggering for some, Stoop organizers have arranged for a chaplain from Johns Hopkins to attend on Friday evening to help anyone who needs it—both on stage and in the audience.
“We’ll also have a resource list for folks who need additional support,” Wexler says.
Even if audience members fall on different sides of the issue, she hopes that viewers will leave the show with a more nuanced understanding of abortion, and that they are able to find a unifying thread in the stories that are shared.
“Even if you’ve never had an abortion, you’ve been scared,” Wexler says. “You’ve felt alone. You’ve felt shame. You’ve felt fear. All of these things we might associate with these experiences, we understand them. Everybody understands what those are like.”