‘Ready to be heard’

The Pro Voice Project highlights stories of local womens’ reproductive choices

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

Just after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the federal right to abortion, Sandpoint woman Jen Jackson Quintano found herself eager to do something but disheartened by the idea of simply participating in another march.

“While I do recognize the importance of such actions, personally, I felt like I needed to channel my energy elsewhere,” she told the Reader. 

Her own path forward materialized on a summer day beside an alpine lake, sitting on the shoreline with a friend while their children explored the surrounding woods. The women shared their hopelessness, anger and “fears around mothering daughters in a world seemingly hell-bent on stripping them of their agency,” then resolved to do something about it.

“Both of us being writers, we soon landed on the power of story,” said Quintano, who contributes the regular “Lumberjill” column in the Reader. 

“Our stories carry weight. Our stories are our testimony,” she added. “What if, instead of hiding our abortion stories, we shared them? What if the personal had the power to change the political?”

Drawing inspiration from The Vagina Monologues, a widely performed play centered on womens’ personal stories of sexuality and female empowerment, the two imagined a stage production in which local stories about women’s reproductive choices could be shared.

Soon after, Quintano read an op-ed in the Reader by Dorothy Prophet, in which Prophet shared her own abortion story. Remembering Prophet’s background in theater and current work with Cade Prophet Memorial Productions, Quintano made the connection and Prophet enthusiastically joined the effort. Thus, The Pro Voice Project was born.

“When I wrote the piece about my own abortion experience for the Reader it was because I wanted to try to help people understand the many reasons women choose to have an abortion,” Prophet said. “It is rarely a black-and-white issue. Medical, emotional and mental health reasons should not be put aside.

“Rape, incest, trauma, health and safety are all a part of it. No woman has made the decision to abort without serious consideration,” she continued. “The Pro Voice Project will hopefully enlighten people with women’s stories that perhaps they have not considered.”

The Pro Voice Project will take the stage Saturday, Jan. 28 with two performances at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Heartwood Center. Each showing will feature a storytelling production followed by a moderated panel discussion with regional health care providers and advocates for women’s reproductive choice. Audience participation is encouraged, and proceeds from each $10 ticket will benefit the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which runs a toll-free helpline with the goal of connecting women to funds, rides and safe places to stay while pursuing an abortion.

For the stage production portion of The Pro Voice Project, actors will perform the real stories of local women. Quintano said these stories illustrate the ways that women’s lives could have been irrevocably changed if forced to give birth, whether by abuse, diminished health or lack of autonomy.

“I am so grateful to all of these women for their courage in sharing these deeply personal — sometimes painful — experiences,” Quintano said. “No one had to share their stories; they chose to. They believed that their stories could make a difference. I’m grateful, and I want to prove them right.”

Mingled with gratitude, Quintano said she also feels “anger and dismay that today’s young women have been stripped of similar choices and outcomes.”

“I feel fearful for the future my daughter might inhabit,” she said. “However, these stories also give me strength. And hope. Because if enough of us raise our voices and tell our stories, someone is going to hear them. That someone may not be our legislators, but it could be the voters. It could be the courts. I want to generate a chorus that can’t ultimately be ignored.”

Cynthia Dalsing, a retired certified nurse-midwife who practiced for almost four decades, will be one of the health care experts present on the panel following the stage production. She told the Reader she believes that “women can and do make their own best decisions,” and she sees The Pro Voice Project as a chance to “bring the experience of abortion out of the dark corners of our lives and into a space where the very common experience of an unplanned pregnancy can be shared and thus better understood.”

“Women don’t need others to make this decision for them; they need the freedom and support to make their own decisions,” Dalsing said. “When that happens, women have got this.”

Quintano said that The Pro Voice Project’s inaugural performance marks a beginning, as she hopes to continue the enterprise.

“The Idaho Legislature reminds us daily that our voices need to be heard,” she said. “We are not dairy cows. We are not baby incubators or baby murderers. We are more than the sum of our body parts. We are women. Together, we are strong of voice and heart. Many of us are ready to be heard. I want to facilitate women being heard.”

The Pro Voice Project • Saturday, Jan. 28; 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., doors open 30 minutes before each show; $10 at the door, with proceeds benefiting the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. Heartwood Center, 615 Oak St., theprovoiceproject.com. Learn more about the fund at nwaafund.org.

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