When the decision to return abortion rights to state governments was made by the Supreme Court in June, the artists of Studio Two Three dropped everything and hit the presses.
Executive Director Ashley Hawkins said amplifying diverse voices is a core value of printmaking and the studio.
“We learned the [Dobbs] decision, and immediately you’re like, OK, what do we do? Where are we going? What is happening? How can we be there to support you? “Hawkins told VPM News.
In less than three hours, the studio was mass-screen-printing its pro-abortion-rights drawing and heading for the distribution of the apartments. The cartoon read: “The right to abortion is the right to autonomy, survival, equality and self-determination.” Flyers with the statement spread at protests in Richmond that weekend, and the studio began selling the design on bags and t-shirts.
Hawkins founded the studio in 2010 to support recent art school graduates. She said burning is a naturally democratic and civic process, and wanted to make it more accessible.
“As soon as you got out of school, there was literally nowhere to continue doing print work and certainly not with the kind of price and amount of access that we needed,” Hawkins said.
The studio’s political activism grew out of a strategic plan dedicated to serving the people of Richmond.
From its conception, Hawkins wanted a mobile printing service, making it easier and more affordable to access classes, workshops and, of course, the studio’s print shop. In 2017, the dream came true when the studio converted a truck into its own wheeled printing press.
“We found that when you have a really big, goofy ice cream truck, and you pull it confidently, most of the time people are just like, ‘OK, it’s here,'” Hawkins said.
“Early in 2020, we also realized that we could illegally drive that same truck onto a median and park it,” said Kate Fowler, the studio’s director of partnerships and development.
Fowler designed the abortion rights print in response to the leak of the Dobbs draft ruling in May. To help process her reaction to the leak, she played around with the printing press until she came across a phrase that represented reasons someone might seek an abortion.
“It’s an issue that affects…everyone related to the person seeking an abortion: partners, their children, their parents, their family members, their work,” Fowler said. “Abortion is also deeply linked to our survival and our health. For some women, it’s literally a matter of life or death.
Fowler said abortions are essential health care for people who can get pregnant.
“We are the experts on our own lived experiences in our bodies, and we know when we are capable of stepping forward and taking on that responsibility,” she continued. “I’m at a point in my life where I pragmatically view abortion as my reproductive health care. I see it as part of a holistic picture of how I take care of my body and make decisions. on this subject.
Through community and pop-up events, Studio Two Three has raised over $3,000 for the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project. In partnership with local organizations and artists, the studio has also collect money to support trans youth and black lives.
“We have the ability to print and do it at very low cost, if we need to,” Fowler said. “[We] do it with our own hands and distribute it quickly and donate, and they have the ability to get that money into the hands of people who need it.
Burning helps Fowler decompress, she says, but sees more to resource sharing and hosting out of state residents seeking abortions.
“We have to donate [to] West Virginia and other Appalachian states to try to make sure people can travel to Virginia to use the resources we still have for abortions,” Fowler said.
In West Virginia, the state’s only clinic halted all proceedings the day the Supreme Court issued the ruling. While abortion is still legal in North Carolina, the state requires a 72-hour waiting period before getting the procedure, limits insurance coverage, and requires parental consent. Six-week abortion bans are in effect in Kentucky (which was later blocked by a judge) and Tennessee. The four states Virginia border.
South Carolina, where the border is less than a four-hour drive from Richmond, and Ohio, which is about 100 miles from the Virginia border, also have 6-week bans in place.
“We have to support each other, you know?” Hawkins said. “We are going to have to make our sofas available. We’re going to have to make a lot of impressions to go to a lot of different people for the foreseeable future, and that sounds scary and challenging, but also well within our capabilities, because that’s what we already do.