Rachel Barnes is a reproductive rights activist in West Virginia, who I photographed fro Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign, a national storytelling project focusing on access to abortion.
Rachel is a powerful advocate not only for safe, legal access to abortion, but also for herself. She has overcome incredible trauma and stigma to become the strong, joyous, brave spirit you see in this image.
Due to her health conditions, Rachel was unable to carry her pregnancies to term without risking her life. She knew her abortions were the right decision for her health, yet she still felt ashamed, which in turn led her to hide her experience and isolate herself from others. Rachel used the phrase “living in the shadows” to describe her life after terminating her pregnancies.
Here, Rachel stands outside the only abortion clinic in the state of West Virginia. This is where she had her second abortion performed. It’s an unassuming building on an unassuming street — a stark contrast to the heated discussions surrounding the topic, as well as the violence perpetrated against people who need or perform abortions. Extracted from the heated debate, Rachel is just a person, and the abortion clinic is just a building where medical procedures take place.
Rachel says, “I want to stand and show the world that abortion should be a stigma-free decision.” Her outspoken nature and activism garners frequent harassment and death threats online and in-person — even at her home. When I asked what keeps her going, she replied “If I don’t stand up and speak out, who will?”
Due to her health conditions, Rachel was unable to carry her pregnancies to term without risking her life. Her abortions saved her life, and Rachel is determined to use her time in service of others. Among her other service work, Rachel volunteers with her local humane society, where she helps find homes for animals in kill shelters.
After her abortions, her family refused to speak to her. Says Rachel, “Animals have always been my soul friends, helping me get through the families abandoning us after my abortions. Animals listen without judgement and can teach one a lot about peace.”