PWN’s Evany Turk on intersections of HIV, reproductive justice and voting

“All we can do is use our voices. All we can do is use our stories. All we can do is use our lives to try to fight back,” said Evany Turk, the national field organizer for the Positive Women’s Network. Residing in Texas, Turk is familiar with the frustration, stress and disappointment that can come with living in the Lone Star State.

The most recent disappointment came on Sept. 1, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied to block Texas Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at about six weeks of gestation, and opens up the opportunity for citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone assisting abortion care. The law does not include exceptions for rape or incest. The time limit of the law is so restrictive that abortion care would be prohibited before many people even would know they are pregnant. This means that significantly more people who can get pregnant will have to travel out of state in order to receive abortion care.

“It takes money to book a trip to go to another state to get an abortion,” said Turk during a Zoom interview with the AIDS United Policy Team.  “[People] are being forced to travel in a pandemic. Lots of us have compromised immune systems, but we have to do all of this to try and make sure that we have some kind of rights. These are human rights that they continue to try and take away from us.”

Turk says everyone deserves the right to choose what they do with their bodies. This includes people living with HIV.  Her mission with PWN is to make sure women living with HIV can live long, productive lives free from discrimination. A vital part to this mission is bodily autonomy.

“It’s not as simple as ‘I’m gonna birth a healthy child into the world,’ because sometimes, through our bodies, we have complications. So sometimes people choose to have abortions because of health issues, [or] because of life issues, because sometimes, unfortunately, we live in relationships that are not safe for us.”

Turk says some people say there is a simple solution: Don’t have unprotected sex.

“Sometimes we don’t have that choice,” she said with a defeated laugh. “Sometimes we don’t have certain choices in our lives on how we live.”

This sentiment extends past the recent attack on reproductive rights. Turk sees intersections of violence, reproductive justice, health care and voting rights every day in Texas.

“They’ve stripped our abortion rights away, now they’re trying to strip away our rights to vote so we can’t vote [for] people we know believe in what we believe in,” she said. “These are rights people should just have: What to do with my body and how I vote? That’s simple.”

Turk describes her everyday life in Texas as a continuous fight just to live and have the rights every human deserves. Fellow Texans and advocates are disgusted and shocked by this latest attack on basic human rights. She is exhausted and drained, but always takes time to care of herself in order to continue to advocate.

Turk takes a couple of hours every day to enjoy her children and something that’s going to make her laugh.

“I try to watch things that are funny because nothing that’s happening here is funny,” she said. Turk says disconnecting and remembering her humanness are important “because there’s always a fight in the morning.”

Moving forward, Turk’s goal is to “make sure that 2022 looks different.” She wants the HIV community to commit to protect the reproductive choices of all people. This means prioritizing voting, no matter how hard Texas legislators make it for people to vote.

“This legislature, this governor, thinks that they will win. And although they may appear to be winning right now, we are confident that we are going to stay in the fight and we will remove them for trying to take away our human rights.”

Turk also encourages people observing this attack on reproductive justice to understand that this issue is bigger than Texas.

“It is a step towards trying to dismantle Roe v. Wade. It is already harmful to the people who can have children in Texas, but we don’t want this to go any further and we want to make sure that we fight this thing in Texas anyway that we can.” Turk wants people across the nation to pay attention to their home state’s legislature, call their representatives and be prepared to take this fight to the federal level.

“This is the fight for our lives. We have to keep fighting for our freedoms. We can’t stop. And we are going to need every single person who is willing to come and stand beside us and engage in this fight to do so. We would love for all people who are on the same path to join us.”

If you are a Texan that wants to get involved, visit PWN’s website to become part of the Texas Strike Force. PWN also has teams mobilizing in multiple states on their “Get Involved” page. AIDS United will continue to advocate with partners across the field for the implementation of protections for a full spectrum of reproductive and sexual wellness care, including abortion care, for all.