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Past Abortion Rights Poetry Contests

Each year, the Abortion Care Network (ACN), a national organization of independent abortion providers and prochoice supporters, and Split This Rock host an Abortion Rights Poetry Contest. The contest is free to enter and open to poets from any part of the U.S.

Themes: The contest welcomes the submission of poems about the various experiences of people who seek abortion and other reproductive services. For some, there is safety, relief, and good medical care. For others, there is doubt, harassment, and stigma. For all, health care takes place in a politicized context in which even the most basic choices about our bodies, sexuality, and childbearing can be scrutinized. Reproductive rights are also linked to a whole host of other social issues, such as economic status and the accessibility of safe, affordable health care.

Prizes: The contest awards the following prizes: First ($100), Second ($75) and Third Place ($50), and Honorable Mention Additionally, winning poems will be published in The Quarry, Split This Rock’s online social justice poetry database and are distributed to ACN's national network of reproductive serve providers and supporters. All prize winners also receive free registration to the 2018 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

The Sixth Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest (2017)

The Abortion Care Network (ACN) a national organization of independent abortion providers and prochoice supporters, and Split This Rock are pleased to present the winning poems and honorable mentions for the Sixth Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest, chosen by the 2017 panel of judges, including special guest judge, Jan Beatty.


Black and white photo of Jan Beatty wearing rectangular light colored glasses. Her hair is cropped short. She is smiling pleasantly and wears small silver earrings, a chain necklace, and a black v-neck shirt.Jan Beatty’s fourth book, The Switching/Yard, was named by Library Journal as one of 30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetry. The Huffington Post called her one of ten “advanced women poets for required reading.” Other books include Red Sugar (2008, Finalist, Paterson Prize), Boneshaker (2002), and Mad River (1994 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize), all from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her limited edition chapbooks include Ravage, published by Lefty Blondie Press in 2012, and Ravenous, winner of the 1995 State Street Prize. Beatty hosts and produces Prosody, a public radio show on NPR affiliate WESA-FM featuring national writers. Awards include publication in Best American Poetry 2013, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, two PCA fellowships, and the $15,000 Creative Achievement Award from the Heinz Foundation. In addition to her extensive work as a poet, Jan Beatty has worked as an abortion counselor, a welfare caseworker, a social worker, a teacher in maximum-security prisons, and for fifteen years as a waitress. She directs the creative writing program at Carlow University and the Madwomen in the Attic Workshops, where she teaches in the MFA program. Learn more at Jan Beatty’s website.



Naked in the Macy's Changing Room Trying to Think of Anything Other Than the Election
by Barbara Costas-Biggs

Before I was grown and called lovers
lovers. Before I was a mother and called
momma. Before I considered myself anything

I had a body: smaller, tighter, in flux
and full of flaws. Yet, always mine.
At eighteen, I slept with a boy I met

my first semester away from home.
I don’t think I liked him much
but he liked me and we moved in together.

His father was a Republican with state political
aspirations. I lived in Tucson, drove
an hour to Nogales to buy

birth control at a Mexican pharmacy.
No prescription, no questions, cheap.
I ate tamales from a street vendor

and brought homemade tortillas home,
stretched and cooked over a fifty gallon drum.
My slippery mind might be confusing

parts of these memories. 
I was stoned gin-drunk living
with a boy who told me, when

he first saw me naked: I wasn’t sure I’d like your body.
And when I got pregnant, told him, over
coffee, I’d made an appointment

for an abortion, he walked to the bank
handed me $250. A few days later, I drove myself
to an appointment in an adobe strip mall.

On the table, wearing
one of his tshirts, paint splattered,
the doctor asked me if I was an artist.

A black and white photo of Barbara Costas-Biggs with a short hair cut slightly smiling with her eyes closed.

Barbara Costas-Biggs lives in Eastern Kentucky. Her home is a small organic farm and she works as a law librarian and (occasionally) as an adjunct faculty member at Shawnee State University teaching English Composition. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared recently in Calamus, District Lit, Literary Mama, Compose, The Oyez Review, Four Ties Lit Review, The Pikeville Review, and others. She also is a member of the juried poetry series Women of Appalachia: Women Speak. She is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte.



Saraswati praises your name even when you have no choice
by Purvi Shah

                 “Patel, a 33-year-old woman who lives in Indiana, was accused of feticide – specifically, illegally
                  inducing her own abortion – and accused of having a baby whom she allowed to die. The facts          
                  supporting each count are murky, but a jury convicted Patel and she was sentenced to 20 years in

                 prison.” – Emily Bazelon

You had a name no one

could hold between their

                              teeth. So they pronounced

               a sentence. Had you the choice,

you would pilgrim

to the Vermilion. It is no

Ganges, but you could dream for tiger’s

                              blood, for eight tributaries to open

into palms bearing girls unfettered. Before your baby

was a baby,                       could it float? Could

a stillness of breath                      be the air asking

for alchemy                       as you cast your life as a spell? These days

the world is looking                     for witches. You had been

searching for a day        beyond labor, option

of pleasure, a choice unscripted

by parents, borders unscripted

by choices, a passing

salvation. You had not

expected this state – punishment

for a wrung womb. These days

you mourn: when                         you are free, you won’t

be able to bear              the children you

wanted. In silence, you pronounce                     your name as if it came

from the crucible of river, from the first                            throat broken

                                                         into a cobra of desiccated streams.

Photo of Purvi Shah, an Indian woman in a blue and purple dress kneels down next to a puddle smiling widely

Known for her sparkly eyeshadow and raucous laughter, Purvi Shah inspires change as a non-profit consultant and writer. She is curious about language as dreamwork for love, transformation, and justice. During the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she directed Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight Asian American voices. Her book, Terrain Tracks, plumbs migrations and belongings. Her chaplet, Dark Lip of the Beloved: Sound Your Fiery God-Praise, explores women and being. Her non-fiction has been published on The Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, and VIDA. She has developed 9 short films including What Creates Change?, a film on ending violence, and designed multimedia community-based programming for healing through Movement to Power, a 2014 creative workshop series for survivors of violence, advocates, and community members. For her leadership fighting gender violence, she won the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Service Excellence Award. Discover more @PurviPoets or on her website. Photo by Willi Wong.



a good woman would never
by Sylvia Beato

for years you told no one
how you cried yourself to sleep
after the doctor held your hand
“are you sure about this?”

how you cried yourself to sleep
while blood poured down your legs
“are you sure about this?”
and protestors booed outside the clinic

while blood poured down your legs
you stopped believing in god
and protesters booed outside the clinic
because a good woman would never

you stopped believing in god
“are you sure about this?”
because a good woman would never
for years you told no one

Image of Sylvia Beato wearing a tan button up dress sitting on a stone step in front of a blue wall. Sylvia's face is skyward and looks hopeful.

Sylvia Mercedes Beato is a recipient of the Hoyt Jacobs Memorial Poetry Award and a candidate for an MFA in Poetry & Translation at Queens College CUNY. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in CALYX Journal, Bridge Eight, Bowery Poetry Journal, and FEM LIT MAG. She lives in Brooklyn where she teaches high school and laughs with her dog. Photo by Lauren Davis.



by Jeff Schwartz

The Fifth Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest (2016)

The Abortion Care Network (ACN) a national organization of independent abortion providers and prochoice supporters, and Split This Rock are pleased to present the winning poems and honorable mentions for our Fifth Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest, chosen by the 2016 panel of judges, including special guest judge, Sonya Renee Taylor.


Image of Sonya Renee Taylor facing forward, wearing yellow short sleeved shirt with tourquoise necklaceSonya Renee Taylor is an award-winning poet and activist. Founder of the intersectional international movement The Body is Not An Apology and the creator of the RUHCUS (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 US) Project, her poetry appears in numerous journals and anthologies including Spoken Word Revolution:Redux, Growing Up Girl, Off Our Backs, Beltway Quarterly, Just Like A Girl, X Magazine and On the Issues Magazine. Her first collection of poetry, A Little Truth on Your Shirt was released by GirlChild Press in 2010. Sonya’s work has been translated into Dutch, Swedish and German, used as curriculum in universities across the country and abroad, and as a tool for community and national action for organizations such as the Black AIDS Institute, HIV Campus Education, and Gloria Steinem’s reproductive rights organization, Choice USA. For more, visit her website.


First Place

by Abby Minor


1.                                                                                                      [July 2013     Millheim, Pennsylvania]
This is how you miscarry on purpose, with pills:

                                             this is how you eat a sack of tattered peonies.

With stippled petals in your mouth, this is how
you set the little sunset-

colored bottle by the bed, orange plastic bright
              as halo-stains.

This is how you iron and tear a man’s

                             white cotton t-shirt into strips. These are the instructions

in a stack. Here, these are the peonies, mottled open. This is the number to call

if passing blood clots
larger than a lemon.


2.                                                                                                  [March 2014     Columbia Falls, Montana]
               This is how you choose an axe.

This is how for weeks you watch your shadow
               like a piece of sour silk, a grainy wing. This is how you drink.

               This is how the Flathead Valley’s clouds run rootless
                              in the spring, cressets flash between the grasses, snow

and fire in the waters of the lake. This is how you dream

another river, flicker in the cedars. Whitefish, Salish, Stillwater, Swan.

              With a river kicking in your teeth, this is how you toss

a match, watch your shadow burn.


3.                                                                                                    [July 2013      Harrisburg, Pennsylvania]
This is how, to get the pills, you leave
at dawn. This is how the nation prickles

in your palms—edgy as a bag in brambles, drift
                             and kick, an empty rattle

in the weeds. This is how you find the building by the Susquehanna.

              This is how you memorize the other women’s faces.

This is how your sweetheart waits, how they call you in
and send you out again, how you travel

                             home, orange bottle

                and a blue glove tucked inside your purse.


4.                                                                                                    [March 2014    Kalispell, Montana]
This is how you find out where the doctor works.

This is how you go, woodsman, into the dusk, hunting fuel

for what fire, against what cold? Closely,

                                                            how the horses
down on Wildhorse Island sleep in snow, in their own language,

                                              on camus roots, on cliffs.

This is how you spread a sheet in shaking sun,—

                             This is how you smash the backdoor’s glass at night;

this is how you eat a river, how
you push the pills inside and wait, how
you dream fluently in peonies of fire, how

               you hammer-claw the faces out in photographs, scatter
files, amber everything with iodine. This is how

you start to bleed, how you
                                hatchet plumbing, make the water heater

moan. This is how you soak the cotton strips.

               This is how the furnace gives, how tables split, how you hew
the ultrasound machine and pull the potted jade

up by its roots. This is how they find you, a wilted wing, womb
               still clenching like a tired fist, pistol
               in your pocket. A line of your own blood

                             drawn across your palm. This is what you tell them:

This is how I name myself: this is how
I talk to God.

Abby Minor lives and works in Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley region, where she directs Being Heard, a creative writing program that honors the voices and imaginations of my county’s elders. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Weave Magazine, CALYX, The Fourth River, and So to Speak; her first chapbook is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press.


Second Place

by Catherine Klatzker

The world was always a place of silence,
of congenital shame—even before those days
in 1967, four years before you met your love. Your
strength grew belatedly, fertilized as it was in the

knowledge that you were nothing. Your life did
not matter to anyone, except to hurt you.


Every time you awake in your hospital bed
men in white say, What did you do? Tell us
what you did! Did you try to abort?
Every time
for five hemorrhaging days, you say you

didn’t do anything. I did nothing, you protest.
You deny the criminal abortion. A policeman

stands guard at your door. Surreal. Angry
doctors shout at you, demand your statement
of guilt. You are bleeding out in a Sacramento
public hospital. Transfusions of living blood

finally drip into your veins, saving you for the
confession they expect, to have you arrested.

Don’t tell. Never tell. The fallback admonition
learned in your father’s house—now useful again.
Dime-sized white tissue passes, and a D&C
can be done. An angry medical resident scrapes

your uterus, no medication: You don’t deserve meds.
You agree. You are nothing. You feel nothing.

You go into the wall. Surreal. Voices and images
of other women and girls billow from the walls
around you and you know them, their voices
are your own, sharing something you cannot

name, and you claim them: your witnesses, your
delusions. Thirty years later, in the nineties, you
blurt out to your partner that I almost died one
time, from a criminal abortion
. Watchful, you study
his face for the disappointment you expect, the
judgment, just like the men in white, that you are

the lowest of the low, not worth the life of a zygote.
The silence between you stalls and ripens. His voice

chokes when he at last speaks, You must have been
so alone
, he says, and you wish you had known him
then —impossible, but all the same. He has always
seen you. His innocence didn’t need your

protection. You didn’t need your old shame.
It is safe to stand up and speak.

Catherine Klatzker's essays and stories may be seen in The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Emrys Journal, Tiferet Journal, (2014 nonfiction winner,) Lime Hawk Journal, The Examined Life Journal, a short-short in River Teeth's Beautiful Things, and in two mental health anthologies: from In Fact Books, and from Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. Her work-in-progress, Reunion, was shortlisted for the 2015 Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction prize from Stillhouse Press. Catherine is a member of The Authors Guild, AWP, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and ISSTD, (the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation). WHAT IT WAS LIKE shines a spotlight on a few days of her 1967 illegal abortion.


Third Place

And Still They Come (for Dr. Sue)
by Gordon Cash

You scream your bullhorn lies, intimidate,
Harass, respect no law of man.  You speak
Of scalpels, sutures, and sterility,
Dismemberment, death by regret, all lies,
And bear false witness with each one against
Your neighbors – us, and all who come to us
With hope of better days.  And still they come.
The patients come, each seeking her own truth.

You rattle war, the war we never made,
Your made-up war you say we wage against
Your made-up victims, conscious and aware
In your hallucinations.  You make war
On us, ignore or call collateral
The pain and blood of woman-damage left
In all your battles' wakes.  And still they come.
The patients come, each seeking her own peace.

You preach of death, and call us murderers
Of quarter-size, translucent, formless disks.
Idolaters of blind, unfeeling cells,
You count for nothing those already born,
Their hopes, fears, agonies, their very selves,
For nothing all the morgue-slab failures of
Your fevered dogma dreams.  And still they come.
The patients come, each seeking her own life.

This poem is dedicated to Dr. Susan Wicklund, abortion provider (now retired) and author of the memoir This Common Secret.

Gordon Cash had already graduated from college when Roe v. Wade was decided, so he clearly remembers the bad old days. His 2011 science-fiction short story Thumbs, available at here, built on the absurdity of the "human life begins at conception" mindset. He lives in Annapolis, MD, works in Washington, DC, and looks forward to becoming more politically active when he retires in 2016.

Making Waves: The Fourth Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest (2015)

The Abortion Care Network (ACN) a national organization of independent abortion providers and prochoice supporters, and Split This Rock are pleased to present the winning poems and honorable mentions for our Fourth Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest, chosen by the 2015 panel of judges, including special guest judge, Katha Pollitt.

About the Judge: KATHA POLLITT

For the first time, the contest had a special guest judge, Katha Pollitt. Pollitt is a renowned polemicist, poet, and feminist. Her new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (2014) is a defense of abortion as a social good. She is also the author of numerous collections of essays and poems, including the critically-acclaimed Antarctic Traveler (1982) and The Mind-Body Problem (2009).


First Place

by Beth Spencer

                                                                                     I imagine a world where this won't be necessary,
                                                                                                     and then return to the world where it is.
                                                                                                                                             ---Sallie Tisdale

In the atrium of the principal church
in a certain Irish city

it is said a girl can find beneath a bench    
among the tea roses the name of an abortionist.
She need only bring a scrap of paper
and a bit of char to rub. No one knows
who carved the name, or when,
only that the woman is reliable
and clean. If asked, she will tell you
of her years in the convent laundry,
her escape, her apprenticeship to a man
from London. Her fee is small,
and she hums to put her clients at ease.
A melody they cannot quite remember after.


All methods have a failure rate
said the nurse, and asked if I could scoot

a little farther down, my feet in warm oven mitts
snugged over the posts of the exam table.
I recalled the methods that had failed me,
including 'wishful thinking,' the most recent.
The aspirator tugged a bit, like a small cramp.
I thought of the flowers my friend had brought
when I told her I was pregnant. Daisies, each petal
a choice spreading from a yellow wheelhouse of choices.
She, a mother of three from a huge extended family
whose connection and liveliness I admire.
But I, a solitary sort, have never wanted such a life.
I am grateful for her friendship, also my childlessness.


Listen, a desperate woman will do what she must
whether it's legal or not. 
Go abroad or up a filthy stairwell off an alley,
eat poison, work a hanger into her womb,
take all her pills at once
& pray to the goddess of miscarriage,
the one whose chariot has a broken axle
but excellent shock absorbers.

The ground between the sides has no median strip,
it's a faultline where one can fall through
for failure to follow through, as a friend once said.
Still, I stand at the sideline, taking notes
the way I used to take histories
of the patients in the clinic where I worked.
I find I cannot hate the shriekers,
I wish they'd just go home.
They are as enraged about abortion
as I am about the killing of wolves
out here in the west, where men drive trucks emblazoned
with signs that say Wolf Management Plan:
Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up.

I say wolves--& bears & old growth forests--
deserve to live as much as humans do,
that we need to better love
what is already here. Remember Rome's oldest story--
a mother wolf gave such to human twins,
charity we'd be wise to emulate.
Stop war. Feed people, plant trees, build schools.
Spring the traps.
Make places for women to lie down in safety
to end what sometimes must be ended.

Beth Spencer runs Bear Star Press, which publishes poetry and short fiction by writers in the western states. She lives in rural Northern California with her husband and dog.


Second Place

For What I Am About to Do
by Anna B. Sutton

This morning, there is an angel hanging by a thread,
cartoonish and carved out of soft wood. She twirls
circles above me, manipulated by the pulse

of a ceiling vent. Her purple dress is airless,
static, cut clumsy as the rest of her. I am laid out

below, open-legged like a pair of discarded scissors, rusting
in the grass. My starched hospital gown smells like driftwood
and bleach--nature rot and our chemical penance. The drugs

are taking effect. If I were an angel--without the weight of desire,
above the realm of human shame--I would never dress. My body

would be a collection of little prayers--the mouth of meeting
thighs, hanging breasts like bended knees, folds of skin
that soften the edges of my torso, thumprint

dimples on my lower back, proof of God's touch.
As a young girl, I cradled a sweater stuffed

under my dress. Every childhood game began 
or ended with the act of birth. The clothes closet: 
a delivery room I entered alone, exited, arms wrapped

around a plastic doll, my fingers stained purple--grape ice-pop
dye. The Valium, the Demerol. The hum of the medical vacuum

like cicadas in the backyard. Outside my childhood
bedroom, the trees were so tall. They housed a hundred lives
in each of them. Many more, really. Outside this room,

there is an armed guard, bulletproof glass, the rest of my life. 

-- Previously published in Third Coast, Issue 38/39

Anna B. Sutton is a poet and publisher from Nashville, TN. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Third Coast, Copper Nickel, Brevity, Quarterly West, Southeast Review, The Collagist, DIAGRAM, and other journals. She is the co-founder of The Porch Writers' Collective, web editor at One Pause Poetry, poetry editor at Dialogist, a nonfiction reader at Gigantic Sequins, and works in book publishing in North Carolina. She received her MFA from University of North Carolina Wilmington and a James Merrill fellowship from Vermont Studio Center.



judgement call
by Amber Flame

like hearbreak, you are sure
that your story is different. felt
not worst but not exactly
explainable to anyone else. even or
especially the ones who told their stories.
you wrote about it the same way too,
just like, "dear heartbreak, never has there
been a _________ like this" but
the poems never went anywhere. could
not finish themselves. you
didn't tell many people. it didn't feel
good to be surrounded by silent nodding
or worse, reassurances full of pity. 

the day after the _____________, you are
sure you are a stupid girl. that this is
all the proof. you are sure that some
thing huge is over. the ground shook.
the wave crashed. you had an _____________.
you are sure you are the damages.
the day after is when you have a drink
or three without guilt. the decision done and
gone. that day you have retreated to
a neighborhood where no one would say they
think you were a stupid girl. not even if
they could see the damaged parts. the day after
you have an ______________, you see
the incongruous-to-this-neighborhood conservative sign.
it says what you have done is murder. 

you may be sure now that you are a stupid girl.
and all your world has tumbled. but you never
would say you had done murder. this is not
true, you grew up knowing. fact. it is what you used
to say. then. this is why you
flatten your mouth around the word. whisper it.
you tuck it like a secret behind
your stated beliefs. now. you know better,
stupid or not. 

you will meet another stupid girl. she
laughs loudly, says _____________ was
the smartest thing she could do about it. she is
crude and hilarious. you find yourself silently nodding
your head and you force yourself to stop.
her story is different. for her story, you can
stretch lips into smile you stop apologizing
for. know it is unexplainable, like heartbreak.
know you both should have the ending 
of your choice. 

An award-winning writer, teacher, slam poet and performer, Amber Flame is also a singer and composer for multiple musical projects. Flame’s original writing and music has been published and recorded in many diverse arenas, such as Def Jam Poetry, Winter Tangerine, Requiem Press, The Dialogist, Another Passion, Jack Straw Productions and Wicked Banshee Press. Her one-woman play, Hands Above the Covers: Hairy Palms & Other Nightmares of a Church Kid, was mounted in residency at New City Theater under the auspices of a CityArtist grant through the City of Seattle's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Since moving to the Bay Area, Flame works as a teaching artist with California Shakespeare Theater Company and co-produces the Oakland Slam. She performs regularly on musical, slam and literary stages, and is committed as an activist and organizer for a diverse number of theatrical, cabaret, queer, and POC communities. Amber Flame is one magic trick away from growing her unicorn horn.


Honorable Mentions:

Abortion by Myra Sklarew, Bethesda, MD

Cardboard Pope by Galina Yudovich, Washington, DC

Good Friday at the Abortion Clinic by Tracy Mishkin, Indianapolis, IN

Lighting the Way: The 3rd Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest Winning Poems (2014)

First Place: Sara Brickman, Migration Patterns

Second Place: Devi Lockwood, a poem about abortion

Third Place (tie): Adele Hampton, Reclaim

Third Place (tie): Seth Michelson, Book of Names

The 2nd Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest Winning Poems (2013)

First Place: Rayna Momen, Temple

Second Place: Devreaux Baker, My Sister

Third Place (tie): Lindsay Vaughn, Above Average

Third Place (tie): Maya Pindyck, Baby of the Month

The 1st Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest Winning Poems (2012)

First Place: Bridget Kriner, Women vs. Ernie

Second Place: Genie Abrams, Three Patients, One Morning

Third Place: Sue D. Burton, Bulletproof