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North Brooklyn 'Stitch-In' Builds Awareness for Women's Reproductive Rights

By Gwynne Hogan | March 24, 2016 5:19pm
 Chi Nguyen, an artist based in Greenpoint, is hosting a stitch in on April 3 at Bushwick Inlet Park.
Chi Nguyen, an artist based in Greenpoint, is hosting a stitch in on April 3 at Bushwick Inlet Park.
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Courtesy of 5.4 Million and Counting

WILLIAMSBURG — A Greenpoint textile artist and activist whose plan to raise awareness for women's abortion rights by stitching one line for every woman of reproductive age in Texas is bringing her efforts back home, hosting a "stitch-in" at Bushwick Inlet Park next week.

Chi Nguyen, 25, a graphic designer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, has been stitching up a storm since she got wind that the Supreme Court would begin to hear a case that could radically decrease access to legal abortions for 5.4 million women of reproductive age in Texas.

"What does 5.4 million people look like?" Nguyen, who moved to New York City at age 13 from Vietnam with her family, wondered. "That's a number I can't even imagine."

"I'm a fiber artist and I immediately thought about doing a quilt," she said. "I thought I was going to spend the next three years of my life embroidering every line."

At stake is Texas's HB-2 law that aims to require that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals and meet other standards of outpatient surgical centers. 

Whatever the Supreme Court decides could affect other regulations in nine other states that have questionable medical value like mandated building standards at abortion clinics and limits on nonsurgical abortions.

An appeals court in Texas upheld the law in 2013 leading to the closure of around half of the state's 40 abortion clinics, according to The New York Times.

In reaction to the case, Nguyen decided to make a quilt that she hoped would offer others the opportunity to, "learn more about the case and to know that reproductive health is being attacked," she said.

Social media posts of the stitch-ins and the work that Nguyen was doing went viral and soon women from six countries and 34 states were contacting her wanting to organize their own similar gatherings.

She's now amassed a 40 foot by 6 foot quilt with roughly 350,000 lines that was unfurled at a March 2 rally on the steps of the Supreme Court.

"That was the power of the case and the power of the internet that we didn't expect," Nguyen said. "It truly goes to show how people care about this issue across the U.S."

Nguyen plans on continuing to assemble patches until June when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. From there she hopes to take the quilt to other states trying to pass similar laws that would restrict women's access to reproductive health care, she said.

She hoped the medium of a quilt as a warm and familiar object would show solidarity with women who stand to be affected by the Supreme Court decision and "that the majority of Americans are behind safe and legal abortion and it is a constitutional right," Nguyen said.

The other side of that coin is what might happen if blanket of security is taken away and women are left, "without access to safe and legal abortion or any kind of reproductive health care," she said.

Last year, Nguyen traveled to Texas where she met women there advocating for reproductive rights, many of them undocumented immigrants, she said.

"They work so hard," she said. "This quilt is largely for them."

The Stitch-In will take place at Bushwick Inlet Park Community Room at 79 N. 11th Street from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. You can RSVP on Facebook. Organizers have enough hoops and materials for 150 people, though if you have your own fabrics you want to work with or your own hoop you're encouraged to bring it.