The fall of Roe v. Wade and the subsequent wave of abortion bans and restrictions in U.S. states have had heavy implications for the estimated 26% of U.S. adults with a disability. Los Angeles-based Social Documentary photographer Morgan Lieberman decided to take action and bring exposure to the contentious issue. By creating portraits of queer, disabled couples while having an open dialogue about women with disabilities and the grave danger it poses for those with a certain lack of autonomy over their bodies. There is such a range of pre-existing conditions and often physical limitations that women with disabilities experience daily, so not having access to abortions or other reproductive healthcare is a life-or-death situation for many. Her work was subsequently picked up for a Time Magazine article.
Once the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June of last year, I visited several trigger law states as soon as possible. The legislation was and still is rapidly changing, so there was an urgency for me to get access to brave women willing to share their stories about why abortion access is essential to their emotional, physical, and even financial well-being.
Dealing with such a sensitive topic can be challenging, but fortunately, Morgan conducts every project with empathy and patience. Over the last six years as a freelancer, she has worked on assignments about identity and subculture. She finds that focusing on these groups is a powerful way to share a fresh perspective with the world.
All of the women that allowed me to spend time with them were vulnerable with me about the obstacles they have faced in their lives having a disability and how legislation and our healthcare system have failed them in many ways. What I admire most about the women is that they all advocate for the disability community in beautiful, unique ways while having the utmost resilience in their daily lives.
After submitting the imagery, Morgan collaborated with editor Kara Milstein on the final edit, and the pitch was accepted. Kara’s sensitivity and emphasis on retaining intimacy in the story aligned with what the photographer was looking for.
I am so grateful to have worked with her on bringing it to fruition. It was a long process to get the story published, and we also needed to bring on a reporter to represent the written portion of the project.
Morgan was able to evoke intimacy and empathy in every image while showing a perspective that reached across the board in terms of the different circumstances of each woman.
The more I pursue narratives I care about on a soul level, the more they translate into the imagery.
Morgan traveled to Oklahoma and Texas for four days to document the various women with disabilities. Upon arrival, she faced one of the most unprecedented heat waves in decades. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Morgan was confined to each subject’s home as it was too dangerous for their health to be outside for more than a few minutes. This offered a great opportunity to connect with each person on an intimate level.
I got to know each of them very quickly and was so grateful for the warmth and kindness they exhibited to someone they had never met before. We, of course, had several calls before I touched down in each location, but it was very surreal for me to arrive on their doorstep with my camera and to be able to have this open-ended experience with them.
Morgan worked hard to represent every story to the best of her ability in a short time, to convey the underlying tone of compassion and gratitude, and to diversify the content of the imagery.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for them all. Also, because it was just me and not a whole crew, I feel that I got to know each of them very intimately. Particualrly through their personal anecdotes, the relationships they share with their family/partners, and the honesty they expressed about such difficult experiences that have often become the norm for each of them.
Morgan loved working with each subject (Keeley, Joy, Flora, and Wanda). Overall, she wanted to highlight women with disabilities during an uncertain time for reproductive laws in general.
I am very passionate, and the downside to that quality can often be stubbornness. My stubbornness and willpower to see something through are very justice-oriented. So I have succeeded thus far in making projects like this come to life. Although I am not a lawyer or an actor, my chosen medium is the most impactful in evoking empathy. And I believe that when one leads with empathy, bridges form, and we allow ourselves to understand our vast differences better.
The LA photographer was a little nervous that it would look redundant to document everyone in their home, so she tried to create a blueprint for each visit. That included detail shots of old photos and sentimental objects, observational moments, and a range of immersive and intentional portraiture.
I wanted to keep the lighting natural in each shoot. So I had to be flexible with the individual environment and whether a broader or closer focus would suit each scenario.
The project has helped Morgan trust and value her ideas more, regardless of the outcome.
You never know how a project will play out. But I don’t see any adverse outcomes when you keep an open mind and lead with your heart.
Morgan shared many beautiful memories with Keeley, Joy, Flora, and Wanda. But her favorite one was when Wanda took Morgan outside to her backyard and showed her the accessible pool she and her husband built for Kayla. Kayla is primarily non-verbal and visually impaired, but one of her favorite things to do in the summer is to be in this pool made from a giant horse trough. They took a round stock tank and cut out pool noodles to cover the perimeter. They then placed pink flamingo decorations around the pool, bringing Morgan to tears. The DIY pool had nothing to do with the project but also had everything to do with it!
It shows the attention to detail that every caregiver provides for their loved one with a disability. Everyone deserves to enjoy life; those small moments are why I love meeting such incredible people every day.
See more of Morgan’s work on her website.