Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!
Stay tuned to Abortion Gang for more blog posts on CLPP!
This is a guest post by Leigh Sanders.
One thing volunteering as an escort at a reproductive health clinic has taught me is anti-choice protesters have an exorbitant amount of time to oversee the reproductive lives of their neighbors. Since they believe they are acting on religious orders to participate in this sort of secular voyeurism, they have been willing to physically and emotionally harm those that get in the way of their mission. Therefore, we are trained as clinic escorts to never engage with protesters. I am limited in my intervention to meeting patients at their vehicles and offering to shield them with my big rainbow umbrella from the unholy provocation that loudly follows us to the door. Throughout history women and girls have been subjected to this sort of harassment when they exercise self-determination.
I made the mistake of walking up to a car with two anti-choice folks this morning and one of the women got out and righteously proclaimed she was “not one of us, because she was on the side of the Lord.” I had to wonder whether the Lord would actually claim her. I mean technically, she is saying the Lord is the kind of guy who would spend his down time shouting, criticizing and frightening the hell out of people. It would seem that the Lord would be busy on the other side of those women’s choices, the side that ensures children never go hungry, employment is plentiful, housing choices affordable and sexual violence eradicated.
So here is what working on the side of the Lord looks like to people who protest at abortion clinics. They stop cars from parking by acting official, as if they might be working for the clinic. When the unsuspecting person rolls down the window, propaganda, void of scientific fact, is shoved inside their car. For instance, the pamphlet uses the picture of a stillborn baby to depict an abortion despite the reality that nearly every single abortion in this country occurs on or before the 8th week. The clinic escort must intercede so the patient can arrive promptly for their scheduled appointment because the protester’s aim is to make them miss their allotted time.
Once the patients proceed to the front door, the protesters start yelling at them about the psychological “trauma” they will suffer afterwards, their impending status as a “baby-killer” and the many “resources” available to them that they are not utilizing. Today, one woman yelled back “Resources? What resources? You mean welfare?” The male protesters explained they meant the resources that come from “loving Jesus.” There is a less aggressive group of protesters that arrange pictures of Jesus to face the clinic and while holding rosaries sing hymns about hell and damnation. They are the “good” ones because they do not seem motivated to physically harm anyone. Then there are the ones like the woman who specifically addressed her allegiance with the Lord; they greet the incoming cars as if in a funeral procession holding signs that presumptuously proclaim “Your Mother Kept You.” The protesters surround the clinic until the last patient arrives and then their work is done. It is not known whether Jesus is proud of them for their stamina to harass or disappointed with them for their failure to shame. Either way they will return on Monday, ever seeking the Holy Grail of religious intolerance.
The police do not get called because the protesters are not breaking any laws. Of course, neither are the girls and women who are entering the clinic. Yet, their rights are at the mercy of fanatics who use deception, violence, judgment, intolerance and moral superiority to scar the lives of people they have never met. Because the one thing an anti-women’s health terrorist abhors more than abortion, it is a society that grants women sovereignty over their own bodies.
It’s a story that by now most of America has already heard, and no matter what side of the fence you sit on, it is heartbreaking. In the early morning of November 26, 2013, 14-week pregnant Marlise Muñoz of Texas was found unconscious in her home and rushed to a hospital. Her husband Erick was told that she most likely suffered a pulmonary embolism, she was brain-dead, and that the fetus may have been deprived of oxygen. Marlise and Erick were both trained paramedics, and Erick believed that she would never choose to prolong her suffering, so he and her family chose to terminate her life support.
The hospital, however, had different plans, and informed the family they would not remove her ventilators and respirators, citing a Texas law that hospital spokesperson Jill Labbe says prevents them from “withhold[ing] or withdraw[ing] life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient”. The law was passed in 1989 and amended in 1999, and while the hospital maintains that it has followed the letter of the law, medical ethics experts say they are misinterpreting it. Legal experts and Muñoz’s family are speaking up to change the law. The essential question is whether the law applies to brain-dead patients or whether it was intended for pregnant women in comas or vegetative states.
While my effort to research the history of this particular law to trace anti-choice influence failed, a New York Times article did attribute Drexel University bioethicist Katherine A. Taylor with the information that this and similar laws nationwide were adopted in a period in which the public was concerned with “advance directives about end-of-life care like living wills and health care proxies…The provisions to protect fetuses, she said, helped ease the qualms of the Roman Catholic Church and others about such directives”. Another medical ethics expert, Jeffrey P. Spike of the University of Texas – Houston, said in the same article that other brain dead women had been kept on life support to keep the fetus alive, but every case he was aware of was supported by the family’s wishes.
While this is not a case that involves abortion, it is interesting to note that at 14 weeks gestation, Marlise Muñoz, had she been conscious, could have legally chosen to obtain one for any reason. Yet after brain death occurred, her husband who legally would hold power of attorney rights could not make an end of life decision for her and their unborn child, who most likely would either not live or have gravely impacted quality of life due to lack of oxygen.
And let me clear, because the fetus we now know has been very seriously harmed. At 14 weeks gestation, all the doctors knew was that the fetus had a heartbeat. They said they could do more testing between 22 and 24 weeks, and this week, at 22 weeks, they have now conceded that the fetus is not viable. It has fluid build-up on its brain, its lower extremities are so deformed that gender cannot be determined, and it may have a heart problem. The suffering of Marlise Muñoz and her family has been mercilessly prolonged while the state forced her to be an incubator for a fetus that could not survive anyway. This was hardly a guessing game; medically there was very little chance that the fetus would survive. NYU bioethicist Arthur Caplan wrote an editorial for the LA Times detailing why John Peter Smith Hospital was misinterpreting law and also argued that the law was unconstitutional. In a later exchange with Emily Bazelon at Slate, he says there are “almost no cases of trying to bring a 14-week-old to term in this circumstance”.
The story does seem to be coming to a just but sad end, as a Texas judge on Friday, January 24, ordered the hospital to remove Marlise from life support by 5:00 p.m. on Monday. The hospital may appeal but Labbe has said, “the courts are the appropriate venue to provide clarity, direction, and resolution in this matter”. The judge declined to speak to whether the law in question was constitutional.
While the Muñoz family is hopefully reaching the end of this terrible battle and can lay to rest Marlise and the once potential child they had looked forward to welcoming into the family, this case must serve to open the eyes of those concerned with reproductive justice issues. This law is the sort that sounds good on paper but is pushed by anti-choice zealots to further the precedent for giving the fetus rights that supersede those of women. Thirty-one states have laws on the books restricting end of life decisions for terminally ill pregnant women, and Texas is one of 12 with the most strict laws, requiring life support even in earliest pregnancy. Let me rephrase that: in more than 60% of states, women, their families, and even their doctors may have no say-so in a decision to be removed from life support if the woman is pregnant. In almost one-quarter of states, it does not matter if the pregnancy just began and the fetus has been harmed to the point of having no quality of life. It seems to me that when a woman has the legal right to terminate a pregnancy, a woman who is legally dead should not be kept mechanically alive to incubate a fetus despite her next of kin’s wish to remove life support.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
Monday morning around 10 am, I walked home from work sick as hell. Nauseous and a fierce case of chills wracked my body, so once home I collapsed on the couch and slept until 4 pm.
I hadn’t eaten in a day and a half.
Before getting up for food, I went to the bathroom. I stepped on the scale and a familiar sense of disgust washed over me. What is the healthiest, least fatty, meal I could consume? And will I be able to keep it down? I need to eat; that was my rational brain talking. An irrational, less coherent feeling told me that my body is disgusting and needs adjustments.
Last month, heroic activists worked tirelessly to stop or at least mitigate anti-abortion legislation that worked its way through state legislatures across the country.
Legislators in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas attempted to restrict a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy and attached bills anywhere in any way and shoved ‘em through. In North Carolina, a motorcycle bill had an abortion law added to it. Another bill (in perhaps the most ironic action ever) banning sharia law had abortion restrictions added to it. And in Texas, the legislature passed laws creating such expensive and unnecessary rules for clinics providing abortion that only 4 will remain in that state- all others are being forced to shut down.
State by state the message is clear: your body is not your own.
I often think of abortion as less of a medical right and more of a human right. Without access to full reproductive choice and justice, one does not have full access to economic equality or bodily autonomy . We can think of this in terms of unequal pay in the work place, discrimination against trans* people within the legal system, and the lack of educational information about contraceptive choices across the country.
In this way I believe that those who attempt to pass laws, over, and over, and over again, each time restricting more and more of our rights, are doing so as an act of violence and control.
They want to control our bodies and they want to control us.
After a binge or a spell of over exercising and under eating I find myself no more in control of my own body than before.
Years ago a school counselor said that girls develop eating disorders because of the overwhelming number of inaccurate depictions of women in magazines. The models are “not natural,” he said. And I think his words follow common wisdom and data on what can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
What I think is missing though is what is happening with the introduction and passing of these anti-choice bills, that the message of “you don’t control your body” is being systematically worked into our consciousness.
How damaging is that message? How damaging is it for people to live in a place that allows a majority of cisgender male legislators to control (through restriction of reproductive access) their constituents’ bodies?
I haven’t read any empirical new data on this, and I’m not sure there actually is any at this point. In the coming years, whether these laws are overturned in court or stand pat, the campaigning, the commercials in favor of anti-choice legislation, and all of the negative messages, will likely prove to have had a negative and damaging impact on how we view and love ourselves.
An article in the Toronto Star by Judith Timson titled Abortion Tell-alls are a Trap argues that there is little point in the new trend of women telling their abortion story because,
No matter how moving your story is, many will argue your abortion was unnecessary and evil and you’re a murderer. Abortion stories don’t seem to change the minds of opponents. If anything, they harden their stances.
Although I agree abortion stories will not change the minds of hardened anti-choicers, I unequivocally disagree with her conclusion that tell-alls are “traps.” Pro-choicers are not seeking to change the minds of hard-core antis. By “telling-all” we are seeking to get “neutral” people to understand why women have abortions, and to care about women’s rights. The more people understand the intricacies of abortion, and the more people they know who have abortions, the more likely they are to become involved, either by voting for pro-choice candidates, or writing them. The more likely they are to care.
Reproductive and abortion rights for women will not come until the majority of the population demands it. Citizens will not demand abortion rights unless they understand why women have abortions. I agree with Timson that limiting stories to heart-wrenching fetal abnormality stories results in limited-exception based abortion rights, which is not the goal, or at least not my goal. What this means is that rather than discouraging women from talking about their abortion by describing it as a “trap,” we should be encouraging women who had abortions because they were not ready for a(nother) child to tell their stories as well.
Statistically, women who have an abortion because they do not want/can’t have a(nother) child became pregnant in the first place despite taking precautions. Birth control fails and society needs to understand that these women are not “irresponsible.” If individuals know a woman who had an abortion under these circumstances, chances are they will understand that woman’s reason. Even antis understand that! Abortion statistics do not differentiate based on religion or necessarily on ones status as pro- or anti-choice. Antis have abortions too and as Timson notes, many of those men in the legislature voting for restrictive abortion rights know a woman, be it their wife, daughter, or mistress, who had an abortion. If even antis can accept the abortion of a loved one as moral, why can’t society as a whole?
That is the reason why all abortion stories are valuable, including the ones where a woman was on birth control, and those where she was not. If you learn that a person you love and respect accidentally became pregnant, either due to a birth control failure or a failure to take birth control and you can understand whyshe did it, then you are one step closer to understanding why other women in the same circumstances had their abortions. The more you understand and sympathize with women you know who had an abortion, the easier it is to accept that it is every woman’s right to choose, no matter the circumstances. Women’s abortion stories normalize abortions in all circumstances.
Even if you do not accept any of my other arguments, I think you will agree that when a woman tells her story of a failure to take birth control, her story will reach another woman in the same situation who was hiding in shame and absorbed with guilt. That story, while perhaps pissing off the antis and hardening their stances (like we care…), that story may reach another woman and she may no longer feel alone. We cannot overlook the power of every woman’s story to reach another woman in the same circumstance who does not have any support network.
And while I do also agree with Timson that no woman should ever share her story if she is not ready or willing, I do not believe in telling the women who do want to tell their story that it is all for naught; that it is a trap. Abortion stories are the furthest thing from a trap, and are in fact infinitely valuable.
By now we all know that Wendy Davis, hero of the Texas Senate and toast of Twitter, became a mother at age nineteen. In fact, one of the earlier Associated Press pieces that the New York Times published on the filibuster was headlined “Ex-Teen Mom Heads Filibuster Versus Abortion Limit” (whether due to updates, awkward construction, or over-simplicity, the headline has since been changed).
As an advocate for young parents, I was thrilled to learn this somewhere around hour 8 of Davis’s filibuster. Not only does this detail make her personal narrative very compelling, but it means that — while we live in a world that shames young parents and implies they can’t change the world – Davis stands as a powerful counterexample from the top of her raised fist to the bottom of her pink running shoes (which, by the way, are described on Amazon as “Rouge Red” and reviewed as “guaranteed to outrun patriarchy”). While I’m sure Davis is a motivation to many people with widely varying life stories, I hope she’ll be a particular inspiration to young mothers, demonstrating that their futures are not limited because they have children.
There is, of course, an alternate way to spin this part of Davis’s biography, and leave it to Rick Perry to deliver it. Perry stated:
It is just unfortunate that [Davis] hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.
Perry can’t comprehend why Davis would be pro-choice, it seems, because she chose to become a mother after (what he’s assuming was) an unplanned pregnancy at a younger age. (He’s also setting up a false dichotomy between women who get abortions and women who become mothers, ignoring the fact that most women who get abortions are already mothers, and an even greater majority intend to become mothers at some point in their lives.)
The obvious thing that he’s failing to realize, of course, is that pro-choice is pro-choice, and making your choice doesn’t mean you think others should be denied the same options. But the more subtle point is that Davis made a stigmatized reproductive choice, and that having done so likely better equips her to understand the value of destigmatizing and making accessible all reproductive options. There’s often a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” option for pregnant teens: do they want to be shamed for getting an abortion, or shamed for being a young mom? This may be why many young mothers are pro-choice: because they were young parents.
Look at Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood and another Texas teen mom, or Lauren Bruce, founder of Feministe, or Andy Kopsa, writer for RH Reality Check, or Gloria Malone and Natasha Vianna, both activists helping lead the #NoTeenShame campaign against stigmatizing teen pregnancy prevention ads. And, lest we forget, there’s our own Sophia blogging here at Abortion Gang.
Rick Perry might find it incongruous for a former young mom, whom he views as “choosing life” under less-than-ideal circumstances, to stand for thirteen hours against a bill to gut abortion access — but I see it as an intuitive political response to her own life story. And I see young mothers not just participating in our reproductive justice movement, but helping to lead it.
A guest post by an author who wishes to remain anonymous.
I remember waking up on my 23rd birthday and deciding today was the day I had to acknowledge the pregnancy I had been carrying since February — my birthday is in August. Although I had been raised in a solidly pro-choice family, I was incredibly ashamed of myself for getting pregnant and found that denial was the easy out. I tried everything I could in the beginning to force miscarriage; I remember hitting myself in the stomach, getting so drunk I would hold a trash bag to throw up into and then drink more, and taking every medication I had in my little apartment in the hopes that something would work. Nothing did.
My boyfriend was living in another state and I will never forget the phone call I made from our little apartment to tell him the news. I’m lucky today that I can call him husband; it was this pregnancy situation that helped me see what a wonderful man he is. After hearing about the pregnancy, he resigned his internship and jumped on a plane the next day to come home. We went to our local clinic and, of course, were told I was too far along for them to help. 24 weeks pregnant. 24 weeks.
We went to see a later abortion provider 70 miles away and were again told no. We traveled three hours to another clinic, but I was just days beyond their limit. Another no. But they had one last little tiny bit of hope. As we left the clinic one of the women behind the counter handed me a card with a name and a phone number written on it: Dr. George Tiller, 316-684-5108. Little did I know, this card would change my life.
My boyfriend and I made the long drive back home and made the phone call. The woman on the other end of the line was one of the kindest, most caring individuals I had ever spoken with. She didn’t start the call asking how far along I was or how much money I had, she asked if I was okay. She walked me through the scheduling process with care and love, and checked in with me multiple times in the days before we again made the long trip to Dr. Tiller’s clinic.
I was terrified as I rode in the car, couldn’t sleep the night before we went to the clinic for the first time, and watched my hands shake as we walked into the clinic for the first time. We couldn’t afford to pay the cost of the abortion on our own but were lucky my parents agreed to help us with funding; many women don’t have this luxury. Later I would learn of many funds throughout the United States who exist solely to help women pay for their abortions.
From the moment we checked in it was clear this was the place I was supposed to be. Looking across the room at the faces of the people who were there with us: husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, mother and fathers with their daughters, I felt less alone; I wasn’t the only one. As Dr. Tiller walked into the room, everyone silenced. He smiled. “Welcome,” he said. His first word was exactly how I felt.
I was lucky to have Dr. Tiller provide my abortion. I was lucky to have been taken care of by his incredible staff. I was lucky to be part of the program he had built for his clients, including counseling, care, and love that was needed during a very difficult time. When it was time for us to return home, I remember feeling conflicted. I didn’t want to leave this safe space. I wanted to stay here with the people who understood and supported what I had just been through, but I knew it was time to go home, and I knew I had support in Wichita whenever I needed it. I was ready to move on and not let this experience hold me back. Thank you Dr. Tiller for your wonderful care. You are missed every day.
This Friday, May 31, 2013 marks the 4th anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s murder. One year ago, we at the Abortion Gang and the Provider Project hosted a collective blog call for remembrance in his honor, and we’d like to make this an annual tradition. Unfortunately, threats against abortion providers are still all too real and we are fighting an ongoing battle against abortion restrictions across the United States. This year has seen a surge particularly in laws banning abortion after certain points in pregnancy, from a 12-week ban in Arkansas to the recent proposal to ban abortion nationwide after 20 weeks. Dr. Tiller was widely known for his 2nd and 3rd trimester abortion care, and it was ultimately his unwavering commitment to providing these services that was the reason for his assassination four years ago.
In light of that, we’d like for posts this year to address the question of later abortions, specifically those performed in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Your post could use some of the following questions as a jumping-off point:
In your post, please link back to this blog post so that folks can come here and find links to other reflections on Dr. Tiller.
The Abortion Gang and The Provider Project will post links to pieces written answering this question, starting Friday, May 31 through the following Friday, June 7. Please feel free to forward this call for posts to anyone who you think would be interested in honoring Dr. Tiller’s legacy. Send the links to your posts to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet them to @AbortionGang and @Provider Project, or leave them in the comments.
For a short period in the early days of my pro-choice activism, I had a nemesis. The fact that she didn’t know about it may have lessened the impact. My nemesis was a young woman who was heavily involved in a pro-life organization that did some protesting of the abortion clinic where I worked at the time; I found out her name and used to creep her on Facebook, but truth be told it wasn’t that interesting. She was a standard, young white Christian type, super involved in vanilla stuff like music or Sunday school or whatever, saving herself until marriage with some equally non-threatening young man.
The one thing that was edgy about my nemesis (at least as far as her peer group went) was that she had a tattoo – a Bible quote that could be interpreted as anti-abortion. I remember thinking smugly to myself how silly she was to get such a strong statement tattooed on her so young; what if later she figured out the complexities of the issue and changed her stance? Or what if it just became less of an issue for her?
I know now that I was being kind of an asshole, after a few years of being a woman and having my own permanent choices (including, but not limited to, tattoos) being questioned. It makes me think of the double standard around having children that I have been coming up against lately: folks who don’t ever want to have kids seem to face a lot more questioning and condescending “oh you’ll change your mind someday” bullshit than the people actually having kids, which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. (Obviously this is based on my own experience and is probably different for folks of different colours/ages/culture backgrounds/sexual identities/etc.).
Anyway this is all coming up because I got a tattoo this week, and unlike my two previous tattoos it is a. political, and b. almost always visible. I have been thinking about this one for almost five years, and when I look at it I feel 100% awesome about it, but I know there’s a chance that won’t always be the case. But it’s the chance you take, just like my nemesis took a chance that she would always be against abortion and a Christian. You can’t really know how things are going to go in life, but it’s too short to hold back, I think.
Next week I am getting my second IUD inserted, a five year placeholder on the road to whenever they finally let me be permanently sterilized. I’ve known I don’t want kids for way longer than I’ve known I wanted this tattoo, but I still hear this junk about maybe changing my mind – more than I’ve ever heard about maybe regretting that tattoo. I know it’s not really the same, but I feel like they’re bound together by the horrible kinship of policing women’s bodies, choices and lives. The only person who gets to give my new tat the side-eye is my mother, and that’s only really because it’s inevitable. And the only person who gets to question my decision to never be pregnant is exactly no one.
I am the expert on my own life. My body is part of that. Trust my decisions, because I’m the one who has to live with them; but more importantly, because it’s none of your damn business.