Category Archives: Reproductive rights

I would go to jail to protect my daughter, but I won’t have to.


Jennifer Whalen, a Pennsylvania mother of three, is currently serving a prison sentence for the “crime” of obtaining misoprostol and mifeprestone for her 16-year-old daughter, who used the drug to induce a miscarriage in the first trimester of an unplanned pregnancy.

In more SEO-worthy terms, this woman in in jail for helping her daughter have an abortion.



Like Whalen, I have a daughter. If she needed me to help her end an unwanted pregnancy, I would do it. Here are the steps we would take:

1. We would make an appointment at the Planned Parenthood clinic that is less than five miles from our home.

Jennifer Whalen’s nearest abortion clinic was 75 miles away.

2. As required by Minnesota law, my husband and I would provide written documentation that we were told of our daughter’s decision to terminate her pregnancy at least 48 hours before the procedure.

Whalen “knew [her daughter’s father] would be upset,” so she didn’t tell him about the pregnancy.

3. 24 hours before the procedure, my daughter would be required to listen to a five minute phone call about fetal development, the medical risks of abortion, and the medical risks of continuing the pregnancy to term. This is part of Minnesota’s “Woman’s Right to Know” Act, which was passed in 2003 under the assumption that all sexually active women must be stupid.

I don’t know if Pennsylvania has a bullshit law like this, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

4. At no point would I be concerned about the time this would take, because all of the work I do for pay is done at home.

A personal-care aide at an assisted-living center for the elderly, Whalen worried that taking time off for travel and waiting periods would endanger her job.

5. If I were unable to drive my daughter to the clinic on appointment day, we would take a bus to the light rail line that stops just two blocks away.

At the time of her daughter’s pregnancy, the Whalen family also had only one car, which both parents juggled to get to work. When my family’s second car crapped out in 2010, we realized that abundant local transit options made purchasing a replacement unnecessary.

6. The fee for my daughter’s first trimester abortion would be covered by the health insurance provided by my husband’s employer, a Fortune 500 company.

Emily Bazelon’s article about the family states that the pregnant daughter was uninsured. I’m guessing that Jennifer and her other two daughters weren’t insured, either.

7. If there were complications, I could take my daughter to the hospital without fear of being reported to child protective services.

Guess how the state of Pennsylvania learned about what Whalen did?


As I work on the promotional and marketing materials for my book The Radical Housewife, I find myself looking back to the very first days of my feminist reawakening, to the time when the birth of my children made real for me all of the feminist talking points I’d only read about or listened to on my old Free to Be…You and Me record. Having a kid not only puts your heart on the outside of your body, it puts your guts and soul out there too. It forces you to confront painful realities, one of which is the cold hard fact that when I put myself in Jennifer Whalen’s shoes, I can see myself doing the same thing for my daughter but never, EVER experiencing the same consequences.

That’s wrong. That’s why I can’t sit idly in my safe socioeconomic bubble and be content with the status quo.

This story illustrates perfectly why many abortion rights activists are no longer using the term “pro-choice.” What good does being “pro-choice” do to help women whose choices have been taken from them?

I stand for reproductive justice and for the release of Jennifer Whalen.




Career advice from the Radical Housewife




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If you are morally opposed to gangsta rap and/or Taylor Swift, you should not go into selling or promoting popular music.

If you are morally opposed to the wiping the snot from other people’s faces, you should not look for work in a hospital, an elementary school or a daycare.

If you are morally opposed to the possibility of using lethal force on anther person, you should not seek a career in the military or the police.

If you are morally opposed to toxic chemicals, you should not train to be a manicurist or a decontamination engineer at a nuclear power plant.

If you are morally opposed to eating animals, you should not aspire to be a butcher or as a chef at Outback Steak House.





And finally….

If you are morally opposed to dispensing a legal, FDA-approved medication to a person with a valid prescription, YOU SHOULD NOT BE A PHARMACIST.



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“The Escalating War on Hormonal Contraception,”  the report by Robin Marty that inspired this foray into career counseling, can (AND SHOULD!) be read at Care2.

How to control your libido


READERS!  From the feedback you give me, the majority of you are bio-women, which means that you have insatiable sex drives and need to hump the living daylights out of everything you see.  It’s a terrible burden, I know, but I’m here to make your life easier!  I have discovered a foolproof new system that will allow you to unplug your Magic Wand long enough to get out and do your grocery shopping.  Take a look!


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After you stop laughing, do a quick check of your lady parts: any dampness or tingling?  Are your cheeks flushed?  How about the rest of your skin? Any goosebumps at all?  Is your breathing heavy?  No?

GOOD!  Your libido is now under control.  You may now fetch your prescriptions without sexually harassing the pharmacist, the clerk, and the elderly woman in line behind you.  Repeat as needed to function in polite society.


Aunt Sugar




My vote for person of the year


Today the world learned that Pope Francis is Time magazine’s Person of the Year.




It’s a little surprising, isn’t it?  I mean, why choose this guy when the field included candidates like Edward Snowden, Bashar al-Assad, and MILEY FREAKIN’ CYRUS?

In Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs’ words: “a focus on compassion….rejects the pomp and privilege… embracing complexity…”

Like the complexity behind a woman’s desire to delay motherhood by using contraception?  Like the complexity that informs her decision to terminate a pregnancy?

I can’t think of anything MORE complex in a woman’s life than her reproductive health and its consequences for her future. So far the new pope has shown little interest in changing the status quo when it comes to Catholic policy regarding women’s reproductive freedom.

I’m not a Catholic–I was baptized in 1971, but it didn’t take.  Still, I have an vested interest in the happenings in the Catholic Church due to its undue influence on American social policy.  Remember the sway that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had on the Affordable Care Act waaaay back in 2009 and 2010?  I know you do.

Apparently the church is conducting a survey among the faithful to discern just what the heck they think of all this gay marriage, divorce and whatnot that’s been happening in the culture since Vatican II.  So far there’s no indication that the results will push Catholic hospitals to start offering emergency care for women whose unviable pregnancies are at risk of killing them.  This recent article at RH Reality Check has a great breakdown of the stranglehold Catholic directives have on the providing of health care throughout the United States, and what the ACLU and plaintiff Tamesha Means are doing about it.  I am VERY grateful that Tamesha Means is alive to tell her story, unlike Samhita Halappanavar.

Maybe Tamesha Means should be Time’s Person of the Year, instead.


photo credit: ACLU

I get that Francis looks like he might be a kinder, gentler Pope, but for women, there is no social justice without reproductive justice.



Parenting as Plan A



Yesterday the FDA approved plans to sell emergency contraception over the counter to anyone over the age of 15.  This is a good thing, but it is not in compliance with a federal ruling that ordered Plan B be available to ANYONE who walks into a CVS and buys it.  To quote the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “The medical evidence demonstrates that EC is safe and effective in preventing pregnancy for all reproductive-age females.”  ALL females.  ALL.

When I was a teen, before I had my state-issued driver’s license, I relied on these thin plastic cards to get discounts at the Southdale movie theater:



Don’t I look awesome? Matt calls it my Julia Cafritz period, but my ferocity was all an act.  Inside I was a trembling, anxious, fearful mess.  My contraception was my mother’s insistence that should I require it, she would be only too happy to help me procure some.  This embarrassed me into celibacy until I left for college (though my scowl may have been a contributing factor).

Yesterday’s announcement is a small step forward for girls like the one in the plastic card pictured above.  We cannot forget, however, that the arbitrary identification requirement is a serious barrier for people who don’t look like her.  With this policy in place, 13-year-olds and undocumented women can purchase Tylenol and Robitussin, both extremely toxic in large doses, but they cannot buy Plan B.  Why?



Conservatives who protest the availability of condoms in high school health clinics are suddenly horrified that Plan B doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections.  The drum of “parents’ rights” is beaten long and loud.   Safe, FDA-approved medications are “dangerous.”  Human sexuality is scary and wrong.  There is no right to premarital, non-procreative sex.  Since no one fears eternal damnation these days, fear of pregnancy needs to keep kids out of each others’ pants.

This has not been one of my happiest parenting weeks.  I received some very disappointing news about my son’s grades, which led Matt and me to have THAT TALK with him.  While he curled into a surly ball in the corner of the couch, a very familiar scowl on his face, I could almost hear the thought “this sucks” rattling around his teenage brain.  While my mouth was blabbering all the Very Important Lessons that my son needed to learn about his school responsibilities, inside my head I was thinking the same goddamn thing: “this sucks!”

So much about parenting sucks.  It sucks to be the bad guy all the time, it sucks to clean up all the messes, both emotional and literal, it sucks to send the person you love the most in the world to the place you hated the most in the world (middle school).  It also sucks that there is tremendous social pressure to say WHY NO, PARENTING DOES NOT SUCK AT ANY TIME EVER, IN FACT IT IS THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME.

Which it is, of course, but it’s not a gig for the faint of heart or the unprepared.  It really needs to be your Plan A.

If all sex can’t be planned, at least parenthood ought to be.  A person’s ability to decide her future, whether it’s Plan A, B or C, ought not to depend whether she has an ID card in her pocket.  





Answering an anti-choicer’s question


Last week, a reader named “Elizabeth” posted this comment on my Roe-anniversary-themed blog Answering the abortion rights question: 

Hello! Just found your blog. I am curious how you would explain to your son an abortion performed on an embryo or fetus that is not a two-cell or four week old zygote, but perhaps a 20 week or 28 week old who is certainly a baby by that point who can experience pain, and could potentially survive outside the womb. Who’s body is it at that point? What would be a good explanation? Thanks :)

In my experience, the only folks who ask questions like this are anti-choicers trying to bait Roe fans into admitting that on occasion, reproductive rights activists sneak into nurseries to D & C babies in their cribs.




Elizabeth, I could try to explain an abortion performed on, in your words,  “a 20 week or 28 week old who is certainly a baby by that point,” but I think I’ll let Tiffany Campbell do it instead:

Stories like these are why there remains a need for abortion access later in pregnancy.  It’s simply a myth that there are 28-weeks-along pregnant ladies who wake up one morning, wish they had their figures back, and drive to Planned Parenthood to get rid of that pesky thing that’s making life so darned difficult.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88% of abortions occur in the first trimester; additionally, “fifty-eight percent of abortion patients say they would have liked to have had their abortion earlier. Nearly 60% of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money.”  Women who want to terminate their pregnancies do so as swiftly as possible.  Ironically, the obstacles anti-choicers have put in place probably increase the likelihood that a later-term abortion will occur.  As I noted in another old post, a 2008 Guttmacher study concluded that 87 percent of counties in the United States do not, DO NOT, have an abortion provider.  Five years later, that percentage is probably higher.

So whose body is it?  I feel it’s still the woman’s.  I believe in women–in their common sense, in their intelligence, in their ability to weigh many sides of a very difficult decision.

Tiffany Campbell had no choice when it came to her sons’ devastating medical condition.  She could, however, choose what steps to take next, to decide what would be best for her and for the rest of her family.  Who are we to tell her otherwise?







Answering the abortion rights question

While we’re reminiscing today, the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, let’s take a moment to remember what I looked like on Good Friday, 2005, just one of the many days I have honored my commitment to speak out for reproductive rights:



Back then, my son was a five-year-old preschooler, obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and the Hardy Boys.  Today my son is almost thirteen, a fan of Katniss Everdeen and dubstep music that makes my head hurt.  He has always been a very curious kid, and now that he is older he is very interested in what I call The Big Questions: life, death, and the tools we use to make sense of what lies in between.

Not long ago he asked me how I felt about abortion. “I think whether or not to have an abortion is a woman’s business and no one else’s,” I replied.

“But don’t you think it’s killing a baby?”


Of course this discussion had to happen in the car, so I wasn’t able to whip out the smartphone to add visuals to our conversation.  It took much longer while driving to explain that THIS:



…or even THIS:



…is not the same thing as THIS:



…which is what his sister looked like six months OUTSIDE of my body.

“Some people think that a two-celled zygote is a human life,” I told Elliott.  “Some people think that a four-week zygote is, too.  I saw you on a sonogram only nine weeks after conception, and I saw your little heart fluttering.”

“You did?”  He was impressed.  I was too, back in the summer of 1999, and I wrote about the experience in my book The Radical Housewife.  I shared the excerpt here on Blog For Choice Day 2011:

Lacking the framework of faith, I seek not perfection, but balance. When I looked my blob, I understood him as the culmination of countless events and choices, the sum total of my years on the earth. My years, and no one else’s. I also saw a creature that drew sustenance from me and me alone. He lived on my blood, my nutrients, my oxygen, my energy: all of it mine. If I died, so did he. His tail could not wiggle outside the safety of my womb.

I gave him life. I also gave him meaning.

When does life begin? I suspect it is a process requiring a complex engagement between both the being and its world, much like a story requires a reader. Otherwise, the words remain only a series of unintelligible scratches on a page. If we accept that a story has different meaning for a different reader, we may understand that no person will approach either their soul, or a zygote’s, identically.

The above language is a little fancy for the average 13-year-old, even one as brilliant and handsome as my son, so I tried to craft my feelings about abortion, and life, so that he could understand.

“A woman must have the right to decide what happens to her body.  How I feel about pregnancy, or how you feel, or how the lady next door feels, or the President feels or the Pope feels, can never be more important than the feelings of the woman going through it.  No one can decide but her.”

The backseat was quiet for a moment–a rare thing.  Then he said:

“I get it.”




Abortion rights and the failure of “choice,” revisited

To honor the long-awaited decision of Planned Parenthood to drop the word “pro-choice” in favor of more, er, neutral language (I don’t hear them tooting the “reproductive justice” horn, unfortch), I am sharing these thoughts on the subject, excerpted from my book The Radical Housewife and first posted on this blog in 2011.   Choose to enjoy it!

The late, great Shirley Chisholm wrote the following in her autobiography Unbought & Unbossed, addressing men on her staff who tried to convince her to avoid speaking out in support of abortion rights:

“Women are dying every day, did you know that? They’re being butchered and maimed. No matter what men think, abortion is a fact of life. Women will have them; they always have and always will. Are they going to have good ones or bad ones? Will the good ones be reserved for the rich, while poor women have to go to quacks? Why don’t we talk about real problems instead of phony ones?”*

Rep. Chisholm wrote these words in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade, when dying from a botched abortion was a very real threat to women across the country, particularly poor women of color. Two generations later, not a lot has changed. Accessing an abortion is easy for well-heeled urban women, the vast majority of whom (as it was in 1970) are white.

In Shirley Chisholm’s day, the term “pro-choice” was used to remind people of the personal matter of the procedure. The “choice” to have the abortion should be the woman’s, centering the debate on the right to individual autonomy, a concept that Republicans claim to embrace. Senator John Kerry declared in a 2004 Presidential debate that having an abortion “is a woman’s choice. It’s between a woman, God, and her doctor.”

Oh, if it were only that easy, John! God and doctors are often in very short supply when they are needed the most. If you get accidentally knocked up in Wyoming or Mississippi, you better pray as hard as you can, because your states have no provider at all.

In fact, a 2008 report funded by the Guttmacher Institute announced that 87 percent of counties in the United States do not have an abortion provider.That’s a big enough number to put in all caps: EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT! That makes getting an abortion seem less like a “choice” and more like a forced road trip.

Or a financial ordeal. The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1977 and reauthorized every year since, bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Rep. Chisholm worried that poor women would have to go to quacks; she didn’t realize that when they won the right to access abortions from a trained doctor, they’d have to surrender their rent checks. The Hyde Amendment, predictably, reinforces the idea that wealthy women have the “choice,” but poor women don’t. And lest we forget, the poorest women are the ones who lack access to contraceptive information and services anyway, dammit!

When I demonstrated with over one million other people on the U.S. Capitol Mall in 2004, I wrote the word “choice” on my sign, but the event was officially called the March for Women’s Lives.**

The name, though, made some mainstream feminists cranky. Shouldn’t it be called the March for Choice? Not so fast, declared a coalition of poverty activists and health care groups for women of color. The word “choice” obscures the “real problems” that Rep. Chisholm talked about: racism, poverty, and other forms of pervasive inequality.

I no longer identify as pro-choice. How can I, when Sarah Palin congratulates herself for the “choice” to carry her Down’s Syndrome child to term? Bringing a special needs baby into a tightly-knit, financially stable family that has access to health care and other forms of support is no big whoop, except for the baby in question—Trig Palin is one hell of a lucky kid. So is Tripp Johnston, the child carried to term by Trig’s seventeen-year-old sister. All four of them appeared on a celebrity tabloid in the early days of 2010, declaring “we’re glad we chose life!”

That’s that sneaky, slippery power of language again! Can you imagine a headline that read “we’re so glad we didn’t have abortions!” I can’t either.

Remember chapter one?*** I don’t deserve a medal for surviving life with the colicky, special needs baby I had in the year 2000. Accidents of fortune gave me everything I needed, and my child reaped the benefits.

I don’t care if Sarah and Bristol Palin keep on breeding–that’s their beeswax, not mine. But under Gov. Palin’s leadership, Alaska’s rates of domestic violence and sexual assault were twice the national average.**** When Palin ran for office in 2006, she announced (in so many words) that if her then 14-year-old daughter were raped, she wouldn’t allow the girl to have an abortion—a very likely scenario, considering Palin’s vocal support for parental notification laws. In yet another nimble linguistic twist, Palin averred that the issue was one of “parents’ rights.” Welcome to Palinverse, where a pre-born fetus had greater bodily autonomy than a post-born teen.

Feminists of any/every Wave, listen up: “choice” is over. It’s done. NO MORE.


*Oh my gaaaawd, I love Shirley Chisholm so much!!!!!!

**It was awesome.  I can’t wait until Erin Matson’s Feminist Jetpack Factory™ organizes another one. 

***You WILL remember it when you buy your copy from Medusa’s Muse Press this fall!  Woot!

****This statistic was disturbing when I wrote it, but it’s even worse now that Bristol claims her virginity was “stolen” while she was drunk (for a discussion on why Bristol may have resisted calling her experience rape, read this piece at the Daily Beast–as if we needed another reminder of the power of words).

In circles about abortion


It’s no secret that reproductive rights activists and the anti-choice crowd read each others’ websites and Twitter feeds.  And by read, I mean parse in ever more minute detail.   Aside from providing insight into the other side’s strategies and tactics, it’s fun!  The circle-jerk that gets going after a blog post responds to a Twitter war kicked off by a online news report is a great way to waste a quiet afternoon.

I’m not going to link you to the site that inspired this post, because I think you should have your own moment of bliss when you are forced to Google “Gloria Steinem abort Erin Matson.”

You all know Erin, right? The former Action Vice President for NOW who spoke to Time magazine for their January 14, 2013 cover story on the reproductive justice movement 40 years after Roe v. Wade?  The woman in the article with the staple in her face?

Photo credit: my crummy Samsung Galaxy

Erin should also be familiar to my regular readers as a longtime friend, one so dear that I would trek from Cub Foods to Walgreens to Rainbow to find a damned copy of the very prominent national magazine with her picture in it AND be pissed to find that there’s a fucking STAPLE in the photo I was going to hang up by my desk!  I didn’t pay five bucks to have a clear picture of Nancy Keenan, I’ll tell you that!

Ooooh, did you catch that thinly veiled jab at the soon-to-be-former president of NARAL?  Look for it to be headline news in the blogosphere tomorrow.

If you performed the aforementioned Google as directed, you went to a site that had a rather snide take on the concerns of Erin, Steph Herold, and other young women in the reproductive rights movement.  If you read closely (as I do whenever I see a piece with Erin’s picture attached), you noticed that the post’s author believes that intergenerational tension is due in no small part to our elders’ subconscious desire to have aborted us.

(Well, not ME.  I was born in 1971, and everyone knows that no abortions occurred before January 22, 1973.)

Yes, folks, it’s true: Gloria Steinem wants to abort Erin.  When Erin told me the story of why she felt she had to leave her job at National NOW, she failed to add that Terry O’Neill, a 60-year-old Second Waver, kept chasing her around the office with a coat hanger.

I realize, of course, that writing a blog post about a blog post about a magazine article (and a blog post) is contributing yet another jerk to this particular circle, but I can’t help myself.  It’s too, too funny!

If I don’t see a response to this post from Lila Rose or the New Wave “Feminists” that in turn inspires a snarky rebuttal from Amanda Marcotte, I will be very disappointed.



Standing with Planned Parenthood

…well, most of us were standing.  Some of us were playing Angry Birds Space on the iPod.

If The Radical Housewife: The Blog has been quiet lately, it’s only because the radical housewife, the person ( i.e. me) has been so very, very busy.  In a few days Minnesota NOW is hosting its combined state & regional conference, and I’ve been typing my wrists off in an attempt to publicize it.  But if my six years at the helm of this organization have taught me anything, it’s that the local media doesn’t care much about feminist actions that lack the word “slut” in the title.

(note to self: change conference name to “SLUTFEST 2012,” take phone off hook)

But no amount of press releases could get in the way of last Friday’s annual solidarity event at the St. Paul Planned Parenthood.  We travel across the river every Good Friday to show our support for the clinic’s staff and patients, who must endure the presence of literally busloads of antis that day.

Two years ago,  Minnesota Public Radio News printed my essay on why I bring my family every year.  An excerpt:

Those who oppose abortion demand to know why I would bring my children to a place they consider incompatible with their “family values.”  In reply, I point out that my family reinforces my commitment to reproductive freedom.

As a stay-at-home mom, I experience frustration, exhaustion and anxiety at every turn, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m as lucky as Bristol Palin was lucky to have financial and emotional support in place for her to consider parenthood at 17. I’m as lucky as Pam Tebow was to have given birth to a healthy baby boy.

Bristol, Pam, and I are fortunate, indeed……[but] our experiences are ours alone, and cannot be expected to set the standard for every other woman across the globe.  Like other structures and systems, families function best when they develop deliberately.

Speaking of families, here’s an absolutely adorable one, featuring some Minnesota NOW friends.  My preggo tummy wasn’t nearly this cute when I waddled on Good Friday 2005:


I suspect the little girl is grimacing because she knows Elliott and Miriam were the ones who hoovered up the cookies at the volunteer table.  Sorry, kiddo.

This year I allowed Elliott to film a portion of our visit.  Serendipitously, my sister and her daughter arrived to meet us as Elliott filmed.  Now that’s what I call FAMILY VALUES!

Until next year, kids.

If you’re in the Twin Cities area this weekend, don’t forget to stop by SLUTFEST and say hello!