Category Archives: Reproductive rights

7 things I learned when I wrote to every abortion clinic in the USA

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Just after Thanksgiving of last year, I embarked upon a mailing project that I thought would be more fun than sending out the same lame Christmas photos of my increasingly surly children: I would send a postcard of support to every abortion clinic in America.

The idea came from comedian Lizz Winstead, who Tweeted that abortion providers could use some cheering up in the wake of the November 27 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that left three people dead. Her feminist action group, Lady Parts Justice, was sending postcards because security concerns precluded actual cards or letters. This by itself is a good reason to send a card of support: clinic staff has good reason to be fearful of opening their mail. Their mail!

I still had a pile of promotional postcards left over from the 2014 launch of my book The Radical Housewife, and this sounded like the best possible way to use them. Armed with a roll of postcard stamps, a couple of pens, and the website of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), I set out to write a message to every clinic in the country.

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Here’s what I learned, should you decide to take on this goodwill gesture yourself.

  1. Get out your wallet. Postcard stamps are significantly higher than they were twenty years ago, when correspondence via kitschy postcard was the way I kept in touch with my friends in the dark days before social media. As of this writing they are 35 cents a pop, and like regular postage are marked “forever” so that their value can be readjusted as the government sees fit. If you’re thinking about doing this project I suggest you buy them in a rolls of a hundred; you’ll need that many stamps, which is both good and bad news.
  2. You may need an Advil. The good news about having so many clinics to write to? You will get a cramp in your wrist from writing “reproductive freedom is a family value!” on hundreds of cards because you thought that printing out a sticker with that message would lack the warmth of your increasingly messy handwriting. This cramping, as well as the demands of everyday life, will make it impossible for you to complete this project in the time frame you imagined. I aimed for winter holiday cards, but came closer to St. Patrick’s Day greetings. Yours could make it by Halloween!
  3. You may also need a rage-soothing cupcake. The bad news about having so many clinics to write to? Without heading to Google, I can guesstimate about 150 million people in the United States with the ability to get pregnant. There are about 500 abortion clinics to service that population. And no thanks to the laws known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP), burdensome and unnecessary regulations are piling up on practices, forcing them to close at an alarming clip. Many clinics listed on the NAF website are no longer in business.
  4. Stalkers keep thorough records. I was able to learn more about these clinic closures no thanks to an abortion provider stalking site called AbortionDocs.org. This site had more up-to-date information about abortion providers than the NAF did, which is a testament to their truly mad obsession with terrorizing these people until they crack—or until they are murdered by maniacs able to find their home addresses on AbortionDocs.org. A disclaimer on the site states that “it is in no way meant to encourage or incite violence of any kind against abortion clinics, abortionists, or their staff,” which is pretty rich from a site that has creepy photos of doctors just trying to walk to their cars. The group behind AbortionDocs, Pro-Life Nation, is led by Troy Newman, who has publicly announced that killing abortion doctors is “justifiable defensive action.” These stalkers are nothing if not thorough; every time I had a question about whether a clinic was operational, they had the information I needed.
  5. Location, location, location. There are a lot of clinics in cities like Chicago and New York, but there isn’t a single one in the state of Wyoming. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi have one clinic each. I’ve never been to the Deep South, but the Dakotas border my home state of Minnesota, and I can tell you from experience that these states are big. Good Lord, they are big! Traversing them is no joke. I can’t imagine the anxiety of a pregnant tour guide at Mt. Rushmore who needed to travel 400 miles to Sioux Falls in time for the first appointment at Planned Parenthood that would be a state-mandated 72 hours before the appointment for the actual procedure. That doesn’t sound like a “choice” to me; it sounds more like a forced vacation. Given the “choice,” I would prefer to spend a week on a Caribbean cruise, not sitting around Sioux Falls. Even the most loyal South Dakotan would probably agree with me.
  6. As always, it helps to be rich. Several clinics advertised “private and concierge services,” which in Miami means getting the procedure done twice as quickly, and in Las Vegas means “ultra-privacy,” for which you must pay in cash. Wealthy women had access to medical abortions before Roe v. Wade, and they’ll have it even if the unthinkable happens and President Trump appoints more anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. I need another cupcake.
  7. Feminists are awesome. There is an abortion clinic in Iowa City named after radical anarchist Emma Goldman. I had no idea!

I may have endured cramps, costs, and cupcake-induced indigestion, but those annoyances pale in comparison to the very real threats facing abortion providers and their staff every day. Winstead and Lady Parts Justice had it right—we owe them our gratitude, and it’s on us to show it. Grab a pack of cards from your local stationer and get writing!

 

Roe at 43

I have given birth to two children, but I’ve never had an abortion, for one simple reason:

I’ve never needed one.

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The anti-choice crowd that’s marching in the snow on today’s anniversary of the Roe decision believes that “pro-life is pro-woman,” but there is no right more fundamental than the ability to control your own body.

I deserve the right to decide for myself if I want to be pregnant or not.

May this 43rd Roe anniversary renew our commitment to creating a world that recognizes the humanity and dignity of ALL air-breathing, clean-water-requiring, outside-the–womb people.

 

 

 

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.

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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?
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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.