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File Under “Things I Could Not Make Up”

26 Mar

 Just now, on a walk in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I found this on a building:


The flyer before I wrote “THIS IS NOT A THING” on it

Not even a foot away was this:


Strategic Hipster irony? You decide.




“She was on the side of the Lord”- Anti Choice Rhetoric, Religion, and Ownership

19 Feb

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.


Chronicle of a Clinic Escort in Two Cities

10 Jun

A guest post by Chanel Dubofsky

The first time I escorted at a clinic, it was at a Planned Parenthood in New York City. For the most part,  the protesters stayed across the street from the clinic, praying, holding a giant wooden cross, but some of them spread out onto nearby street corners and attempted to pass out “literature.” I was nervous about interacting with the antis,  being physically attacked, but mostly, screwing up.  The main job of a clinic escort is to make sure the patients can get into the clinic, with the minimum amount of harassment. Under no circumstances are you to escalate the situation by arguing with the antis. On one hand, it’s a lot of standing around, and on the other, you’re always looking around, up the street, down the street, behind you. Every moment matters.

Mostly, I opened doors for women and men and small children, who kept their eyes down and hustled inside quickly. It was relatively low activity kind of day, according to the other escorts. The more aggressive antis hadn’t shown up. The folks with the cross left earlier than usual. I went home atnoon, exhausted.

The second time I escorted was in May, in Los Angeles with LA for Choice. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but it was very different from my Planned Parenthood experience-more antis, more aggression, more required from the escorts. I was testing myself, I think. (Can I do this, even when it’s scary?)

Saturday, May 25

8:30 am: I’m not caffeinated and I haven’t had enough sleep, because, even after almost a week, my brain and body have still not adjusted to California time. I hope I’m sharp enough to do this.

9:00 am: (Still not caffeinated. Who do I think I am?) There are four of us, wearing orange tank tops that say “Pro choice Clinic Escort.” Antis, mostly women of color with rosaries, amass,  some on  the sidewalk in front of clinic, others leaning against the window of the T Mobile store. They start to pray loudly in Spanish. A tall, white man in a black coat, wearing sunglasses, stands near them. The other escorts recognize him. When people walk by, he tries to give them business cards that have a pictures of a fetus in utero on them, as well as a pool of bloody sludge which are supposed to be the “remains”. Some take them without looking at them.  G, an escort, says to a woman who has a card in her hand, “I can take that from you if you want.” She shakes her head and keeps walking.

9.15 am: It occurs to me that what the man is doing with the cards is actually violent. Maybe people take it and don’t look at it right away, and then they’re halfway down the street, or inside the brunch place near the clinic, or in the clinic, and then they look down, and they’re horrified, triggered, angry. But this is what he wants.

10.00 am:  Another white man, this one wearing white pants and a white shirt, shakes hands with the man who’s been handing out the cards. Lots of eye contact, nodding, and smiling with the women praying loudly.  White Shirt pulls out a cell phone, moves to the corner of the T Mobile store window. He’s really close to blocking the sidewalk leading to the clinic. An escort sidles up to him. He turns around and goes back to his original spot, still talking on the phone. We talk amongst ourselves: Does he seriously think we believe he’s looking for privacy to make a call?

10:15 am: Business Card Man walks away from the window towards the driveway, presumably so he can hand things to the people approaching from that direction. I follow him, stand beside him. I don’t make eye contact. He moves back after a few moments. This is physical in a way that’s different from my first experience-we’re using our bodies more actively, more directly. We spread out, we cover, we go where they go.

11: 00 am: A woman arrives. She’s a regular. She has a sign that says “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. God.” Predictably, there’s a picture of a fetus on it. (Are there ever any antis who aren’t religious?) She stands near the driveway. N, another escort and I follow her.  She faces the road for a while, holding her sign up so drivers in passing cars can see it. Then she turns to us. “Do you like that babies are getting murdered in there?” she asks. “Does that make you happy when you get up in the morning? Does it make you say ‘yay’?” I have no idea what to do. “You don’t have to say anything,” N tells me. “We try not to do anything that escalates the situation.” “Do you know about Kermit Gosnell? He murdered babies. He cut off their arms and legs. But you wouldn’t know about that.” N and I ignore her. She stops talking to us and turns back to the road.

11.15 am:   A couple walking by stops to check out the scene. The woman  who talked to N and I about Gosnell tells them that “people inside are murdering babies.” S, an escort, positions himself near them. (Sometimes people talk to the antis, and it’s okay to let that happen, unless it’s clear that they want out of the conversation.) I can’t hear what’s being said, but the couple seems attentive. They don’t want rescuing.

11:30 am:  A woman stops to tells us that she’s on the board of a family planning clinic in Cleveland. “I am shocked,” she says, “that you have to deal with this bullshit here.”

12: 00 pm:  A man and woman walk through the protesters towards the clinic. There’s a little kid in pink pajamas between them. They’re all holding hands, tightly.

By 12.30, the antis are gone. The clinic stops taking appointments at one. We take off our orange shirts and bring them back inside the clinic. I keep looking around, expecting a mob with crosses and signs to come streaming around the corner, but it doesn’t happen. I get in the car with N and S, and we drive away.

When we’re on the highway, S asks me what I thought. “It was different,” I say. This was a non answer, I know, but at the time, it was easier than the truth, which is that for me, today was about figuring out if I could keep escorting, regardless of my fears. Escorting is about immersion, and practice, and support. There’s a process to be trusted. So, for now, the answer is yes. I’m still in.

A Country Where Abortion Isn’t Even Considered: Just What Would That Be?

15 Apr

Last Thursday, in a speech before the irrationally titled anti-choice group “Susan B. Anthony List,” failed Vice-presidential candidate and currently underwhelming Republican leader and Representative Paul Ryan said, “We don’t want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn’t even considered.”

At present, we have no model for that: no such country exists. Making abortion illegal won’t prevent it from being considered; abortion rates are higher in countries where the procedure is illegal. Outlawing it also makes it more dangerous. Making it illegal won’t prevent it from being considered. Paul Ryan can read, so this must be obvious to him. So if he doesn’t mean to outlaw abortion, what kind of country would we build where it wouldn’t even be an option?

Well, it would ideally be a world in which there were no unwanted or unplanned pregnancies in the first place. Abstinence-only education is possibly the worst way to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Not only do kids have sex, when they do, they’re inadequately informed as to how to find and use birth control. So a country where abortion isn’t considered would have to start with a comprehensive sexual education program from the time children are old enough to get pregnant – nine years old, apparently, but we should start at 7 or 8 to be safe. We’ll obviously have to end child rape, because abortion will surely at least cross the minds of guardians, medical professionals, and child advocates if a nine year old girl is found to be pregnant. In addition, birth control will have to be free, and not only easily accessible, but abundantly available.

Stopping adult rape totally will be a challenge. People will need to be indoctrinated from birth to accept that, once born, their lives, no matter what the costs or circumstances, need to take a backseat to the unborn. Oh, you’re an adult who got raped and now you’re pregnant? To not even consider abortion, you will have to be good and convinced – brainwashed, honestly – to not even consider that your life, sanity, peace of mind, bodily autonomy, independence, future, dreams and hopes should not be 100% certain to take a backseat to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term that is the product of a traumatic sexual assault. That’s the reality.

There’s also the issue of non-viable fetuses. At this point, in the world we’re creating, there are only wanted pregnancies. Still, a person who realizes they’re carrying a child who has no brain – literally, a tiny body with no working brain – knows that pregnancy is not going to come to term with a happy ending. There are also cases of children who would only live a few days, in the hospital, in severe pain, fetuses with no heartbeat that for some reason are not naturally still-born and simply remain in the uterus, and other extremely severe fetal medical issues. It’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t at least consider an abortion when it’s clear that the fetus is no longer alive, or as a mercy when a child who was born would suffer terribly. The solution would probably be to no longer classify this as abortion. It would be considered carrying a pregnancy all the way to term – term would end when a child was born, or a fetus was no longer viable.

So we’re going to have a world in which birth control is free and abundantly available and easily accessible, in which there is no more child rape, and in which adults are conditioned to believe that the life of an unborn fetus is more important than the life of anything else, ever, at all, under any circumstances. We’re also going to stop defining certain medical procedures as abortions. Are we now living in a world where no one will consider abortion?

Probably not. Although abortions for medical reasons – the so-called “health of the mother” exemption – has been mocked by the GOP, pregnancy can still be life-threatening. There’s no way around it. Not having an abortion can still mean that you will die. Or your mother will die. Or your wife, or your partner, or your sister, or your child. At these moments, it would be impossible not to at least consider abortion. Most people would let that option cross their mind. Many people – however selfish this option was made to seem – would consider how much they still wanted their spouse, their child, their parent in their lives. Some people – maybe, under those circumstances, even most people – would have a hard time accepting this preventable death. Hell, we fight cancer even when death isn’t preventable. We really hang on to our loved ones. I think it would be hard to condition that out of people – even for a perfect, abortion-free world.

So if there’s no such thing as a perfect, abortion-free world, it might be worth considering that a perfect world includes abortion. Abortion isn’t a problem, it’s a solution. It’s a medically necessary solution to a number of problems that are part of our real lived experiences: rape, medical complications, miscarriages, and, unfortunately, because humans are imperfect creatures and we make mistakes and because we currently live in a system not designed to any way help us avoid those mistakes, unwanted pregnancies. When abortion is considered no more problematic than any other incredibly useful medical advancement that can and improve millions of lives, we’ll be a huge step closer to a perfect world.

I have some thoughts on how to get there, too. I’d like to think Paul Ryan,  being a smart guy, would want to help, but he probably won’t consider resigning.

The Anti-Choice Movement is Creating More Kermit Gosnells

12 Apr

A guest post from Sarah Erdreich, the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial in Pennsylvania, charged with eight counts of murder. For decades, Gosnell provided abortion services to primarily low-income, minority, and immigrant women in an unsafe and unhygienic clinic. Despite numerous complaints to state agencies and the forty-six lawsuits filed against him, Gosnell’s clinic was only inspected five times after it opened in 1979; the last inspection occurred in 1993. When officials finally did raid his clinic in 2010, it was on suspicion of drug violations. The eight counts of murder that Gosnell faces include one for a woman that died from a painkiller overdose before her procedure, and seven infants that he allegedly killed with scissors after they were born.

Those acts, together with a grand jury report that spares no detail in describing the squalid and unhygienic conditions of Gosnell’s clinic, paint a grim picture of a man that never should have been allowed to practice medicine. They also call into question just why state agencies did so little to investigate the many complaints that were made over two decades.

The state of Pennsylvania has responded by enacting new anti-choice laws that make abortion care more difficult for people to access and afford. Clinics that provide surgical abortions now must meet the same medical and construction standards as outpatient surgery centers; while clinics were exempt from some regulations, such as having elevators of a certain size, a number of the new regulations required clinics to undergo expensive renovations. In 2008, 82% of all Pennsylvania counties lacked an abortion provider; five clinics have closed in the last year, meaning that that number is undoubtedly even higher now.

Pennsylvania is hardly alone in requiring only abortion clinics, as opposed to all freestanding outpatient surgical clinics, to adhere to specific and extensive standards. From insisting that providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals to mandating the size of operating rooms, states around the country have enacted numerous laws in the past several years that sound benign on paper but have devastating real-life effects. The rationale for many of these laws is that they are necessary to safeguard the health and well-being of people who need abortion care. But when legal abortions are performed by trained medical professionals, the health risks are already very low; according to the non-partisan Guttmacher Institute, “[f]ewer than 1% of all U.S. abortion patients experience a major complication and the risk of death associated with abortion is 10 times as low as that associated with childbirth.”

When a woman dies during childbirth, politicians do not insist that all hospitals adhere to new structural requirements, and activists do not claim that since a woman died, no OB/GYN should be trusted. Yet the anti-choice movement has shown no such common sense and sound judgment when it comes to Kermit Gosnell. Instead, they have exploited this tragedy to enact laws that either force clinics to charge more for their services so they can pay for renovations, or close altogether. Making abortion more expensive and less accessible will not lower the abortion rate in this country. Instead, it will create an environment that drives women to desperate measures such as self-abortion or turning to untrained, but inexpensive, physicians.

I would like to keep my ovaries, thanks

18 Mar

I’ve been having some ABSURD women’s rights dreams lately, you guys. All of this legislature must be making me go a little off the deep end. Listen to this most recent dream:

I wake up in a hospital bed, in a gown, with my boyfriend. I have no idea what is going on and I’m a little disoriented. A nurse comes in a tells me that the doctor is almost ready for me, and that the anesthetist will be in soon. My boyfriend, concerned, looks at me and asks “Are you sure you want to do this?” He looks devastated. My first thought is that I’m pregnant and having an abortion, but that doesn’t seem right. I ask the nurse who comes in shortly thereafter what I’m in for, and she tells me that I’m there to have my ovaries removed. She makes it seem like it’s been state-mandated and “for my own good” (sounds kind of like mandatory waiting periods and trans-vaginal ultrasounds…

My boyfriend and I are panic-stricken (though why he’s suddenly this way, in retrospect, makes no sense… he knew all along… oh well, dreams). I’ve got an IV in, and I’m hooked up to some machines, but I’m suddenly looking for a way out, not just of the room, but out of the damn hospital. I’m trying to get up, but nurses keep coming in and “checking on me.” In my dream, I think they’re spying. I can’t find a way out, and my boyfriend can’t keep them out of the room long enough. Eventually the anesthetist comes in and puts something in my IV. I’m getting really sleepy, but I keep fighting it. I’m just trying to formulate a plan so that they can’t take my ovaries, but I can’t think straight.

The nurses are wheeling me down the hall to the operating room. They’re trying to be encouraging, telling me that I’m brave, but I’m not feeling like this is a choice, so nothing is brave about it. I’m placed in the OR and am waiting around for a few minutes, and while my thoughts are screaming to get out of there, my body can’t move. Finally, the doctor comes in and introduces himself. He seems nice, as he asks me to count backwards from 10. I tell him I don’t want to do this, but he just keeps asking me to count down. Finally, totally miserable but resigned to my fate, as it seems like I have no other options, I close my eyes and say “ten.” Then, thank god, I wake up. I gasped myself awake, and woke the boyfriend up as well.

What a terrifying dream.

I live in a state that doesn’t make access 100% easy, but it’s certainly not impossible to get an abortion. My insurance covers it, and the co-pay is even really low. I think that this dream, for me, was my pain for people in North Dakota or Ohio spilling over. I can’t even imagine what being forced to carry to term, regardless of choice, fetal anomalies and other factors notwithstanding, would do to me. The misery and fear I experienced in a dream alone was enough to wake me, gasping and terrified. Living that reality would be horrific.

Sign the petition calling for a reversal of the newly-approved personhood laws in North Dakota here.

Dear North Dakota Governor

15 Mar

Dear Gov. Dalrymple,

As someone who has lived in and loves North Dakota, I am appalled that the state legislature would approve such barbaric legislation and I can only hope that you will see that so severely limiting access to abortion not only hurts women and their families but their communities and your state as a whole.

One in three American women have an abortion in there lifetime. In North Dakota that’s over 115,000 women. To be fair North Dakota has has a slightly lower rate of abortions than the rest of the US, so it would be a bit fewer but we are still talking 100,000 voters in a state of not even 700,000 people and that is something to think about.

Women in North Dakota must already go to the ONE abortion provider in the entire state and undergo a 24-hour waiting period before seeking an abortion. It is not easy to get an abortion in North Dakota as it is, and yet the legislature wants to restrict it further.

Remember Ohio’s heartbeat bill last year? Remember how it failed, and the reaction? Do you really want to be that historic first who for years will be haunted as a political heretic?

As women start having their families later they are at greater risk of fetal anomalies, and we know this change is no hurry to be reversed, it is medically inappropriate to limit access to abortions in case of fetal anomaly or birth defect. It should not be up to a legislature but clinicians, namely the one abortion provider in all of North Dakota.

Now, I want you to think about your four daughters. I want to return to the fact that one in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime. That includes, in all likelihood one of your daughters. What would happen if she discovered a pregnancy after five weeks? Do you want her to have to travel out of state? Would that maybe be more traumatic for her?

Think about it.



If you’d like to share your own letter with Gov. feel free to crib any of my language above, you can reach him at @DalrympleforGov, 701-328-220, or here.