Sheila Markin is a former Assistant US Attorney.  She helps people to understand in plain English what is going on in US politics today.  Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post!

Break the Glass!  Tell Your Abortion Story!

Women need to talk about what happened to us before Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. 

Before Roe, many states criminalized abortion.  And if Roe is re-interpreted by the Supreme Court to be a more restricted right or altogether thrown out, many states will again criminalize abortion.  This time around, the rabid right wants to go much further in criminalizing reproductive rights.  They want to criminalize not only abortions but contraceptives.  They want to punish doctors who perform abortions or provide contraceptives.  In a future without Roe, a natural miscarriage could land you in prison if the government doesn’t believe you when you say you didn’t try to induce a miscarriage.

Many women and men, for that matter, do not seem to understand how tenuous our reproductive rights are.  Too few have heard of Griswold v. Connecticut.  Griswold established a person’s right to privacy.  The Supreme Court inferred that right even though there is no such right spelled out in the Constitution. These two key cases: Roe and Griswold, established the right to privacy and the right to terminate a pregnancy.  Adding one additional Supreme Court justice who is anti-abortion to replace outgoing Justice Kennedy could destroy these rights we take for granted.

Kavanaugh, without a doubt, would be that Supreme Court anti-abortion wrecking ball vote.

We need to tell our abortion stories to help women understand the danger that is right around the corner.

This is no fun, but I’ll go first. 

I was in college.  It was 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade.  I was about to go to Greece to study archeology for my junior year abroad.  My boyfriend and I practiced totally safe sex.  We used not one but three effective birth control methods. 

None of them worked.

My boyfriend was in medical school.  He was as unready to think about starting a family as I was.  Since we were being so careful, it was shocking to us both when I missed my period, went to the local Planned Parenthood clinic and learned I was pregnant.  We couldn’t believe it at first.  But we had to. 

We talked about what to do.  In Illinois in 1970 it was a criminal offense to have an abortion.  Across the border in Wisconsin, where my boyfriend was in medical school, abortions were legal. 

The first thing I did was try to sign up for an abortion in Wisconsin.  I learned that because I was out of state, my application would be bumped to the end of the wait list and that it could keep getting bumped back if Wisconsin residents in need signed up.   I could not risk waiting that long without certainty.  I also needed to be on a flight to Europe I had already booked and paid for that was only about 14 days away.

Desperate, I went to an underground women’s group on the UWM campus to ask for advice.  They told me about a clinic in Mexico and gave me an information sheet with instructions.  I called the phone number on the instruction sheet and set up the day and time for the abortion in Mexico City.  The person on the other end of the line told me what to do when I got to Mexico, and said I was to bring $400.00 in cash with me.  Once in Mexico City, I would make a call from a certain pay phone and they would give me directions from there.  It sounded pretty shady, but I needed to do something fast and this seemed like the only option.

My boyfriend and I did not have the money for the flight, the hotel or the cash for the procedure.  But my boyfriend had a Dad with a heart who was very understanding.  His dad gave us the money for the flights, the hotel, and the procedure.  I was too embarrassed and upset to tell my own mother or father.

My boyfriend and I flew to Mexico City.  I made the call from the pay phone and was told to wait alone on a designated corner for a black car with a certain license plate.  No one would be allowed to come with me.  Nervous but determined, I followed the instructions.  Sure enough, a guy driving a black car with the license plate matching the one I had gotten over the phone pulled up at the corner where I was waiting.  I got in.  The driver spoke Spanish. I did not.  We drove in silence somewhere, I have no idea where, to a suburban area in the outskirts of Mexico City.

Once inside the house, the driver indicated where I should go.  In a small office by the front door, a man sat behind a desk with piles of money on it.  He took my cash, counted it out and put the bills on the desk.  “Go in,” he said. 

There were no medical personnel there as far as I could tell.  No one took my blood pressure or asked me for my medical history or my blood type. 

The living room of the house had been set up with a lot of beds.  There were about 6 to 8 young women there who had all come from the United States, like me, because their states had criminalized abortion.   

One of the girls across from me was crying.  I learned that she was getting a late term saline abortion because she had waited too long to have the earlier far simpler D and C procedure.  She was in a lot of pain.  She told the rest of us that she had kept hoping she wouldn’t need to get an abortion at all and that she had done some things to try to miscarry, but they didn’t work.  She realized too late how important it was to get the procedure done in the first trimester.  By the time she signed up for the Mexican clinic she was in her third trimester. 

I do not remember the actual procedure, but I do remember the face of the man who gave me the sedative.  He told me to count backwards from 10 and by the time I got to 5, I lost consciousness.  When I regained consciousness, I could not wake up all the way.  I tried to wake up, but I kept falling back under.  I could hear people around me talking, coming and going.  I realized I was lying in a pool of blood that was my own blood.  I wondered if I was going to bleed to death.  It was impossible to stay conscious.  Eventually someone must have figured out what was going on with me and I vaguely remember getting a shot.  Eventually I stopped bleeding and was able to wake up.

By the time I was more awake, it was late afternoon.  All the other girls were gone.  I was the only one left.  I needed a ride back to Mexico City, but the Mexican driver had gone home for the day.  So, the same guy who gave me the sedative said he would give me a lift back to Mexico City. 

Since he spoke English, we were able to talk.  I asked him about the clinic and why he did these abortions and how many they did.  I remember him saying that especially the early procedures were very simple and easy to do and there was a steady stream of women coming from the US.  “We make a lot of money doing abortions,” he said. “We are busy every day. Why not do them?”

The experience deeply affected me.  I realized how different my life would have been if I had not had access to this abortion, and if I had been forced to have a child against my will.  I would not have been able to finish my education and I would have been much less economically secure my whole life going forward.

Eventually, years later, I got up the nerve to tell my mother about my abortion.  That’s when she told me about her abortion.  She also said she was sorry we hadn’t talked because she could have helped me get one locally and much more easily with her gynecologist.  Apparently, there were gynecologists in Illinois who took the risk of being charged with a crime to help their women patients.  

I, too, wish we had talked about my mother’s abortion.  It is important for us to come out of the closet with our stories about abortion because it normalizes what is ultimately a medical procedure that is not a very complicated one if it’s done right.  Like Ellen Degeneres, who came out about her homosexuality and changed the way we all think about being gay, we need to come out too so that women can talk about abortion without feeling ashamed.  Millions of women get abortions.  Millions.  But we keep it secret.  The rabid right has been successful at getting women to think of abortion not as a medical procedure but as a sin.

After graduating with a master’s degree in social work, I took a job counseling unwed mothers at an adoption agency where I helped young women make their decisions about whether to keep or give up a child for adoption.  Many of the young girls who kept their children were not ready to be mothers.  In most of the cases when these young girls kept their babies, the cases turned into abuse and/or neglect cases.  Many unwanted children are beaten, abused and/or neglected.  I learned that the adoption cases also left scars that were often very deep for many of these girls who chose to give up custody of their children.

After being a caseworker for unwed mothers, I went to Planned Parenthood to work with women of all ages who were deciding whether to get an abortion.  I helped them to navigate these choices and do what was right for them in consultation with their doctors, their significant others and their own economic situations. 

Whether to get an abortion is a profoundly personal decision that affects a woman’s future and the future of her children.  This is an economic as well as medical decision. 

I would never pretend to know the answers for someone else’s choice.  How is it that anti-choice groups claim to know what ALL women are supposed to do based on their strongly held anti-choice beliefs?  Not everyone shares their beliefs.  Why should they have the right to impose their beliefs on everyone else?  Why can’t they be tolerant of other people’s life decisions? 

Imagine a world where men were the ones getting pregnant.  We would not be having these debates on Capitol Hill about cutting funding for Planned Parenthood.  We would have condom dispensers on every street corner.  Vendors would hand out condoms at football games–free with your hot dog and coke: “Here, take a few condoms.  It’s Homecoming week.” We would not be debating whether Brett Kavanaugh should be on the Supreme Court.  NO ONE would vote for him. 

Because it is women, not men, who get pregnant, we cannot get finality when it comes to reproductive rights.  We are like Sisyphus in the Myth of Sisyphus, rolling this same rock up the side of the mountain over and over again despite the fact that Roe did a good job of considering the equities.  Supreme Court justices designed a smart, reasonable and fair approach to abortion.  More important, a majority of Americans want to keep Roe intact and support access to abortion. 

I am telling my Mexican abortion story because I am worried about the next generation of women.  This next generation was raised in a world where they could readily get birth control and accurate reproductive information as well as terminate a pregnancy when they needed to.  This next generation is not scared enough.  Only 28% of Millennials are planning to vote in the mid-term elections according to the Public Research Institute and the Atlantic.  With so much at stake, every single Millennial should be planning to move heaven and earth to get to the polls.  The Handmaid’s Tale should be required reading.  It could happen here.

Those of us who have lived in a country before Roe and Griswold, know that women in this country have a lot they could lose in terms of privacy and self-determination.  This fight is about a woman’s right to make choices about her own body and her own life. 

I have continued to be involved in supporting choice for women all my life.  Those of us involved in this continuing fight know that the right-wing has been working hard and stealthily in the past years since Roe, to limit and take away reproductive choice for women.   

What have they been up to? 

They have researched and located anti-abortion judges for the Federalist Society to recommend for judgeships at not only the Supreme Court level, but district and appellate court levels as well.  They have worked to restrict abortion rights across the country in state after state.  In many states, legislators try to pass legislation imposing unnecessary requirements on abortion clinics including hallway size and proximity to a hospital.  These rules are devious ways to restrict and limit access. 

The rabid right has also set up so called “crisis pregnancy” hotlines and clinics luring in girls who are pregnant using ads on trains, buses, billboards and social media.  Faith based “crisis pregnancy clinics” deliberately give pregnant women false and misleading information about their medical choices, failing to inform them about their right to an abortion.   Our Supreme Court, relying on free speech, just ruled that these clinics will be allowed to keep on giving girls medical misinformation and lies.  Shame on them.  And shame on us if we do not see this decision as a warning of what is to come as the court moves further to the rabid right side of the political divide.

If the rabid right gets its way, the next iteration of anti-choice rules will be much tougher than the ones we had in the 1970s. They want to criminalize crossing state lines to get an abortion and criminalize your access to contraception.  They would charge the doctor who did my mom’s abortion with homicide.  My mom would have risked arrest and jail for getting an illegal abortion.  They would arrest that girl I met at the Mexican clinic who was having a late term abortion after trying to end her pregnancy; she would be charged with attempted murder and/or forced to carry to term.  If a woman had a natural miscarriage, she could be suspected of trying to abort and charged with murder or attempted murder.  You don’t think it could happen here?  Think again!  It has already happened. (#annayocca, #purvipatel).  Women are being jailed for trying to end their pregnancies with coat hangers or with pills.

Like so many other women, I am tired of fighting this fight we already fought and resolved with Roe v. Wade.  Government needs to get out of our private parts!  Stop legislating our uteruses!  Get out and stay out.  It is none of their business what a woman decides to do with her body. 

Even though I am tired of fighting this fight, I care about the next generation of women. 

My daughter just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.  I want my granddaughter to grow up in a world where our government cannot force her to have a child against her will if she gets pregnant by accident.  I want her to be able to have access to accurate medical information and to safe and effective contraceptives.

What can we do?

We need to keep Kavanaugh off the bench.  He is the worst of the bad choices for the Supreme Court.  Fortunately, he is also very unpopular.  He is the least popular choice for the Supreme Court since Harriet Miers, whose nomination was eventually withdrawn, and Robert Bork, who lost his confirmation vote.  Miers had a + 5 “net confirmation rating”.  Bork had a +6 rating.  Like Bork, Kavanaugh has a + 6 rating.  By contrast, Merrick Garland enjoyed a + 20 rating.  Hey, why don’t we insist Garland get a vote once we take over the House and Senate?

August 26th will be a day of action spearheaded by NARAL in conjunction with many other groups including MoveOn, Planned Parenthood, Indivisible and others.  We must rise up, just as we did to save the Affordable Care Act.  We must make calls to Murkowski and Collins, Heitkamp and Manchin.  Push push push the rock up the hill. Take a look at the action plan and jump in!

Jeff Flake is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, his vote is needed to advance Kavanaugh’s consideration.  Instead of attending to his duties on that committee, Flake has decided to take an extended vacation in Africa.  Is he doing his subtle part to slow-walk Kavanaugh’s nomination closer to November?  Some people think so.

Pressure works.  We want Roe.  We are the majority.  67% of us want to keep Roe.  17% want it overturned.  Delay, delay, delay and then defeat Kavanaugh and delay, delay, delay the next anti-choice pick.  November is coming.  If we get a blue tsunami in November, and the Dems take over the control of both houses of Congress, we could win this battle. 

Today the generic ballot test answer to the question, “Who do you want to control Congress?” puts Democrats up 51% to 39%.  12 points.  And with Trump’s continuing horror show presidency including immigrant children kidnapped and abused at the border, obedience to Putin, a possible looming government shut down, North Korea continuing to develop long range ballistic missiles, tariffs, the various Russia-gate linked evidence and trials revealing a conspiracy between Trump and Putin and obstruction of justice by Trump, and a showdown Trump keeps engaging in, trying to rid himself of the Mueller investigation, it is predictable that the Democratic advantage will grow while Trump’s dwindling core base hunkers down and supports him come hell or high water—which are both on the horizon and coming fast.

I hope you will join NARAL on August 26th.  Come out.  We cannot be afraid to tell our stories and listen to our sister’s stories.  It’s time to warn the next generation about what’s coming to get us if we don’t speak out and push back!