Feminist Utopia Podcast Transcript for Episode 10

Benita: Welcome to Feminist Utopia, a community dedicated to envisioning and creating a more just society for all.

Debby: Welcome to the final episode in our abortion series. I’m sure we’re going to revisit this topic repeatedly, so don’t worry that we’re dropping reproductive rights after this.

Today we’re going to talk about some updates and what’s happened (since we last recorded) in other states regarding heartbeat bills and protecting rights. We’re also going to discuss some interesting conversations that have happened on our facebook page and things we’ve learned along the way as we’ve researched and talked to people about abortion.

We’ve got good news about some other states. Yay!

Benita: Yeah, we need a little bit of good news after all of that! So now Illinois, Maine, & Vermont public and private insurances have to cover abortions before 20 weeks! So that’s something.

Debby: Yeah, and in Maine it was just the public insurance would only cover an abortion if it was a case of rape or incest. And now they’re saying we’re going to cover viagra, we should cover abortion.

Benita: Right

Debby: What’s interesting is the blowback in a state like Illinois, which has Chicago, but this incredibly conservative rural core. I have tons of family in the farming communities of Illinois, and there’s always been this bitterness towards Chicago running the show. It has been remarkably quiet. I checked a Springfield newspaper online and there’s a place called Jacksonville, Illinois – I checked their local newspaper. And I’m not seeing a lot of people complaining about it.

Benita: Well, good!

Debby: I don’t think there have been any new heartbeat bills that I could find. Did you find any Benita?

Benita: Not anything new. I was looking on a more global level. I came across a really good website when I was doing research to see what else had happened. And it’s calledhttps://reproductiverights.org/what-if-roe-fell It’s done by ReproductiveRights.org and we’ll


have a link in the show notes. But it has a map of the United States, and it gives each state an overall rating, and it talks about what would happen if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. On the optimistic side, in 21 states the right to abortion appears secure. In 8 states, it’s at risk of loss. In 22 states, the right to an abortion is at a very high risk of loss if Roe vs. Wade is overturned.

Debby: And looking at this map, and it’s all clustered in these states like Texas and the states surrounding Texas like Oklahoma, Louisiana are all banning it. So if you’re a woman in Houston or Dallas or Brownsville, where can you go that would not take two days to drive to if you need an abortion?

Benita: You’d have to fly! I mean, it’s ridiculous.

Debby: And who has the money to do that? Affluent white women do. In doing research for this, I read about how in the 70s after Roe V. Wade, it was rare for women to have to drive more than an hour to get an abortion regardless of where they are. And I was reading an article about the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Foundation, which we’ll discuss further and have a link to in the notes. And now it is on average something like 3 hours.

Benita: Wow

Debby: And that’s kind of lucky! But that also makes it increasingly difficult and unaffordable for women that are poor.

Benita: Especially when you consider the mandatory waiting period that a lot of states have of 2 or 3 days.

Debby: Yes. It’s a very interesting website. I looked at that giant glop of red and realized oh my gosh, all of those women…

Benita: And the other point that I feel like kind of gets lost is… you know the legal status of abortion indicates more than just where women and girls are legally permitted to decide whether to get an abortion or not. It reveals how likely a woman is to die from an unsafe abortion, whether girls will be able to complete their education, and it also is a microcosm and shows the limits on women and girls ability to participate in public and political life.

When we track the legal status of abortion, it shows us where women and girls are treated with equality and are afforded the opportunity to direct the course of their own lives. So it feels to me that there’s a heck of a lot more at stake in these abortion laws than the actual act of getting an abortion. Because it just reflects the overall society’s view and value of women.


Debby: Exactly. And you found another article that talks about this growing network already! Even though abortion is still legal in Mississippi, abortion is still legal in Texas, the Alabama law doesn’t go into affect until next year, but already women are being driven underground.

Not coincidentally, these are all states with high maternal mortality rates too.

Benita: Right. So, I think that brings us around to the way we talk about abortion. And that’s one of the things that came up on our facebook page and there was a spirited discussion about whether or not having an abortion should be considered a difficult decision. There was an opinion piece that was brought up, written by Janet Harris who said, “When the pro-life community frames abortion as a difficult decision, it implies that women need help deciding. Which opens the door to paternalistic and demeaning informed consent laws, and it stigmatizes abortion and the women who need it.” That’s something that was a new idea to me. I hadn’t really considered that before and I thought hmm… there might be some truth in that.

Debby: I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I do agree with the idea that it’s not always a difficult choice. And my congresswoman here in Seattle, just wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times about her legal abortion. And she did describe it as agonizing to herself because she did want more kids, but she couldn’t physically do it. But she purposefully avoided this “it’s always an agonizing decision.”

And as we learned on facebook, a woman posted “It wasn’t a difficult choice for me.” And I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a difficult choice for my husband and I when we decided to have an abortion. We had a conversation about it… I couldn’t tell you what time of year it was, we narrowed it down to what year we think it actually happened. But then we weren’t raised to think that life begins at conception. So the idea that it’s this big moral dilemma was foreign to me. And I hear people talk about it as this big moral dilemma, especially in early abortion. I’m kind of like, it hurt less than the root canal. The trauma comes from people creating shame about the process, people screaming at you as you walk in, people throwing things at you as you walk in, and now all these added rules! This happened over 25 years ago to me, and I didn’t even miss a day of work. But now, women are told they have to go in and wait two days, and pay for an ultrasound, in some states they have to listen to incorrect information that this is more physically traumatic than carrying a baby to term. That’s not true! A lot of the trauma comes from…

Benita: …these draconian laws!

Debby: Yes, and the shame. I don’t talk about it, but I also don’t talk about my gallbladder surgery very often. I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance years ago. She’s very anti-choice. And we were specifically discussing abortion children with defects,

aborting a fetus with defects incompatible with life. And she asked me if I would have aborted my older son who has some disabilities. I’m like there really isn’t a test. I don’t know, but the abortion I had actually worked out really well for us. We waited another seven years. And then she told all of my college friends, and it caused a bit of a thing within our circle of friends (people who knew me at the time, people who knew me later). And so I’m like, oh I can’t talk about this! And there’s been a movement to get women to talk about it, normalize it. One in four women have had abortions. When I worked as a clinic escort, one of the people that was a protestor, brought her daughter in one week, and she was back out there the next week protesting! I’m sure she wasn’t telling her friends that she had brought her daughter in for an abortion. I think it’s important for women that have had a nontraumatic experience to say it wasn’t! Frankly, it can be a very difficult decision. It can be gut-wrenching or it can be just kind of… Depending on where you are, I don’t think there is a right way to feel about your abortion.

Benita: Couple of statistics that I found was – nine in ten unwanted pregnancies happen in relationships. Most abortion patients say that they’re supported by their partners. And that a lot of women would have preferred to have the abortions even earlier than they actually did. It’s only three percent that said that the reason that they were having an abortion was because of a fetal health problem like what happened in my husband and his previous wife, with their pregnancy. And only four percent cited a problem with their own health. And the victims of rape or incest is less than two percent. So we really are talking about a very small, less than ten percent of the abortions that are done fall into one of those categories where it was because of the health of the fetus, the health of the mother, or rape or incest. According to a study by The Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 87 percent (so the vast majority) had really high confidence in their decisions. When you look at that, it does contrast the notion that it is a difficult decision.

Debby: There’s almost always some other birth control failure. Especially when it’s an adult… Or there was no birth control because they couldn’t get any. That’s an increasing problem, especially in places like Texas. That’s why the actual abortion rates have been going up in Texas as they close Planned Parenthoods.

But for me, I used the Today Sponge. The interesting thing is, when I went to Planned Parenthood, had my abortion, they were like yeah you shouldn’t do this. And it turns out they withdrew the today sponge from the market in part because it had like a 20% failure rate. I didn’t know this. You have to remember; this is before the internet. It wasn’t like I could just sit at my computer and look this up!

Benita: There was a whole Friends episode about… no it was Seinfeld. Yeah that was a hilarious episode.

Debby: Because it was cheap. You didn’t have to go to the doctor. You could walk into Walgreens or Rite Aid or whatever, buy it, and use it. But I didn’t realize there was such a high failure rate with it, until Planned Parenthood said to me, “Yeah, this is going to happen to you again.” And they helped me find a birth control option that worked for me. I can’t take the pill because of family and medical history risks with hormonal birth control. So finding a barrier method that worked was important. And they helped me with that. And that’s what a lot of abortion clinics do… is they also say okay, we helped you here… So women aren’t using this as birth control. It’s a myth, just as much as the “welfare queen.” It’s a way to shame women for not conforming or doing something that is viewed as slutty or poor or… it’s just another way to shame women!

Benita: Right. And that’s really, really unfortunate. One of the things we need to do is, again have these more open conversations and the whole term “pro-choice” isn’t really resonating with people as much as it did before. And one of the things we need to focus more is how this is healthcare for women, and abortion is part of women’s health and economic concerns.

I also think that we got into pro-choice just because the pro-life people were beating us up. Instead we were drawn into this moral debate about the fetus and the hypothetical future of the fetus, rather than talking about the woman’s immediate and tangible future. So when we’re talking about pro-choice, it’s elevating the fetus assuming that it could be viable and yeah…

Debby: I think you’re right. We’ve focused too much on the fetus rights. And meanwhile we view that as so much stronger than we do… For example, a person in a motorcycle accident becomes brain-dead, but didn’t sign the donor card. But even though this person is legally dead with no brain activity, unless a loved one gives permission for that heart to be transplanted into somebody else who needs it to stay alive, we don’t do it! We consider it a violation of bodily autonomy of a dead person…

Benita: …who has a heartbeat!

Debby: …who has a heartbeat! And I do think the word pro-choice has lost its umph. We focus on this, and I think that goes back to describing abortion as a difficult choice. Even the pro-choice side does that now. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue, and you want to be on the right side of that moral issue. So it has to be hard. Well, I’m sorry I don’t believe life begins at conception.

Benita: Jesus didn’t either evidently!

Debby: Yeah, so… And it requires some sort of ethical debate. Those of us in the pro-choice movement have ceded this moral high ground to the other side, by saying “It really is a

moral issue, but can you think of the women, too?” And I’m like eh… You know it’s a moral issue that a woman can’t support her children. It’s a moral issue that she’s likely to die in childbirth if she continues or she has a stronger likelihood of dying in childbirth. We’ve so allowed everybody to imbue that fetus with some sort of super-personhood.

Benita: Right. Taken to its logical extremes like we talked about in the legal implications episode, it doesn’t make any sense.

Debby: And it was interesting we also started discussing on the facebook page about men and the legal implications. You did some other really interesting research on what implications could look like for men.

Benita: Yeah, well the opinion piece that I was looking at was from the New York Times. And it was really out there. It was written by Michelle Oberman and David Bell suggesting that in Alabama, a man could be imprisoned for getting his girlfriend pregnant if he knew she didn’t want a baby. Because at the point of conception, that’s a human being. And there’s laws against doing anything to harm people. So if there’s any chance that the woman would have an abortion, it’s his fault because he got her pregnant. And it’s kind of a… nice thing to think about. But the idea that men would be liable for getting the woman? That’s a utopia! Yeah, who are we kidding… It’s not gonna happen, but it does make you wonder where is the societal chain for men getting women pregnant. Where’s the culpability that they have?

Debby: It was interesting. There was a thread on Reddit a couple years ago that has become kind of viral. It was a guy posting to R/legaladvice on Reddit. And he was complaining that he got a girl pregnant a couple years ago. He encouraged her to carry the baby to term which she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to be in a relationship with him. She said she didn’t want to be a mom. He said I’ll take care of the baby, don’t you worry about it. So she had the baby, gave it to him. She pays her child support, plus extra but she has nothing to do with the child. And he was complaining and looking for ways to force her to be a parent because he could really use a weekend off. That thread brought me some joy, not for the kid involved. But for this idea that frankly women have been dealing with that, and at least this guy was getting child support!

Benita: And! He knew from day one! He knew from day one. It wasn’t like she lied to him, and this happens to women very frequently.

Debby: In 1992, there was a Pennsylvania law that got struck down which tried to give men veto rights over women having abortions of their own fetuses. And there’s been some talk about that with some of the heartbeat bills. And I do think there is a place for men in relationships to have a discussion about the abortion, but right now… There was an op-ed piece about a woman out of Alabama who said fine, my rapist doesn’t have to go to jail (got

charged with sexual assault, not rape) and now I have to share custody with him! And he could have kept me from having an abortion! You know and all these other things… And so my husband and I discussed it together! We both knew this wasn’t what we wanted to do, we didn’t want a kid right then. He actually made the phone call for the appointment for the abortion because I hate using the phone. So that was his role… and driving me, and driving me home. When you have a conflict in a relationship, how much say should a man have? I’m going to get my feminist card revoked for saying this…

Benita: I’m like there’s a card? I didn’t get a card! I want a card.

Debby: But I might get it revoked. Andrea Dworkin would kick me out of the feminist in club. But I think it’s a reasonable question to ask. What kind of say should a man have? And what I’ve told my sons is that you get your say when it comes to the input. Meaning wrap it up. When you climax inside a person who can get pregnant, there’s where your decision is… to use a barrier method of birth control. That’s the most practical advice I can give.

Benita: I don’t understand why you think that would revoke your feminist card… That seems logical to me.

Debby: My point is that especially in a relationship, yes have a conversation with your partner about it. And that’s worthy of a conversation. But I’m not one of those women who’s going to say to other people that get pregnant, oh just ignore whatever he says… you do you. No, I think there should be a conversation

Benita: Oh, oh yeah
Debby: And I would have that conversation even before having sex!

Benita: Yeah, so one of the things that I wanted to visit in depth again was this idea about… not only can women not have an abortion, but in cases of rape and incest they’re also forced to share custody of their children. And this is happening in Alabama. They have proof positive that it was pregnancy resulting from incest, and she gave birth at 15. And now the drug-addicted uncle wants parental rights. One thing that the article didn’t say is whether he’s paying child support.

Debby: Oh I thought one of the most horrifying things in the article was that this young woman’s family forced her to marry him, the rapist, so he could avoid getting charged with statutory rape or practical rape. You can’t testify against your husband, can you? And so they were more concerned with protecting the drug-addicted uncle, then this… well he started raping her when she was 12. It was more important for them to protect him than her. And now she has these children she’s trying to protect, and this is something that I think we can all agree on – pro-choice, anti-choice, whatever – that this is a bad thing!

Benita: It’s unconscionable to me that women would have to share custody parenting rights with someone who raped them.

Debby: Yes there’s even a men’s rights organization that says well you can’t allow women to accuse men of rape because she’ll keep the kids away from him. And I’m like, okay false accusations… But this organization says that even in cases where men are convicted of rape, they should still have parental rights because you know there’s two sides to every story.

Benita: Some anti-abortion activists are upset about this law, too. So we have actually found some common ground in that their concern is, that more women will have abortions if they think they’re going to have to share custody with the rapist… which makes sense to me.

Debby: Yes, it makes complete and utter sense! You have to keep seeing the person who traumatized you over and over again.

Benita: Yeah, even in an amicable divorce it’s a difficult thing!

Debby: Yes, so… we do have some action items this week. Hooray. Just recently the New York Times did a nice piece on the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. It is a grassroots organization in Mississippi that gives women, especially women of color actual money to be able to go and get an abortion. Sometimes they need to travel long distances, so the fund will give them gas money. Or they need to stay overnight, because there’s the waiting period, or they need food while they’re there… They basically help them with all of that. But also if a woman chooses not to have an abortion, they can help with diapers, and deposits on utilities, or baby food. It’s a wraparound service like I would like to see those fake pregnancy crisis centers be. They’re officially part of the National Network Of Abortion Funds, we’ve also mentioned them before as a good place to donate money. So I’m actually going to sign up to do a monthly donation through paypal. And they also have an Amazon wishlist that you can buy stuff and have it sent to them, that they can give to women, too… if you’d rather do that.

Benita: One of the other actions items is… I don’t know how many people listening have college-age students but one of the things that we also talked about was… If you have a young girl, that’s going to start on her own going to college for the first time. I would recommend that you maybe not go to college in Alabama… or North Carolina…

Debby: Or Louisiana or Kentucky… yeah any of those states!

Benita: Yeah, so if you are at that stage in your life where you’re planning college admissions… I think it makes sense to take these sort of legal implications into account when you’re choosing where you want to spend the next four years.


Debby: I think that’s reasonable. If I had daughters, that’s what I’d be doing. And another action item… and only do this if you feel comfortable with it. What I am learning, from seeing other women share their stories is if you have had an abortion and you’re in a place that you can discuss it safely and humanize the face of women who get abortions, instead of viewing them as either poor, tortured souls who are now going to be wailing and gnashing their teeth over their lost baby or whatever… Just basically put a human face on it. That was one of the things that really moved gay rights along was when their own family member started coming up and saying, “Well, I haven’t told you… but for the past 20 years, my roommate isn’t just my roommate. He’s my partner.” And stuff like that… Once people started seeing the people around them that had that experience with being gay or lesbian or their trans sister finally came out or… I’d like to see some of that moving forward with abortion. One in four women in America allegedly have had abortions judging by statistics. So you probably know someone who has! Or you’ve had one yourself. I’d like to reduce the shame around it. But only… don’t come out if you’re not comfortable with it. It has to be a safe place.

Benita: Exactly. Yeah and I know just from the research we’ve done in this episode, I am going to change the way that I talk about abortion. I don’t have a personal story to share, but I may reframe or avoid using that whole “difficult choice” language. And I do think that we need to talk more openly about it and recognize that the real difficulty isn’t the choice. It’s the consequences of societal expectations and shaming and all of those things that are wrapped up around it.

Debby: … like the legal rules about pointless ultrasounds, the fake information, everything like that. So anyway, we’ll have a bunch of show notes on this episode for sure.

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We appreciate you taking the time to listen and grow with us. Feminist Utopia is created by Debby Williams and Benita Malone.