Here we stood, a score of women at the U.S. Capitol, there to share our personal abortion stories privately with lawmakers and online with the public on March 21, 2017. We were storytellers in the fifth annual “1 in 3 Speakout: Stories from the Resistance.” Our goal — to put a human face on abortion; said in another less ladylike way, to get in our representatives’ grills. We were all darned tired of being characterized by ignorant anti-abortion advocates as shadowy, irresponsible, hypothetical women.
“Hey, talk to us,” we demand of our lawmakers. “We’re real people.”
First, we took our rally to the Capitol steps. Just as crowds began to gather, no doubt curious about our megaphone and pointing to our “I HAD AN ABORTION” and “I STAND WITH 1 IN 3” signs, we were shooed away by police to the more distant location shown in the above photo. We had been in the path of — you guessed it — President Trump’s motorcade. He was making his last-gasp attempts to salvage the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. How appropriate to see, just days later, his plan aborted.
The rest of our day was devoted to visiting offices of representatives and senators. Our goal for the House of Representatives was to enlist more sponsors and bolster support for the EACH Woman Act (“Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance”), which would overturn the 1976 Hyde Amendment that prohibits government funding for abortions. The EACH Woman Act was first introduced in 2015 with the goals to require the federal government to ensure coverage for abortion care for (1) federal employees receiving government-sponsored health insurance, and (2) recipients of public health insurance programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The legislative strategy is to introduce this bill every year until it passes.
In Senate offices, our goal was to oppose the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. (Because our U.S. senators in Arizona had already pledged their support for his confirmation, I was personally not enthusiastic about the Gorsuch goal, so I decided to spend my time lobbying our senators to adopt Sen. Tim Kaine’s posture toward abortion: “I personally don’t support abortion, but will not deny the choice to others.”)
Maryon Rocha and I, the Arizona team, walked to Sens. McCain’s and Flake’s offices, as well as to Reps. Raúl Grijalva’s and Tom O’Halleran’s offices, our respective House members. We met with legislative staff members responsible for women’s health legislation. As we told our abortion stories face-to-face, I saw how powerful these first-hand accounts were. When I spoke of the terror of riding in a car with strange men in Tijuana, Mexico, to undergo my 1965 illegal abortion, the pained looks on the faces of my listeners were unmistakable.
When Maryon told her story highlighting the double whammy of her having to take days off without pay from multiple jobs to comply with restrictive Arizona laws in addition to paying for an unnecessary, punitive, invasive ultrasound and the expensive abortion procedure itself, I watched her own frustrations reflected in her listeners’ faces. Because Maryon works daily with children in foster care as a substitute teacher in South Tucson, she says, “I never want to be a mom, but if I ever change my mind, I will take one of these children out of the system, not put another one into it.”
How successful were our pleadings, entreaties, and 2018-election, we’re-watching-you threats to Sen. Flake, whose first term comes to a close next year? Only time will tell, but I am sure the impression we left was strong and made a greater impact than any briefing document or paid lobbyist could have.
I learned a lot in my two days with my sister abortion-storytellers. As familiar as I was with the gist of most abortion stories, I was reminded of how unique every story is. For example, consider …
- … how hard it is to be a young woman denied the morning-after pill, then, sure of her abortion choice, trying to break a vicious cycle of poverty, but faced with strong religious push-back. Monserrat’s story (starting at minute 42:28).
- … women can still die of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. (You might recall the episode in Downton Abbey when Lady Sybil died of eclampsia during childbirth.) Listen to Susan’s own heartbreaking 1989 24-month-pregnancy story (starting at minute 3:20).
- … women who never want children can be denied permanent birth control — sterilization. Listen to the frustrations of Candice (starting at minute 42:40).
- … a 20-week ultrasound, accompanied by that first ultrasound picture, is not always the happy event we so often hear about. Neomi’s story (starting at minute 38:57) illustrates the nightmare that can happen instead.
- … how heartbreaking it is to “save my baby from life.” Jocelyn’s story (starting at minute 1:08:43).
If you take the time to listen to these stories (or any of the six hours of video that pop up with them on YouTube) and gain no better understanding of what happens to pregnant women seeking abortions in real life, listen again until you get it!
I’ll be 71 years old this month. How long are we going to be fighting this battle? We need reinforcements, and today’s generation of young people needs to enlist. Or, quoting another sign from the Women’s March on Washington: “My arms are tired. I’ve been holding up this sign since the ’60s!”
OK, the lecture is over. Now get crackin’. Learn more on Twitter or Facebook. Go to the 1 in 3 website. Tell your abortion story. Ask your women friends if they had an abortion and your men friends about their role in women’s abortions. Volunteer. Liberate yourself.