Talked with the folks at WV FREE – http://www.wvfree.org/. Like many choice advocates offices you will see no sign on their building. In fact unless you know exactly whom to ask, it is almost impossible to find them. A sad fact for an organization that does so much good in helping West Virginia women know what their rights are. Not only do they have cool t-shirts (pictured above) but they are probably the best place to work I have ever seen. They are dog friendly, have cool decorated offices, great tea and in-house Pilates classes.
My warm reception by their head and staff stands in great contrast to what I learned some women have to go through. There is now only one clinic in West Virginia that offers all reproductive right options. As one staffer points out, this could mean a 4 hour trip. Then, when you do get to Charleston, as in many cities, there is a fake clinic next to the one you’ve been traveling so far to get to. If, like many women do, you wander into the wrong clinic by mistake, one can only imagine the conversation.
Amy (not her real name) a congenial key staffer at WV FREE tells me that if a woman is convinced not to have a procedure and does not have the means to support the child, some groups will offer to put her on a point system. Point system you ask? Say you need diapers, that could be two points, formula maybe 5 points. And how do you get these points? On a sliding scale these groups may give you the most amount of points for attending bible training, or perhaps convincing others not to have a procedure.
I can only think of Orwell’s book: 1984, and his vision of state control. What would you call it?
The sign you see is a trick. As Amy (not her real name) explains to me: “First they see the sign and then we show them the ultrasound of the life they are about to kill and explain that not only are they killing their baby but God will send them to hell for all eternity”. I imagine myself as a pregnant woman, scared, un-sure, and, according to statistics, likely to already have a child but without the resources to care for another one. We do not have a good safety net in our country. In this fragile state of mind I am tricked and harassed till the tears well. Being neither pregnant nor a woman my heart breaks and can not imagine what they feel.
The clinic opposition in Toledo is well organized, and well funded. In addition to the billboard they raised over $300,000 to purchase a portable ultra-sound truck to lure un-suspecting women in to what must truly be – hell on wheels. The only thing standing between total humiliation and the clinic is Krys, her sister Julie (not real names), and the team of brave women they have organized to escort women into the clinic.
I meet Krys and Julie in a local diner. They are both slight and super determined. Krys is the organizer and has been at this for three years, which is surprising for someone so young. In the beginning volunteers were scant. As she says: “who can take off 9-5 to stand in cold and rain to protect women who want to exercise their legal options?” Many women have no place to leave their children so Krys and the other volunteers have had stand outside the clinic for hours in the cold to look after their children. The average woman only tells 1 to 2 people when they decide to have a procedure. So their support network is small and the sisters tell me that usually their economic means are extremely limited. Julie’s eyes flash with true anger as she describes how the opposition bought the house next door so they can legally scream at people getting out their cars. While the opposition can spend $300,000 on a sonogram bus, her group of un-paid volunteer guides are selling t-shirts to raise enough money for a new security camera system and: “just trying to keep us from going back to the coat hanger days”.
Since Planned Parenthood in Toledo does not do to procedures, and the other medical clinics in town have closed, there is only one clinic in the city and it is in jeopardy. Just this week the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to rule on a law that could close it. Considering one of judges just spoke at a pro-life meeting and refused to recuse herself – Krys is not sure how good the odds are. But whatever the case these two sisters assure me they will not stop advocating for a women’s right to choose the option that best fits her needs and circumstances.
West Virginia (WV) is one of the friendliest places I have been. It is also a maze of contradictions; I eat lunch in a hipster place, being served by a man who would be at home in Haight Ashbury circa 1968, and sitting next to a conservatively dressed woman who asks me in the nicest tone: “when will we northerners stop complaining and realize America needs to go back its bible-focused values”.
Later I walk by a group of people wearing “Yayy God” t-shirts and run into Millennial Meg who has joined every protest since Nov 8. Meg is one the first people I have met to sense that what ever reproductive rights the good people of WV enjoy now may go the way of a calving glacier in Greenland. Meg is married and a native West Virginian, but worried that she might have to migrate north to “have the same rights my mom did”.
While a married millennial is worried that her rights will be trampled, Alice (not her real first name) is all for laws restricting access. Alice, is super friendly and charming. As a result of an un-planned, un-wanted (at-time) pregnancy she was the victim of domestic violence and had her economic mobility severely restricted. Despite that, she believes that millennials: “are popping abortion pills at any opportunity, and that has got to stop”. Alice is sort of ok with abortions up to 12 weeks but not sure they should be preformed the way they are. I am sure if someone surveyed her they would find her both pro choice and for closing the clinics that provide them. The amazing thing is that all sides seem to like each other and accept that they are on different ends of reproductive rights question.
Told ya this is complex, but perhaps the tolerance and friendliness in Charleston could be a model to get a dialog going with those in political power.
Being a wonky data type I thought I would start out with a statistic. According to a CDC study, 50% of pregnancies in the US are un-planned. I am sure most are welcome news, but what of those that are not? In the US, unlike China till recently, we have the unfettered right to reproduce. We also have a less protected right not to reproduce, and that is where it gets tricky. Obviously, abstinence works. But there are two issues: 1) If everyone practiced it there would be no more human race, and 2) Depending on your views, we are either designed by God or genetics to want to have sex at some point in our live. So what do we do?
I am thinking about all this as I am driving through rural Pennsylvania on my way to West Virginia. These are overwhelmingly red counties I am visiting, but right now none are more than an hour from a clinic. Fittingly PA has the most incongruous motto for my road trip: Virtue, liberty, and independence. So far no one I have met in PA actually knows the virtue part of the state motto. The focus seems to be on independence. Regardless of age or gender, everyone I talk to is against an intrusive government. However, if you are on the right the commitment ends with regards to your sex life.
My just-past-millennial waitress thinks anything beyond a first trimester abortion should be punishable by prison, and people pop over the counter plan b pills rather than “being responsible for their actions”. Whereas, the millennial woman in the ice cream parlor bemoans the lack of easy access to plan b or c medication. She recounts a friend who ended up having a medical procedure because it was too difficult to obtain a pill. Despite the lower income status of both women neither thinks price is an obstacle.
What ever your views on reproductive rights or religion are, for most people consensual sex is fun. If it were not, then we as a species would have died out long ago. This is probably why we have been having this debate for over 3,000 years.
On to West Virginia….
Reproductive rights have been controversial for 1,000s of years. What was permissible in Greece in the third century BCE is very different than Victorian England. Closer to home, with a new administration, things seem to be changing rapidly. In fact what was permissible last year may not be by the end of this year.
Which ever way we look at it – to reproduce or not, laws affecting reproductive rights are coming soon. These changes effect real people and first and foremost this blog is about people not statistics. What I would like to explore is what are people going to do now that reproductive rights will soon be more restricted. What I hope to do is speak with women who likely to be affected by these restrictions, with workers facing new regulations, and those on the other side of the issue.
Since the answers do not lay in my beloved home town, it’s time to saddle up the Prius, and take off with my dog to go those states likely to be most effected. So come join me as I explore how people in six different states are planning to cope with the changes coming down