Author’s note: During the summer of 2009, I talked to dozens of young pro-choice activists and doctors about what motivated their work for reproductive justice, what concerns them most about the current state of abortion rights, and what they think the future holds for legal abortion in the U.S. In the following three interviews, four young activists – a law student, an attorney, and the creators of a pro-choice website – discuss these issues and also share their thoughts about why it’s so important for their peers to not take legalization for granted. The interviews will appear in my forthcoming book, Generation Roe. Sarah Erdreich
Interview with the founders of IAmDrTiller.com
website came out of a staff meeting at my clinic. We met
right after Dr. Tiller’s death; we were all talking about what we thought we
could do, and how we were feeling. And it came up that we never really talked
about why we do this work, and how maybe we could prevent these acts in the
future. I got to thinking about what it would be like to humanize abortion
providers, and I had the idea for this website. I immediately text messaged
Yahel and told him, buy the domain I Am Dr. Tiller and I’ll explain to you
later. We set it up really quickly that night.
Yahel: She had
this idea, it started out with the idea of women holding up signs saying “I am
Dr Tiller,” and telling their stories. Dr. Tiller works in Alabama, Dr. Tiller
volunteers in Philadelphia, etc.
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Stephanie: I worked for an abortion access fund as
my work-study job through college, [and] a few friends and I brought back [the
college’s women’s center]. I was, like, big feminist on campus – pretty easy to
be at Bryn Mawr – which was really nice. Everyone was really supportive, and
that gave me a lot of confidence going forward. I grew up with my mom and my
sisters, so it’s really like a house of women. They know what I do; they’re a
little bit scared, because unfortunately that’s the reality in abortion care,
but they’re really proud of me. I’ve indoctrinated my sisters, they’re good
Yahel: I’m an
indoctrinated younger sibling. I was raised by my parents, but my two older
sisters were both feminists in their own right. So I’ve always had a very
strong pro-woman outlook on life. I also grew up in a fairly liberal household
that was fairly estrogen-dominated, estro-democracy, whatever you call it.
In June 2009, Bill
O’Reilly mentioned Stephanie and Yahel’s website on his show.
Yahel: We don’t
have cable in our apartment, so I got a text message from my little brother
saying oh my god, Steph and your site was mentioned on Bill O’Reilly. My first
reaction was, why are you watching Bill O’Reilly?
Stephanie: We got
a lot of emails after that. A big influx, really condemning, “you’re going to
hell.” At the same time a few blogs picked it up and said obviously Bill
O’Reilly has no idea what it’s really about. Then on the other side, a lot of
pro-life websites picked it up saying oh my god, this website is like a den of
Yahel: It was
really disappointing, the Bill O’Reilly piece, because what they were disturbed
by was, [the women] weren’t showing their faces. But it completely missed the
point of, this is work in which women are putting themselves in danger and
they’re not comfortable if they want to share their stories. The sign is a
symbol of that fear. He just completely didn’t get it. “Show your faces.”
Stephanie: Then we
got emails that just proved why we needed to have people either not submit
photos or cover their faces, saying publish everyone’s address. At first my mom
was real scared. I don’t know how your parents reacted.
Yahel: I’m not sure they knew, when the Bill
O’Reilly stuff happened. They know now. My parents are immigrants; the abortion
debate doesn’t make any sense to them. They’re from Israel, and in Israel women
have abortions, it’s not a big deal, no one really talks about it. It’s not the
third rail of their politics.
Stephanie: My mom
is Brazilian and it’s like the total opposite thing, because abortion is
completely illegal in Brazil.
Yahel: One woman
who posted, her mother basically told her that she was disowning her. We found
out a little bit later that through the intervention of her priest, her pastor,
I’m not sure who it was, she and her mother reconciled. Her mother has now sort
of accepted and come to understand it.
Stephanie: When I
was working at [an] abortion access fund [in college], it was much easier for
me to be, every day, yes, this is why I do this, it’s great. Because I would
just talk to people on the phone, there was no face-to-face. I was just
providing people with one part of the abortion experience, just helping them
raise the money, and that’s very easy and very gratifying. Being a clinic
counselor is different. Sometimes I have to tell people you know what, you have
this medical condition, we need you to get medical clearance and you’ll have to
come back in a week. And people want to punch me in the face – “no, I want to
have this abortion tomorrow, I shouldn’t have told you.” That can be very
frustrating. People who don’t talk, don’t care, and just want it to be over
with. And that’s just not the way it is, it’s going to affect you. You may be
so relieved and great after, but I want to make sure you’re ok. Yahel can
definitely speak to me being really frustrated when I come home from work.
Yahel: Three days
a week she comes home angry at work and at the world and frustrated. Then the
other days she comes home and feels really great about being to help women out
directly and guide them through. Those days she seems a lot happier about being
able to help women. She’s also pretty good proof that no one’s in this work for
the money, which is the silliest I’ve ever heard about anyone. I can never do
anything but laugh when I hear people talk about abortion for profit.
should see out apartment, it’s not for profit.
it’s difficult if we’re both had a tough day and we’re both feeling frustrated.
The instinct is to try to outdo each other about who had the worst day.
Stephanie: I can
play the abortion card.
Yahel: And she
always wins. I don’t try to have the competition. Waking up before the dawn has
even cracked to show up at the clinic is a lot more difficult then what I do,
which is basically being at a desk and playing with websites. Which can be
stressful, but it’s not as emotionally – it doesn’t take as big a toll on me as
it does on her. So there are days where it’s hard.
Stephanie: We need
our patients, who we do everything for, to stand up for us. Almost half of
women in the U.S. have had one abortion; if that’s true, where are these women?
Why don’t they stand up for us? There’s obviously a lot of silence around
abortion, but if doctors are going to be killed, people who aren’t in the
movement already … I need some patients to have my back. That’s what we wanted
to do with the website – these are real people.
We have a little form that we give patients when they come
back for their follow-up to write how their experience was, how the staff was.
One of the questions is, has this changed your view on abortion; and what would
you have done about your pregnancy if abortion wasn’t legal. And most people
say, I would have tried to have an abortion anyway. That is what scares me and
wakes me up every day. This is important. And I wish we did something more with
that; I don’t know what we could do, to make people more aware that women will
do this anyway.
I hope it stays legal; otherwise, I’ll have to be doing
illegal activities. But if I have to, I have to.