Attorney/Clinic Escort/Self-Described Male Feminist Speaks Out on Abortion and Contraception

Sarah Erdreich

I really feel that we're continually fighting a rearguard here. Obama has maintained the status quo (probably) on the Supreme Court. I don't see a Freedom of Choice Act passing anytime soon. The anti-choicers are out to stop contraception generally, not just abortion, because pregnancy is supposed to be God's punishment for "easy women." Combined with Dr. Tiller's murder and the generally lukewarm response, along with the lack of training for new doctors in abortion care, I worry that we're going to be seeing a further decline in availability for quite some time.

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 

In the second of three interviews to be published on Rewire, Sarah Erdreich talks to Noah



Schabacker, Attorney and Clinic Escort

Noah Schabacker: It wasn’t until I came to law school that I specifically
applied the label “feminist” to myself, despite the fact that I had been
involved in some pro-choice work in college. [It was] mostly ad hoc: supporting
Take Back the Night marches, helping campus NARAL when anti-choice protestors
would come to demonstrate. I “organized” a counter-protest when Operation Save
America came to harass abortion providers in Boulder. I say “organize” because
the turnout ended up being … me and my mom. Nobody else wanted to come out, and
the various state NARAL/NOW/etc. chapters hadn’t wanted to organize anything
because of their concerns about a “hot” media environment.

Applying that label, and thinking about my role as a male feminist,
caused me to worry about how much of a leadership role I would be willing to
take on in feminist work inside and outside law school. I feel fairly strongly
that feminism is a women’s movement, and that male feminists have an obligation
not to replicate patriarchal leadership structures in that movement. In
practice, that means that I see my role as someone who takes direction, rather
than providing direction. It’s not my place to set goals for a feminist group I
may be a part of, but instead to implement the goals set by the feminist group
(maybe with my input, maybe not – depends on the decision-making structure, the
leadership roles, etc.).

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Escorting at an abortion clinic fits well with this. I
escort in Metro-accessible suburban Maryland, where there’s a need for more
escorts. I help to make sure that the anti-choice protestors obey the law – stay
off clinic property, don’t obstruct patients’ access, don’t come back and
harass clinic staff.

The experience itself is mainly one of making small talk
with our fellow escorts (there are four escorts there every weekend, two for
each parking lot entrance) while keeping an eye on the anti-choicers who cluster
at the driveway entrances. We’re lucky to be working at a clinic in the
suburbs, because it means that the clinic is on a fairly large commercial property
with a large parking lot. The anti-choice protesters aren’t allowed to come
onto that property, so we mainly have to stop them from blocking the driveway
when they try to talk to people in cars that are pulling into or out of the
driveway.

We know the names of most of the anti-choice protestors, and
they are pretty uniformly Catholic. Some of them are nasty (being very
aggressive and mean when they need to deal with us), and others are calm and
nice. They have the misleading gory signs that purport to show what an aborted fetus
looks like (lots of blood, lots of recognizable body parts), as well as more
pleasant signs that advertise for crisis pregnancy centers, or starkly claim
that “It’s a child, not a choice!” or that “Abortion stops a beating heart.” We
chuckle when the wind picks up one of those signs and blows it into the street.
The hardest part of the experience is dressing appropriately for the seasons: It
can be bitterly cold in the winter, standing in one place for two hours
starting at 8:00 am, and it can be beastly hot during the summer.

[Escorting] demands a non-confrontational approach – no
patient wants to be in the middle of two ideological opponents screaming at
each other – and instead focusing on what the patient needs, which is to be
bothered as little as possible by liars brandishing misleading or downright
false information about a medical procedure that is a marker for a number of
important feminist milestones in society (women controlling their own
reproduction, women making decisions about their own health, healthcare access
– these are all realized imperfectly in American society, but it is meaningful
that women can access them at all).

Anti-choice legislators and judges have been very successful
in limiting access to abortion in ways that doesn’t formally outlaw it, but
makes it practically impossible to access for non-white/non-urban/non-middle-class-and-above
women. Waiting periods, forbidding the government to pay for abortion through
Medicaid, placing onerous restrictions on clinics and doctors, requiring
parental consent: all of these make it more difficult for women who do not have
job-guaranteed leave, or the money to travel to a faraway clinic, or who cannot
afford two visits to the doctor, or who cannot tell their parents about their
need for an abortion. My fear is that we will see abortion remain a legal in a
formal sense, but completely inaccessible in a practical sense.

I really feel that we’re
continually fighting a rearguard here. Obama has maintained the status quo
(probably) on the Supreme Court. I don’t see a Freedom of Choice Act passing
anytime soon. The anti-choicers are out to stop contraception generally, not
just abortion, because pregnancy is supposed to be God’s
 punishment for "easy women." Combined with Dr. Tiller’s
murder and the generally lukewarm response, along with the lack of training for
new doctors in abortion care, I worry that we’re going to be seeing a further
decline in availability for quite some time.

With respect to the current state of the law, I think that Planned Parenthood v. Casey505 U.S. 833 (1992), is the most important case in
terms of setting the terms of how judicial battles over abortion unfold. Casey
 affirmed
"Roe’s central holding," that women are entitled to a
choice on abortion. However, Casey also extended an open-ended
invitation to anti-choice extremists to attempt to constrain and limit choice
in significant ways, to the extent that women are formally allowed to choose,
while in practice only affluent, white, mobile/urban women are able to choose.

Culture & Conversation Abortion

The Comic Book That Guided Women Through Abortion Months After ‘Roe’

Sam Meier

Abortion Eve used the stories of fictional girls and women to help real ones understand their options and the law. At the same time the comic explained how to access abortion, it also asserted that abortion was crucial to women's health and liberation.

“Can you picture a comic book on abortion on the stands next to Superman?”

In June 1973, Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli wrote to the National Organization for Women in Chicago, asking this question of their “dear sisters” and pushing them to envision a world where women’s experiences could be considered as valiant as the superhero’s adventures. They enclosed a copy of their new comic book, Abortion Eve.

Published mere months after the Supreme Court’s January 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Abortion Eve was intended to be a cheap, effective way to inform women about the realities of abortion. Like the few other contemporaneous comic books dealing with abortion, Abortion Eve‘s primary purpose was to educate. But for a comic dominated by technical information about surgical procedures and state laws, Abortion Eve nonetheless manages to be radical. Though abortion had so recently been illegal—and the stigma remained—the comic portrays abortion as a valid personal decision and women as moral agents fully capable of making that decision.

The comic follows five women, all named variations of “Eve,” as counselor Mary Multipary shepherds them through the process of obtaining abortions. Evelyn is an older white college professor, Eva a white dope-smoking hippie, Evie a white teenage Catholic, Eve a working Black woman, and Evita a Latina woman. Evelyn, Eve, and Evita are all married and mothers already.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Their motivations for getting an abortion differ, too. Evita and Eve, for instance, wish to protect themselves and their loved ones by keeping their families smaller. Sixteen-year-old Evie is the poster child for sexual naiveté. Pregnant after her first time having sex, she spends most of the comic wrestling with guilt. “It’s all so ugly!” she exclaims. “I thought sex was supposed to be beautiful!”

Teenager Evie, one of the characters in the comic book Abortion Eve, breaks down as counselor Mary Multipary asks questions about her pregnancy. (Joyce Farmer)

Nonplussed, the older Eves talk her through her choices. As Eve reminds her, “Like it or not, you are a woman now, and you are going to have to decide.”

In an interview with Rewire, Farmer said that the plot of Abortion Eve was a direct outgrowth of her and Chevli’s experiences in the nascent women’s health movement. Both women had started working as birth control and “problem pregnancy” counselors at the Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California, soon after it opened in 1970. Archival documents at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute show that Chevli and Farmer visited Los Angeles abortion providers in December 1972, on a business trip for the Free Clinic. According to Farmer, one of the doctors they met approached the pair with the idea of doing a comic about abortion to publicize his clinic.

Earlier that year, the women had produced one of the first U.S. comic books written, drawn, and published by women, Tits & Clits alpha (the “alpha” distinguished the comic from subsequent issues). So they took the doctor’s idea and ran with it. They decided to use their newly founded comics publishing company, Nanny Goat Productions, to educate women, particularly teenagers, about abortion.

At the Free Clinic, Chevli and Farmer had seen all kinds of women in all kinds of situations, and Abortion Eve attempts to reflect this diversity. As Farmer noted in an interview, she and Chevli made sure that the Eves were all different races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to demonstrate that all kinds of women get abortions.

Farmer had made the choice to get an abortion herself, when her IUD failed in 1970. The mother—of a 12-year-old son—who was putting herself through college at the University of California at Irvine, she decided that she couldn’t afford another child.

California had liberalized its abortion laws with the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967, but the law was still far from truly liberal. Before Roe, California women seeking abortions needed doctors (a gynecologist and two “specialists in the field”) to submit recommendations on their behalf to the hospital where the abortion would take place. Then, a committee of physicians approved or denied the application. Only women who could pay for therapeutic abortions—those needed for medical reasonscould get them.

For Farmer, as for so many others, the process was onerous. After an hour, the psychiatrist who had interviewed her announced that she would not be eligible, as she was mentally fit to be a mother. Stunned, Farmer told the doctor that if he denied her an abortion, she would do it herself. Taking this as a suicide threat, her doctor quickly changed his mind. She wrote later that this experience began her political radicalization: “I was astounded that I had to prove to the state that I was suicidal, when all I wanted was an abortion, clean and safe.”

Farmer and Chevli began work on Abortion Eve before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in many states. After the Supreme Court’s decision, they added a page for “more info” on the ruling. Yet even as they celebrated Roe, the women weren’t yet sure what would come of it.

The comic reflects a general confusion regarding abortion rights post-Roe, as well as women’s righteous anger over the fight to gain those rights. On the day of her abortion, for example, Evita tells Eve that, at five months pregnant, she just “slipped in” the gestational limits during which women could have abortions.

Eve explains that women now have the right to an abortion during the first three to six months of a pregnancy, but that the matter is far from settled in the courts. After all, Roe v. Wade said that states did have some interest in regulating abortion, particularly in the third trimester.

“I get mad when they control my body by their laws!” Eve says. “Bring in a woman, an’ if the problem is below her belly button and it ain’t her appendix, man—you got judges an’ lawyers an’ priests an’ assorted greybeards sniffin’ an’ fussin’ an’ tellin’ that woman what she gonna do an’ how she gonna do it!”

Abortion Eve Dialogue

Abortion Eve confronts the reality that abortion is a necessity if women are to live full sexual lives. Writing to the underground sex magazine Screw in September 1973 to advertise the comic, Chevli noted, “Surely if [your readers] screw as much as we hope, they must have need for an occasional abortion—and our book tells all about it.”

Six months after they published the comic, in December 1973, Chevli and Farmer traveled to an Anaheim rally in support of Roe outside the American Medical Association conference. They were met by a much larger group of abortion opponents. Chevli described the scene in a letter to a friend:

300 to 8. We weren’t ready, but we were there. Bodies … acquiescing, vulnerable females, wanting to show our signs, wanting to be there, ready to learn. Oh, Christ. Did we learn. It was exhausting. It was exciting. We were enervated, draged [sic] around, brung up, made to feel like goddesses, depressed, enlightened … bunches of intangible things. I have rarely experienced HATE to such a massive extent. 

That wasn’t the last feedback that Chevli and Farmer received about their views on abortion. In fact, during the course of Nanny Goat’s publishing stint, the majority of complaints that the independent press received had to do with Abortion Eve. Several self-identified Catholics objected to the “blasphemous” back cover, which featured MAD Magazine‘s Alfred E. Neuman as a visibly pregnant Virgin Mary with the caption: “What me worry?”

As archival documents at the Kinsey Institute show, other critics castigated Chevli and Farmer for setting a bad example for young women, failing to teach them right from wrong. One woman wrote them a letter in 1978, saying “You have not only wasted your paper, time, money, but you’ve probably aided in the decision of young impressionable girls and women who went and aborted their babies.”

Farmer and Chevli responded to such charges by first thanking their critics and then explaining their reasons for creating Abortion Eve. In another response, also in the Kinsey archives, Chevli wrote, “Whether abortion is right or wrong is not our concern because we do not want to dictate moral values to others. What we do want to do is educate others to the fact that abortion is legal, safe, and presents women with a choice which they can make.”

Today, abortion opponents like Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (R) frame abortion as the “dismemberment” of unborn children, suggesting that women who seek abortions are, in essence, murderers. With Abortion Eve, Chevli and Farmer dared to suggest that abortion was and is an integral part of women’s social and sexual liberation. Abortion Eve is unapologetic in asserting that view. The idea that abortion could be a woman’s decision alone, made in consultation with herself, for the good of herself and of her loved ones, is as radical an idea today as it was in the 1970s.

Roundups Politics

At Iowa Forum, Democratic Candidates Weigh in on Campus Sexual Assault, Hyde Amendment

Ally Boguhn

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them.

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them. 

The Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, which bills itself as the “oldest minority-focused presidential forum,” was hosted by news outlet Fusion and offered the candidates a chance to sit down and answer questions without interruptions from their fellow candidates.

The night’s line of questioning hit on everything from Kim Kardashian’s selfie strategies to more serious discussions of how each candidate’s platforms—including those related to sex education, abortion rights, immigration, higher education, gun control, and criminal justice reform, to name just a few—relate to issues of race, gender, and class

In this election season, debate moderators, sponsors, and even party leaders have continuously faced criticism for failing to provide voters with an unbiased and well-informed account of the candidates’ platforms. Through a series of tough questions and follow-ups on a number of issues typically excluded by the debates, Monday’s forum illustrated how journalists can better push candidates to answer to the issues that matter to the public.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Here are some of the night’s highlights:

Bernie Sanders Spoke Out Against Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

Bernie Sanders kicked off the night with the first round of moderator and audience questioning—including an inquiry from a student about whether he would continue to fund abstinence-based sexual education should he be elected.

“Let me start off by saying something very radical,” Sanders replied. “I am a United States senator who believes in science and who believes in facts.”

“I think when we have too much unwanted pregnancy, I think that obviously women have the right to get the contraceptives that they need. When sexuality is an intrinsic part of human life, we should not run away from it,” he continued. When it comes to sex education, he concluded, “We should explain biology and sexuality to our kids on a factual basis. Period.”

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report surveying the policies and practices of schools throughout the country, finding that less than half of high schools and one fifth of middle schools are teaching all of the sexual health topics recommended by the CDC, such as how to use and obtain condoms and other forms of contraception.

Sanders Called for a “Serious National Discussion” on Campus Sexual Assault

Sanders answered questions about campus sexual assault during the forum, calling for a “serious national discussion” on the matter.

“Rape and assault is rape or assault, whether it takes place on a campus or on a dark street. And if a student rapes a fellow student, that has got to be understood to be a very serious crime,” said Sanders.

“It has got to get outside of the school and have a police investigation. And that has got to take place. Too many schools now are seeing this as, ‘Well it’s a student issue, let’s deal with it.’ I disagree with that,” the senator continued, explaining that schools should treat rape seriously by turning over their investigations to police.

When moderator Alicia Menendez followed up by asking Sanders about whether he supported affirmative consent policies and bystander programs, the Democratic presidential candidate responded with a simple “of course I do,” noting that it was time to have a “serious national discussion about sexuality” and consent.

But not everybody was onboard with Sanders’ plan to turn over cases of rape on campus directly to law officials.

In a post for Feministing urging Sen. Sanders to revisit his position, senior editor Alexandra Brodsky, who co-founded Know Your IX, an organization that works to end sexual violence on campus, explained that “school responses to gender violence are necessary to protect students’ right to an education regardless of gender.”

Absolutely, it’s essential that students who feel like reporting to the police is best for them be able to do so,” explained Brodsky. “At the same time, school remedies, like dorm changes and tutoring, are crucially important for a survivor’s ability to learn. That’s why the anti-discrimination law Title IX requires schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault in addition to, not in place of, criminal law enforcement,” she continued.

Although higher education has consistently been an important part of Sander’s platform, the candidate has largely not engaged the issue of sexual violence on campuses—despite rival Hillary Clinton releasing her own platform on the issue, calling for increased prevention efforts and resources for survivors.

Martin O’Malley: No Situations Where a Man Should Be Able to Tell a Woman What to Do With Her Body

One of Martin O’Malley’s brightest moments of the night did not come until the end of his time with the forum, when he plainly asserted the autonomy of all women.

Responding to a moderator’s question in the “rapid fire” round about under “what scenario, if any, should a man ever be able to tell a woman what to do with her body,” O’Malley paused briefly before replying, “no scenario.”

During his time as mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley went on the record as “pro-choice” and earned a 100 percent rating from the Maryland chapter of NARAL, according to CBS News. His universal health care plan also includes a promise to “support universal access to reproductive health care” in order to help people “make the best possible choices for themselves and their future.”

Hillary Clinton Reasserted Support for Repealing the Hyde Amendment

Hillary Clinton once again pushed support for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which overwhelmingly limits government funding for abortion, telling the forum moderators that the restriction inhibits many low-income and rural women from accessing care.

“[The Hyde Amendment] is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion,” said Clinton.

“But if state governments, if politicians, use their power to try to restrict that right, well-off people are still going to have it. You know, we know that.  But a lot of poorer women, rural women, isolated far from a place where they can get services, are going to be denied,” Clinton explained, detailing how poor women are disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions, such as Hyde, which make cost a barrier to abortion care.

Last night wasn’t the first time Clinton has voiced her opposition to Hyde. Although the former secretary of state made headlines earlier this week for speaking out against the restriction on abortion funding while accepting Planned Parenthood’s endorsement in New Hampshire over the weekend, her campaign confirmed to Rewire in 2008 that Clinton was against the Hyde Amendment.

Clinton Called Criminal Justice Reform a Top Priority for the Next President

When asked by Fusion contributor and debate moderator Akilah Hughes how she would prove that Black lives matter as president, Clinton detailed the importance of reforming the criminal justice system, including policing and incarceration, and addressing institutional racism.

Criminal justice reform, policing reform, incarceration reform—and I believe strongly that this has to be the highest priority of the president,” Clinton explained, outlining her intentions to build on President Obama’s work on the matter.

Pointing to the system as it currently stands, Clinton called out the ways that institutional racism contradicts U.S. values. “It is such a violation of what we say our values are, you know, ‘equal before the law,’” Clinton explained. “Well, we have systemic racism and bias that is implicit in our system, and unless we begin to go after that and expose it and end it we won’t solve this problem.”

In her almost four-minute-long case for criminal justice reform, Clinton went on to call for the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline, emphasizing the need for more investment in education and jobs for inner-city and rural communities.

Clinton’s mass incarceration reform agenda has been a priority for the candidate on the campaign trail for much of the last year, although she has had what have been described as “tense” meetings with Black Lives Matter activists.

In late October, Clinton released a comprehensive criminal justice reform platform, which included her intentions to push legislation to end racial profiling and for fairer drug sentencing.

Sanders has also voiced support for criminal justice reform, calling the number of incarcerated persons in the United States an “international embarrassment” and saying that reforming it is “one of the most important things that a president of the United States can do.”