In my 14th week of pregnancy, I walked through a gauntlet of protesters at a women's health clinic in Minneapolis on a bright May morning. Some of the protesters surreptitiously followed a few of us women (and some accompanying men) into the clinic and took positions in the waiting room. They took out cameras. They took photos. They said things to each of us in the waiting room, until personnel from the clinic and some of the patients in the waiting room forced them to leave.
Then the protesters took up positions outside windows and continued to take photos. They held up signs. They yelled things.
Some of us cried.
Because I was in my second trimester, my procedure was a two-part procedure that took place over two appointments on consecutive days. The gauntlet of protesters was there the first day and the second day. They chanted and called me a murderer both times.
That is all I want to say about my own private abortion.
Four weeks later, my then-husband drove me to a hospital at five in the morning, and I underwent bilateral mastectomies. Sometime between the time he dropped me off and the time I awoke from surgery, my husband told our neighbors that he would be leaving our older daughter with them longer than we'd initially planned, and he told the same to the daycare provider who was caring for our nine-month-old baby girl. Then he packed some things and moved 300 miles away.
There were postsurgical complications; my husband had gone and I was in bad shape, so coworkers took turns visiting me and my former college roommate took a week's vacation to care for me at home.
I underwent three additional surgeries before my mother told me she wanted to stop intravenous nutrition and hydration. She was moved from hospital to hospice, and then back to the hospital again while the doctors and hospital administrators discussed her request and my support of her request. I pulled out her letters from the past few months to make copies for her doctors to demonstrate that she had never wanted her life prolonged by artificial means. She was moved back to hospice. The IV tube and gastric feeding tube were removed.
My mother died on July 18, 1988, just a day after my older daughter turned seven and two days after my fourth surgery. She was 52.
I underwent a couple additional surgeries. Five years later, there were more surgeries.
And that is all I want to say about breast cancer.
Last Tuesday evening, the citizens of North Carolina were informed that a two-page bill initially designed as an "anti-Sharia law bill" had suddenly and without warning been transformed into a seven-page "Faith, Family, and Freedom Protection Act" that placed restrictions on clinics that perform abortions. No other medical procedures were targeted -- not catheterizations, not endoscopies, not plastic surgery, not Botox injections. Just abortions. The intent, we were told, was to make abortions safer. No documentation was provided to prove that abortions were heretofore unsafe. No impact study was conducted.
In fewer than 12 hours, the news about the FFF Protection Act galvanized women and men from all over North Carolina to gather at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh to protest this heinous Trojan-horse tactic that was voted on the day before Independence Day, when most lawmakers had already left their offices to return to their home districts and their families for the holiday.
Women who packed the Senate gallery overlooking the Senate chambers and the women and men who packed the hallways outside the chambers on the second floor and gallery on the third floor were warned time and time again that they were not allowed to speak out against HB 695. Or make any audible noise whatsoever. Or make hand gestures. They were told that they should be quiet, be silent, and not indicate any disapproval. That they would not have a chance to ask questions. That the senators on the floor of the chambers were to be considered their voice, and theirs were the only voices that would be heard that morning.
There is no filibuster permitted in the N.C. General Assembly. There are no quorum rules. The bill was going to be voted on without input from North Carolina women, without testimony and facts from doctors and other healthcare providers, without consideration of dissent or impact.
When each of the senate Democrats who were able to attend the proceeding stood up to voice their opposition to the bill and the process by which it came to the floor for a vote the morning before Independence Day, they were dismissed. Time and time again, Republican senators responded to their colleagues' protests with statements that ran pretty much along the lines of, "Well, it wasn't fair when the Democrats did this to us, so you'll just have to take it."
At approximately 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, July 3, 29 state senators voted to pass the "Faith, Family, and Freedom Protection Act." Sixteen senators voted in opposition. The bill passed without a single Republican vote against it.
While women in the gallery and in the hallway outside the gallery and chambers spontaneously erupted in shouts of "Shame! Shame! Shame!," General Assembly police were instructed to silence them and remove them from the area. The women and men were threatened with arrest. One woman was arrested for continuing to shout "Shame! Shame! Shame!" even after she was approached by a police officer and a sergeant-at-arms.
Meanwhile, Sen. Andrew C. Brock (R-District 34; see his legislative voting history here) was recognized to speak on a "point of personal privilege." He stood and jocularly informed his fellow senators that watermelons from Brock's Farms in his home county had been delivered to each and every one of the lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly.
You could still hear chants of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" while he and his fellow senators heh-heh-heh'ed and clapped each other on the back for their hard work that day, topped off as it was by Sprite watermelons from Mocksville, North Carolina. Yes, from Mocksville.
Somewhere in North Carolina, a woman may be making a decision. A choice. Her choice. She may have just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Or she may believe she's too young or not ready to become a parent. She may have been raped. She may be in a relationship that's not safe for her. Her contraception may have failed. She may not have used contraception. She may cry. She may not.
None of that is the business of the North Carolina General Assembly, its lawmakers, the voters of North Carolina, her neighbors, her friends, the people who don't like her very much, or the people who think she's not capable of making decisions about her body or who or which licensed facility she should entrust with its care.
The reasons are hers. The choice is hers. That is the law.
Right up until it's not.
Until a government tells her that it's no longer her body, no longer her choice. That it doesn't care why she wants or needs to terminate a pregnancy. That if she wants to terminate her pregnancy, she will have to see a judge to get permission. Or go before a jury. Or travel hundreds of miles away to a state-approved facility, pay hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars out of her pocket, and take time from work to make this trip. And pay this money. And walk through the gauntlet of protesters. And sign all the papers. And struggle through all that it takes for her to claim her Constitutional right to make decisions about her own body.
And to cry if she wants to. Or not if she doesn't. But she cannot cry, or cry out, in the gallery of the North Carolina Senate while they vote on her future.
Who will sit in judgment of each and every women who chooses to exercise her Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy or not to terminate a pregnancy? Whom will the state charge with giving permission for each woman to access her Constitutional rights on a case-by-case basis? Will the N.C. Senate make each decision itself once the watermelon has been eaten and celebrated, after the back-slapping and high-fiving is over? Will people be appointed to sit in judgment, or will people be elected to make the decision?
Who's going to do all this? What will the criteria be, and who's going to determine the criteria? Who will oversee the various processes?
But we're not allowed to ask such questions. Not here in North Carolina, and not in any other state that's enacted restrictive anti-abortion laws and adopted discriminatory regulations that govern abortions but not Viagra dispensations nor skin-cancer removal nor treatment for idiopathic pyogenic granuloma.
We are told we must be silent. Not protest. Not as questions. Not demand answers. Just be silent.
That's all they want to say about your own private abortion: It won't be private any longer. We'll choose. You just sit there and cry, but do it quietly, because you aren't allowed to voice opposition to what we think is best for you.
Well. I don't think so.
Those of us who've been there, we've been silent long enough. Those who might be there one day, they have the right to speak out. Those who understand, who know, who believe ... they also must have a voice. Because we have things to say about this.
Rise up. Speak up. Cry it up, cry it out, cry it to the rafters or wherever else you want to direct your outrage and pain. Do not ever shut up. They cannot build jails big enough to contain our voices. Or to deny our choices.
Seven Concrete and Effective Ways to Take Action This Week
- Monday, July 8, at 5PM -- 10th Moral Monday at the N.C. General Assembly -- https://www.facebook.com/...
- Monday, July 8 at 7PM -- Phone Bank to Recruit for Actions to Support Women's Rights -- 100 South Boylan Street. To RSVP, contact [MsSpentyouth]
- Tuesday, July 9, at 9AM -- 'Women Are Watching' Rally to Stop HB695 at the Legislature -- https://www.facebook.com/...
- Tuesday, July 9, at 5:45PM -- 'Phone Bank to Protect Voting Rights' -- Democracy NC, 1821 Green Street in Durham. To RSVP, contact [MsSpentyouth]
- Tuesday, July 9, at 5:30PM -- 'Phone Bank to Protect Voting Rights' -- Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, (Fellowship Hall) 1801 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh. Bring a cell phone.
- Thursday, July 11, at 6:30PM -- 'Phone Bank to Protect Voting Rights' -- Weaver Street Reality, 116 E, Main Street in Carrboro. Bring a cell phone.
- ALL WEEK: Make calls to Protect Voting Rights at A. Philip Randolph Institute office, 1408 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, 11 am-8pm. Contact [MsSpentyouth] for shift details.
- ANYTIME, ANYWHERE: Online Virtual Phone Bank to Protect Voting Rights -- http://bit.ly/...
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