And now it seems that you can get an abortion over the Internet.

Abortion Pill

Abortion Pill

Years ago, I was in the middle of the effort to get “the abortion pill,” otherwise known as RU-486, approved for usage in the United States.  On several occasions, I was at the table with the investors who had put up a lot of money to get the product approved by the FDA, the pro-choice groups that desperately lobbied for it and the company that would ultimately distribute it.  The company was especially conscious about security, to the point where they had an office in Manhattan but no signs anywhere announcing its presence.  Ultimately, after years of struggle, we prevailed.

From the beginning, advocates of the pill championed it as another option for women who did not necessarily want to have surgery. They also, however, got a bit hyperbolic about its impact when they predicted that the pill would “revolutionize” women’s reproductive health.  Their thought was that additional physicians would come out of the woodwork and start prescribing this pill and that it would allow women to have abortions in the privacy of their own home.  The abortion providers, on the other hand, voiced concern that the product was being built up too much and warned that a doctor who had never been involved in the delivery of abortion services before would not suddenly start prescribing the abortion pill.  Today, the pill is being used by about 20% of women having abortions and we have not seen those doctors coming out of the woodwork, although some current abortion providers – particularly Planned Parenthood – have set up small offices where they only disperse the pill.

Abortion Pill

Abortion Pill

The bottom line is that the pill is a good option, but it is not for everyone.

And now, the pill is available on the Internet.  Yep, the other day I ran across a website named http://www.abortionpillonline.com  and, honestly, my first reaction was rather negative.  First of all, the website itself looks very cheesy, very amateurish.  Unlike the website of your average abortion provider, there was no hard information, like where they were located, what doctors were involved, etc.  I didn’t

Abortion Pill

Abortion Pill

see any phone numbers.   Heck, I didn’t even know what country this business was in until I emailed them and they told me that the product was made in India and distributed from India.

Now, I don’t know all the legalities here and I certainly am not accusing this group of being less than reputable.  But this just sounds too easy for me.  When it comes to any kind of medical care, everyone needs to be careful.  Let’s face it, no matter what the medical specialty, there’s always someone out there who is eager to cut corners and make the quick buck.  In the case of the abortion pill (which is actually two pills), there’s a lot more to it that just swallowing a pill.  For example, this website just distributes the pill, it does not offer any counseling which, for some women, is very important.  And it’s hard to predict how a woman will react once she starts the regimen, physically or emotionally.  What if there’s an issue in the middle of the night?  Who will she call?  There are so many potential issues that might require the advice of a real, accessible doctor or at least a nurse.

I’m glad that women have more access to abortion services via the pill.  Going to the Internet and just ordering a bunch of pills and swallowing them belies the seriousness of the abortion process.  It makes me nervous.

Mississippi

Mississippi.    

Is there a more pathetic state in the Union?   I mean, does anyone know of a state that is more regressive in terms of income, health, education, baseball teams?   Indeed, can you name a Third World country that is as bad as Mississippi?    

And, now, to push the state even further into the dark ages, their voters on Tuesday will probably pass a resolution that will totally outlaw abortion.  The specific question that the voters will be asked to approve says:  “Should the term ‘person’ be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof?”   Now I can’t imagine anyone in that state who knows what the term “thereof” means, but the gist of this measure is there will be no more abortions and lots more kids to add to the misery that is life in Mississippi.  Indeed, the person who is spearheading this effort, a guy named Les Riley, is the founder of “Personhood Mississippi” and he is the father of TEN children.  I guess old Les is hoping that others in his neck of the woods will bear the same number of kids, if not more, so they can get the classroom sizes up to at least 50 kids per room which would push their rate of academic achievement below that of Somalia.  Quite a role model, that Les!

The interesting thing about this resolution is that many “mainstream” pro-life groups actually oppose it because they are smart enough to realize that it is too extreme.  But, it ain’t too extreme for the Bubbas in Mississippi.  Indeed, outlawing abortion ain’t enough for these folks.  An analysis of the resolution shows that certain forms of birth control would be outlawed (thus creating even more children living in poverty) and it would limit in vitro fertilization.  But, for now, let’s stick to the abortion side of the equation. 

This is Johnny, oh wait, Marie, oh wait "it" has no sex yet.

When the measure passes, the next day Planned Parenthood will challenge it in court and the lower courts will grant an injunction prohibiting the measure from going into effect.  Here’s the thing, however.  Let’s say Mitt Romney (or one of the other Republican nominees) becomes President in 2013.  Despite his previous support for the right to choose, he has now courageously “seen the light” and is all of a sudden pro-life.  What a guy, a true Profile in Courage.  As President, he would be beholden to the pro-life movement and

sooner or later some more Supreme Court judges are going to kick the bucket.  That means that Romney (or, conversely, Obama) might get to make 2 or 3 appointments.  If it’s Romney, you know damn well he is going to appoint judges who are pro-life and that could tip the scales. 

Yes, many lawyers suggest that the court could not uphold a measure like this because of “legal precedent.”  That’s garbage.  It might have been the case years ago when our judicial system, not to mention the executive and legislative branches, were more deferential to their body’s previous actions but not anymore.  I am convinced that when the Supreme Court gets this (or any other) case, the justices, with the possible exception of Justice Kennedy, make up their minds immediately, then instruct their clerks to construct their rationalization.  If you think they sit there objectively, listening intently to the arguments of the learned counsel then come to a decision, you’re in La La land.  I mean, think about it.  Do you really think Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia would NOT find a way to uphold the Mississippi law?  

So, this case will ultimately make it to the Supreme Court in a few years.  And that makes the next Presidential election so extremely important when it comes to abortion rights.  I feel like we’ve been through this drill before, but this time it’s extremely serious. 

Women's History Month

Did you know that the month of March has been designated as “Women’s History Month?”

Isn’t that great! Aren’t you excited?

Okay, I confess. I didn’t know it either.  And, unless there was a way to connive a nice celebratory dinner out of my spouse, I probably would have totally ignored it.  But, when I think of it, maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe the advances and contributions made by women over the years is now such an endemic part of our culture that it no longer needs to be recognized by the President or whoever signed the friggin proclamation.  Still, as an award winning, internationally recognized blogger on women’s rights, I suppose I should take a minute and opine.

One thing I ain’t gonna do is talk about what legal abortion has done for women. I’ve written about that issue before. We all know by now the impact Roe v Wade had on women’s health and, yes, I know there is another human thing involved that is being killed/terminated/annihilated/whatever – but I’ve written about that also. So, let’s do something different and talk about the advances that have been made in women’s sexual health in general.

Remember how every once in a while a young girl in your high school just stopped coming to school for no apparent reason? Remember how the rumors started spreading around the cafeteria about how skinny, pimply faced Betty had “gotten herself into trouble.” The news would be communicated in whispers, rolling of the eyes, knowing nods of the head. Well, Betty had actually gotten herself pregnant!  Then, at some point Betty might come back all shiny and new and you would know that she had had an abortion, probably somewhere far from her town . Other times, however, Betty would not return at all.  It was all so sad.

Women's History Month

Then there was – dare I say it – masturbation.  We all did it and – dare I say it again – it was even fun. But in those days it was no less than a mortal sin. Maybe it still is (note to Pat:  check your Bible.)  But in those days we were constantly warned to not engage in that “self-defilement” or “self-abuse” because, if we did, then we would go blind, go gradually insane or, worse, hair would grow on our palms!  Things are a little different now, huh?

I remember in Catholic school how the nuns would try to convince the girls to retain their virginity until they got married. I remember a time when Sister Heloise showed a flower to the class and proceeded to slowly pick off all the petals, one by one. She then asked one of the girls to come up and replace the petals which, of course, she couldn’t do. “And it is equally impossible to get your virginity back,” was Sister Heloise’s stern warning. “What man wo

uld want a flower with no petals?” she asked the stunned crowd.  Oy vey.

Well, things have changed dramatically but, unfortunately, in some parts of this country we seem to be regressing when it comes to women’s sexual freedom. Of course, you’ve got the Tea Party and the other whackos to thank for that. Still, I am now sixty one years old and, despite some blips on the screen, there has been an incredible amount of change over the years. Ours is now a much healthier society in terms of not just the sexual lives of women but their professional lives as well.  Indeed, I won’t begin to bore you young folks out there about how women were treated in the workplace just a few years back. Actually, if you want an education go see some episodes of “Mad Men.” It’s all true.

Women are clearly in a much better place these days and, of course, more progress needs to be made. But I’ll leave those fights up to the next generation.

Senator Bob Packwood

I don’t know why, but this weekend I was thinking about Bob Packwood.

For those of you who don’t remember that name, Bob Packwood was the long-time U.S. Senator from the state of Oregon who was the first true Congressional “champion” for abortion rights.  Elected in 1968, he actually introduced legislation legalizing abortion before the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision.  Unfortunately, Packwood got absolutely no support for his legislation but the Court ultimately came forward enshrining this important right.

Once abortion was legalized, Packwood became the point person for the pro-choice movement.  He led the battles against the forces of evil that sought to restrict abortion rights, endearing himself to all of the pro-choice organizations.  At a time when even pro-choice legislators were running from the issue, Packwood stood alone.  He courageously stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and defended the rights of women to have abortions.  Of course, this also made him a target for virulent anti–abortion attacks, including hundreds of personal threats.

In the early 1980’s, Packwood was the lead pro-choice strategist in the fight against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have overturned Roe v Wade.  As the chief lobbyist for the National Abortion Rights Action League at the time, I (along with my pro-choice colleagues) met with Packwood regularly as we discussed our vote counts, field strategy, how to talk to the media, etc.  At one point, despite the fact that it looked like we would easily defeat the measure, Packwood suggested that he filibuster the proposal.  We could not say no to him, so we went along with him, letting him have his day in the spotlight.  Indeed, when we suggested that we could get other Senators to join him, he demurred, saying he could do it alone.  So, we watched him read the U.S. Constitution with a catheter attached to his leg.

Ultimately, we handily defeated the constitutional amendment and today I have hanging on my wall a copy of that day’s Congressional Record signed by Senator Bob Packwood.  It was a truly historic vote and the greatest victory ever experienced by the pro-choice forces on Capitol Hill.

Throughout this time, however, there were always rumblings that Packwood was having affairs with several women.  He was indeed an attractive, articulate man who no doubt was approached by numerous aggressive women.  In fact, I

Younger Senator Packwood

remember the more cynical feminists suggesting that he was leading the way on abortion rights merely to get laid.  I never had that impression, but it unfortunately was out there.  I should add for a fact that one of my best friends confided in me that she had had an affair with Packwood.

Then, in November 1992, the Washington Post ran a story detailing the claims of sexual abuse and assault by ten women, mostly former staff people and lobbyists.  In September 1995, he resigned from the U.S. Senate in disgrace.  He then disappeared from sight for many years.

In 1998, when I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, we were planning a 25th anniversary party for Roe V Wade in Washington, D.C. and we decided to invite all of the pro-choice “heroes.”  My old friend, Susan Hill, suggested that we invite Packwood.  I ran it by some others and got very mixed reactions so Susan simply said that she would bring him as her date.  Personally, I was thrilled because, despite his private behavior, he was our champion for many years.

He came that night to the Mayflower Hotel, handsomely clad in his tuxedo.  When I ran into him in the hallway outside the ballroom, he appeared very nervous, it being the first time in many years that he would be with his former friends and colleagues.  He thanked me profusely for “inviting” him and I actually escorted him into the room.  Much to my delight, he was immediately surrounded by well wishers, old friends and the generally curious.  He was back in his element.

I do recall, however, that three or four female clinic owners were so offended that Packwood was there that walked out of the party in disgust.  That, of course, was their decision but I personally felt like it was a bit of an overreaction.  Still, it was their right although they missed one hell of a party.

In later years, Bob Packwood came back to Capitol Hill where he made some serious bucks as a lobbyist for numerous corporate interests.  I haven’t seen him for years.

What Packwood did totally sucked, there was no excuse for his personal conduct.  On the other hand, he was the only one there when we needed a champion.  I wish him well.

Thank You!

Today is “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.”

It is a day where supporters of abortion rights acknowledge, in some way, the contributions of their local abortion providers (doctors, staff and/or owners).  When I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers years ago, it was encouraging to see pro-choicers across the country sending flowers, making calls of support or finding other ways to acknowledge the contributions of abortion providers.   Until then, there always seemed to be a chasm between those who were “pro-choice” and those who were part of the actual abortion process.

This day – March 10 – was selected as “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day” because in 1993 on this date, Doctor David Gunn became the first abortion doctor to be killed by a pro-life activist.  Doctor Gunn was approaching the back door of the Pensacola Medical Services, one of the many clinics down south where he worked, when a man named Michael Griffin walked up to him and shot him several times at point blank range.  Doctor Gunn died instantly.  Ironically, there was a gun for protection in David’s glove compartment.

I got the call about two hours later.  In many ways, I wasn’t shocked.  Those of us in the abortion provider community had seen the harassment, the threats, the stalking, the butyric acid attacks and, yes, the bombings, escalate over the years.  We knew it was just a matter of time before someone went all the way and killed one of our doctors.  When it finally happened, it was national news, the front story in all the newspapers and the network news.

A year later, someone came up with the idea of using March 10 for something positive, versus wallowing in despair over David’s murder.  Instead, it was suggested that one way to honor him was to honor those who followed in his footsteps.  So, groups like the Fund for the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women got their troops to inundate the clinics with thank you calls and notes.  Some actually held vigils outside the clinics with signs thanking those inside.  It was all very gratifying and I know that our doctors and clinic staff really appreciated the efforts.

So, today I just want to use my moment to once again thank those doctors who walk into the clinic every day knowing that someone could walk up behind them with a gun.  As we saw in the case of the late George Tiller, these doctors can find no sanctuary from the violence.  Just imagine for a second the feeling of going to your office knowing you could be gone in an instant.  Think about the security guard at the Birmingham All Women’s clinic who walked up the pathway to open up the facility, only to be blown up by an explosive device planted by Eric Rudolph.  Or Baird Britton, driving up to The Ladies Center in Pensacola in 1994, seeing Mr. Paul Hill, a regular presence at the clinic, walk up to him with a shotgun, blasting away.  I could go on and on.

And these doctors and staff are putting themselves into these life-threatening situations because a handful of women made an appointment at the clinic a few days earlier after making the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy.  No one forced those women to make that call, they did it on their own volition.  And, as history has shown us, if these doctors were not there for these women, many of those women would have resorted to other, unsafe measures.

Kudos to the doctors, the staff, the owners and their families for being there.

Abortion Dunkle

Abortion Dunkle with a sign, he burned an American flag he said to honor a convicted murderer.

This is what a Dunkle looks like on FaceBook.

John, get with the program and Join!!

Almost one year ago, Doctor George Tiller was murdered in Wichita, Kansas.  This event garnered national headlines and this week pro-choice groups are honoring his memory.   I knew George Tiller well and have already expressed my thoughts about him (see above).    But a few months after he was killed, another pro-choice leader died and her death did not attract as much attention as Doctor Tiller’s murder.   Her name was Susan Hill.

The first time I saw Susan Hill was at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Abortion Rights Action League.  When she walked into a room, she literally lit up the place.  A vivacious blond with a warm southern accent, she could charm the heck out of you.  But if you crossed her, she could cut your lungs out.

Susan was the owner of several abortion clinics scattered throughout the country.  For the most part, she placed her clinics in areas where women needed access to abortion services, places like Fargo, North Dakota, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Jackson, Mississippi.  Ultimately, because they were so isolated, these clinics became the target of very intense anti-abortion activity.  I still have a picture in my mind of Susan,  in high heels and short skirt, standing defiantly in front of the doorway of her Fort Wayne clinic facing hundreds of protestors who were blocking access to her clinic.  Meanwhile, her clinic in Fargo was regularly covered in the national press because of the constant protests, death threats, bombings and other forms of harassment.

Years after I met her at NARAL, she asked me if I would help form the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.  Her reasoning was that, while there were other pro-choice groups in Washington, D.C., the abortion providers needed their own person on Capitol Hill representing their particular interests.  As she often said to me, “the groups are great at defending ‘choice,’ but when it comes to abortion they disappear pretty quickly.”

Working through NCAP, Susan and several other key abortion providers helped pass the first federal law protecting doctors, staff and women seeking access to abortion.  Indeed, when President Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act into law, she was there.   When the bullets started flying,  Susan bravely became a face of the providers, never shying away from going on a television show to talk (proudly) about what she did for a living.   She testified before the Congress, she met with the Attorney General to demand protection for her and her colleagues, and she put her money where her mouth was, always ready to make a contribution to a pro-choice cause.

She had one of the finest political minds of anyone I’ve ever met.  But we wouldn’t just talk about politics.  We talked about baseball (she was once married to a professional player), movies, books and even our love lives.  She was a brilliant strategist and an above average golfer.  And she could demonstrate a heart of gold.  When my father died a few days before Easter, I drove down to Myrtle Beach for the ceremony and stopped at her house on the way back home.  Knowing I had been preoccupied over the last few days, she presented me with two Easter baskets for my young boys.

About twenty years ago, her twin sister, Nancy, died of breast cancer.  It was a terrible experience for Susan and she literally disappeared for two years helping Nancy through the ordeal.  Then, about two years ago, I got the horrible news that Susan had contracted the same deadly disease.  Unfortunately, she cut off all communication with her friends for fear that the anti-abortion movement would find out that she was dying and try to exploit the situation.  As far as I know, they never found out.   Unfortunately, that meant that I never got the chance to say goodbye to my dear old friend.

Goodbye, my friend.