A Note From Martha Plimpton
Today, the brilliant and funny and smart video made by Jane Lynch for A is For was released. Not surprisingly, it got more attention than the previous ones we had made. And we were very glad of that. (We’d still like to see it get around more, btw, hint hint!) But because it reached a wider audience, which we were hoping for, it also attracted the attention of a well known right wing website. This site reaches a huge audience. As soon as they posted about our campaign, almost immediately, a deluge of hateful, vile, and harassing tweets started showing up on our feeds on Twitter. Our website was also attacked, as will happen from time to time.
The tweets I personally received as a result of this post ranged from the ridiculous to the hateful. Some of them called me a baby killer. Many of them called me evil. Some said they were looking forward to my going to Hell. You know, blah blah. Most of them called me names, from the silly to the disgusting. And all of them missed the point.
I don’t want you to think this was just a matter of a few nut jobs. No. This is what women are up against. These people who tweet these disgusting things are merely the Id of a large and very vocal segment of our population. And we need to take it seriously. We need to care. And we need to speak up about it. Rather than be afraid of these awful people, I have chosen to be inspired by them. Because the last thing I want to do when someone tells me to shut up is comply.
And I know I’m not alone. Even though some days it feels like an impossibly Sisyphean struggle, I know we’re not crazy. But we need to show these people that they are outnumbered. The ignorant politicians who don’t even know how a woman’s body works, let alone why we need these essential services like abortion care, birth control, etc., are stoking the flames of ignorance in our population. And they need to be made aware that it’s not going to work. I don’t care what your politics are, when women can’t even talk about their rights without being harassed, everyone needs to stand up and be counted. This is where you, my friends, come in. Because I’m not writing this to change anyone’s minds. I know that we’re polarized and that I’m preaching to the choir here. But you know what? Sometimes the choir gets tired. So I want to rile you up.
Many of you have stepped up and supported our efforts since the beginning, and we count on each and every one of you as you continue to show your support for what we’re trying to do. It’s made everything we’ve done so far possible, and without your help, we wouldn’t be able to do any of it. But some of you haven’t been quite as vocal, or quite as ready to share our posts or updates, or quite as willing to wear on your lapels or purses or dresses, every day, the symbol of unity we are trying to make mainstream and recognizable. Just let me say this: I get it. It’s not everyone’s style to get on a bandwagon. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea to wear their beliefs on the outside. And it’s early yet. You don’t see other people wearing them, how can you be sure we’re the real thing? That we’re here to stay? That we even know what we’re doing? I get it. I really understand. I’ve felt the same way about people asking me to wear something I’m not sure I identify with, that I’m not sure I can commit to in that way.
But I want to make an appeal, and suggest to anyone who might still be feeling some reticence about openly showing support for women’s health and reproductive rights by wearing the scarlet A, that you try it. That’s all. Just try it. Yes, it might start a conversation you don’t feel ready to have. Or it might not go with your outfit that day. But just give it a shot. Wear it everywhere you go for a couple weeks, and then tell me if it doesn’t somehow change the way women’s reproductive rights are perceived and talked about in your world, among your friends and co-workers, the people you meet at the store or the strangers you talk to at parties. See what happens. Because that is how things change. With people making one small effort, one minor adjustment, the ripples reach farther than we realize. And slowly but surely, everybody knows that someone they love, like, or just talked to for a minute or two, cares enough about women’s right to control their own physical lives to make it a part of their daily life even in this tiny way. Before you know it, when we’re all walking down the street or going to work, we might see someone we’ve never met who, we can see immediately, is fighting with us. That we’re part of a larger community. That we are all in this together. And that we have ways of making ourselves heard, even if we can’t make that march or volunteer at that clinic or whatever it is we don’t have the time to do because we have to live our lives, too.
It’s been a while since death from illegal abortion was commonplace in this country. And we have thousands of people and years of progress before today to thank for that. So we’ve forgotten what’s at stake when we try to suppress women’s natural need to make their own decisions. But it still happens. All you have to do is read the International section of your paper to know what’s going on for women in Egypt and Pakistan and Indonesia, for example. But it happens here, too, believe it or not. Even now, even in our modern, Western world, even in the United States of America, women without access to basic reproductive health care suffer terrible consequences from back alley abortion, misuse of prescription medications procured illegally, or as the result of terminations delayed too long because of the difficulty in obtaining decent medical care from a professional. In some states, an abortion is harder to obtain than a job. And jobs right now are pretty scarce, as we all know. But they come in handy when people are forced to have kids they can’t take care of or aren’t ready for or don’t want. (Lack of abortion and reproductive health care always disproportionately effects poor women.)
Only twelve percent (12%) of US counties have an abortion provider. You read that right. (When I tell another woman who considers herself informed that very figure, it invariably leaves her agape and amazed. See, we aren’t paying attention, sad to say.) But 1 in 3 women will have an abortion at some point in her life. Think about that. Then do the math. This isn’t about luxury. This isn’t about some rare procedure that a woman can get if she really puts her mind to it or has the money. This is something 1 in 3 women feel they must do, and will do, at any cost. So, rich women will travel. Poor women will die.
This also isn’t about someone you don’t know. Chances are, if you’re straight, you know more women who’ve had abortions than you know gay people. Think about how many LGBT people you know and love and see every day. Think about how important it is to you that they have access to equal protection under the law, that they be recognized as full and wholly vested citizens with all the rights and privileges contained in our Constitution. Now remember that one in three women in your life is considered a soulless, conscienceless criminal by a huge margin, too large a margin, of our society. And if those who believe this get their way, those same women that you cherish and love will be considered criminals under the law as well. One in three women who’ve proudly stood alongside their LGBT family and friends, who’ve worn the red ribbon for AIDS awareness and the rainbow for Equality, would go to jail (at least according to the lawmakers who say they favor such laws, two of whom are running for the highest offices in the land) for what they’ve done in secret: they had an abortion. And most of them would say they’re not ashamed of their choice, nor do they regret it. But they look to you for allegiance, just as you have looked to them. Allegiance, knowing your friends have your back, lets you know you’re not alone and makes you more willing to speak up for yourself. This is a lesson we all learned together in the 80s, and we are having to learn it again now not only in the fight for equality in spousal rights, but in the right to terminate a pregnancy without risking our own deaths.
Think about “conscience clauses,” which make it possible for an employer or health care provider to deny women abortion care or prescription birth control, or the coverage for either, if they feel it goes against their “beliefs.” What would your world be like if these laws were to apply to you as well? Well, they could. And they do already on paper in several states. How hard would it be to then deny an HIV positive person, or a person with diabetes or heart disease or any other so-called “self-induced” illness, medication on those same grounds? “You made the mistake of acting against God’s will, why should I have to pay for it?” You see, we all suffer under these laws, but so far, they have disproportionately been applied against women seeking to exercise their right to control their own bodies. There is something out of whack here. In a way we haven’t seen in generations, women’s physical rights are the testing ground for legal limits that can and could be placed on all of us, because somebody else doesn’t like the way we live, or the choices we’ve made, or who we are.
This isn’t just a media-contrived situation, designed to get us all hot and bothered. It’s not just an election year ruse. No. There has been a steady encroachment on women’s physical rights going on under our noses for the last ten years, at least. And while we’ve had our eyes closed to it, people who believe women should be forced to procreate against their will have been making small and large gains across the country, in states we don’t live in, in places we think are far, far away from us. Places like Mississippi, and South Dakota, and Alabama (to name only three) where legislation proposed on a state level becomes the model for that which often surreptitiously but significantly appears in federal bills. And we didn’t even see it coming. Well, we see it coming now. We have no excuses for closing our eyes anymore. These laws affect us, whether we live in Des Moines or Pittsburgh or Natchez or New York.
Abortion care is a necessity. It is a reality of women’s health care, just like any other medical need. And it is a right that women not only be able to obtain abortion, or reproductive health care of EVERY KIND, but that they be able to speak about it as well. That women are able to stand up for themselves without being threatened, harassed, or maligned is not only a sign of a civilized society, it is a requirement. When we cannot speak, we are displaced. When we are displaced, it is easier to ignore our right to human dignity. I have often asked myself, and we should ask each other, “Where’s MY Personhood Amendment?” And I will keep asking until my rights are as valuable and inviolable as anyone else’s.
When women do not have the ability to get the help they need in a safe, legal, judgment-free way, they don’t just suffer a little. They don’t only lose the ability to participate equally in society. They don’t only lose the ability to determine the direction and aim of their own lives. They die. They did 50 years ago, and they do today, and they will in greater numbers in the future if we fail to recognize and stop the regressive tide of anti-choice legislation in America.
Think about it. Stand with us. Consider the possibility. We could turn this thing around. We could, in fact, change the discussion. We could, in fact, change it for good. And we can do that in big and small ways. Those of us who created A is For are trying to do our part. And one of the easiest ways you can help is to wear the scarlet A, and show the world that you stand for women’s right to freedom and self-determination and equal participation. Even if your world is only the few blocks around your house, or the spaces between work and home, or the elevator ride to the lobby to get your mail because you’re afraid to leave the house and you have 40 cats, you can affect it. You can. All it takes is a little fashion statement.