complaints, healthcare, law, money, politicians, politics, religion, social media, social welfare

Something I hadn’t thought about here on the “Road to Hell”…

I meant to write about today’s topic yesterday. It was inspired by a New York Times opinion piece I read the other day that pointed out some unintended consequences of our new post Roe v. Wade reality. But I got mired in a contentious Twitter conversation that led me astray and got me so pissed off that I donated money to the pro choice cause. Yesterday, I decided to write about that decision, instead of the new insight I gleaned from that very wise opinion piece, written by Tressie McMillam Cottom, a Black woman who is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science, the author of “Thick: And Other Essays” and a 2020 MacArthur fellow. The piece she wrote, titled “Citizens No More”, really drove home some of the ways life for women in the United States could change if we don’t nip this anti-abortion nonsense in the bud.

For a long time, I have been writing about the potential negative health consequences that could arise in the wake of making abortion illegal. What I hadn’t considered, though, is that criminalizing abortion will likely also affect women in the workplace. Tressie McMillam Cottom spelled it all out in her opinion piece. She writes:

I grew up choosing where and how I work because Roe v. Wade gave me many of the same basic rights of personhood as men, for example. Millions of women have, to different degrees, been able to do the same.

I agree. It was the same for me, my entire life. I was born months before abortion became available to all women in the United States. My whole existence, I’ve known that if I ever needed or wanted to have an abortion, I could get one. In fact, I grew up in southeastern Virginia, and I distinctly remember that Hillcrest Clinic, an abortion clinic that opened in Norfolk, Virginia the year after I was born, used to run radio ads on the station I listened to before school every day. I remember hearing the commercials about how a woman could access safe, compassionate care if she wanted to terminate a pregnancy. It was not a big deal to me, because I heard those ads all the time. I never thought twice about them.

Here’s a news clip about the Hillcrest Clinic, an abortion clinic that used to operate in Virginia when I was a young woman.

Then came the 1990s, and I remember reading in the news that abortion clinics were being bombed and doctors who performed abortions were being targeted, harassed, and in at least a couple of instances, murdered. Dr. Barnett Slepian was one abortion provider who was executed in 1998 by a gun toting anti abortion zealot. Another was Kansas physician Dr. George Tiller, who was shot in both arms years before he was finally murdered in 2009. On December 31, 1994, 22 year old John Salvi came into Hillcrest Clinic and opened fire, shattering the doors, but not injuring or killing anyone. The day prior, Salvi had stormed into two abortion clinics in Massachusetts and opened fire, killing two receptionists and wounding multiple clinic employees and volunteers. In many of the violent cases involving abortion providers being assassinated, pro-life zealots justified the killings, claiming they were “saving the unborn babies”. It seems ridiculous to me that highly trained physicians who simply wanted to help women were killed by people claiming to be “pro-life”. But life in the United States is often kind of confusing and odd, isn’t it?

I was a young woman in the 90s. Fortunately, I was not sexually active at the time, and I never had any gynecological issues, so I never needed to consider taking birth control, let alone having an abortion. But I knew that if I ever did need abortion services, and I was still living in Virginia, I could go to the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk.

The years went on, and lawmakers did more and more to restrict abortion access and discourage women from ending their pregnancies. They passed new laws, forcing clinics to upgrade their facilities to the point at which they were almost like hospitals. Hillcrest Clinic finally got to a point at which they could no longer operate. Ironically, it was because fewer women needed or wanted to have abortions, probably because they were getting educated about sex and had access to effective contraception. Hillcrest Clinic closed its doors in 2012, after serving the community for about 40 years.

Along came 2002. I finished graduate school and got married. Getting pregnant at a bad time was never an issue for me. But the same could not be said for my peers. I do know some women who did seek abortion care, and none of them has regretted their decision. I know they are living productive lives now, with families they formed when they were ready to be parents.

Now, with this new reality of conservatives trying desperately to force women to give birth, those choices are in jeopardy, even for women who never get pregnant. Tressie McMillam Cottom explains:

With Roe v. Wade toppled, we do not have the same rights in all labor markets. In a global market, an empowered worker is one who can migrate. With Dobbs, women cannot assume that we can safely work in Idaho the same way that we can in Oregon or Washington. I cannot negotiate wages or time off with an employer with the same risk profile as those who cannot become pregnant. An employer who offers lower pay in a state with abortion care indirectly benefits from women’s inability to take our labor on the open market across the nation. Thanks to a rogue court, women’s lives are now more determined by the accidents of our birth than they were a week ago.

Those accidents of birth include circumscribing women’s lives by making them dependent upon corporate beneficence. Some companies, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, immediately issued statements that they would offer reimbursements to employees for traveling for abortion services. The largess of Dick’s and other companies is noteworthy. But it requires women to disclose their health status to a boss they have to hope is well meaning. That says nothing of also hoping that corporate management or leadership does not change. Well-meaning employers can come and go. They also vary in how well meaning they are in terms of pledges of their employee support.

Those two paragraphs made me stop in my tracks. All along, I’d been focusing on health and happiness. It never occurred to me to consider how not being able to access abortion could affect women in the workplace, even in states where abortion access is guaranteed (for now). I also hadn’t considered that the companies who offer women help in getting abortions would also be requiring those women to discuss their private healthcare decisions with their employers. And, as the article also points out, some companies, such as Starbucks, have placed conditions on their offers of assistance. From the article:

 [Starbucks noted that] it cannot guarantee that benefit to workers in unionized stores. Union drives at Starbucks have increased worker power. Many of those workers are women and people who can become pregnant. Potentially attaching support for abortion care to non-unionized labor is a perfect example of why corporations should not be arbiters of human rights.

So basically, people who can get pregnant will have to decide what’s more important to them– access to abortion services, or worker’s rights.

I noticed in the comment section that most people were arguing about the morality of abortions. It seemed that very few had bothered to read Tressie McMillam Cottom’s opinion piece, which I thought was very sobering and kind of scary. I decided to leave a comment that people really should read her piece. If you click the link in this post, you should have free access to the link, as I am a New York Times subscriber and allowed to gift ten articles per month. If you are a person of childbearing age and can get pregnant, you might want to consider what is at stake. It will affect all women who work, unless it’s obvious that you’re beyond childbearing. Then, you’ll just experience age discrimination. 😉

I want to also bring up another alarming news article I read yesterday that complements Tressie McMillam Cottom’s piece. According to the Washington Post, some Republican lawmakers are trying to draft legislation that could block pregnant people from crossing state lines. Again, I’m gifting the link to this article, since I am also a Washington Post subscriber. From the article:

The National Association of Christian Lawmakers, an anti abortion organization led by Republican state legislators, has begun working with the authors of the Texas abortion ban to explore model legislation that would restrict people from crossing state lines for abortions, said Texas state representative Tom Oliverson (R), the charter chair of the group’s national legislative council.

“Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.” (Figures it’s a MAN who said this. I hope he goes straight to Hell.)

I read about this development yesterday, after having yet another fruitless discussion with two older pro-life people on Twitter– a man and a woman, both of whom were conservative, and both of whom clearly never really stopped and thought about what eliminating abortion will mean to women, and American society as a whole. The first person who took me on was an obviously conservative man, who basically said that people who get pregnant by accident should be forced to gestate. He was kind enough to allow abortion for rape and incest cases. For everyone else it was, “she made her bed and now she needs to lie in it.”

I noted that he seemed to think pregnancy should be a punishment. He disagreed, arguing that birth control can prevent pregnancies, and “personal responsibility” should trump a gestating person’s right to make healthcare decisions about their own body. I tweeted to him that I didn’t think he’d really thought very long or hard about the abortion issue at all. I could have come up with a laundry list of my concerns, to include healthcare privacy and the fact that women in many states will have to prove their need for certain obstetrical procedures. Instead, I wrote that it doesn’t seem wise to me to force people to be pregnant when they don’t want to be, because it could mean that they won’t take care of their prenatal health. And fetuses would be developing in someone who might be very depressed and unwilling to seek medical care. That could then lead to babies being born with medical conditions that might have been prevented if the pregnant person had simply been more “responsible”.

I won’t even go into the huge list of reasons why this mindset isn’t fair to women. Men seem to forget that their health is never affected by pregnancy. It’s just their livelihoods that are potentially affected. What I was really thinking of, though, is that pregnant folks might soon find themselves in a different class of people, with fewer civil rights. This guy on Twitter was insisting that he didn’t think pregnancy should be a punishment, as he was also clearly pointing out that people should be forced to gestate. And, I’ll bet if I pressed him, asking him what he thought should happen to pregnant women who don’t seek appropriate medical care (which, of course, they would have to pay for), he would say the women should go to jail. Sounds pretty punishing to me. Now, granted, he didn’t actually say that during our discussion– which went on for much too long– but I’ll bet money that he would get there. Americans seem to LOVE to see people go to prison.

This isn’t an empty threat. I looked up forced prenatal care yesterday. It has happened. The link leads to one case from 2000, but there are others, and that Washington Post link I provided is about how some extremists would like to make it illegal for pregnant people to cross state lines. That sounds very punitive to me, and it would likely discourage people from seeking medical care. Another unintended consequence is that there will be some women who will stop having sex with people– particularly men– who can get them pregnant. I’ve already seen at least one Reddit thread from a man who is upset that his girlfriend is on a sex strike because of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

In an earlier blog post, I shared Jessica Kent’s very distressing video about her experience giving birth while she was incarcerated in Arkansas. If we don’t do something about these wackos who are trying to criminalize abortion, there will be more women who experience the hell of being pregnant behind bars. It won’t be good for women OR those precious babies. And, things are already getting shitty in Texas. Yesterday, I watched this woman’s heartbreaking video about the horrible trauma she experienced, trying to take care of her miscarriage in Texas last year.

This video is absolutely horrifying. My heart breaks for her. She had a lot of trouble accessing prenatal care, too.
Sharing this again for those who missed it. This could be a reality for many more women if the pro-life zealots get their way.

The other person who engaged me yesterday was an older woman who had many of the same arguments the man did. She was very condescending to me, and kept preaching about personal responsibility. I didn’t tell her that I was SUPER responsible when I was younger. I was a virgin until two weeks after my wedding day, and was 30 years old when I finally had sex for the first time… with a man who’d had a vasectomy. I also didn’t tell her about my background.

But toward the end of our chat, she wrote that she has a four year old granddaughter who was conceived accidentally. Her granddaughter is the light of her life. And you know, that’s really lovely. I’m happy for her. I wrote that I hoped her granddaughter never needed to have an abortion, which is sometimes necessary for health reasons. And I hoped that her granddaughter wouldn’t lose some of her healthcare privacy rights, due to her sex. The woman wrote back that my concerns about healthcare privacy were “ridiculous”. All I can do is shake my head… as Randy Newman sings, “I’m dead, but I don’t know it…” I think that observation would apply to this woman’s brain.

Clever song. I think this could be the state of women’s healthcare privacy and freedom very soon.

But instead of sharing the link to Randy Newman’s song, I wrote that my concerns about privacy are NOT ridiculous, and a lot of us are very concerned about it, and with good reason. Then I bid her a good night, because I was tired of tweeting in circles and felt my time would be more productively spent cleaning the lint out of my belly button or something.

Well… I could go on. I am kind of rueing exploring Twitter, because now I get exposed to some real twits besides Bill’s ex wife. But at least it gives me another source for my blog, right? And since I mentioned Ex… here are a couple of her most recent comments. I could start a blog that focuses on the inanity of Ex’s Twitter feed. For your amusement…

My daughter is 19, a HUGE fan of yours(read your book), along with TMNT; she wants to be a voice actress more that ANYTHING! Rob, how can I encourage her? I can’t afford acting school in NY, though she was accepted! Please, any advice for a mom who just wants to support a dream?!

Omg … my eyes…. My ears… make it stop! It’s like reliving the day I sang “If” by Bread in 1981 at a school talent show with, literally, the sweetest and kindest guy in the world! Except, alas, it was never to be… still love him with all my heart!!

She once sang “The Sweetest Thing” by Juice Newton to Bill. To this day, he can’t abide that song.

So ends today’s rantings. Hope it provides food for thought.

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healthcare, law

When a miscarriage during pregnancy leads to a miscarriage of justice…

Last night, as the evening was winding down, I noticed an op-ed in The New York Times about a young woman from Oklahoma named Brittney Poolaw. I have gifted the op-ed in the above link, so if you don’t have a subscription to the paper, you should be able to read it for free.

So who is Brittney Poolaw, and why should anyone care about her? According to Michelle Goldberg, author of the op-ed, Brittney Poolaw is a woman who is sitting in prison because she miscarried during her seventeenth week of pregnancy. At the time of her miscarriage, Poolaw was just 19 years old. She was at home when the miscarriage happened, and had presented herself for medical attention at Comanche County Memorial Hospital.

A police detective interviewed Ms. Poolaw after she admitted to hospital staff that she had used methamphetamines and marijuana during her pregnancy. The medical examiner who examined Brittney Poolaw’s fetus cited her drug use as contributing factors in the miscarriage. Also cited were a congenital abnormality and placental abruption.

Poolaw was arrested on a charge of first degree manslaughter. She didn’t have the money for the $20,000 bond, so she spent a year and a half in jail, awaiting her trial. The trial finally occurred this month, and jurors spent less than three hours deciding Brittney Poolaw’s fate. She was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, even though an expert witness explained that Poolaw’s drug use might not have been the direct cause of the miscarriage.

I recently mentioned that I’ve been watching a lot of videos by Jessica Kent, a YouTube personality who has a lot of experience with being in jail and prison. Jessica has done time in several states, mainly because she is a recovering drug addict. She also had the unfortunate experience of giving birth while incarcerated. I have been studying prison reform independently for years, but Jessica Kent’s videos have really opened my eyes to just how unjust and inhumane the U.S. prison system is, particularly for people with drug addictions.

Jessica Kent was pregnant in prison. She’s also a recovering drug addict.
One of Jessica Kent’s videos about her experiences with pregnancy…

I know a lot of people would say that the answer is simple; just don’t do drugs. And I think that advice is easy to follow if you are fortunate enough to come from a supportive family, live in an area where there are many opportunities for work and socializing, have access and the ability to pay for healthcare, and have the will and the drive not to succumb to temptation or peer pressure.

In Poolaw’s case, simply being able to get to a doctor and, perhaps, having an abortion available to her might have prevented her from being imprisoned. According to Goldberg’s opinion piece, Poolaw told the detective that “when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.” Seems to me that it would have been kinder and better if Brittney could have either had an abortion, or had access to a physician and, perhaps, a social worker or other advocate while she was pregnant.

When I was studying social work, I did part of my internship with what was then called Healthy Families South Carolina. It was a program that was affiliated with Prevent Child Abuse America, and it was designed to help people like Brittney Poolaw maintain healthy pregnancies and get very young children off to a healthier start. Those who were enrolled in the program got home visit services from workers who would help them access healthcare and teach them about making safe and healthy decisions for their babies. These families got coaching from trained parent educators and, in fact, that made a noticeable difference in the outcomes for a lot of the clients. That was something I noted in the massive paper I wrote and presented for my MPH/MSW degrees. Wow… it just occurred to me that the babies I saw when I was finishing my degree are now adults! Time really flies!

Why didn’t someone direct Brittney Poolaw to a program like that? My guess is because she couldn’t access the healthcare system and never got a referral. What would have happened if she could have gotten to a doctor early in her pregnancy? Maybe she would have chosen to have an abortion, or maybe she would have had her baby. And maybe she would have been able to access support from people who are trained to work with young people with big problems. I know nothing about Brittney Poolaw or her past, but experience tells me that a lot of people who end up in her situation have had some pretty terrible traumas in their lives and experienced abuse.

I know a lot of people think that Brittney Poolaw deserves to be in prison for taking drugs while she was pregnant. But having worked with young people who are poor, disenfranchised, and lacking meaningful mentorship, I can understand why she turned to drugs. It happens to so many people. And I think instead of prison, Brittney Poolaw should have gotten compassionate medical attention and real help from someone who might have shown her that she has worth. Having watched so many of Jessica Kent’s videos, I realize that Brittney Poolaw is probably facing even more abuse and degradation on a daily basis now. I don’t think that’s going to help her turn away from drugs when she is finally released from prison.

But, aside from the fact that I think Poolaw’s community really failed her, I also think that other women have much to fear from this ruling. It really is a slippery slope when pregnant women wind up in legal trouble for things they do while pregnant that lead to a loss of the pregnancy. In Poolaw’s case, the actions that contributed to her miscarriage were illegal, but what if she’d had one too many glasses or wine, or something? What if she’d been in a car without a seatbelt or was wearing it incorrectly? What if she tripped and fell down some stairs?

I think it’s very scary that any woman who gets pregnant might find herself being scrutinized by law enforcement after a miscarriage. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, but it also may cause women like Poolaw to avoid seeking medical care. That might be especially true if she’s doing something like drinking alcohol or using drugs. I know a lot of physicians would prefer not to have to deal with drug using pregnant women, but they are precisely the women who need the most attention from someone who has medical expertise. Moreover, it really is chilling to think that the developing fetuses in already born people are superseding the already born people’s civil rights.

The pro-life/anti-abortion movement has been working tirelessly to change laws so that developing embryos and fetuses are seen as “babies” and “children”. But if you take a close look at what happens during pregnancy, it actually takes a pretty long while before the developing embryos and fetuses turn into anything viable outside of the womb. Until then, they really are part of the mother, and it really does seem wrong to me that we should put pregnant women in a different class–with different rules and civil rights– than people who aren’t pregnant. It’s beyond creepy that some judges, particularly in the South, are using situations like Brittney Poolaw’s to chip away at Roe v. Wade and promote the whole “sanctity of life” movement. It seems to me that life is only sacred to these types of folks when it involves the unborn. Once a person has been born, they’re on their own… and God help them stay out of prison.

Should Brittney Poolaw have had an abortion? I suppose she should have, especially since she clearly wasn’t ready to be a mother and had no resources to help her maintain a healthy pregnancy. I’m not sure how open she would have been to receiving help from a social worker or someone else who works with at risk parents and children. But I do think she should have had the option presented to her. It sounds to me like she didn’t have anyone to go to for help when she got pregnant. Instead, she turned to drugs.

I admittedly haven’t looked at Oklahoma’s social welfare programs and I don’t what is available for young people like Brittney Poolaw, but my guess is that even if they are widely available, Poolaw didn’t know how to access them. That’s not really something that is taught in school, at least in my experience. In my first year of my MSW program, I did my internship at a multi-disciplinary rural physician’s practice associated with the University of South Carolina. My clients were referred to me by a family doctor in a rural community. But it sounds like Brittney didn’t have a doctor, and it looks like she was no longer in school… so where would she have gotten a referral to someone like I was when I was in graduate school?

Perhaps the police could have referred her, instead of arresting her and putting her in prison… Or… the medical staff, who should have advocated for her and helped her with her medical problems could have assisted her in finding someone to help her with her problems. Sadly, it sounds like instead of getting the help she obviously needs, Brittney Poolaw will be wasting four years in a prison cell… along with so many other Americans. I hope someday the United States gets over its obsession with incarcerating people. We’ve got to do better than this.

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