A Womb of Her Own: DIY Abortion and Birth Control After Hobby Lobby
On Tuesday, I was wandering around the internet and fell into a random binder full of women, which it turns out is a great place to meet badass genius revolutionaries. Jane Doe is adoula and an underground abortion provider. She writes romance novels, dreams of expatriation, and makes the best sea-salt caramels you’ve ever had. She’s spoken at statehouses and chased down riot cops. In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision that corporations like Hobby Lobby are people with important religious beliefs about contraception (and that men need Viagra but women don’t need birth control), she released a DIY guide to the basics of abortion, birth control, emergency contraception, and more. We got together in a hidden pocket of the binder so I could ask her for the details.
VICE: Why did you write this guide?
Jane Doe: That’s a complicated question. About ten years ago, I wrote a guide to surgical abortions after South Dakota banned all abortions in that state. Since that time, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve been receiving—at least once a month or so—emails from desperate women who find my surgical abortion how-to and want to abort their pregnancies. For a long time, I didn’t know what to tell them, and then I found out more about medical abortion—how safe it is (especially compared to birth), how women are undergoing medical abortions at home, in privacy, and how there’s a law that lets anyone in the United States import up to 90 days of any non-scheduled prescription drug.
From there, I started actually giving away the pills to women who emailed me—a proposition that became both expensive and incredibly (legally) risky.
Then I started sending them URLs to websites that sold the pills—which is when I thought, Wait, what am I doing? I could be letting people know all of this information, everything I know about how to find these medications, how to use them, what to do if something goes wrong.
I think this information belongs to women. It’s ours. And now it’s out there. Once it’s on the Internet, it’s hard to scrub.
Were you inspired by the Supreme Court decision or was the timing purely coincidental?
I’d been working on A Womb of One’s Own for about six months in total, and like many writers tend to do, I found myself procrastinating toward the end of the project. When the Hobby Lobby decision came down, and I realized the Supreme Court wasn’t actually saying that all religious expression was protected—just things pertaining to women’s health—I dropped everything else on my plate and finished the pamphlet that day.
Stores Can Be Anti-Abortion Christians, Supreme Court Rules
Today the Supreme Court’s session went out with a bang as it settled two cases on identical 5–4 partisan lines. The decision in Harris v. Quinn hurt public employees’ unions by refusing to let them automatically deduct dues from wages, and the ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. allowed some companies to avoid paying for their workers’ birth control.
It’s the second one that everyone is shouting about today, and for good reason. To recap: Hobby Lobby is a chain of craft stores with 13,000 employees, 572 outlets, and billions in annual revenue. It’s run by the Green family, who aren’t exactly shy about their Christianity: According to the company’s website, Hobby Lobby is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” After the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. ObamaCare) passed, a federal agency ruled that employers were going to have to provide health-insurance plans that offered coverage for a range of birth-control options. A lot of these methods the Greens, like many other devout Christians, have no problems with, but they are super, super upset by techniques that, to quote the Supreme Court’s decision, prevent “an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.” (These include Plan B and IUDs, which they think of as being equivalent to abortion.)
Now, a lot of people might find the belief that stopping a man’s sperm from meeting a lady’s egg is fine but stopping a fertilized egg from sticking to the uterus is AWFUL MURDER AND MUST BE STOPPED: a bizarre bit of hair-splitting. Those people might also note, as some have, that the owners of Hobby Lobby aren’t using these devices themselves, and they aren’t even paying for them directly—they’re paying for insurance plans that allow some women to get these horrible, no-good, very bad birth-control options. But the grounds on which the Greens challenged the ACA don’t require them to prove that their beliefs are correct; it’s enough that they feel that paying for certain kinds of plans is a sinful act. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was passed in 1993 with Democratic support, for what that’s worth) says that laws can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless there’s a “compelling governmental interest” at stake and the law represents “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.. Since corporations count as people (yeah, I know, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), Hobby Lobby could claim with a straight face that its rights were being violated by the ACA, and the five more conservative justices could with a straight face concur. So presto change-o, the court has decided that companies that really, really want to deny certain types of health coverage to people can totally do that.
Thursday’s Supreme Court decision didn’t do much to alter access to clinics, but rather laid what we already know about the abortion debate in America: Being cornered by strangers who want to talk about your uterus and pray for your unborn child is obviously horrifying and invasive, but it’s not illegal. Because while you may have the right to get an abortion, someone else has the right to make you feel terrible about it.
—Supreme Court Rules Pro-Life Zealots Can Still Make You Feel Terrible About Abortion
Abortion Affects Men, Too
Abortion is often treated exclusively as a women’s health issue. Most of the research on the topic deals with the female party involved in an unwanted pregnancy. This is in part because, let’s face it, the women’s perspective is more important, as it’s ultimately her body and her choice, but also because the female party involved in the abortion is the patient seeking medical intervention. So doctors and researchers can reach out to them directly for feedback, surveys, etc. with greater ease. Contacting the so-called “impregnators” is not so simple.
There is precious little research into the male experience of abortion; Google mostly coughs up pro-life fear-mongering sites about men manipulated by liberal she-devils into agreeing to abortions, who now live haunted by visions of the blessed angel-children they cruelly murdered. While thankfully devoid of that kind of thing, academia doesn’t fare much better, information-wise. A 1999 study by psychiatric and obstetric researchers at University Hospital in Umeå, Sweden outlines why: “Most studies of legal abortion are focused on the women and when abortion and contraception are discussed, attention is mostly centered on the role and responsibility of the woman. Hospital staff often meet only the woman and not the man in cases of legal abortion, which can result in the risk of abortion being regarded solely as a female issue. Thus, the participation of the man remains largely invisible.”
"80 percent of women who experienced mostly negative emotions still felt that abortion was the right choice for them."
—Debunking the Seven Most Common Lies About Abortion
Everything You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Know About Abortion
Founded in 2007, the Museum for Contraception and Abortion in Vienna, Austria, is world’s most thorough collection of all the different methods and objects humans have used to stop them producing other humans. Recently I was given a tour of the museum by Christian Fiala, an abortion provider who founded the museum (pictured, below left), and this is what he told me as we walked through the exhibits.
There is, of course, a backstory as to why I started working in this field [of abortion and contraception], which is considered a big taboo in Austria—even more so in the Alpine region of Tyrol, where they wouldn’t even rent out an apartment to my girlfriend and me because we weren’t married.
Back then, I had just started attending med school and was shocked to discover that loads of my colleagues didn’t know how to protect themselves from STDs and unwanted pregnancies, despite their professional education.
How to insert an old-timey pessary into the cervix
After spending a year in Thailand, where I saw women dying on a daily basis during failed self-induced abortions, I decided to take action. I wanted to help and support the victims and help educate their partners about the risks and possibilities—especially when the choice isn’t fatherhood.
French Right Wingers Rioted Against Pretty Much Everything Last Weekend
On Sunday, we arrived at Bastille Square in Paris under heavy rain, ready for a protest that had been billed as a “Day of Anger” by the dozens of far-right groups responsible for organizing it. The demonstration had a nebulous array of gripes: They hated abortions, the gays, the Jews, and so on. Most of all, though, they hated the French president, François Hollande and his Socialist Party. Hollande actually become more popular since news broke of his affair with actress Julie Gayet, but his approval rating is still a dismal 31 percent, and that seems unlikely to change no matter how much sex he has.
That isn’t to say that the far right is more popular than he is—Bastille Square was far from full. The organizers claimed there were over 150,000 protesters at the event, but the police said there were only about 17,000, which sounds closer to the truth.
Before a fist had been shaken in anger, about ten members of the militant, frequently nude feminist group FEMEN showed up to protest against the protest. By the time we arrived they had already been bundled into police vans, the crowd chucking shouts of “whores” at them as they were whisked off to the station. Their clothes had been left behind on the street, and we wondered what would happen to them.
Then the march began.
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The Least Bad Option
Americans will declare war on almost anything. Like most nations in history, we declare war on other governments. But we have also made a habit of declaring war on ideologies (Communism, Islamic extremism), on broadly defined patterns of violence (terrorism, piracy), and even on abstract social ills (poverty, drugs). And then there are the “culture wars,” a lazy phrase that at one point served as a shorthand for the political agenda of the Christian right, but which has recently expanded to refer to any controversial topic that doesn’t involve tax brackets or firing cruise missiles into foreign countries. Guns, medical marijuana, zoning regulations, soda bans, physician-assisted suicide, rent-controlled apartments, Citibikes, and the Pledge of Allegiance all are part of the culture wars according to one respected commentator or another.
But there is one front in the culture war where the word “war” doesn’t seem like overheated rhetoric, where real bullets are fired and where real bombs are thrown: the struggle over the availability and scope of abortion. It’s the hot-button social issue that stubbornly continues to divide Americans even as other bones of contention like recreational drug use and gay rights inch reliably towards liberalization. And the white-hot beating heart of the abortion debate—its bloodiest battlefield—is the question of late-term (i.e., third-trimester) abortions.
Late-term abortions and the forces arrayed for and against them are the subject of a wrenching new documentary, After Tiller, which opens in New York later this month. The film profiles the four remaining doctors in the United States who perform late-term abortions, all of whose lives were touched in one way or another by George Tiller, the Kansas-based, late-term abortion provider gunned-down by an anti-abortion extremist while attending Sunday church services three years ago. In the aftermath of Tiller’s slaying, Randall Terry, founder of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue, called Tiller a “mass murderer” who “reaped what he sowed.” Despite widespread condemnation, the killer got what he wanted: late-term abortions are no longer available in Kansas. Residents now must travel 500 miles to Denver for the procedure.