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
How to Avoid Self-Incrimination via Smartphone
Should cops be allowed to search smartphones when arresting people? While the Supreme Court mulls it over, you can take steps to protect yourself.
"This place is just so inundated with corruption—it’s steeped in corruption like a teabag. There was a Roman emperor—Caligula—who appointed his horse to the senate. At this point, the system has gotten so bad that if the Koch brothers appointed their horse to the Senate, it wouldn’t even make a difference. That’s where we are."
—Florida Representative Alan Grayson talks to VICE about the Supreme Court’s latest decision to turn America into an oligarchy
Dread Judges – It’s Totally Not Cool That Nine Robed Elders Run America
American politics is a lot like baseball in that basically nothing happens for long, long stretches of time. There are occasional flurries of action, however, when the Supreme Court announces decisions on the major cases that have been brought before it. In the past couple of weeks, the court has ruled, among other things, that “naturally occurring” human genes can’t be patented; that the federal government has to recognize same-sex marriages, though states don’t necessarily have to allow gays to marry; that refusing to answer questions from the cops can get you in trouble; that the University of Texas needs to reconsider its affirmative-action policies; and that the section of the Voting Rights Act that mandates some states to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws is outdated. All of those are potentially far-reaching decisions, and they were made by a panel of unelected judges who have their jobs for life. You can call the US a democracy if you like, but really, most of the important policy choices are made by a council of elders.
The vague idea most of us have about the Supreme Court is that it exists to determine whether laws are constitutional or not. In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts during his nomination hearings, a judge’s job is to “call balls and strikes.” The assumption is that the Constitution has a clear meaning and that applying that meaning to individual statues is just a matter of thinking and studying really, really hard.
Don’t Celebrate Gay Marriage with a Wedding of Your Own
This morning the Supreme Court issued two rulings that made gay marriage a whole lot better in this country. My friends have been texting me since the news broke, wanting to meet up tonight at The Stonewall Inn (where the gay civil rights movement started in earnest back in 1969) to celebrate the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the law prohibiting gay couples from marrying in California. Unrestrained joy and celebrating with the community are, of course, the natural and appropriate reactions to this news.
Even Edith Windsor, the New York lesbian who took the DOMA challenge all the way to the highest court in the land, said, “I wanna go to Stonewall right now!” when she heard about the historic decision. But it’s the next thing she said that troubles me. She then called a friend and said, “Please get married right away!” Edith, thanks so much for fighting the good fight, but no.
Joyous though this occasion may be, it has led to countless gay couples dropping to their knees and popping the question as if the only way to celebrate our rights is by exercising them, and the only way we are validated is when all the straight people out there (or at least five of them wearing long black robes) tell us it’s OK. Marriage fever is even infecting straights like Kristen Bell, who re-proposed to her fiance, Dax Shepard, after the rulings came down in some sort of well-meaning but bizarre show of solidarity.
To all my homosexual brothers and sisters: I am cheering with you today, but it should be said that just because we can get married, doesn’t mean that we should. Just look at Dese’Rae Stage and Katie Marks, one of the first gay couples married in New York. “It was kind of one of those things, to be a part of history,” Stage told The Atlantic Wire about their engagement on the eve of gay marriage legalization in the Empire State. Now they are one of the first gay couples getting divorced. Julie and Hillary Goodridge, the lesbians who led the charge for marriage equality in Massachusetts, are also among the first trying to figure out how to untie that knot. Like Stage said, this is a highly emotional time, but the decisions that are made after a few too many vodka sodas at Stonewall are going to have lasting implications.
The Voting Rights Act Is a Mess, but We Still Need It
The Supreme Court ruled today that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which said that some (mostly Southern) states and communities in the US had to ask the federal government for permission to change their voting rules and procedures, was unconstitutional. The majority of the court held that while the South used to be hella racist back in the 60s, things are now way more chill, thanks in part to the VRA, so the law doesn’t need to exist in its current form. Right-wingers celebrated this as a victory for federalsim (or whatever), while the MSNBC crowd mourned this as the destruction of one of the most important laws of the Civil Rights era—an NAACP official said, “Today will be remembered as a step backwards in the march towards equal rights.”
Now, I don’t think that every single person who opposes Section 4 is a racist. I know it’s not fun being called a racist. When I was in sixth grade, I was accused of being a Nazi because I was making a picture of B.J. Blazkowicz, the hero from Wolfenstein 3D, busting a cap in a Nazi’s ass. To portray this accurately, I had to draw the Nazi’s swastika armband, and according to some of my classmates, this made me Nazi. My teachers, fortunately, didn’t take any of this seriously because at 12 I looked like a rabbi in a Tazmanian Devil T-shirt. The following week, another kid wore highwaters to school and that took the heat off me.
You know what’s worse than being accused of racism, though? Having racism directed at you, which is something that happens in the United States fairly frequently. There were 2,924 racially-motivated hate crimes in 2011, the most recent year statistics are available for, and there was an actual lynching of an African-American in Texas as recently as 1998.
More statistics: According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 84 percent of white Americans approved of interracial marriage. But, framed another way, 16 percent of whites disapprove of interracial marriage. You can slice off part of the population, like Mississippians. Another survey, this one from Public Policy Polling, found that 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans, unbelievably, think that whites shouldn’t be allowed to marry blacks. That is some old-timey racism, of the sort that isn’t that uncommon in Mississippi—which is the whole reason the VRA exists in the first place.
Hey Justice Scalia, Are These Sex Acts Okay?
Antonin Scalia is a Supreme Court Justice, which means he’s an important guy. He’s such a big shot he gets to wear a robe at work and no one says anything, and he also gets invited to speak at places like Princeton University. “Come talk in front of our students and just say whatever you want!” the people in charge of Princeton said, probably. “Like, whatever. You’re such a good thinker that you literally run the country, so whatever you say is going to be so fucking awesome. Can’t wait!”
But the downside to being an important guy who gets invited to speak at Princeton is that when you say something that sounds kind of weird—or kinda dumb—it spreads all over the internet. In this case, the weird- and dumb-sounding thing he said was that the government can ban stuff that is “immoral” and, while attempting to illustrate his point, he compared bans on homosexuality with bans on murder. Ha ha, what? He explained it this way to the Princeton student who asked him about that comparison, and didn’t waste the chance to be kind of a dick:
“It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd’… If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
I thought Scalia would have known the difference between murder and sodomy—whereas both are things that involve two or more people doing stuff to each other, in sodomy’s case everyone wants it to happen (“Hey, please put that doohickey in that hole, please”), and in murder’s case one guy really, really doesn’t want it to. If we use the “reduction to the absurd” technique that Scalia loves so much, he’s saying that you can make a law against literally anything that a bunch of people find immoral, even if what you’re outlawing is a private activity between consenting adults. So, presumably, according to Scalia we could ban all of these sex acts, none of which are “gay” but are probably “immoral”:
Masturbating while your cat is watching.
Having sex in your old room while staying at your parents’ house for the holidays.
Doing that thing where she’s like, “I’m an innocent elf maiden in peril!” and you’re like, “I’ll save you, for I am Galathor the Liberator!” and then you fuck like crazy and it’s really good and you have a talk afterward like, “Hey, is this weird? It’s not weird, right? I’m so glad we figured out we’re both into this! I love you.”