On the Front Lines

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

You look in the bedroom mirror, small enough to deny self-adoration, and pull your brownish hair into a ponytail. Tight, like Mother used to do it, just the right way. You turn to the bed. Your clothes are laid out on sheets held taut by perfect hospital corners. You dress in practical layers, to accommodate the variable temperatures of the daylong vigil you perform every Thursday. First, your underthings, then flesh-tone tights and a plain white t-shirt. Next, the pleated blouse Mother used to wear, when you held the vigils together, and ski pants, a modest one size too large. Finally, a nice worsted wool skirt you found at Goodwill for a dollar. It’s a bit matronly, but you top it off with your 12-week ultrasound hoodie.

fetus dollsYou strap on your choose-life fanny pack, loaded with crisis pregnancy tracts and embryo dolls; take the bigger-than-life-size fetus parts poster in one hand and your calico-covered Bible in the other; and you march to the local abortion mill. Battle ready. Here profit motive thrives under Satan’s leering eyes and abortions are marketed to the vulnerable—to provide lucrative embryos for ungodly research. You believe this with all her heart because that’s what the tracts tell you.

You bungee-cord the poster to a tree and take your position between the clinic entrance and the parking lot. You’re armed with the assurance that you’re doing God’s righteous work, as Mother taught you, witnessing for life, sidewalk counseling would-be abortion victims, guiding them away from mortal sin, toward salvation. You adjust the bunched-up layers around your waist while you await the poor misguided mothers, bearing their precious preborns to slaughter. You know they will come, as they do every week, in numbers that torment your heart with the horrid image of God’s beloved innocents torn asunder by evil and torturous tools in the hands of Death’s doctors. But you are stalwart, determined to rescue a life from the great abyss of immoral destruction.

The clinic opens, the women and girls—not so much younger than you—begin to arrive, and you gird your supplies. They are comforting. Mother was so much better at this.

You take a breath. “Excuse me,” you say as you step before the nearest sinner heading for the door. The young woman looks sad. She wears immodest jeans from which she’ll soon burst forth in the full flower of maternal fertility—if you can lead her to Jesus.

“How many weeks are you?” you say.

“Huh?” the girl says, wires dangling from her ears to a front pocket.

“How many weeks pregnant are you?” You give her your kindest, most eager smile.

“Hmm?” The girl frowns, pulls a phone from her pocket and, without looking up, says, “What?”

“Do not renounce God’s miracle growing within you,” you say. “Already it feels. Already it knows life. Already it loves you.”

She stares at you, says nothing. She needs you.

“I know you’re scared and confused, but don’t succumb to the fear of your situation, to the temptation of an easy solution. In truth, it is not easy. There are better ways. God has sent you his love and support—through me. Choose life for your preborn child.”

The girl pulls the wires from her ears. “What did you say?”

“Choose life,” you repeat. You put down your Bible and pull a tiny plastic embryo from your fanny pack. “Look, this one, this one here is probably the size of yours. Choose life for the blameless gift God has given you, and you will receive his endless blessings. Choose life for your baby and heavenly eternity for yourself.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” the girl says and steps around you.

“Please wait!” Mother taught you how to deal with denial. You must use extreme counseling technique. You grab the girl’s hand and drop to your knees. “You needn’t be afraid. Turn your heart away from the evil of abortion. God’s innocent fruit grows in the garden of your womb. Don’t let them suck it out to rot in the bowels of evil!”

“Gross.” The girl pulls away from you.

You hold on tighter. “Don’t do this,” you say. “We’ll help you through your pregnancy and then—”

“Yeah?” the girl says, “and then what?”

“Then the lord will provide.”

“Yeah, right.” The girl snickers and pulls harder. “Let go of me.”

“No, please.” You try not to, but you cry. “Listen to me.” The girl hesitates. Your nose drips. You look up at her and think of Mother. “Before God formed the sinless one in your womb, he knew her. His hands shaped and made her. Would you now turn from the wonder of his love?” You wipe your nose on the sleeve of the ultrasound hoodie and wrap yourself around the girl’s calves.

“You’re nuts.” The girl struggles against your embrace. “Let go—let go!”

“I can’t. Jesus wants me to save you. Please don’t murder your baby! Give your preborn the gift of life!”

The girl yanks one leg free, puts her foot against your chest and pushes you backward. “Cool your shit,” she says. “I’ve got a killer UTI—stay the fuck out of my way.”

You gather yourself and get up from the sidewalk, brushing dirt and leaves from the nice Goodwill skirt, tidying your ponytail, and you wonder if the clinic switched the weekday it murders unborns. Nausea quivers through your belly at the thought of having to change your routine. The routine you and Mother performed together every week. Mother, who didn’t abort you.

“Have a blessed day,” you call after the girl.

She’s already inside.


Previously published by Writers Resist.


About Kit-Bacon Gressitt

January 22 is the anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the freedom to make their own private reproductive decisions. It’s also Kit-Bacon Gressitt’s birthday, which has long seemed significant to her. Spawned by a Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, K-B inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. As a result, she’s a feminist writer, she supports unrestricted access to affordable abortion and other reproductive health services, and she’s an LGBTQ rights advocate. She also birthed a child of color, who’s taught her a lot about white privilege and intersectionality. An erstwhile political columnist with an MFA in Creative Writing, K-B is now represented by Amanda Annis at Trident Media Group and is a Women’s Studies lecturer. Visit her website.

Because it’s unlikely the nation will see anything from the new administration akin to President Obama’s 2016 commemoration of the Roe v Wade decision, it is reprinted here:

The White House
January 22, 2016

Statement by the President on the 43rd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today, we mark the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which affirmed a woman’s freedom to make her own choices about her body and her health. The decision supports the broader principle that the government should not intrude on private decisions made between a woman and her doctor. As we commemorate this day, we also redouble our commitment to protecting these constitutional rights, including protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her right to reproductive freedom from efforts to undermine or overturn them. In America, every single one of us deserves the rights, freedoms, and opportunities to fulfill our dreams.

Photo credit: Anthony Easton via a Creative Commons License.

Make the Hyde Amendment History

Our stories may differ, but our cause is united. Join us to lift bans on abortion coverage!

Today is the 39th anniversary of the passage of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal Medicaid insurance from covering most abortion care. That’s 39 years of lawmakers pushing affordable abortion care out of reach for those struggling to get by.

Unite with us to make Hyde history. Visit All* Above All for more information.

The Idiocy-Capable, Unrealized Adults Protection Act

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

January 22 is a significant date for me. I make note of it every year. There are two reasons.

One, January 22 is the day my mother, now dear and departed, birthed me. This year, I will acknowledge the anniversary in the warm embrace of family, Sicilian cuisine and possibly enough Chianti to disqualify my normal role as designated driver. I will laugh among loved ones, expound on various profundities and polemics, blow out the candles, and wish for a future in which women continue to make progress toward equality in the United States, while I sag imperceptibly toward my oldth.

GagMeHangerTwo, January 22 is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Today’s newly Republican-dominated Congress will acknowledge the anniversary in the warm embrace of anti-abortion activists and enough religiosity to qualify many of its members as anthropomorphic examples of a failed separation of church and state. They will envision a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks, vote on the misnomered H.R. 36, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” and wish for a future female population that acquiesces to white, heterosexual, Christian male dominance.

By the way, the bill’s title is a misnomer because scientific studies put the age at which a fetus experiences pain somewhere between 23 and 30 weeks.

Please note, however, that science is not a requisite basis for U.S. legislation; nor is the embrace of science a requisite for being elected to the U.S. Congress.

Please note also that some of those who support the unscientific bill are not necessarily idiots, but some clearly are, for example, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced it. He’s one of those nutty elected guys who’ve said nutty things about “women parts” they can’t bring themselves to name in public. Franks’ contribution to the nuttiness is, “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” a statement contradicted by medical science and the rules of grammar.

CallameConUnGanchoThis sort of thing puts a bit of a damper on my celebratory mood. I’m always grateful to share a day of such importance to the advancement of women’s rights, but I’m always annoyed that some men and women remain adamantly dedicated to rescinding this particular advancement, and preventing others when the opportunity arises. And now, I’m sad that I can no longer call Mother on the 22nd to thank her for birthing me—and for teaching me grammar.

My mother was a great fan of grammar, unlike Rep. Franks and so many of his peers. She liked syntax, too, big fan of that. And punctuation. Also semantics. We could play with the meaning of words well into the wee hours. And, ho boy, Mother would have had some fun with H.R. 36’s title, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” It’s quite a little piece of propaganda: Who wouldn’t want to vote to protect children, right? I imagine, though, she’d have found that hyphenated compound modifier troubling, and the missing comma. She would surely never have referred to Rep. Franks and his nutty peers as “idiocy-capable, unrealized adults.” But she surely would have wondered why anything yet to be born would rely on anyone but its mother for protection.

Mother did a great job of protecting me, in the womb and out, without any interference from Congress. She was especially protective when I had an abortion. And you know what? When she died, she left me some money, so I honored her departure by giving some of it to abortion funds in states already burdened with abortion bans, along with other regressive restrictions that make abortions pretty darn hard for low-income women to access.

This also makes me sad. And mad.

So here’s a thought. On the 22nd, when I blow out the candles, I’m wishing for this: that you make a contribution to an abortion fund. Yeah, that would be great! You can visit the National Network of Abortion Funds to find the fund nearest you.


For information about Roe v. Wade and reproductive justice:

Read Pro-Choice America’s “Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women.”

Click here to read an overview of the Roe v. Wade case.

Click here to read the Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun.

Click here to read the dissenting opinion by Justice William Rehnquist.

1992 Rehnquist posters by Robbie Conal.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

An excerpt from Katha Pollitt’s new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Picador, October 14, 2014), reprinted with permission.




Available at Powell’s and other independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Abortion. We need to talk about it. I know, sometimes it seems as if we talk of little else, so perhaps I should say we need to talk about it differently. Not as something we all agree is a bad thing about which we shake our heads sadly and then debate its precise degree of badness, preening ourselves on our judiciousness and moral seriousness as we argue about this or that restriction on this or that kind of woman. We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women—and not just modern American women either, but women throughout history and all over the world, from ancient Egypt to medieval Catholic Europe, from today’s sprawling cities to rural villages barely touched by modern ideas about women’s roles and rights. Abortion takes place in Canada and Greece and France, where it is legal, performed by medical professionals, and covered by national health insurance, and also in Kenya, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, where it is a crime and a woman who terminates a pregnancy takes her life in her hands. According to anthropologists, abortion is found in virtually every society, going back at least 4,000 years. American women had great numbers of abortions throughout our history, when it was legal and when it was not. Consider this: At the beginning of the nineteenth century effective birth control barely existed and in the 1870s it was criminalized— even mailing an informational pamphlet about contraceptive devices was against the law and remained so until 1936. Yet the average number of births per woman declined from around 7 in 1800 to around 3.5 in 1900 to just over 2 in 1930. How do you think that happened?

We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child—indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world—what, for example, it means to the children she already has? We tend to think of abortion as anti-child and anti-motherhood. In media iconography, it’s the fetus versus the coat hanger: that is, abortion kills an “unborn baby,” but banning it makes women injure themselves. Actually, abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.We need to put abortion back into its context, which is the lives and bodies of women, but also the lives of men, and families, and the children those women already have or will have. Since nearly 1 in 5 American women end their childbearing years without having borne a child (compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s), we need to acknowledge that motherhood is not for everyone; there are other ways of living a useful, happy life.

We need to talk about abortion in its full human setting: sex and sexuality, love, violence, privilege, class, race, school and work, men, the scarcity of excellent, respectful reproductive health care, and of realistic, accurate information about sex and reproduction. We need to talk about why there are so many unplanned and unwanted pregnancies—which means we need to talk about birth control, but also about so much more than that: about poverty and violence and family troubles, about sexual shyness and shame and ignorance and the lack of power so many women experience in bed and in their relationships with men. Why is it such a huge big deal to ask a man to wear a condom? Or for a man to do so without being asked? Why do so many women not realize they are pregnant until they are fifteen or twenty or even twenty-five weeks along, and what does that say about the extraordinary degree of vigilance we demand women exercise over their reproductive systems? And speaking of that vigilance, what about the fact that some 16 percent of women, according to a Brown University study, have experienced reproductive coercion in at least one relationship— a male partner who used threats or violence to control a woman’s contraception or pregnancy outcomes—with a remarkable 9 percent experiencing “birth control sabotage,” a male partner who disposed of her pills, poked holes in condoms, or prevented her from getting contraception. One-third of the women reporting reproductive coercion also reported partner abuse in the same relationship. Behind America’s high rate of unintended pregnancy—almost half of all pregnancies—and high rates of abortion lies a world of hurt.

ProBackcvrWe need to talk about the scarcity of resources for single mothers and even for two-parent families, and the extraordinary, contradictory demands we make upon young girls to be simultaneously sexually alluring and withholding: hot virgins. We need to talk about blood and mess and periods and pregnancy and childbirth and what women go through to bring new life into the world and whether deep in our hearts we believe that those bodies mean women were put on Earth to serve and sacrifice and suffer in a way that men are not. Because when we talk about abortion as a bad thing, and worry that there’s too much of it, sometimes we mean there’s too much unwanted pregnancy and that women and men need more and better sex education and birth control, and sometimes  we mean there’s too much poverty, especially for children and their mothers, but a lot of the time we mean a woman should have a good cry, and then do the right thing and have the baby. She can always put it up for adoption, can’t she, like Juno in the movie? And that is close to saying that a woman can have no needs, desires, purpose, or calling so compelling and so important that she should not set it aside in an instant, because of a stray sperm.

Abortion has been legal across the United States for more than four decades. More than a million abortions are performed every year—some 55 million since 1973, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. A few facts: By menopause, 3 in 10 American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy; about half of all US women who have an abortion have already had a prior abortion; excluding miscarriages, 21 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Contrary to the popular stereotype of abortion-seeking women as promiscuous teenagers or child-hating professionals, around 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. And 7 in 10 are poor or low-income. Abortion, in other words, is part of the fabric of American life, and yet it is arguably more stigmatized than it was when Roe was decided. Of the seven Supreme Court justices who made up the majority in Roe, five were nominated by a Republican president. These men were hardly radicals: Potter Stewart, nominated by President Eisenhower, had dissented in the court’s 1965 landmark decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down that state’s ban on the sale or use of contraceptives even by married couples; in two separate decisions he upheld prayer and Bible readings in public schools. Warren Burger, Richard Nixon’s choice for Chief Justice, went on to rule in favor of laws criminalizing “sodomy” in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) on the grounds that historically homosexuality had been viewed as heinous and wrong. What made these staid, gray-haired gentlemen permit abortion virtually on demand in the first six months of pregnancy?

To understand that, we have to see what those men saw. In the law, they were witnessing a rapid evolution toward increased personal freedom, and in particular increased freedom for women: These were the years when feminism was a true grassroots movement, one that achieved remarkable success in a very short time, knocking down hundreds of laws and regulations, challenging centuries of tradition and custom, and expanding women’s rights and opportunities in almost every area of life. Ten million women were taking birth-control pills, and two-thirds of all Catholic women were using some form of contraception. Women were pouring into colleges and the workforce. The year before the Roe decision, the Senate had passed the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

In tandem with these huge social shifts, elite views were changing on abortion. Doctors had helped criminalize abortions after the Civil War as part of their effort to professionalize medicine by marginalizing midwives and lay healers. Now significant numbers of them saw abortion bans as a constraint on their right to care for their patients: Barring malpractice, there was no other circumstance in which a doctor had to defend his professional decisions as a matter of law. There had always been a little wiggle room in state abortion laws, because doctors were still permitted to perform them for “therapeutic” reasons—to save a woman’s life, for example. But what did that mean, exactly? An amicus curiae brief in Roe from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical groups observed that “a woman suffering from heart disease, diabetes or cancer whose pregnancy worsens the underlying pathology may be denied a medically indicated therapeutic abortion under the statute because death is not certain.” Meanwhile, the definition of “therapeutic” was being quietly expanded—for women with money, connections, and luck. Certain psychiatrists were willing to bend the rules by certifying abortion-seeking patients as mentally ill or suicidal (of course, you had to pay them for this service, and know how to find them in the first place). Beginning in the late 1940s, hospitals in many states set up abortion committees to which a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy could appeal. It was a humiliating process, which could involve multiple physical examinations and interrogations by unsympathetic doctors. For some women, the price of an abortion was sterilization. But it meant that some small fraction of middle-class white girls and women were able to obtain legal abortions, especially if they happened to be related to one of the doctors on the committee.

As a matter of public discussion, abortion was coming out of the shadows. In 1962, Sherri Chessen Finkbine was granted a legal abortion because she had taken Thalidomide, a sleeping medication her husband had brought back from a trip to Europe that, she belatedly discovered, had resulted in the births of thousands of babies with disastrous deformities. When the abortion was canceled after a newspaper article about her situation created an uproar, Finkbine publicly went to Sweden and terminated her pregnancy there. Her story was featured on the cover of Life magazine and helped break the silence around abortion. But it did more than that. It presented an abortion-seeking woman as sympathetic, rational, and capable. Finkbine was not a college student or low-income single mother to be either pitied as a victim or scorned as a slut. She was a white, middle-class married mother of four, well known as Miss Sherri on the local version of Romper Room, a popular children’s television show. In the early 1960s, epidemics of rubella, which is linked to birth defects, had the same effect: Americans had to listen to respectable white women unapologetically demanding the right to end their pregnancies. At the same time, Americans had to face the fact that illegal abortion was already common.

The more exceptions there were to the criminalization of abortion, the more glaringly unfair and hypocritical the whole system was seen to be. By the time Roe came to the court, well-off, savvy women could flock to New York or several other states where laws had been relaxed and get a safe, legal termination; poor women, trapped in states that banned abortion, bore the brunt of harm from illegal procedures. There was a racial angle, too: Not only did women of color, then as now, have far more abortions than whites in proportion to their numbers, they were much more likely to be injured or die in botched illegal procedures. According to the Centers for Disease Con- trol and Prevention, from 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women. The injustice of a patchwork system, in which a simple medical procedure could leave a woman dead or in- jured based purely on where it took place, was obvious.

Women were speaking up, too, about their abortions. In 1969 feminists invaded and disrupted the New York state legis- lature’s “expert hearing” on abortion (the experts consisted of fourteen men and a nun). Women talked about ending their pregnancies in public speak-outs. In 1972 the first issue of Ms. magazine carried a statement headlined “We Have Had Abor- tions” that was signed by more than fifty prominent women, including Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Billie Jean King, Lee Grant, and Lillian Hellman. In Chicago, the Jane Collective began by connecting women with an illegal provider and ended up performing abortions themselves. And if you assume the churches were united against abortion, think again: Begin- ning in 1967, the Clergy Consultation Service founded by the Rev. Howard R. Moody, a Baptist, along with Lawrence Lader, Arlene Carmen, and others, helped thousands of women across the country find their way to safe illegal abortions. In the years leading up to Roe, legalization of abortion under at least some circumstances was endorsed by the Union for Reform Judaism, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Asso- ciation of Evangelicals, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and other mainstream  denominations.

Because so much of this history has been forgotten—what, the Southern Baptists supported legalization?—we tend to see Roe as a bolt out of the blue. But to the Supreme Court—and to the public, a majority of which supported liberalization—the ruling ratified and expanded social changes that were already under way.  At the time, what its supporters saw as its chief effect was to transform an operation that was commonplace, criminal and sometimes extremely dangerous into an operation that was commonplace, legal, remarkably safe—and becoming ever safer: “Deaths from legal abortion declined fivefold between 1973 and 1985 (from 3.3 deaths to 0.4 deaths per 100,000 procedures),” reported the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs, reflecting increased physician education and skills, improvements in medical technology, and, notably, the earlier termination of pregnancy. The mortality rate for childbirth from 1979 to 1985 was more than ten times higher than that from abortion in the same period.

Today the real-life harms Roe was intended to rectify have receded from memory. Few doctors remember the hospital wards filled with injured and infected women. The coat-hanger symbol seems as exotic as the rack and thumbscrew, a relic waved by gray-haired “radical feminists,” even as anti-abortion advocates use rare examples of injury and death to paint all abortions as unsafe. They seized on the horrifying case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who ran a filthy Philadelphia “clinic” where a teenage girl administered anesthesia, a patient died and others were injured, fetuses were aborted well into the third trimester, and the ones who survived had their spines “snipped.” You wouldn’t know from their reporting that what Gosnell was doing was completely against the law; he was found guilty of three acts of first-degree murder on May 13, 2013. Using deceptively edited secretly videoed encounters, abortion opponents tar all abortion clinics as inhumane “mills” staffed by callous, greedy people—transferring the century-old taint of the criminal “abortionist” to legitimate providers. Yet paradoxically, abortion opponents deny that when abortion was illegal it was both widespread and sometimes (though not always) dangerous. Look, they say, in 1960, Mary Steichen Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, herself said there had been “only 260 deaths” in 1957. (They don’t mention that she also said it was likely that there were one million abortions a year—almost as many as today, in a much smaller population— and this was in the supposedly staid and moral 1950s, before the sexual revolution or the women’s movement.) Years ago I debated a leader of Massachusetts for Life who pooh-poohed the health risks of recriminalizing abortion: Thanks to suction machines and antibiotics (which illegal providers would all have access to) illegal procedures would be reasonably nonfatal. So there it is. Legal abortion: very dangerous. Illegal abortion: remarkably safe!

For many years after Roe, abortion opponents talked a lot about the need to overturn the decision, and worked hard to elect officials who would install anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court. So far, they have not seen that dream realized. But they have been shockingly successful in making abortion hard to get in much of the nation. Between 2011 and 2013, states enacted 205 new restrictions—more than in the previous ten years: waiting periods, inaccurate scripts that doctors must read to patients (abortion causes breast cancer, mental illness, suicide), bans on state Medicaid payments, restrictions on insurance coverage, and parental notification and consent laws. In Ohio, lawmakers have taken money from TANF, the welfare program that supports poor families, and given it to so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) whose mission is to discourage pregnant women from having abortions. (That’s right: Embryos and fetuses deserve government support, not the actual, living children they may become.) Twenty-seven states have passed laws forcing clinics into expensive and unnecessary renovations and burdening them with medical regula- tions intended to make them impossible to staff. Largely as a result, between 2011 and 2013 at least 73 clinics closed or stopped performing abortions. When these laws have been challenged in court, judges have set aside some of them, but not all. The result: In 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute, around one-third of American women of reproductive age lived in states hostile to abortion rights, one-third lived in states that supported abortion rights, and one-third lived in states with a middle position. As of 2011, more than half of women lived in hostile states. Middle-ground states, such as North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, have moved in an anti-choice direction. Only twenty-three states could be said to have a strong commitment to abortion rights. In 2013, only one state, California, made abortion easier to obtain.

What this means is that although abortion has been legal for four full decades, for many women in America it might as well not be. It is inaccessible—too far away, too expensive to pay for out of pocket, and too encumbered by restrictions and regulations and humiliations, many of which might not seem to be one of those “undue burdens” the Supreme Court has ruled are impermissible curbs on a woman’s ability to terminate a pregnancy, but which, taken together, do place abortion out of reach. It would be nice to believe that no woman is deterred from an act so crucial to her future by having to wait a mere twenty-four hours between state-mandated counseling and the actual procedure, but what if the waiting period means two long round trips from your rural home to a distant city while trying to juggle work and child care, and because the clinic has to fly in a doctor from out of state, the twenty-four hours actually means a week, and that puts the woman into the second trimester but the clinic only does abortions through twelve weeks? What about the teenage girls who must tell their parents in order to get an abortion and can’t bear to do so until it’s too late? (Thirty-eight states currently require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.) What about low-income women who live in one of the thirty-three states without Medicaid abortion coverage? What if, while she is putting together the $500 for a first-trimester abortion, a low-income woman goes over into the second trimester, and now the abortion costs $1,000? It is as if a woman has a right to vote, but the polling place is across the state and casting a ballot costs two weeks’ pay, and as if she has a right to be a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist, but her place of worship is a four-hour bus ride away, and before she can go to services she has to listen to a fundamentalist Christian sermon warning her that if she doesn’t accept Jesus as her personal savior she’s going straight to hell. We would never accept the kinds of restrictions on our other constitutional rights that we have allowed to hamper the right to end a pregnancy.

How has this happened?

One answer is that the Republican Party, home base of the organized anti-abortion-rights movement, has won a lot of elections. The midterm elections in 2010 were crucial: The GOP won the House of Representatives and, even more important, in twenty states it had “trifectas”—control of both statehouses and the governorship. By 2013 it had twenty-four. Democrats, by contrast had only fourteen. (It’s important to note that not all Democratic politicians are pro-choice, especially in red states. In 2014, Louisiana’s bill that requires doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges, a measure that could close three out of the state’s five clinics, was written by a Democrat, Katrina Jackson.)

But there’s a deeper, more troubling answer. The self- described pro-life movement may not represent a numerical majority—only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to ban abortion—but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in intensity, dedication, cohesion, and savvy. It is the closest thing we have right now to a mass social movement. It works in multiple ways at once—through its own organizations, electoral politics, abstinence-only sex education in the public schools, the Catholic and fundamentalist/evangelical churches, public protests like the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, and “sidewalk counseling” in front of clinics. It reaches all the way from a terrorist fringe that it regularly disowns but that has very effectively discouraged doctors from performing abortions to popular radio and TV haranguers like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to respectable journals like National Review and the Weekly Standard. Indeed, it is hard to think of American conservatism today without its opposition to abortion. You would never know that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater were pro-choice, and that in 1967, the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, signed what was then the most liberal abortion law in the nation. Some of this hostility to abortion is surely for political reasons: Right-wing Christians vote. But the fact that opposition to abortion is de rigueur even for mainstream Republicans like Mitt Romney shows the movement’s power.

The anti-abortion movement has made abortion a lot harder to get in many states, but even more important, it has reframed the issue. It has placed the zygote/embryo/fetus at the moral center, while relegating women and their rights to the periphery. Over time, it has altered the way we talk about abortion and the way many people feel about it, even if they remain pro-choice. It has made abortion seem risky, when in fact it is remarkably safe—twelve to fourteen times safer than the alter- native, which is continued pregnancy and childbirth. It has made people think the abortion of viable fetuses happens all the time when in fact it is illegal in most states except for serious medical reasons, and happens very rarely: According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 1.5 percent of abortions occur after twenty weeks’ gestation. (The Supreme Court has said twenty-four weeks is the threshold of viability.) It has made practices that are virtually unknown in the United States, like sex-selective abortions, seem routine and clinics like Dr. Gosnell’s seem typical.

Most of all, abortion opponents have made ending a pregnancy shameful, even for women who don’t believe a fertilized egg or a lentil-sized embryo is a child. It is hard now to believe, or even remember, that for a brief moment in the 1970s (let alone when abortion was an illegal but common practice), it was permissible not to consider your abortion a personal tragedy and failure. You were not automatically a callous, superficial person if you felt nothing but relief that you were no longer pregnant, and you were not a monster if you said so.

Nowadays, we take it for granted that having an abortion is a sorrowful, troubling, even traumatic experience, involving much ambivalence and emotional struggle, even though studies and surveys consistently tell us it usually is not. Even pro-choicers use negative language: Hillary Clinton called abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” True as far as it goes, but you’ll notice she didn’t add, “and for many others, a blessing and a lifesaver.” For decades, the Democratic Party mantra has been “safe, legal, and rare,” with the accent on the rare. Among hardcore opponents, the language is completely over the top: Abortion is a Holocaust, providers are Nazis, the womb is the most dangerous place on Earth for a child, the Democratic Party is the Party of Death.

As long as abortion has been legal, pro-choice activists have complained that abortion opponents have stolen the language of morality and used it to twist public opinion. Who can be against “life,” after all? Or responsibility, family, babies, motherhood? But it’s not just opponents who paint abortion as awful and tormented. Pro-choicers do so too.

We may roll our eyes when abortion opponents contrast the anguish of abortion with the joys of unwanted babies, and the selfishness of women who end their pregnancies with the nobility of women who keep theirs whatever the difficulty, but over time it seeps in. So defensive has the pro-choice community become since the 1970s, when activists proudly defended “abortion on demand and without apology,” that in 2013 Planned Parenthood announced that it was moving away from the term “pro-choice,” which was itself a bit of a euphemism: Choose what? In mass-media messaging you’re likely to hear about “defending Roe,” even though only 62 percent of Americans (and only 44 percent of those under thirty) know what Roe is. When abortion opponents at the Susan G. Komen Foundation canceled its grants in 2012, Planned Parenthood’s response emphasized that “More than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood health care is preventive, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STDs, breast health services, Pap tests, and sexual health education and information.” True, this cautious approach won the day—Komen was forced to restore the grants, and the anti-choice faction left the organization. But was there no room for Planned Parenthood to add, “Yes, we perform abortions, and we are proud to offer that service to women who make the decision not to bear a child at that time, because abortion is a normal part of health care”?

It’s not just our leaders and spokespeople at major organizations who unwittingly participate in what’s been rather uneuphoniously called the “awfulization” of abortion. Anywhere you look or listen, you find pro-choicers falling over themselves to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult.” How often have you heard abortion described as “the hardest decision” or “the most painful choice” a woman ever makes, as if every single woman who gets pregnant by accident seriously considers having a baby, only a few weeks earlier the furthest thing from her mind and for very good reason? Or more accurately, as if every accidentally pregnant woman really should seriously consider having that baby—and if she doesn’t at least claim she thought long and hard about it and only reluctantly and sadly realized it was impossible, she’s a bad woman who thinks only of her own pleasure and convenience.


Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights is available at Powell’s and other independent bookstores, Amazon.com, and Barnes and Noble.


AbouKathaPollittt Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt, a feminist author and poet, writes the “Subject to Debate” column for The Nation. Her other books include Learning to Drive, The Mind-Body Problem poetry collection, Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time. She tweets at @kathapollitt and blogs at kathapollitt.blogspot.

Mother’s Day 2014 in Poetry and Prose


Things Mother Taught Me

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


When two people love each other very much, the father plants a seed inside the mother, where a baby grows. Then all hell breaks loose and the kid perfects a drop-dead look that could kill a rhino. And when the mother and father are too old to reach around, the kid wipes their tushies for them.

Tattling is verboten. But you may certainly bring that delightful doll of yours, Mrs. Peabody, to tea, so she can share her tale of woe about the really mean thing her child did that would be cause for a spanking, if tattling were allowed.

If it’s likely to get a laugh, say it. Just be prepared for the consequences. They are inevitable.

TurtlesOn the other hand, if you can’t say anything nice to someone, say nothing at all. Save the caustic comments for when the target isn’t present. Then the rest of us can enjoy them.

Spread the peanut butter on both sides of the bread. This keeps the jelly from bleeding through.

Speaking of which, toss a twelve-year-old into the bathroom with a box of tampons and close the door. She’ll figure it out. She’s smart.

Love the unlovely. But whatever you do, don’t stare at the mole.

Family members dine together. Even when some family members hope others choke, and one or another occasionally stomps off in a huff mid-meal. They all come back for more. Of everything.

Serve from the left; clear from the right; don’t throw out the untouched Napoleon. Don’t admit that you didn’t throw it out.

A sociable whiskey sour stokes the conversation. Too many, kills it. The ability to discern between the two is lost at the bottom of the whiskey sour glass.

Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, and ladies glow. Ladies once glowed into cotton-covered rubber dress shields that attached to brassieres. That was before women started baring their upper arms in public. Now dress shields are all the rage again. Because some people still believe horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, and ladies glow.

Tithe. It’s a loving thing to do. Particularly if your gift goes to Planned Parenthood. Just don’t bring it up at family reunions.

Food is comfort. Spoon bread and creamed chipped beef, caviar and cream cheese, and Charles Potato Chips are known to heal broken hearts, disconsolate souls, and evacuated wombs.

Never marry an engineer. They’re a humorless lot, too anal-retentive. Father excepted, of course. He can dance.

By the way, dance. Especially when it hurts. Don’t sit down. Keep dancing.

There will be separate punch bowls at mixed weddings. This does not mean the Baptists don’t visit the Methodist punch.

Stop staring at that mole.

Also note that Southern Baptists are similar to Catholics: Forgiveness is contingent on the confession of sins. Groveling is also required. Be grateful the Bacons are Methodists.

Always write a thank you note. Failure to do so bespeaks of more than mere thoughtlessness. It calls the family pedigree into question. This is unforgivable.

FHB, family hold back, is in order when guests bring unexpected companions. This is no problem if the offering is terrapin—the children won’t eat pets. When it’s Crab Imperial, engage the guests during cocktail hour in discussion of the diet of the bottom-feeding blue crab.

It’s better to be looked over than overlooked. Unless you are picking your nose, scratching your crotch or sneaking the last of the Crab Imperial. Goddamn you.

When a family member does something of note, it becomes a story. Stories that embarrass the subject are more frequently retold. They are enhanced with each telling. Sometimes, no longer able to recognize themselves, the subjects also embellish the stories. These are the best.

Some rules are meant to be broken. Just do it with flair. But Jesus, Mary and Joseph—use a modicum of judgment.

It is not polite to eat with your elbows on the table. If you want to elbow someone, do it after dinner. Neither is it polite to talk with food in your mouth. Or about death. It puckers the fannies of the fainthearted and those who prefer not to see too much.

Everything will look better tomorrow. Although Mother is dead. Father, too. This does not get better.

You’re staring at that mole again.



About K-B

Spawned by a Southern Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, I inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. As a political columnist at the San Diego North County Times, I won awards, a Pulitzer Prize submission, a fan club and death threats from angry readers—but, like my mother, the sales department loved me. I also wrote book reviews for the paper until the Union-Tribune ate it.

Long ago, the Chiron Review awarded me second place in its annual poetry contest; more recently, the San Diego Poetry Annual has published my work; and my creative nonfiction and commentary have been published by Trivia: Voices of Feminism, Ms. Magazine blog, San Diego Gay & Lesbian NewsSan Diego Free PressOcean Beach RagThe Progressive Post, and iVory Towerz.

Photo credit: Karen Roe via a Creative Commons license.

On abortion clinic buffer zones and busybodies

Sidewalk Counseling: Peacefully offering the women the opportunity to choose life for their unborn children                                                         –from the Pro-Life Action League

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


……………….Click for larger image……………….

This Wednesday is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a case intended to overturn Massachusetts’ abortion clinic buffer zone law, one of endless efforts to chip away at the right to legal abortion established by Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortionistas are so persistently pesky.

The Massachusetts law mandates a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances, which keeps sidewalks clear and, incidentally, protects patients from protesters—or sidewalk “counselors” as anti-abortion organizations prefer their protesters be called.

I get this. “Counselor” inspires a more positive response in media consumers than “protester.” But, hey, you call yourself a counselor, and I want to see the license that allows you to hang that shingle.

While we wait for that, I suppose we could attempt to accommodate both sides of this battle, and call the people who stand outside clinics interfering with patients countesters or proselors or something similarly silly. But I figure they’re actually a bunch of busybodies.

If I’m heading to Planned Parenthood because I have a urinary tract infection or I need a mammogram or things are suddenly smelling kind of funky down there, I don’t want some stranger sticking her or his nose in my business. And if I’m heading to the clinic because I have an unwanted pregnancy? I really don’t want some strange busybody in my business.

But here’s the thing. These countestelorés don’t care what I want (nice Latin touch, eh?). All they care about is what they believe I should want. And, aside from counseling them on the impropriety of such public demonstrations of self-absorption—and their failure to generalize the primary don’t-talk-to-strangers lesson—there’s not a whole lot we can do to counter their faith-driven behavior, rude though it is, other than mandate that they keep their distance.

And faith is the thing here. These protselors—at least the ones who are not shrieking “Baby killer!” in patients’ faces or body blocking them before they reach the clinic door—are indeed proselytizing, attempting to convert their targets to their way of thinking, and they do it with free-flowing biblical rhetoric and medical blather. It’s a kinder, gentler way of telling clinic patients that if they have abortions they’re baby killers, God’s gonna hate them, and they’ll end up with deadly ectopic pregnancies, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, breast cancer, placenta previa, psychological and emotional trauma, fatal infections—and don’t forget the dry cough and shortness of breath! By the way, I’m so grateful to the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center for publishing all this misinformation, sourced not from the American Medical Association, but from anti-abortion organizations; otherwise you might not have believed me that anti-abortionistas would so blatantly, you know, fib.

Yep, you got it: Peaceful “counselors” have been known to lie to change pregnant women’s minds—it’s enough to give you shortness of breath!

January 2013 anti-abortion protest in Fallbrook

…….January 2013 anti-abortion protest in Fallbrook……

Now, there are some lies we all should tell pregnant women: You look beautiful, The last trimester is much easier than the first two, No matter how bad your labor is, don’t worry—you won’t remember any of it. But lie to them about their reproductive health? About bogus medical outcomes? That’s pretty poopy. And as I was listening to the Massachusetts case arguments before the court (Justice Scalia was his typical punkasschump), the justices’ disregard for the women targeted by these procoutenselterlors was increasingly annoying, albeit the patients aren’t the legal focus of the case. And, of course, freedom of speech means the procoutenselterlors have the right to say most anything they want. I, on the other hand, do not have the right to not hear it. I can, instead, hustle my buns into the clinic to avoid their peaceful insistence on telling me what to do (something I’ve abhorred since adolescence), unless they’re peacefully detaining me, begging me not to kill my baby.

There’s a power imbalance in that there relationship. Hence the desire for a bit of a buffer for clinic patients, something to serve as a protective barrier from unwanted lectures on purportedly divine intensions for our uteri. But we have a funky Supreme Court these days. I’ve no inkling what the majority will decide. I do know that if they decide against Massachusetts’ law, anti-abortionistas will have a hell of a party, because the decision could put other state and municipal buffer laws at risk.

Being a bit of a planner, though, I’ve prepared for the worst while hoping for a just decision. Remember that Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center I mentioned? It’s one of those fake clinics, set up to sucker women in with “free medical quality pregnancy tests” and then barrage them with anti-abortion messages. I’ve left the center and their misinformation alone, because it’s the polite thing to do. But if the court decides against the buffer law, I’m going to trot down to the center with Planned Parenthood brochures in hand, and I’ll peacefully offer one to each woman, while being sure to stay out of her path. It’s called “modeling appropriate behavior.” But the biggest difference between the proctolecstors and me? I know the decision is the woman’s to make, whatever it might be.


Photo credit: © K-B Gressitt 2013

Also published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Celebrating Women’s History Month with Poetry

By Penny Perry


Always a Line in the Women’s Room at the Greyhound Bus Depot

GreyhoudBusDepotThree stalls. Ten women waiting.
Choose to not pee in my pants
or miss the Greyhound.
The bathroom dance — hopping
to stop that little yellow dribble
or the gushing mustard flood.
The girl in front of me, breasts jiggling
out of her halter top, stiletto heels tapping
chipped linoleum.

A woman in something gauzy like Tinker Bell
steps from the gunmetal stall. “Happy to serve”
stitched on her apron. “That one’s clogged.”
White toilet paper turning the color of weak
lemonade floats in the bowl.

A basketball settles on my bladder.
Dr. Mike, at the clinic said with a smile,
“Only problem with blood pressure medicine,
it makes you pee.” Would he be smiling now
if he had to use a woman’s public restroom?

I’m going to explode, feel just like I did
years ago when Teddy popped out of me
right on the hospital steps three weeks early.
Guess old Doc Evans couldn’t count.

Someone should open a window.  Pee.
Sweat. Sweet hairspray. I wave the pregnant lady
with blue fishes on her dress to go ahead
of me. Poor thing.
Hope she’s not going Greyhound.
If her baby comes early who will help her?




Mother couldn’t have known what to do.
She was only twenty-five,
drove her big sister, Leona, six weeks pregnant
to the doctor’s in L.A.

Leona squinted at California bungalows,
backyards with orange trees.
She thought about her husband home worrying,
her baby waiting for her.

She told my mother about her screenplay,
a murder in the Braille room of the public library.
Then, she sat silent, her long fingers tangled like kelp.

The doctor glanced at his medical license
framed on the wall behind him,
said he was afraid to use ether.
Leona jutted her famous Heyert jaw:
“My friend Ruth told me to insist.
With ether I’ll float above the pain.”

It was hot that June morning, 1942.
No air conditioning. My mother
in the waiting room thumbed through magazines.
Big-eyed Loretta Young on the cover of Life.

It happened fast. Ether, a busy housewife,
pulled down the shades.

The doctor waved my mother in.
White face, head back, Leona was no longer breathing.
The ribbon in her dark hair floated in the breeze of a fan.


Old Santa Monica Bus Depot photo by Omar Omar via a Creative Commons license.
Fan photo by Meagan Fisher via a Creative Commons license.

I didn’t ask for the anal probe*

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
24 Feb 2013

In the realm of women and their pregnancies, there are two basic types of ultrasounds. There’s the type folks commonly think of being performed on a pregnant woman’s belly. This type entails the jelly, the transducer that fits in the palm of the technician’s hand, the screen with the captured image of a fetus, and the proud parental assumption that that shadowy oblong shape is the biggest penis ever seen on a fetus. Nonetheless, it’s a sweetly benign image, stereotyped in popular media and other fantasies.

Of course, such external ultrasounds are used to view inside many parts of the body and for a grand variety of diagnostic purposes.

But there’s another type that’s not so warm and fuzzy: Transvaginal ultrasounds involve a darn long probe that is inserted into a woman’s vagina to capture images. In normal pregnancies, transvaginal ultrasounds are not typically necessary, although, if there’s some concern in very early-term pregnancies, they are sometimes used because the jelly-on-the-belly type ultrasound cannot capture an image clear enough for diagnostic purposes until the fetus is more developed.

Other times, transvaginal ultrasounds are not diagnostic at all: Instead, legislators who are opposed to legal abortion have passed, or have attempted to pass, legislation that forces women seeking abortions to undergo medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds. In these cases, the obvious purpose is to discourage abortions. The Guttmacher Institute reports on such legislation, and, along with other measures intended to reduce or prevent access to legal abortion, these efforts are plentiful and they often work.

To some women, the prospect of a transvaginal ultrasound is adequately intimidating or degrading or expensive, to send them home without the abortions they seek. Others gird transvaginal_machine-22098their loins and go forward, exercising their reproductive rights while railing at the elected officials who would intervene in their nether regions. And some women consider having their vaginas penetrated by a stranger against their will, and without medical necessity, rape.

I am unable to disagree with them. However, the legislators and anti-abortion activists who would force such unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds on women insist they are not rape, but, rather, demonstrations of their deep concern for women’s safety. I am unable to agree with them.

Recently, Indiana State Senator Travis Holdman (R) introduced Senate Bill 371, which would require two ultrasounds for women prescribed the oral drug RU-486 to terminate their pregnancies. The first ultrasound would be performed before the drug’s administration, to confirm the pregnancy, and the second one, afterward, to confirm that the abortion was successful. But, because RU-486 can only be used in very early-term pregnancies, when a “jelly-on-the-belly” ultrasound cannot produce a clear image, Holdman’s bill essentially mandates two medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds.

His rationale for the bill? That the ultrasounds will ensure women’s safety. Quelle surprise!

I suspect the truth is that Holdman and the members of the Indiana Senate Health and Provider Services Committee who voted for SB 371, sending it to the full Senate for a vote, really just want to stick it—figuratively and literally—to women who wish to terminate their pregnancies.

I wonder, though, if the female senators who voted for SB 371 might feel differently if they were forced to be probed vaginally to determine pregnancy before being prescribed oral contraception, because there’s a teeny tiny little risk that birth control pills can affect a fetus.

And I wonder if the male committee members might be similarly swayed, were they facing forced transrectal ultrasound probes before they could be prescribed erectile dysfunction drugs.

It’s a safe assumption that Indiana’s state legislators don’t want an unwelcomed appliance forced into their bodily orifices, any more than women seeking abortions do. But those who would force women to be subjected to transvaginal probes, might benefit from having intimate knowledge of the invasive procedure before casting their votes on SB 371.

Perhaps anal or vaginal probes should be a mandated prerequisite for voting in support of SB 371.

If you’d like to share your thoughts about SB 371 with Sen. Holdman, you can email his office at Senator.Holdman@iga.in.gov or use this form (if you don’t have an address in his district, his office address will make it more likely that your email message will transmit: 2467 W. 1000 North, Markle, IN 46770).


* This phrase is a wee bit of appropriation from the film Passion Fish.

Also published by San Diego gay & Lesbian News.

Who’s been hit with the stupid stick?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

It’s been so, so stupid in political La-La Land of late. Bad stupid! One might have thought we’d enjoy a reprieve after the presidential elections. But, no. And there’s just so much stupidity one can tolerate. I’m at capacity. Maybe worse. Beyond the point of satiety, my dear, darling father might have said. When he was above ground, routinely forming complex sentences with multisyllabic words. And gently chuckling at the world’s idiots.

But I’m not laughing. That’s for sure. Not that I haven’t tried.

CathrynnBrownCampSignI tried pretty hard to laugh at New Mexico’s House Bill 206, a dull-witted attempt at legislation that would make “procuring or facilitating an abortion” a felony in cases of rape and incest. The bill’s primary sponsor, anti-abortion State Rep. Cathrynn Brown—an attorney, and may I add that she lends the profession no credence—wants rape and incest victims’ resulting fetuses to develop to term so the infants can be used as evidence, a supposed deterrent to rapists.

Today’s poster child for the anti-abortion movement: Exhibit A.

Clearly, Brown has been whopped upside the head with the stupid stick, and her legislative prowess is an exhibition of idiocy (the juxtaposition of her signage warned of this failure). And it gets worse: She forgot to indicate in the bill who would be charged with the felony, so she now says she’s going to fix the language to protect victims from prosecution. Which leaves all the usual suspects to be charged under the law: family members and friends who support the victim’s choice, clinic workers and doctors who counsel the patient and perform the abortion, and all those New Mexico rapists who obtain abortions for their victims. Oy.

PalinShuckJiveOf course, that’s if the bill were to pass. Which is as unlikely as, hmmm, I don’t know, maybe Sarah Palin’s finally apologizing for accusing President Obama of “shuckin and jivin” back in October, after a deadly attack on our diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. That pasty-white chick can pretend with a wink and a snarky grin to her mostly pasty-white devotees that she doesn’t understand the term is a racist slur. But if she thinks anyone else would fall for that, she’s surely been hit with the stupid stick.

Palin makes “dumb blonde” jokes look smart. … Oh, my—surely that was not offensive!

Seriously, when Palin can find Benghazi on a map, that’s when she can talk about foreign— . Well, no, let’s just leave it at finding the city on a map: That’s a good challenge for her. And she’ll have plenty of time to look for it, now that Fox Psneus reportedly didn’t offer her a big enough contract to keep her ego inflated. As she continues to fade into her lamestream media’s peripheral vision, perhaps she’ll find comfort in the fact that she’ll always know where Russia is.

Sadly, though, Russia’s legislature is no more adept at ducking the stupid stick than Missy Sarah. The Russian State Duma’s proposed Article 6.13.1 would ban “propaganda of homosexualism among minors” and impose stiff fines on offenders.

Say what? Yep, the remnant of our worthy Cold War propaganda adversary is now opposed to that of the LGBTQ-rights variety—despite decriminalizing homosexual acts in 1993. Already-enacted local versions of the proposed federal law have resulted in arrests for such propagandizing as carrying rainbow flags and wearing rainbow suspenders at last year’s May Day march in St. Petersburg.

Gays recruiting minors with the lure of rainbow suspenders; you can’t get much more stupid than that.

So, let’s see: That’s 388 smacks with the stupid stick for each of the Duma deputies who voted for the bill on its first pass through Russia’s lower house, “low” being the key word in this context. Or perhaps troglodytic is more apropos.

Either way, it’s stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid …


Crossposted by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

I’ve had an abortion: Will my daughter be able to?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

It’s Tuesday in Highlands, N.J., and I’m taking Frank the contractor to lunch. He’s been such a great guy. He will rebuild my mother’s little house on the Jersey shore that was awash in the waters of Hurricane Sandy last October. Newly gutted, the house reveals the faded layers of lives that once made the place a home, one pattern atop the last, atop the last, atop the last. As I exited the rental car to meet Frank by his pickup, to attach a face to the phone voice I’ve come to find comforting, we were greeted by an exhibit of a neighbor’s sodden refuse, installed along my mother’s front fence, and a code enforcement officer with an envelope in extended hand. I reached for the letter and asked him if it were common for folks to lay their waste at another’s door. He said, “No worries, just remove it,” and tucked the letter back into his pocket. We laughed at human foibles. Frank offered to haul it all away. So now we’re having lunch, in the less damaged town up the coast, lingering while the counters are wiped down and chairs are stacked on tables. We are challenging and sharing, finding our way around common themes and conflicting perspectives—gun control and the difference between deficit and debt, corporate taxes and small town politics—and I wonder: Would he care that I’ve had an abortion? Would I care if he opposed it? Would we still enjoy the conversation?

64percentRoeVWadeWednesday, a tire on the rental car goes flat. Too bad. The car’s been kind of fun until now. The fellow at Enterprise had said, “I’m going to upgrade you. How about the Prius?” ”I’ve never driven one,” I admitted. “Anything I should know?” “No, no, it’s easy.” Turns out, there are things to know, like how to start the car, but I wasn’t hit with the stupid stick, so I figure them out. Oh, and that hybrids get flat tires, too. I call AAA, and the gal says it’ll be 45 minutes before the tow truck arrives. I whine about the weather—36 degrees!—and then I apologize for whining, explain that I might have grown up with chilly winters, but Southern California has lowered my tolerance for the cold, for the cold and for working with idiots. We chat about the sleet, the number of calls they’re receiving, the gal’s wish to fly back to the warmth of California with me—she says it three times. And she promises to shorten my wait, if she possibly can. I feel like a shmuck for complaining. The tow truck shows up in 25 minutes, although it’s not a truck, but a battered and primered sedan with a paperclip instead of a door lock and a driver who looks twelve and has nothing but a windbreaker between him and the frigid air. His frost-chapped hands do quick work. I give him $10. And I wonder: If he impregnates his girlfriend, will they understand that abortion is an option?

Thursday, I’m flying home. The plane is packed. A father is incensed that no one will swap seats so that he can sit with his family. I suspect what’s really bugging him is being stuck next to the window. The flight attendants push the snack and beverage carts up and down the aisle several times, attempting to calm passengers’ restlessness with consumable distractions. But the irate father hounds a woman into giving up her aisle seat, and my suspicion is confirmed. One of the attendants is an older man, slim and stately, a handsome black face, and the most graceful of hands. I ask for ice water, twice, just so I can touch them, despite my stash of bottled water. The other attendant is telling a story, but the engine’s roar muffles most of it. She looks concerned, wears a large button with the face of a young Marine on it. I hope he’s still alive, and it occurs to me that she’s hoping the same thing. She hands a passenger a soda and pushes the cart a few steps closer. I hear her say, “I leaned over to ask what she wanted to drink, and it was a guy pretending to be a girl.” She looks disgusted. And I wonder: Is she similarly ignorant about why women need access to legal, safe abortions?

Friday, I’m home, contemplating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, and reading a list of state laws limiting women’s reproductive freedom and a report of a study on the use of anti-abortion measures to deprive pregnant women of their rights. Reproductive justice is in a sorry state across the country, and I hope that the people whose paths I cross would vote to protect women’s access to legal abortion, that they understand the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that they can comprehend the repercussions of overturning it. I hope they would be, at worst, passive defenders and, at best, ardent activists for women’s right to make private personal decisions about their reproductive lives. As I’ve written before, I’ve exercised my right to choose several times, and I live at peace with the full range of consequences, including my daughter. I hope she is able to exercise the same right. And I wonder: Will Roe v. Wade be here for her?

*     *     *

Visit Planned Parenthood’s 40th Roe v. Wade Anniversary webpage to read and watch and learn what good Roe has done for so many of the women we love.


Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Vote to protect your reproductive rights

There’s a war against women’s rights, against the progress we have made in the last 40 years toward achieving equity with men in education, employment and wages, political representation, healthcare, and more.

The war is being fought in state legislatures and on the presidential campaign trail. Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have committed multiple times to a litany of anti-woman positions — to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, to seat Supreme Court justices who are committed to overturning Roe v. Wade, to undermining mandatory insurance coverage for birth control, and the list goes on.

Know what the candidates represent — and vote as if your life depends on it.

This video is provided by the Feminist Majority.

Legitimate Rape: pharmaceutical ad

“Do you suffer from Sexually Liberated Uterine Tendencies? Now there’s a treatment that can help.”

If you’ve ever been the victim of violence or coercion, this can be tough to watch.

If you choose to watch it, I’m curious to know your thoughts — please post them or email me at kbgressitt@gmail.com.

Does this satirical ad succeed or fail in delivering any message to you? What do you think of the delivery?

Laura Napoli
Joel Silberman

Laura Napoli

Ben Rock

Noah Pohl

Laura Napoli
Joel Silberman

Mark Alkofer

Jordan Bennett

Joshua Bradley

Greg Machlin

Clemence du Barre

Alyssa Weinberger

Paul Ryan: Will swap unborn babies for vice presidency

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Less than two weeks after joining Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign as the GOP’s presumptive vice presidential candidate, U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan has publicly confirmed his erstwhile inner opportunist.

Ryan, who is “very proud of [his] pro-life record,” was faced with a choice between the dangling prize of the vice presidency and remaining true to the source of his pridefulness. Lo and behold, Ryan is surprisingly pro-choice, albeit in a 1-percent sort of way.

Ryan chose to abandon his 100-percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee (a rating based partially on his rejection of abortion ban exceptions for rape and incest), to jump on board the Romney campaign, which, at least for the moment,* supports an abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest and threat to a mother’s life.

These exceptions — any abortion-ban exception — directly contradict what is known in GOP speak as “personhood” or the “sanctity of human life,” the belief that life begins at conception and that the fertilized egg, the zygote, has all the rights of an upright, walking-around, reusable-coffee-cup-carrying humanoid. This belief is reflected in the GOP party platform’s abortion plank, which calls for a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Next thing you know, the GOP will follow up its efforts to suppress minority voting, with a campaign to wire women’s wombs so their zygotes can vote — a barefoot, pregnant and unborn voting plank.)

In Ryan’s quest for higher office, he has gone from “I support the rights of the unborn child. Personally, I believe that life begins at conception, and it is for that reason that I feel we need to protect that life as we would protect other children,” to, borrowing from his words, “the flagrant disrespect for the rights of the unborn.”

And what is Ryan’s excuse for his failure to be true to his radical pro-life position? He weaseled it out in a recent interview: “I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that, the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life. But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy.”

As in: It’s not my fault; Romney did it.

Or, probably more accurately: Yippee! The vice presidency? Hot diggety dog! Shucks, yeah, I’m there, Mitt! How cool is this! I am so on board! And, yeah, I get it: Gotta have abortion exceptions if we want moderate Republican gals’ votes. Heck, I’m with you, Mitt! No prob! Give ’em the exceptions. You know I love unborn babies as much as the next anti-abortionist guy, but if this’ll get us elected, I’m all for it! Besides, we can dump the exceptions once we’re in. The gals’ll come around.

Whatever the internal ruminations of this supposed serious thinker, Paul Ryan has proved himself to be opportunistically “pro-lifey.”

So Republican voters beware: If Ryan will dump his long-time commitment to the nation’s unborn pre-voters just to get elected, imagine what other chicanery we could expect from him as vice president.


* The possibly tentative nature of Mitt Romney’s abortion ban exceptions is explained nicely by Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check.

Video courtesy of station WJHL, Virginia.

Crossposted at San Diego Free Press and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Say a prayer to whom?

UPDATE 26 June: National Organization for Marriage has started a boycott campaign against General Mills because of the company’s opposition to Minnesota’s anti-same-sex marriage amendment on the November ballot.

Please do call General Mills and thank them for opposing Minnesota’s discriminatory ballot measure: 800-248-7310 or click here to send them an email.

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt 

Recently, my daughter and I were out of the country for a month, affording her the pleasure of recovering from heartsickness in a foreign land, with muchos hombres muy guapos, and me, the opportunity to reflect on my homeland from afar.

Kate found the joy of traveling young in Europe, and I found that the United States is no better or worse than any other country. It just happens to be mine.

Upon our return to California, Kate missed the friends she had made in Spain and wished she could have stayed. A multitude of crises welcomed me, and I wished I had the power to fix them.

But I could not, and a friend suggested that, instead, I pray for god’s grace. I thanked her for her suggestion and silently let loose a bad word. Maybe two. Or a lot.

Seriously! What god would allow the election of enough nincompoops to the Michigan House of Representatives to support punishing Rep. Lisa Brown for saying “vagina” during an anti-abortion bill debate? To quote a subsequent protestor supporting Brown, “Why can’t we say ‘vagina’ in a room full of douche bags?”

And what god would allow Brian Brown of National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to achieve a leadership role from which he denounces marriage for certain people as “anti-marriage”? The cross-waving bigot just accused General Mills (owner of such brands as the Jolly Green Giant and Wheaties) of having “declared war on marriage.” And what arms did General Mills take up? The Minnesota-based company recently announced its opposition to the November statewide ballot measure that would amend Minnesota’s constitution to prevent same-sex marriage. NOM’s Pillsbury Doughboy (sorry GM!) has obviously never served in combat.

And what god would allow Obama birther conspiracy theorist Gary Kreep to win a judgeship on San Diego County’s Superior Court? The nutbar still doesn’t believe President Obama is a U.S. citizen; he was endorsed by various Tea Party aficionados and the California Minuteman PAC; and he opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, and probably everything else I hold dear. It is with utmost restraint that I do not take advantage of his name.

And what god would allow my friends’ 22-year-old daughter to suffer a fatal brain hemorrhage, abandoning them to sit beside her, her life support removed, waiting for her to die? What god would consider that a fitting end to a perfectly good young woman’s life?

Pray for god’s grace? Pshaw! Any prayer that might pass my lips would be both flippant and foolhardy. Flippant, because it’s my favorite defense mechanism, and foolhardy, because some things cannot be fixed and the rest will be fixed only by those who recognize the need and are compelled to take action.

So here’s an action for you: Please call General Mills and thank them for opposing Minnesota’s discriminatory ballot measure: 800-248-7310 or click here to send them an email.

I suppose I could say a prayer of thanks for those folks who call. Offer it up to the universe. Hope it lands well. And accept that life here is no better or worse than in any other country. It just happens to be mine.


Brian Brown photo from the NOM website.

Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Tales from the Women’s Room

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

A few days ago, between classes, I ran to the Women’s Room, previously known as the Lady’s Room — until we were liberated from ladylike notions. Or so we thought. Maybe they’ll redo the door signs if Mitt Romney wins the presidency.

In the meantime, I had to get to class, but having birthed a child and lived half a century I had a greater need to pee.

Which I did, surprising myself with a faint moan I had neither intended to release nor felt vibrating past my gullet. Too distracted to give it much thought, I exited the stall, washed my hands, poked at a loose strand of hair, and then I noticed:

Four stalls, three empty. Three sinks. One pregnancy test package insert on the counter. And one faint moan that might have been mine, but was not.

When I was of traditional college age, I invested no thought in motherhood, other than to declare myself unfit for it for several years, and then disinterested for many more. I did, however, eventually succumb to the grandiose and mundane thoughts of parenting, so I found a proper partner and engaged in the physical performance of a lifetime, repeatedly reconfiguring my body to accommodate a growing second. And I never quite managed to put myself back together again. I don’t care what the glitterati say; we are never who we were before producing a child, physically and otherwise.

But I had been pregnant before that, unintentionally so, and I readily imagined the young woman perched on the toilet behind the stall door, holding the miserable prospect of motherhood — a faint moan-inducing piece of plastic with the wrong test answer — and I thought of the many things motherhood has been to me.

It was the sating comfort of my mother’s breast, the warm safety of her embrace, the lashing wit of her tongue.

It was the worst possible option among a youthful spectrum, an option I aborted with the help of Roe v. Wade, the decision just a few years old itself, not yet under rapid-fire attack.

It was the glittering offers from several men who thought that motherhood would become me and that there was nothing much else I could become.

It was my daughter’s dimly lighted birthing in our bedroom, gently extruded to strains of soft music and a chorus of matrilineal voices I hadn’t known I possessed.

It was the decision to pack up future offspring with tidy knots of infertility, knowing that what resources I had must be focused on the child I’d already brought into a troubled world.

It was the potential employer who broke the law to ask how I could juggle my motherly responsibilities with a full-time profession.

It was the Third-World mother who bundled her infant on my bed while she supported my work outside the home.

It was trips to the salvation of Planned Parenthood, taking women I love and supporting their various choices.

It was a couple expending years and property and hope to defend their right to be two men who mother.

It was unuttered images of my daughter’s wishful motherhood and a partner I feared would fail her.

It was learning to step off my path and onto hers just as long as she needed me, because what I do is nothing compared to how I do it.

So I lingered in the Women’s Room to ask, “Would you like to talk about it?”

And while I awaited a response, Arizona passed the earliest abortion ban in the nation (18 weeks postfertilization). A U.S. District Court upheld the Texas law that can force punitive medical apparatus into the birth canals of women who choose abortion, and Virginia passed a law that can do the same. The profanely hypocritical, hiding beneath their cassocks and red-white-and-blue flag pins, declared the humanity of an embryo more important than a woman’s. They condemned low-income women for choosing to reproduce, restricted access to contraception, pushed pay equity further out of reach. They made sure that whatever the young woman in the stall decided when she emerged, her society would make every effort to avoid helping her.

But not a sound filtered through the stall’s cracks, not even the echo of a faint moan.

“I’ve been there,” I said, “sitting on a toilet, wondering what’s next. I’m leaving my business card here on the counter. Call me if you’d like some help — whatever you want, whatever you decide.”


Note: For an up-to-date report on anti-abortion and anti-contraception legislation, visit the Guttmacher Institute.

Crossposted at the Ocean Beach Rag and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

I pray you are not pregnant

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


Last week, a person I admire wrote, “I hate people.” Without missing a beat, I emailed back, “I love that you wrote that.” And that gave me pause. Earlier in the week, I had read a chapter from Maythee Rojas’ Women of Color and Feminism. Rojas wrote about love’s being the fuel of feminist activism, a force for social change. It is through love — of oneself and others — that we build the necessary bridges between the great global diversity of women and their issues, uniting us in action and visionary change. In her book, Rojas made a clarion call for love, but I was feeling hate.

So I looked at the email exchange, I thought about Rojas’ message, I contemplated guilt and put it aside, and I opted instead to consider my response to the thing that initiated the original email. That thing is this:

On Wednesday, lifesitenews.com, an anti-abortion website, published a piece by blogger Elise Hilton entitled, “Why I rejected Plan B after my disabled daughter was raped.” Hilton’s piece reported the kidnapping and prolonged sexual assault of her daughter and Hilton’s subsequent decision not to administer the Plan B emergency contraceptive provided by the women’s shelter clinic to which her daughter was taken after 48 hours of captivity and violation.

Hilton used her byline at LifeSiteNews and she profiles herself on her personal blog — Kissing the Leper: Acknowledging the perfect joy of suffering in Christ, but having a little fun along the way — where she also posted the piece.

With her column’s publication, Hilton raised significant concerns about sexual assault victims’ rights, the rights of people with disabilities, and reproductive justice. Before reviewing these issues, it’s important to acknowledge that, after reading several of Hilton’s blog posts, I have assumed her daughter is an adult or approaching adulthood, as she was taken to a women’s shelter rather than a children’s hospital. Hilton herself reports that her daughter has bi-polar disorder and a cognitive disability, which her blog content suggests might be Down Syndrome. All of which contribute to my concerns:

1. In revealing her own identity attached to the online post, Hilton essentially revealed to the world the identity of her daughter, the victim, and the devastating nature of the crimes committed against her. Hilton also made this information available to the perpetrator of these crimes, who Hilton reported had not been apprehended. While she might serve as her daughter’s legal decision-maker, had she been predominantly concerned about her daughter’s wellbeing, her right to the privacy normally afforded victims of sexual assault, Hilton could have published her piece anonymously — or not at all. Instead, she blasted her daughter’s assault around the virtual globe with adequate identifying information to lead back to her daughter. Thus, Hilton blatantly violated the victim’s confidentiality.

2. In the context of her column, Hilton rendered the crimes against her daughter a secondary issue to her own struggle between her anti-abortion stance and the option of using Plan B to prevent any possible pregnancy as a result of her daughter’s repeated rapes. Hilton certainly has a right to her opinions and to their publication, but in doing so, she invites criticism. And, as a writer, an editor and a book critic, I offer this: Hilton’s column exemplifies a dedication to anti-abortion ideology that precludes compassion for real humans in the real throes of reproductive crisis. She sacrificed her daughter’s confidentiality and, potentially, her daughter’s wellbeing for the purpose of anti-abortion propaganda.

3. Hilton represented her decision to withhold Plan B from her daughter as a spiritual triumph. But Hilton’s triumph could be her daughter’s undoing. In rejecting Plan B, she denied her daughter treatment to prevent a possible pregnancy; her daughter with bi-polar disorder, a disorder exacerbated by pregnancy, a disorder many treatments for which are contraindicated for pregnant women. In rejecting Plan B, Hilton forced on her daughter the prospect of motherhood, motherhood for a woman supposedly disabled enough that her mother must make her most crucial decisions for her. Hilton’s column is a forthright and specific declaration of her violation of her daughter’s reproductive rights. Whatever informed decision her daughter might have made for herself, without the imposition of Hilton’s ideology, we will never know.

Ultimately, in publishing her column, Hilton has demonstrated terrible failures. Hilton has failed to honor a victim of sexual assault with the comforts of confidentiality. Hilton has failed to honor her daughter, a person with disabilities, with the grace of respect due her individuality. Hilton has failed to honor a woman whose reproductive justice was first denied for 48 hours by a rapist, and then again by her mother. Hilton’s disregard for her daughter’s unique humanity, her daughter’s individual rights, reveals Hilton’s disdain for her “disabled daughter,” no matter how much she loves her.

So, is it hate that I feel for Hilton? Upon reflection, I find it is not. Rather, it is rage, rage at a person who would so brutally violate a vulnerable woman — her daughter — for the sake of a cause. I am not a praying person, but I offer up this prayer for Hilton’s daughter: I pray you are not pregnant. Next, I’ll try very hard to love your mother.


Crossposted at the Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

What’s wrong with this picture?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


Picture this.

A small town café. An eclectic group of folks commune at the breakfast counter, shooting the bucolic shit.

“How’s school?” the older, white man asks.

“It sucks,” says the young woman. “I don’t like the students.”

“Why? Are they Hispanic students?”

“No, actually, mostly white and privileged.”

He doesn’t notice her cringe. He doesn’t notice that she is Hispanic.

And picture this.

A flight home after a hectic trip. A lovely young disciple distracts the businesswoman from her work, hoping to save her soul.

“You have quite a faith there, and you’re bright,” the businesswoman says, deflecting the proselytizing. “You might enjoy the ministry. Have you thought about going to divinity school?”

“Oh, we’re taught that women aren’t suited to being spiritual leaders,” the young disciple says. “Women are driven by too much emotion; men are driven by reason. That’s why god tells them to lead us.”

“It takes some powerful emotions to start and fight a war,” the businesswoman suggests. “You might find men are no more rational than women. And you might find a church that doesn’t limit your freedom of choice.”

“Oh, no, knowing Jesus has set me free! God gives me the freedom to choose to submit to his will.”

She doesn’t notice the dogma that binds her. She doesn’t notice the profanity of her words.

Then picture this.

A dispersing student government meeting about an anti-hate proclamation. A male administrator and a female student cross paths, to his apparent dismay.

“There seems to be a message from the administration that we shouldn’t name the cause of the proclamation. Why is that?” the student asks.

“Oh, that’s the students’ initiative,” he says, sidling away.

“I’m not talking about the students,” she persists, “I’m talking about the administration’s avoidance of naming the problem.”

“Oh, no, no, that’s the students,” he says through his back, scurrying for cover as though the student is the beast.

He doesn’t notice he’s left her to fend for herself. He doesn’t notice the beast is stalking him as well.

And finally, picture this.

A gathering of wingtipped white men at the Value Voters Summit. A Southern Baptist pastor, waxing didactic, introduces presidential hopeful Gov. Rick Perry.

“Rick Perry is a proven leader,” Pastor Jeffress intones, doing the devil’s work. “He is a true conservative, and he is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. … He is willing to stand up and defund that slaughterhouse for the unborn known as Planned Parenthood!”

“Are you talking about Mitt Romney?” the media pounce in a proper flurry. “Are you saying Mormonism isn’t genuine Christianity?”

“It is not Christianity,” the pastor reassures them. “It’s a cult.”

“And he knocks it out of the park!” Perry roars, disregarding the nation’s 14 million Mormons.

He doesn’t notice the slaughterhouse comment. He doesn’t notice the 156.5 million women in the United States he would represent.

What is wrong with these pictures?


Crossposted at San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

Image of Woolworth’s counter by *Kid*Doc*One*


What do you mean by that?


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt


“Hey, dude, that’s wack!”

I learned that handy little colloquialism during my first semester at Cal State San Marcos. “Wack,” according to the fellow who uttered it (a comely young man who was conscripted into a women’s studies class) is an adjective indicating that something is not right. After doing a little etymological digging, I found that “wack” is a variant of “whack,” which means “crazy” and is commonly used in conjunction with “job,” as in:

“That guy is a wha—”

“What guy?”

“That guy over there by the thing. He’s a—”

“Where’s there? What thing? What guy?”

“Over there, there! The guy by the thing over there! That guy!”

“You’re a whack job.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, that’s wack!”

Language is so interesting. And sometimes surprising.

Just last week, while following a ”Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker along Fallbrook Street, I had a moment of surprisal. (Yes, it is a real word, but the OED considers it rare or obsolete, just like the hand-stitched white formal gloves languishing in the back of my sports bra drawer or the— … never mind.)

Now, I had always thought “pro-life” meant just that, as in “for life,” “in support of life.” You know, “life-positive”—kind of like “sex-positive,” another term I learned in school, meaning human sexuality is something to be explored, expressed and celebrated. Apparently, we have to be taught that—c’est domage! Except in this particular context, maybe sex is a rather dicey reference. Do you suppose pro-lifers even have sex? Well, of course they do: Someone is producing those cute little kiddos who hold the mangled fetus posters outside health clinics. But if pro-lifers have sex, they inevitably have unintended pregnancies, and then what do they do?

Oh, yes, right. They do pretty much what other women do. They either have babies or abortions, as in one in five abortion patients self-identifies as born-again, evangelical, charismatic or fundamentalist Christian.

I guess they go to the clinics that aren’t on the picket list that day. Maybe we should picket them, but in a warm and welcoming way. My sign could say, “We proudly serve pro-lifers.”

But where was I? Ah, yes, my moment of surprisal and the meaning of “pro-life.”

The question arose when I was stopped at a traffic light behind a Christian school van bearing the “Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker. An older woman of ethnic descent, noticeably mobility impaired and apparently of low economic status (only the poor don’t have cars in Southern California, right?), began to jaywalk her hobbled way across the street with a heavy load of groceries in her arms—just as the light changed to green.

Lo and behold, the van driver revved the engine and nosed toward the woman, who, to my surprisal (that would be a misuse of an obsoletism—yep, that’s a real word but also rare), proved she could limp a whole lot faster than I would have thought possible had I not seen it.

I guess the person driving the Christian school van that bore the “Vote Pro-Life” bumper sticker cares only about the lives of babies, not those of old hobbled women. Or maybe the driver was actually a bit more anti-jaywalking than pro-life, and consequently felt compelled to frighten the bejesus out of the errant pedestrian. Or maybe the driver was only partially life-positive but staunchly sex-positive, and was a little over-eager to beat a path home to explore, express and celebrate that latter positivity. Or, dare we imagine, maybe it was the old gal’s ethnicity or gender or age or apparent economic status that gave the driver the heavy accelerator foot.

Certainly, it would be easy to attribute the driver’s action to simple impatience; easy, but rank with disrespect and disregard for the target of the impatient assault. And one of the things I learned well before returning to school is that even the most simple acts we lightly perform on others can be heavy with complex motivations.

Whatever the reason, that driver was wack!


Crossposted at the Ocean Beach Rag,  The Progressive Post and San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.