NEVER AGAIN: Grandma Joyce’s Illegal Abortion and the Current Fight for Equality

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Chavi's grandmother Joyce had no choice but to have an illegal and dangerous abortion in the 1950s. She was extremely poor and in a very abusive marriage when she discovered she was pregnant. There was no way she could have another child. In the last week, abortion bans have spread like a virus that will push women back into life-threatening situations like the one Gramma Joyce experienced. The time to politely agree to disagree is over. NEVER AGAIN should a woman face what Chavi's grandmother faced!

Gramma Joyce’s Illegal Abortion and Her Resulting Activism

Chavi and Her Gramma Joyce

Chavi’s grandmother Joyce made the best chocolate chip cookies and lemon meringue pies. She liked to drink rose, gossip, and sneak her grandkids ice cream away from the prying eyes of their anti-sugar hippy parents. She also liked to tell the kids stories of her growing up in Montreal and eventually moving to California when her girls were still really young. She also was very honest about her life, hardships, and the illegal abortion she had in the 1950s.

In high school, she gave the girls all buttons with a coat hanger crossed out with the words “Never Again” that she had picked up from one of her many protests. A young Chavi asked what it meant, and Gramm Joyce said that women were forced to use coat hangers to get rid of unwanted pregnancies with many of the women dying in the process. Abortion was not legal and there was no access to birth control It was a shock to think women had to endure illegal abortions using coat hangers.

At the time of Gramma Joyce’s activist work, the state of California was trying to take back women’s rights and force them to have illegal abortions again using these crude methods.

And Grandma Joyce was fierce about going to the Capitol and making sure all of our rights were maintained because of what she had personally endured.

Why Did Gramma Joyce Have an Illegal Abortion?

Gramma Joyce and Chavi The Summer Before College

Later, while Chavi was in college, Gramma Joyce had a deeper conversation about her life in the olden days. Gramma Joyce married her first husband at a very young age so she could have sex. She was a good Catholic girl and that is what you did. No sex before marriage! She quickly had three girls (Chavi’s mom and her sisters) in a matter of five years.

Her husband turned out to be an extremely abusive alcoholic. He drank so much that they were destitute and could barely feed the family. Chavi’s grandma would cut out cardboard to insert into her daughters’ shoes to make them last longer in the harsh Canadian winters. Unexpectedly, she found out she was pregnant with her fourth child and had no money to support her current family much less another child. And she knew how abusive her husband was to her current children.

Chavi’s grandmother made the decision to have an illegal abortion. Chavi’s Gramma had a neighbor that was known to help women in need. And she was in desperate need. Gramma Joyce described laying on the women’s dining room table, taking a swig of whiskey, and the neighbor performed an abortion using a kitchen knife.

This was the plight of women in her time. Divorces were not allowed without lots of money and a judge’s decree. Women were not allowed to work in any significant way to support their family, nor had access to birth control or even safe healthcare. Women were forced to take huge risks with their bodies to help their current children.

There is deep gratitude for the sacrifices Chavi’s grandmother and other women out there made to make sure we have access to healthcare and sovereignty over our own bodies. Gramma Joyce was on the front line to make sure access to safe healthcare was a guarantee. She knew the personal turmoil of getting an Illegal Abortion. When she told Chavi these stories while sipping her rose, they seemed like they were the trials of an older generation, not to be repeated. After all, we all had pins saying “Never Again.”

Unfortunately “NEVER AGAIN” – Alabama, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, and More States are Creating an Environment Where Illegal Abortions Are Women’s Only Option

Here in Washington State, we can feel secure for now that reproductive rights will be protected. Some might say that because we are so far away from states like Georgia and Alabama, there isn’t much we can do. But everyone has to act on this now, especially those of us who don’t feel the stress of being under immediate threat.

The conservatives pushing these laws are doing so for a number of reasons:

  • pure cynical politics aimed at keeping poor and minority women even poorer, thus more powerless
  • control over women so they do not go on and do big things in their lives and take away the power of men
  • a belief that women fundamentally have lesser worth than men (specifically women of color).

They want a fight, and they are going to get one. NEVER AGAIN was not just a pin we wear. It is woven into the fabric of our activism, which will take strategic lobbying, tough conversations, and coordinated protests. The organizations leading the charge will need our support, and we have to be ready to fight alongside them. And this is going to take time. And we will prevail.

In case the gravity of the situation hasn’t totally sunk in, here is just a little refresher on what’s at stake, with links to articles for more in depth reading in each case.

These Abortion Bans Will Kill Women

Forced-birthers claim that abortion is infanticide, murder, a crime against nature. They don’t give a damn about children once they are outside the womb, of course, but a tadpole-sized fetus that may not survive even the first trimester of pregnancy is everything to them. And only because it is inside a woman. Alabama  State Senator Clyde Chambliss (a Republican, of course) is working from the notion that personhood begins at conception…but fertilized eggs in IVF treatment centers that are discarded are not eligible for protection because they aren’t “in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

Men like Chambliss can’t even be consistent when they talk about their abstracts notions of life and personhood. Naturally, they can’t be trusted to know anything about the actual ways that pregnancy jeopardizes the lives of women. That goes double for Ohio State Rep John Becker, who would not amend that state’s recent ban even after his false claims that ectopic pregnancies could be reimplanted properly were publicly debunked. These men know nothing about women’s health, nor care to learn, but they are creating bans that will severely restrict access to healthcare in some of the most potentially fatal and traumatizing circumstances a woman can face. And it will kill them.

And of course, this administration and these conservative leaders are the same ones advocating for forced family separations at the border, cutting healthcare for children, even cutting vital research into children’s health, and ignoring an already crowded and deeply troubled foster care system. They don’t care if children get sick and die. They only care about suppressing others, especially women and children.

These Abortion Bans Will Further Traumatize Victims of Rape and Incest

Speaking of trauma, even some diehard Republicans and fellow professional misogynists are shaking their heads at these bans…because they don’t even allow for exceptions for victims of rape and incest. So much of their rhetoric relies on a twisted view of personal responsibility: Have sex; have the child. All the while, they create an environment where many women who experience sexual assault are questioned and made to feel shame for it. And even if they do report, the rate of conviction for rapists and abusers is very low.

The New York Times had an amazing op-ed about one women’s journey of becoming pregnant by her rapist and all of the reasons she didn’t report the rape. She would have been forced to carry her rapists’ child because in the states that have this exception the rate of reporting rape is so low.

Now imagine that while your abuser roams free, you have to carry his child. He may even try to claim parental rights at some point. Some women don’t have to imagine this, because it has already happened to them.

These Abortion Bans Will Further Trap Victims of Domestic Abuse

Mississippi State Rep Douglas McLeod was recently arrested for beating his wife when she didn’t undress quickly enough when he demanded sex. This very same Rep introduced the Mississippi abortion ban bill in March. Meanwhile, in Minnesota and Ohio, where some of the most punitive bans have already passed, spousal rape is LEGAL. In other words, women trapped in abusive marriages or partnerships can be legally raped by their spouse, impregnated, and then forced to carry the child, making it even more impossible to extricate themselves from their abusers.

Or in Chavi’s grandmother’s situation. She was in an abusive relationship and had no way out. This is the world we are in NOW for many women in this country. And we say NEVER AGAIN.

These Abortion Bans Will Further Traumatize Women Who Miscarry

Even women who want children will be haunted and even criminalized by these bans, as miscarriages can lead to criminal investigation and prosecution. Two salient cases from Minnesota: After her miscarriage, Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly taking an abortifacient drug…despite no trace of it being found in her blood when it was tested. After a suicide attempt caused the death of a 33-week fetus, Bei Bei Shuai was held for 435 days in the brutal maximum security Marion County prison, facing 45 years to life.

Between 2005 and 2014, the Guttmacher Institute documented another 380 cases of miscarriages leading to criminal charges. This number will not just rise in the wake of these bans. Some legal experts are speculating entire new offices will be created explicitly to investigate fetal deaths. Women grieving the end of a pregnancy will face interrogation and possible legal threats…even incarceration. Because ultimately it will be up to the state to decide what is negligent behavior.

Did that glass of wine cause the miscarriage? Or was it that sushi you had the other night? Are you sure you fell accidentally, ma’am?

These Abortion Bans Will Lead to More Women Being Incarcerated

We cannot stress this enough: These bans are all about creating a scenario where women who want the most basic bodily autonomy will be denied their freedom completely. This is about making women into criminals simply for being sexually active (even without their consent). And when felons are denied to right the vote and ending a pregnancy is a felony, it’s about rolling back suffrage for women, too. Women who were alive to see Roe V. Wade come to pass say they refuse to go back, but these laws have the potential to take many women back to 1919, not just 1973.

In short, as writer Laurie Penny states in her article on The New Republic: “The goal of the wave of anti-abortion laws in America is to put female sexuality under strict and brutal state control.” Nothing less than that.

These Abortion Bans Will Disproportionately Affect Communities of Color

This disenfranchisement and more will impact poor women and communities of color more than anyone else. These are already the places where Republicans continue to cut all forms of education (not just sex-ed) and healthcare. These are the communities that racist law enforcement policies target to keep the school-to-prison pipeline running. Why? There is an entire FREE labor force supporting many industries made up of prison inmates. And it is already women of color who experience the highest maternal and infant mortality rates because of how they are dismissed by the medical profession, too.

Conservatives have the audacity to say that pro-choice people are the real racists because many women of color seek an abortion. They say this while using the image of “welfare queens” to justify cutting food stamp programs for children. The forced-birth set is perfectly aligned with “fiscal conservatives” dismantling public healthcare options, education, legal protections for minorities, and financial opportunities for the nation’s poorest that would actually allow people to have children without feeling like they are doomed to misery and poverty even more.

These Abortion Bans Will Perpetuate Poverty, Especially as Aid Programs are Cut

But that’s the point! These people want the poorest to stay poor. They know that the wealthy and privileged will always be able to access the healthcare they need…including abortions. Over and over again, the conservatives show that all they care about is maintaining their own power, even if it means dismantling our entire system of checks and balances. It’s even less troubling to them to ensure that those who oppose them are too poor to provide for themselves, let alone fight back. Meanwhile, as long as those who support their totalitarian tendencies have someone else to blame for their own poverty, they can do as they please.

In short, these abortion bans are just a particularly aggressive tool for them to undermine democracy as a whole, starting with women.

These Abortion Bans Will Open the Doors to More Theocracy—More Persecution for Everyone Including the LGBTQ

Next month is Pride month. We asked ourselves this week – how many gay white men care about women’s healthcare? They should! You think force birthers only care about women having sex? Trust us they have eyes on formally making gay sex illegal as well.

If these misogynistic theocrats have their way, overturning Roe V Wade is just the beginning. One of the chief lobbyists for these bans is a virulent homophobe named Janet Porter. Formerly dismissed as too extreme before Trump took office, she is now the woman of the hour among the forced birth set and extremists in state legislatures. The Guardian did a profile on her, and in it she makes very clear her ultimate intent:

She also said she continues to oppose gay rights, hinting that her ambitions for the US still have scope far beyond the abortion debate.

In her opinion, Obergefell v Hodges – the supreme court case which legalized gay marriage across the US – had not “settled the issue any more than Roe v Wade settled the issue of abortion”.

Porter is not alone in this. If conservatives can continue to pack the courts and then rely on judicial review to remove civil rights from women (even when a majority of Americans oppose abortion bans), they can do it from anyone. The will of the people won’t matter, nor any basic dignity. The end goal is theocracy, rule by a minority with their own twisted, cherry-picked interpretation of Biblical passages. Whether you have a uterus or not, you will be affected deeply by these bans and what comes next if we do not fight back now.

What Do We Do Next?

We have to take back every state and reinstate common sense politics into the system. Conservatives have had their eye on the prize for over 30 years, they have gerrymandered many states, taken over the courts, and are enacting their vision of American that is a minority view.

Step One: Download The Indivisible States Guide. Indivisible was a rising force to help reasonable politicians take back the house. And now they are focused on local politics. Download their guide and get to work in your state.

Step Two: Donate to ACT Blue’s NARAL PAC. The right to choose is under attack. Women around the world are being denied access to needed services. The Trump/Ryan agenda is a full-frontal attack on reproductive freedom and the right of women to receive compassionate care, including the right to abortion care. We need your help to fight against state bans on abortion, to defend access to birth control, to stop anti-choice judges and politicians. Please give today.

Step Three: Donate to Georgia Democrats. The Divas make a small monthly donation to the Georgia Democrats. They know that Georgia is key to a healthy democracy. What happens in Georgia has a huge impact to the country at large. The fight is in Georgia.

Step Four: Become an Abortion Clinic Escort. Chavi’s grandmother would help protect women who were trying to access clinics. She would put her physical body between women trying to access healthcare and often very violent force birthers. Be Chavi’s Grandmother! 

Bonus: Please Talk About Your Own Abortion.

One in four women has had an abortion. We often think of it as something that is shameful. The way we won legal gay marriage in many states was talking about our personal stories about our relationships. We persuaded the persuadable. The only way we are going to protect our bodies is to talk about what happens to our bodies. Check out Seattle’s own national sensation, Shout Your Abortion to get inspired and hear the stories of others.

The time to agree to disagree is over. We are faced with women having to do what Chavi’s grandmother did back in the 1950s. NEVER AGAIN!