Jenny Brown with Amelia Bonow: The Abortion Struggle Now

Transcribed by Rey Smith

Jini Palmer: Welcome to Town Hall Seattle’s Civics series. On September 29th, 2019 organizer and author Jenny Brown came to our Forum stage to talk with co-founder of Shout Your Abortion, Amelia Bonow, about the history and modern struggle for abortion rights in America. Together they illuminated how the anti-abortion majority in the Supreme court is affecting reproductive rights, referenced the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and drew on Brown’s book, Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now.

Amelia Bonow: Hi, Jenny.

Jenny Brown: Hi Amelia. Hey everyone.

AB: I’m so glad you’re here.

JB: Yeah, it’s great to be here.

AB: Cool. I’m so honored that you wanted to chat with me in a totally stupid ego way, but I read this book and it’s so incredible. It is so lucid in the way it makes sense of this current cultural moment and in a time that I know there’s a pervasive sense of bafflement about, how is it that abortion has been legal for 46 years? The vast majority of Americans support abortion rights. One in four people who can get pregnant will have at least one abortion in their lifetime. And yet abortion access as we know it is being decimated and that will continue to happen. There’s just sort of no two ways about that and I think it’s really easy to be like, how the fuck did that happen?

JB: Right.

AB: You know, but what I loved about your book, one of the things is that it really just is like, no, this is exactly what was going to happen. It is an accumulation of failures of the pro-choice movement, in many ways, and which your book talks about very eloquently. And it’s an accumulation, like while these failures occurred, while the other side was just accumulating power as they do, your book just makes so much sense of how we got here and it does this  really perfect post-mortem on the pro choice movement of York, and it’s like this is how we do a better job next time and actually build a movement to secure reproductive freedom for all, which is not actually something we’ve ever had here.

So yes, I want to say that I read your book and I was just so dazzled by it and felt so into what I was reading and then you talked about SYA (Shout Your Abortion) in a way that was super cool. And then you wanted to talk to me here at Town Hall and I’m just so, shucks.

JB: (laughs) I feel similarly honored.

AB: Awesome, thank you. So before we dive into all that stuff, you have an incredible history as an organizer and an activist. You’ve been doing this for decades and I would love for you to just tell folks about the various stages of your life as an activist and an organizer, specifically with NWL Redstockings and the morning after pill. I mean, really give it up again for the morning after pill; over the counter because of this one right here. (applause)

JB: Well I think the most exciting early experience I had with abortion organizing was in 1989 when the Supreme court had just loosened some of the regulations around what states could do in terms of restricting abortion. And our governor in Florida called a special session on abortion which you can imagine was a big fat target for us, right? We organized vigorously. The National Organization for Women, which I was part of, initially thought, ‘Oh, let’s have a rally in a stadium in South Florida.’ And all of us in North Florida said, ‘No, we are going to the Capitol and we are going to shut down the special session.’ And that is essentially what we did. We got basically 10,000 people to show up in Tallahassee for the special session. It was supposed to be a three day special session; it really lasted for about a day and a half.

We had great allies in the legislature who did their inside stuff while we did our outside stuff, it was a perfect combination of organizing. And so me as a young college student, I was bitten by the bug; a victory can really make you feel like, okay, we can do this. Florida has continued to have pretty good abortion laws. Since then we’ve had some setbacks but I think the punishment and, Oh, and then we—

AB: And some dead doctors as well.

JB: Yeah. I mean, our clinic in Ocala was burned down twice, which was about 40 miles from where I live, in Gainesville. And our Gainesville clinic basically was protected by veterans for peace; armed veterans for peace—

AB: Is that Bread and Roses? Is that the Bread and Roses thing?

JB: That was Gainesville Women’s Health Center, which is no longer in existence. Bread and Roses is still there, but the Gainesville Women’s Health Center was the most outspoken and was getting the most targeting by the anti’s.

And so, you know, we’re offering nonviolence, but actually I think that that was a deterrent to more violence against our clinics. So yeah, the situation in Florida’s is in some places quite dire. But that made me optimistic.

One of the things that happened during that struggle is we brought, Lucinda Sizzler, who was one of the architects of the 1960s feminist abortion struggle, we brought her to Gainesville to speak to us about the history and she is somebody who has basically been ignored and forgotten by history, so she doesn’t get all speaking engagements or people don’t hear from her. So she was very excited to come and talk to us and talked our ear off about how the original abortion struggle went. And what happened was initially in the fifties and early sixties, it was clergy and doctors and lawyers and concerned professionals worried about their patients; they were worried they would see people coming into the emergency room with a botched abortion. They would have whole wards full of people who had tried to get abortions and were sometimes fatally ill from it. So they were basically coming at it from a humanitarian perspective, and they managed to get laws loosened in several states through slowly talking to legislators and lobbying and doing all the things you do, arguing with people about when life begins and all this stuff. And so they were able to get reforms which were of the nature of rape, incest, life of the mother, fetal deformity, that kind of reform. And they would have continued bumping along getting a few of these and continuing to have most people who needed abortion not being able to get them, except that the women’s liberation movement came along in 1968.

It burst forward into the world. And throughout late ‘67 and early ‘68, they were doing consciousness raising in which they were talking to each other about their abortions and realizing that they were not the only person who’d had an abortion. They all found out that they were all having abortions and how scary and isolated they felt and all of this stuff. So when they approached the abortion issue, it was like, no, we do not want these reform laws. We don’t even, we’re going to oppose these reform laws in favor of repealing all abortion laws. This is our demand. Repeal all abortion laws, get it out of the law books. So knowing this, when I learned this history— which was not taught to me, needless to say in history class, and I was a political science major, you know, because what we hear is the Supreme court gave us abortion—when I learned this history, I was like, Oh my God, this is really great. So we proceeded to do our organizing in Gainesville and other parts of Florida based on these ideas; consciousness-raising, speak-outs, going for what we really want rather than toning down our desires to make people feel comfortable. So that was kind of my introduction to the abortion struggle. Yeah.

AB: Will you tell us just a little bit about the morning after pill thing? Like how you got involved with that and what your role was. You were a petitioner in the case?

JB: Yeah. So at the university of Florida, we were trying to get our pharmacy to provide the morning after pill when people needed the morning after pill. Okay. You’d think this was easy. One of the pharmacists there refused to provide it because he believed it was an early abortion and it was against his religious beliefs.

AB: It’s almost like they’re not actually trying to prevent abortion.

JB: Yes. And so we had a big campaign. We finally got this guy fired because it was basically malpractice. And in the course of that, our feminist healthcare providers at the Gainesville Women’s Health Center said, ‘You know, there’s really not a reason to have a prescription requirement on the morning after pill. There’s no medical reason for it, you know.’ And that started us thinking, wow, we should be going for a lot more. We should be going for what we really want. We should be going for over-the-counter. So we started a campaign to do that and we joined a lawsuit that had been filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Nine of us were individual plaintiffs and then this went on for 10 years, so we aged out and had to—there were a bunch of things around can 17 year olds have it, now maybe 18 year olds can have it, well maybe it should only be over the counter for 19 year olds—so we added a few younger women later in the process. But there were originally nine plaintiffs. I was one of them. And it was basically a lawsuit saying to the FDA, listen, you are not even following your own laws and regulations about why this is not an over the counter drug.

It was a long struggle and our principles that we followed were don’t, you know, we were told initially, why don’t you go for something a little easier, like getting the morning after pill in emergency rooms for rape victims, or just something you’re more likely to win, but we use the principle of consciousness raising. We went around and talked about why we had needed the morning after pill and, you know, some of us had been raped, sure, but we hadn’t gone to the emergency room. Most of us, it was for very mundane reasons. We needed the morning after pill. So we testified before the FDA’s hearing about would it be safe over the counter, and we unfurled a scroll of all the countries where it was over the counter, which was at the time about 35 countries. So it sort of went all the way, now I think it’s like 67 countries. We talked about the condom breaking in the FDA hearing and the FDA commissioners were like, Hmm, this is a lot more interesting than most of our hearings. So anyway, we had a bunch of people testify and then they—

AB: What a bunch of children.

JB: They stalled, they delayed, they did everything—this was under the Bush administration—they did everything. They stalled and delayed. We sat-in in front of the FDA blocking the doors. We did this annual event on February 15th, the day after romance’s official day, handing out the morning after pill to anybody who wanted it. We threw the pill out into crowds at rallies. We had it as a door prize. Of course, this is all illegal because it was a prescription drug at the time. So we did a bunch of creative stuff, but our basic fundamental idea was we want to fight for everybody to get it. We fought for it to be, I mean they kept saying, Oh, this age limit, they wanted to put an age limit. Well, the age limit meant that everybody would have to provide an ID. So we finally defeated the age limit. So all ages, it’s over the counter. You don’t have to show ID, you don’t have to prove residency, gender, anything. You can just go get it now.

AB: Hell yeah, Jenny Brown, hell yeah.

JB: However, however the next step is we need a national healthcare system so that it will be free. So (laughs)

AB: Right, we’re going to get to that. So that’s fucking amazing. And thank you. So as far as this book, why did you write this particular book right now? And also I’m curious when you started writing it.

JB: Well, I was invited by Jacobin magazine to write the book. They have a series of introductory books about different topics, but it turns out they’re not that introductory. They’re often really interesting angles on things and they knew I had written another book and they wanted me to write it. So it took about a year to write it. But I feel like we already knew a lot of this stuff in like 20 years of campaigning around abortion. We knew some of the stuff, we knew all the errors that the movement was making. We already knew some of the fundamentals. So it wasn’t like I was breaking new ground, at least for our wing of the movement, which is sort of similar to the Shout Your Absortion wing of the movement. We already had a critique and so it’s amazing it’s been 50 years.

Redstockings had their first abortion speak out in 1969 and it was the first time that women got up and talked about their illegal abortions, or any abortions. And here we are 50 years later and we’re still having these arguments. So part of it is that I think the reasons we’re having this struggle has changed. In 1973 when Roe was decided, basically the establishment was in a panic over overpopulation. There had been all these books, the population bomb, this and that. They kept talking about crime and cities and women on welfare having all these kids, and the birth rate was quite high through the 60s. It was extraordinarily high. In fact, our baby boom lasted a lot longer than other countries that were in World War II. By the mid seventies, the birth rate was starting to flag, and they didn’t really notice this by ‘73, but by ‘75 and ‘76 they noticed it and you can see the Republican party turning on the issue.

Now there are a lot of political reasons they turned, but I think one of the reasons that is not usually talked about is that the birth rate was going down. The birth rate now in the U S is as low as it’s ever been. It’s 1.72 children per woman. The birth rate to have a stable population is 2.1 children per woman. So now we’re seeing really intense politics around abortion and birth control like we haven’t seen before. And it’s partly being intensified by this. I mean, they always want to control women, right? But I think it’s gotten more intense as a result of this. And you start to hear some of the demands of the establishment come through. Sometimes they say things like, Ross Douthat who writes for the New York times had this—

AB: I like to call him Ross Doe-Hat

JB: Douche-Hat

AB: Yeah, that’s better.

JB: He wrote this column: more babies please, our economy relies on a higher birth rate, can we please have more babies? And then Paul Ryan, when he was speaker of the house, you may remember he burst out in this press conference around social security saying, ‘I did my part, but we need to have more, a higher birth rate in this country.’ Of course, it’s his wife who did her part. So you’re starting to hear them even bursting out with it openly. But if you read these think tank reports and although they are really worried, capitalism requires a growing economy and part of that growing economy is growing population and they’ve always relied on it. And now, for example, in Japan the population is actually decreasing, not the growth rate, but the actual population is decreasing since 2011 and a lot of economists blame this stagnation in the Japanese economy on the aging population and the decrease in population. So we’re coming up against some very intense needs of the establishment when we want abortion, birth control, good sex education and all these things. So while we often think of them as cultural issues, I think it’s time for us to look a little deeper and look at the economic issues that are underlying some of the intense politics around it that we’re seeing.

AB: That was so smart. I think that it’s, I mean it’s always seemed pretty outrageous to me that abortion is framed as a cultural issue. That’s just not what that is. So another thing that I love so much about your book, I really love how there’s a lot of analysis of messaging. Like I said, I think that what this book does is analyze the failures that have led us to this point and talk about how do we do better? How do we truly build a movement for reproductive freedom? And let’s just define that term abortion: as many abortions as you need, and by need I mean want, free, paid for by the government, accessible and absolutely shameless. That’s what I want for every single human being. And that is not what we have been asking for.

JB: Absolutely not.

AB: And in a lot of ways like the world we’re living in is exactly what we have been asking for, which is some abortions for some people to buy and then get totally mind fucked by abortion stigma and live in isolation and under the shroud of secrecy and think you’re the only person that’s ever done it when everyone that you know has done it too. So I would love, but yeah, your book does this great job of just making it clear that we’re not in some anomalous, wacky disaster. This is the culmination, this is what we’ve been asking for. And we’re not just like losing because anti’s are demonic, inhumane, unyielding freaks, which a lot of them are—

JB: Well-funded.


Right, well-funded. But we’re losing because we’ve been really weak, and this is a thing that I love, just listening to you talk about your other organizing work is like you starting from the point of, what do we want? And not just this like instant capitulation that we’ve seen so much. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about this at this point, but like this whole idea of safe, legal, and rare, how was that ever the rallying cry? It’s just the least compelling thing I’ve ever heard. So I wanna ask you about some of these. Jenny’s book opens with this unhelpful arguments section where she breaks down some of these unhelpful arguments that have failed to get us what we want. I’m just gonna I’m just gonna throw them at you. So the first one is abortion is about individual choice.

JB: Yeah, as I say in the book, this removes abortion from the realm of political power and kind of narrows it to an individual decision. And what I say in the book is choice loses the deep feminist truth that women and anyone who can get pregnant must be able to determine the use of their reproductive organs. Abortion and birth control constitute our right to refuse to do reproductive labor in the face of bad reproductive working conditions like lack of affordable childcare, healthcare and paid leave. Secondly, and this is a quote from Loretta Ross of the Reproductive Justice Organization SisterSong quote, “Choice is not a compelling vision. It’s not the vision we need to mobilize the kind of movement capable of winning clear and consistent victories.” And then most importantly, choice is used to back away from the word abortion and I argue that hiding our demands is a losing strategy.

AB: Yeah, I think that the only reason to fight for choice is if we’re afraid of fighting for abortion. I also think that like choice just has such a consumer connotation to me, it’s like Pepsi versus Coke or something like abortion or forced birth. But it just feels really consumer-oriented in a weird way. Also, I think that by narrowing it to an individual issue, we sort of let everyone off the hook who thinks that they’ll never be in that situation or like this situation doesn’t apply to them or whatever. Which like, every single person in this room, your life would be unrecognizable without abortion. The world we live in would be unrecognizable. Our lives have been molded in a million positive, invisible ways by people’s abortions, allowing them to live their best lives.

JB: That’s right.

AB: And you know, this is not a women’s issue, first of all because not everyone that has an abortion identifies as a women, and second of all because it’s not an individual issue. This is a fundamental matter of justice and it concerns absolutely every member of society, whether it doesn’t matter who you fuck or if you can get pregnant or any of that stuff, abortion is your issue. For you to think abortion is not your issue because you can’t get pregnant or whatever, like where you think you wouldn’t have an abortion or that situation doesn’t apply to you, that would be like for me to say mass incarceration is not my issue because like I’m a middle class white girl who’s not liable to get ensnared by the prison industrial complex. You know what, that’s my issue because I want to live in a world where people are allowed to be free, you know? And like of course—

JB: There’s a whole lot of white people in prison too. Let’s not get too cocky about how white privilege works.

AB: Well, I have a good track record using my white privilege to not get arrested. Although I’d like to take some notes from you because it sounds fun in that context. Okay, number two unhelpful argument: abortion is not birth control.

JB: Well, this is designed to make us sound like we’re surely very good girls and we were going to avoid abortion at all costs and it’s really a regrettable last resort. Three in 10 women have abortions so it’s really not an emergency measure or even that unusual. A testifier at a recent consciousness raising session in New York said, and I’ll quote, “I work at an abortion provider. There’s a thing I hear a lot: abortion is not birth control. Fuck you, yes it is. Why not? Why wouldn’t it be? It’s one of the safest procedures, one of the most common. It’s a patient’s choice. The Nuva ring doesn’t work for people. The IUD hurts. You have a lot of options. Why not choose abortion? In medical theory, if anything, it’s the most directly true birth control that exists”. And then the other thing about this is that throughout history, abortion and birth control have been banned together and then won together. And courts and legislatures certainly think that abortion is birth control, it’s why they’re seeking to restrict both of them. And then for women’s freedom, abortion and contraception have the same result, basically power in our hands. So I think it’s sort of a losing proposition to try to defend birth control saying it’s not abortion because we’re going to lose both of them that way.

AB: Yeah, okay. Number one, it literally is birth control. It’s 100% effective. It’s the last line of defense really. I mean I think that the subtext is clearly people shouldn’t be just running around having sex with no consequences, which I think is an important thing. And women specifically, I think it’s important to point that out because I do think that yes, this is about economics and yes, this is about race, but this is also about punishing people for sex and controlling women. That’s clearly like a thing they love, these people that are trying to take abortion away from us. I think that you’re right, the subtext is people shouldn’t just be like running around having sex that they maybe even enjoy and not getting punished with a baby they don’t want.

First of all, that sounds great to me. I would love to live in that world and I’m not afraid to fight for that, you know? And that’s another thing that that just made me think of, is someone wrote me a really nice message the other day and they were like, I love how in your story in the SYA book you talk about sex and about liking sex. And it’s really interesting to me how much the conversation about abortion has stayed, like people are really afraid to talk about liking sex in the context of their abortion. The last reason that you are allowed to have an abortion is because you like sex. I forget what I was going to say. Also, I just saw my dad in the back of the room and you’re late and I didn’t know you were here. What was I gonna say? I had another point about abortion. Something about, okay, let’s just move on.

JB: Number three.

AB: (laughs, sighs, snorts)

JB: Too much information.

AB: Wow, I bet I am blushing. Okay. Number three is abortion is a matter between a woman and her doctor.

JB: Yeah. Now first of all, this assumes that we have a doctor as opposed to a string of one time encounters with various medical personnel, which every time they change our—

AB: Right, like what if you just had a doctor? That’s sort of dreamy.

JB: Yeah, I know, that’s not been my experience. But it also ignores that doctors have a long unsavory record of coercing women to have children they don’t want by refusing abortions. And conversely of sterilizing women against their will, especially women of color. It was medical doctors who first pushed to outlaw abortion in the 19th century and essentially they were trying to put their competition—which were midwives and lay practitioners who provided abortions, in fact, abortion was the first medical specialty—they were trying to put all those folks out of business. And even when the court vacated the abortion law in 1969 in Washington DC, and basically made abortion illegal in DC there for a minute, not a single doctor except the individual who challenged the law was willing to perform abortions. So doctors have historically had too much say in the abortion laws and the brave doctors who have fought for abortion rights and who provide abortions today at the risk of their lives are the exceptions and not the rule unfortunately. So doctors may be our allies or enemies but they certainly aren’t partners in our decisions about abortion.

AB: Right on. Yeah, I really like this one because I think that I still hear people say this one a lot and I’m not trying to say that there is a right and wrong way to talk about abortion, but I just want everyone to talk about it and, and if those are the words that resonate with you, I want you to do that if that’s your truth or whatever. But I do totally agree with you that, like I was saying before, it sort of narrows it to this individual issue in a way that kind of removes it from any honest analysis of power. And I think a lot of women are so angry that the government is interfering in our reproductive lives in this way. We’re so outraged and we want to be like, no, this is not your business. But like I said before, I truly believe that it’s everyone’s business. And I also think your abortion is your business, unless you choose to make it everyone’s business, which I recommend personally if you want, so your abortion is your business and you can take that shit to the grave and still be a great feminist in my opinion. I would never want to frame being public about your abortion as some sort of moral imperative or more righteous choice than being quiet about it. But whether or not you were able to access that abortion, whether or not you were able to pay for it, the treatment that you received, whether or not you walked through throngs of protesters, all of those things are everyone’s business.

I think that in some ways we’ve been so desperate to get these people out of the most intimate decision making processes in our lives that we’ve sort of defaulted to this desperation for privacy that has morphed in lots of ways into secrecy. And it’s being wielded against us. And yeah, what is between a woman and her doctor is like getting fucking Botox. Having abortions, this is a thing that we all need to talk about and that doesn’t mean you need to talk about your abortion, but to act like it’s separate from these hugely salient analyses of the way power works in our society and who we’re allowing to be free I think is really counterproductive. And that sort of leads into unhelpful argument number four, which is abortion is not political.

JB: This is sort of the logical result of the previous positions, which is abortion should not be political but personal. Political means about power and few things are as much about power as the ability to control your reproduction. So what I argue in the book is that we should make it more political to expose that abortion is about power rather than denying that it’s about power. Making the seemingly personal political has been an essential women’s liberation strategy. That was what the phrase, ‘the personal is political’ meant when it was originally coined. It’s been kind of distorted occasionally since then. But we gain when we expose that there are competing interests at stake and what they are and if we’re to win full access, it will be a political struggle based on the power of women versus those who want to control our reproductive organs. And it won’t just be a few brilliant women making a smart legal argument. The successful struggle will require us to unite as a collective force along with anyone else who is willing to join our side against reproductive tyranny.

AB: Yeah, I think you pretty much just nailed it. I would like to add one more unhelpful argument if I may.

JB: Yes.

AB: I’m not a huge fan of abortion is healthcare. Let me tell you why. First of all, obviously abortion is healthcare, but I think the impulse to insist that abortion is healthcare just like any other without any other larger implications, as you have said, removes it from a more honest analysis of power, and as a structural power struggle with clear winners and losers. I think that it’s very reasonable—when the other side is insisting that we are murderers and we know that although the vast majority of Americans support abortion rates, we know that many people have really complex feelings about the morality of abortion—I think that it’s an understandable impulse to be like, this is just this, but it feels very like ‘nothing to see here’ to me. And what I would like for us to do is say of course abortion is healthcare, but it’s so much more than that. And instead of being sort of freaked out about how to handle the nuanced morality around it, to just lean into that shit like Sheryl Sandberg and say abortion is a moral imperative. Like instead of being afraid of the murkiness of the morality to say, no, we have the moral high ground. It is ours and I believe that it’s ours to lose. And also if abortion is healthcare, we’re pretty fucked because our healthcare system has failed and everyone’s too poor to go to the doctor. Also, I think that the most compelling argument that abortion is healthcare is that lack of abortion access is a public health crisis and that we live in a country where with the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, and that number is four times higher in some States for black women. That sounds like a moral imperative to me, you know.

JB: Yeah, that’s right.

AB: Okay. Okay. I want you, when should we talk about, should we talk about socialism? Should we talk about Birth Strike? So Jenny wrote this other amazing book that I haven’t read yet called Birth Strike. Do you want to like top line the—

JB: Yeah, it’s basically this argument I started making about the birth rate. So if you’re interested in that I have some postcards for—I don’t have those books here—but I have some postcards so please come and talk to me about it.

But we should talk about what I think the movement should be doing, what should we do? Let’s talk about that. So I think that there is a big opportunity that we didn’t have in the ‘60s because we now have safe at home abortions with pills. This is something that we didn’t have access to. And so it makes me think about how we won full access to birth control, which was essentially by breaking the laws against birth control. We also won a lot on abortion by the army of three in California, broke the laws on abortion, in fact they taught classes on how to do your own abortion. This was Pat Maginnis, Rowena Gurner and Lana Clarke Phelan. So I think we should start thinking about how to do civil disobedience with abortion pills in Northern Ireland. A group of women, including members of parliament, took abortion pills publicly. They were delivered by a robot that was operated from the Netherlands. I think they were trying to focus on the pill and not the distribution law. We have been thinking about how we could basically advertise a time and place where we’re going to hand out abortion pills and then hand them out to people who need them. We want to try to break the law in such a way as to break the same law that somebody who is pregnant who orders abortion pills online and takes them would be breaking so that we are really focusing on that law, not practicing medicine or whatever, all the other many laws.

And it varies from state to state. So I think we need to be smart about how we do it and how we think about this. But my dream is for—as the Supreme court is starting to think about talking, dealing with all these abortion bans and all the things that are coming down the pipeline—there are headlines in the newspaper all over the place, all over the country. People are distributing abortion pills, getting arrested, going to court, fighting it, having demonstrations, and basically being as out of control as possible in demanding this. And I have even talked to a gynecologist, a very respected gynecologist, Dan Grossman at the university of San Francisco, who believes that the abortion pill should be over the counter. He says they obviously need to do some more studies and whatnot, but there is no reason for the abortion pill to be this really, basically it’s treated as a very dangerous drug. It’s got special FDA regulations. Those regulations should at least be removed so that any doctor can prescribe it and then ideally it would be something that anybody could purchase if they needed it. So that’s kind of my thing.

There is, in terms of distributing information about the abortion pill, plan C pills, which is, that’s the website, has great information. I recommend you go sign up. They even do seminars. They have a list of websites you can order the pill from that they constantly update and judge the reliability of. And then obviously Shout Your Abortion is around here. It’s easy to join. And my group, National Women’s Liberation is continuing to work on this. And I should also say that my group has a women of color caucus. We investigate the connections between white supremacy and male supremacy. So if you’re a woman of color and are interested in that, please sign up on our list. If you want more information about National Women’s Liberation, please sign up. Thanks.

AB: In terms of finding info, SYA recently bought the URL And at that link you can find information about locating an abortion clinic. You can find information about self-managed abortion, which I really believe we, the people in this room, we will always be able to get abortions in this state even if Roe versus Wade is overturned, but I believe really strongly that it is your responsibility as a person of privilege in this room to make yourself a resource and be able to direct other people in less fortunate and with less access to the resources that they need, whether that’s how to pay for an abortion, how to purchase abortion pills illegally online, and how to use them safely. So I’m really proud of this resource page and I would encourage you to go to and write that link in every bathroom that you pee in in public.

I would like for it to be spread far and wide, not in the Town Hall bathroom. Actually you guys probably wouldn’t care. I totally agree though; I think that, I love all of the ‘what do we do now with suggestions that you just put forth?’ I also think that people always want to ask, where should I give money to? And just really briefly if you want to support, people have limited means purchasing abortion care, donate to an abortion fund. If you want to support abortion clinics, which is also really important because these guys are struggling to keep their doors open in the face of trap laws that are just gutting their ability to effectively run a business. I’m on the board of directors of an organization called the Abortion Care Network, which is a group of independent abortion providers all over the country. And although the vast majority of us think of Planned Parenthood first, when some shit goes down or when we think of abortion really, independent abortion providers provide over 60% of the abortions in this country, over 85% of abortions after the first trimester and are very often the last clinics remaining in hostile states. I know for a fact that we have at least one abortion provider, independent abortion provider in this room and I’m not going to identify her by name, but I would just like for everyone to say thank you. One, two, three. Thank you.

JB: Thank you.

AB: Yeah. So if you want to donate to clinics, donate to the abortion care network, and follow SYA on the internet and if you want to have a book club, we would love to send you discussion questions and swag and support you in whatever way we can and helping you learn to facilitate what is a difficult conversation historically. But we don’t think it has to be, we think it can be really fun.

JB: I should also say that we’re going to do a Kickstarter to fund a study guide for the abortion book and to go around the country, that’s going to go live on October 1st so—

AB: Ooh, awesome.

JB: And one of the premiums is going to be at the higher levels. You get a copy of Shout Your Abortion too.

AB: What?

JB: Yeah.

AB: Really?

JB: Yeah. I got a good deal from Pam.

AB: You did? Oh my God. We should do book clubs together.

JB: Yeah, I think this would be a good combination.

AB: Yeah. Let’s take some questions, questions and/or always people are welcome to share their abortion stories. This is a great place for that.

Audience Member 1: I’m a veteran of the earlier abortion struggle.

AB: Thank you.

Audience Member 1: And I’m amazed that we are where we are now and I was a part of a consciousness raising group and that led to me becoming an abortion counselor and I told people who needed abortions in Minnesota, how to get to New York city and get one or how to go to a very brave doctor in rural South Dakota and get one. You know, I think we had three or four places we could send people from Minnesota, where it was illegal. I would like to know what you think. It was news to me, I mean I just don’t follow it anymore and it was news to me that this pill is now legally available everywhere. I thought you said it was available over the counter and then later I thought you said it wasn’t available over-the-counter.

JB: So we’re talking about two different things. The struggle that I was involved in is for after-sex contraception, it works up to 72 hours after sex. The abortion pill that we’re talking about is basically up to 10 or 12 weeks depending on how where you are.

Audience Member 1: I see, so that’s how It can be available on the internet and still be useful.

JB: Well, it’s available on the internet but it’s a gray market. It is not technically legal. You can be arrested if you order it. Very few people have been. But if it becomes, you know, say a state bans abortion, they might crack down—

Audience Member 1: But in these days of Amazon, it does seem that over the counter is kind of passe. And maybe it’s time to just go with that because privacy is there and well, what do you think consciousness raising around this issue would look like now?

JB: Well, the consciousness raising we’ve been doing, part of it is just realizing, and I actually guess I disagree with you a little bit on this thing of a we’ll always be able to get abortions. What was true in the ‘60s is that it was mostly a knowledge elite more than having money. You really needed to know somebody who knew somebody or you needed, as this woman just testified, get in touch with somebody who is doing referrals. But if you flew to Poland, you could get an abortion for $10, but most people didn’t know that that was possible. So I do think, and I’m just reading a novel by Leni Zumas called Red Clocks, which I recommend. It’s set about 20 years in the future when abortion is illegal in the United States and in the novel, at first a lot of people go to Canada to get the abortion. And then Canada starts to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and there’s a pink wall, as she calls it, comes down, and so you can’t go to Canada.

So these are very real possibilities. I am actually very optimistic that we are going to turn the tide. But I think we need to think of it as our own fight really, even if we sort of believe that we might be able to get an airline ticket to England or something. Cause you know, lots of things can happen. You could lose your job. But I think, part of consciousness raising is realizing just how humiliating and ridiculous these rules are. One of the consciousness raisings I was in recently, a woman from Indiana, she went two hours away to a clinic. She walked in, she couldn’t really find the clinic. She walked in. It turned out several hours later to have been a fake clinic. She missed her Planned Parenthood appointment. She had to go find Planned Parenthood. They put fake clinics in front. She had had to scrape together the money. I mean the 24 hour or 48 hour waiting periods, the kind of ridiculous stuff that they put folks that are under 18 through, you know, all of this is just unacceptable and we have to stop acting like, ‘Oh, at least we just have this, you know, at least we have this.’ Which is hard because of course we do feel like, ‘Oh gosh, at least we, you know, rolled back the worst.’ But I think we need to start thinking about it as, you know, dignity for all people. I think that’s what consciousness raising gives us is a little bit more sense of that. And also you hear about how many people have had abortions and all this stuff that they went through to get them. And so it really helps.

Now on the pill, what’s going on is illegal importers from India and China import massive amounts of the abortion pill, which is actually two different pills. They import them to, say, a warehouse in Chicago, and then from there they break it up and send it to you. And Plan C Pills has a list of websites that you can get them. Sometimes you have to pay in Bitcoin. I mean, it’s a little weird dark web in many cases. The other thing we should remember though is that there are two pills in a pill abortion. There’s misoprostol and there is mifepristone.

Mifepristone is the one that you take when you’re at the clinic and then the misoprostol you take 24 hours later, and you take several pills and you dissolve them in your cheek. But that second pill that you dissolve in your cheek is 80% effect, 80 to 85% effective on its own for abortions and it’s available over the counter in Mexico. So there is the possibility that we could be having an underground where that was available and it would be pretty good. And I think that if we’re going to do civil disobedience, that pill is much cheaper. It’s much more easy to import. That would be the one that we would be using. And we would have, of course, tell people that it’s that it’s 80 to 85% effective. And you know, it’s not as good as the full combination, but it is something that we could do massive amounts of and have available. So just some more thoughts on the pill. And I have a big section with all the details in the book.

AB: Do we have other questions? Hi.

Audience Member 2: I’m a 17 year old, so I’m not 18 yet and I’ve grown up surrounded by like abortion talk about women and I’m pretty lucky to have that experience. But I know that a lot of my fellow minors don’t have that privilege to be raised surrounded by talk about abortion and stuff. And I was wondering what you would suggest, us who can’t vote yet and who aren’t as educated I guess, what should we do?

JB: Well, if you’re here, there’s a lot of Shout Your Abortion activities that I would suggest getting involved in. I think one of the important things is to be involved in a group that’s real people face-to-face, not just online because that’s when you get to plan, you get to talk, you get to really have comrades that come back you up. So I would suggest starting a group or joining a group that exists and really just jumping into the activities they’re doing. Again, I’m talking about what direction for the movement. This is a discussion everybody should be having and thinking about and people who are new to the movement are really valuable because they bring that fresh perspective. We get into repeating what we’ve all done already, so remember that you are valuable, even just as a really new person. And I would just urge you to speak up when you don’t agree with something and don’t feel like intimidated. You shouldn’t feel intimidated by people who’ve been doing more stuff. Yeah.

AB: I second all of that. Hi.

Audience Member 3: Hi. Is this on, can you hear me?

JB: Yeah.

Audience Member 3: I loved reading on Facebook admittedly, although I have a lot of opinions about Facebook, about the auntie network. I think it started as kind of a tongue-in-cheek sarcastic commentary about, ‘Oh, visit your auntie Lynn’ or whomever it was, in a state that is not Missouri, Georgia, et cetera. Is there any truth behind that, organization behind that? Can one be involved in the auntie network? I know you’ve talked a little bit about dark web buying plan C online, things like that, but for women who actually do need to travel out of state, is there a support network?

AB: Are you talking about the Facebook group that sprung up fairly recently?

Audience Member 3: I think so. It was more ‘If you’re in Missouri, I raised funding’ and it was, you know, the spare bedroom, and here’s the long lost relatives type of thing.

AB: So here’s an important thing to say. I think that it’s really common that in desperate times people with great intentions will inadvertently have a lot of enthusiasm and potentially resources and will inadvertently replicate work that’s already being done. In the case of what you’re talking about, all of that stuff is stuff that abortion funds are already doing. Abortion funds provide logistical support, financial support. They hook people up with places to stay. They buy bus tickets. Abortion funds are also primarily staffed by people of color and poor and working class folks in the areas that they serve who have a really deep knowledge of all of the local issues that need to be considered when say, bringing a minor across state lines to have an abortion, or things of that nature. So I think that it’s just really important to do a little homework before diving in, and if you’re interested in that kind of activism, I would say abortion funds are a great way to get involved. The National Network for Abortion Funds has a super easy to use website. There are funds in pretty much every state. Some states, some funds have multiple States. Our local fund is incredible: Northwest abortion access fund. Do we have anybody from there here? But yeah, that’s what I would say about that. Yeah, thank you. Hello.

Audience Member 4: I really want to thank you for talking with us about this topic. Well I know you mentioned before some of the history, some of those of us who have similar history from having gone to college in Massachusetts at a time when birth control was illegal for unmarried women. And we ran vans from the women’s college down to New York for women who wanted birth control or needed abortions. I was really lucky that when I got pregnant with my IUD in, so it’s not like I was trying, I was doing everything right and damn, I was angry because I was about to start medical school and it was really inconvenient and expensive at a time when I had no health insurance. And no one had told me, I guess I should have known that maybe I could be the 1%, that it wasn’t that fun. So I was lucky by then that my abortion was legal, although my gynecologist, who put the IUD in that failed, wouldn’t even talk to me about it. His secretary told me, Oh, Dr. Who’s-It doesn’t do that sort of thing. And so that was a second thing to be angry about.

I’m very interested in your ideas though as a retired physician with a lot of colleagues with a lot of energy around this. I hear what you say about what happened with doctors in the past and still happens I’m sure with doctors today, but there are plenty of us who remember the wards of women screaming in an untreated pain because not only did you have sex, which was bad, then you got pregnant when you weren’t married. That was bad. Then you had a bad abortion. So that was bad. So that was already your three strikes. They didn’t give them pain medication either, although they would treat it trying to treat the infections which often left these women sterile.

We do all remember that and really don’t want to be back in that situation again. And many of us have also encountered young women where it really does need to be a secret because of domestic violence issues, either with their parents or their partner or their whoever, if it were not kept private. And I think, I know a lot of us emphasize the between women and their doctors not to make us so powerful, but just the establishment had created the sanctity at that time before electronic medical records could be hacked, the sanctity of the medical record and what happened in that exam room. And you didn’t have to tell anybody about what had gone on with that young woman. And so I’m interested to learn about opportunities for continued activism by physicians particularly, despite what I hear from you about there having been medical establishment issues in the past. So thank you.

JB: Thanks for that wonderful testimony about your struggles and all of the contributions that you’ve made and obviously for being a doctor for all these years. We, with the morning after pill struggle, we had some great physicians who would come to demonstrations and write morning after pill prescriptions for all and sundry. And of course, basically our campaign started when a physician’s assistant told us this information about the morning after pill. So I feel like there are all kinds of things that docs can do. And one of the things that maybe goes to the earlier question too is, all over the country there are organizations of full spectrum doulas who are expanding the ideas around being a doula. So it’s usually defined as a birth coach but from abortion to contraception to birth, doing all of it, helping people through all of it, and that would be a great thing to have physicians help out with and help with harder cases. Give advice, train people, all of those kinds of things. So that’s just one idea. And, I mean you have enormous expertise, that you can offer the movement and it’s so valuable. So I’m sure there are many ways that that could be used. Yeah.

AB: There’s also an organization, I forget the name of right now, but it’s on that resource link that I mentioned. And it’s basically like a hotline for folks who are inducing their own abortions and it’s like staffed by retired and people who have worked in abortion care and physicians who are either off the clock or retired or whatever and are talking to people who are self-managing abortions, which by the way, self-managed abortion is the term that the movement has chosen to refer to using abortion pills or inducing your own abortion outside of a medical context. And it’s really meant to frame it as an autonomous decision that one might make for any number of reasons, and that doesn’t have to be scary because using abortion pills to manage your own abortion is a very safe thing to do and it’s a very valid choice to make and there are ways to do it safely. And I also want to thank you, wherever you are, for that testimony about what you saw people enduring. And the hope is that it doesn’t ever have to be that way again, but we have to tell people how to do it safely. And it doesn’t have to involve a coat hanger. Yeah. Did you want to ask a question?

Audience Member 5: Jenny, what I really value about your work is how your theory is developed within a larger group, National Women’s Liberation and Redstockings and how you reach back into history yet also welcome young people. Can you speak a bit to that? Also can you speak a bit to the FDA, the protest at the FDA that NWL organized to get the morning after pill over-the-counter?

JB: Yeah, so Redstockings in 1989 started one of the most fertile, I would say, women’s liberation movement groups. And it was founded in 1969. It was responsible for the breaking up the first reform hearings, doing the first abortion speak out. Members at Redstockings had created this program for feminist consciousness raising. They coined terms like the personal is political, sisterhood is powerful. All of those come from Redstockings. And in 1989 when we were really seeing rollbacks on abortion rights and a lot of our other things that we thought we had really advanced on, they started a women’s liberation archive, Women’s Liberation Archive for Action, because there are these really great lessons from the early radical movement that people were not aware of. So you can now go online, a lot of stuff is available for download at I highly recommend tooling around in there and looking at some stuff. And it’s the 50th anniversary. So sometime this fall they’re going to be posting a much more elaborate timeline and stuff. So that’s something to watch.

And uh, as far as the FDA protests, we were very surprised when the Obama administration—we expected the Bush administration to be against putting the morning after pill over the counter, and boy were we right, I mean they’ve violated all kinds of laws manipulating what the FDA commissioners were doing, and we went into depositions and discovered all this stuff—but we were really surprised when the Obama administration also was opposed to putting the pill over the counter. And president Obama said, you know, ‘I don’t want my young daughters to have this pill available to them’ which meant that, you know, he wanted them to continue to be pregnant and get abortions? I don’t know. So that really made us think this is very strange. Why is birth control opposition becoming mainstream again? And so politically it’s now politically a debate again, and so that was one of the things that made us really start to dig into the birth rate concerns and so forth. And so I think that that’s another piece of the story is, you know, when you go up against the power structure, you really discover kind of what’s going on. You can see the nuts and bolts when you engage in that struggle. And then when they fight back, some of you can find out what’s really going on. They let some of their secrets slip and you can see what you’re up against. So it’s all always very interesting and something to watch.

AB: Jenny Brown, thank you so much. It’s been such an honor. You’re so brilliant. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Everyone should buy Jenny’s book.

Jini Palmer: Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle civic series. I’m Jini Palmer. Our theme music comes from the Seattle artist David Bazan and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. A special thanks to our audio engineer John Nold. Check out our new season of Townhall Seattle’s original podcast, In The Moment. Each episode, a local Seattle correspondent interviews someone coming to Town Hall, they get you excited about upcoming events by giving you a behind-the-scenes look into a presenter’s content, personality and interests. If you like our civic series, listen to our arts and culture and science series as well. For more information, check out our calendar of events, or to support Town Hall go to our website at

Send this to a friend