Jennie Linn McCormack is a woman who lives in Pocatello, Idaho. She's 32 years old, unmarried, unemployed, and surviving, barely, on the $250 of monthly child support for one of her three kids, who suddenly found herself pregnant.
No, she's not the Blessed Virgin Mary who "suddenly found herself pregnant". She's a woman who lives in poverty - well below the poverty line. In my experience, these women lower the bar on the definition of "low self esteem". Poverty is so all consuming - especially when there are children and abusive partners involved - that it's hard to pay attention to your own body.
The man who had impregnated her had just been sent to jail for robbery. She did not feel comfortable reaching out to her mother - who is a Mormon, like almost everyone in southeastern Idaho — for help.
As the reality of her situation began to sink in, she says, “My mind just kept going back to my kids, how there was no way I could do that to them, no way I could make their lives even worse.”
She knew she didn’t have the more than $500 she’d need for the two-and-a-half-hour trip from her sparse rental apartment in Pocatello, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, the closest city with a clinic willing to terminate a pregnancy.
She had no computer, no car, no one to take care of her 2-year-old — and like Idaho, Utah had a waiting period for abortions, which meant she’d have to make two round trips.
So early this past January, she called her sister in Mississippi and asked her to buy RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, over the Internet and send it to her. The cost: about $200.
|"I had an abortion" - The faces of Abortion- from Women On Web|
Hundreds of online merchants will send RU-486 without a prescription, according to Women on Web, an organization that sends the drugs to women in countries where abortion is illegal.
Deep, politically surgical cuts in federal funding to Planned Parenthood - combined with increased restrictions on reproductive rights - have created the ever-increasing pressure of a stranglehold on the choices of women - especially those who live in poverty.
The drug RU-486 (or Mifepristone - often marketed as Mifegyne and Mifeprex) is rapidly changing the political and personal landscape of reproductive rights in general and the abortion debate in particular.
Ru-486 has added some interesting fuel to the firestorm about abortion which is now being played out on an international stage that involves the technological availabilities of the internet. State laws that put abortion beyond the reach of poor women are clashing with the global reach of the Internet.
The case of Jennie Linn McCormack, however, adds a new, albeit, horrifying complication.
Nancy Hass, writing for Newsweek reports that:
McCormack, who thought she was about 12 weeks along, took the pills (the protocol involves two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol) the afternoon they arrived. The drugs are FDA-approved only for ending early-stage pregnancies; McCormack had no complications, but the pregnancy turned out to be more advanced than she thought—perhaps between 18 and 21 weeks, experts later speculated — and the size of the fetus scared her. She didn’t know what to do — “I was paralyzed,” she says—so she put it in a box on her porch, and, terrified, called a friend. That friend then called his sister, who reported McCormack to the police.Idaho has a 1972 law — never before enforced — making it a crime punishable by five years in prison for a woman to induce her own abortion. Although the charges were dropped, prosecutors retained the right to re-file charges. In response, McCormack's attorney, Richard Hearn, who is also a physician, got a federal injunction to prevent any woman from being prosecuted under the state’s anti-abortion statute by the district attorney. He also filed a class-action suit against the state, claiming the statute is unconstitutional. He plans to argue the case up to the Supreme Court.
The case was dropped weeks later due to lack of evidence. Without solid proof, such as the envelope in which the pills came, her confession wasn’t enough to sustain the case.
Hass gives a concise description of the problems involved in this case:
It’s a bad case for both sides. The fact that McCormack kept a 4-month-old fetus frozen in the winter chill on her back porch is the sort of ghoulish image pro-choice activists try to avoid. For pro-life advocates, supporting her arrest would contradict a longstanding policy of targeting providers while holding women blameless. “It would require a massive change in direction if the anti-abortion movement now supported the criminal prosecution of women directly, which is why McCormack is troubling,” says Cynthia Gorney, a former Washington Post reporter and the author of Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars. “It would violate everything they built the movement on.”I'm thinking that's not going to be a problem for the folks on the Right. You know. The same ones who tout "Family Values" and are opposed to Marriage Equality but enthusiastically support Newt Gingrich in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination - who has been twice-divorced and three-times married (not to mention being a callous bastard who was having an affair with the woman who is now his third wife while second his wife was battling breast cancer and had a heated conversation about their divorce with her while she was undergoing treatment in the hospital) and is now a Roman Catholic.
They also criticize the President because they believe he doesn't have "religion" (well, not a Christian one, they think, despite the fact that he is baptized and a member of the United Church of Christ), but they also have deep problems with Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon (but not a "real" - read: Evangelical - Christian).
Nah. I don't see a problem with them demonizing Jennie Linn McCormack, do you?
Indeed, Ms. McCormack has already been ostracized and humiliated in her home state.
She says she has “no friends at all, no one to talk to.” She knows no one who’s had an abortion, or at least no one who will admit it. “My mother, she’s Mormon, you know? She’s a proud person, and this is a terrible thing for her to have to look people in the eye.” After her picture appeared in the paper, McCormack got a part-time job at a dry cleaner, using another name, but people figured out who she was and stopped letting her bag up their clothes, so she quit. On a recent trip to a local state office to apply for aid, she was ignored for hours. “They made it clear what was happening,” she says. “For a while I just sat there, sort of amazed that they were just letting me sit there.” Eventually, she picked up her son and went home.Ah, see how these Christians love one another!
Even her attempts to bury her fetus have been thwarted. Hearn put in requests to the district attorney to have the remains released from the evidence locker, but no one has responded.
Thus far, neither right-to-life groups nor pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America — usually quick to publicize such human stories as ammunition for their cause — have made public statements on McCormack’s case. Hass reports that numerous calls to spokespeople on both sides of the issues went unreturned.
I know. It's a tough political climate for liberals and progressives - especially in the arena of reproductive rights. Many think we are doing well just to hold on to the essentials of reproductive rights as we continue to defend ourselves in the War on Women. The concern, of course, is that taking up this particular case will do further harm to our cause in this politically conservative climate.
Me? I'm thinking about how terrified Jennie Linn McCormack must have been when she realized that the 12 week fetus was more like 20 weeks. No woman should have to go through that alone, much less ostracized for it.
Women - throughout the centuries - have done whatever they needed to do to prevent pregnancy and, when necessary, end the pregnancy. Since 1850 BCE, women have used pessaries made of crocodile dung, papyrus covered in honey and acacia gum, as well as various plants like Queen Anne's lace, willow, myrrh and pomegranate to prevent and end pregnancy.
Many of them died of infection or poisoning.
I think I was in my early 20's when I realized that it was not an enema bag, as I had been told, that hung on a hook underneath my mother's robe in the bathroom, but something with which she used to douche. And, the brown bottle of Lysol which she kept in the bathroom was not just to clean the toilet bowl, but something with which she douched to prevent pregnancy.
When birth control pills became available, not only could she not afford them, but being a Good Roman Catholic, she would never have used them. Besides, her Good Roman Catholic physician would never have prescribed them for her.
She did what she could.
She had had six pregnancies and four children. She went back to work in the mills the minute my baby sister started Kindergarten. She wanted to provide a home of our own and education - besides food and clothing - for her children.
She did what she could.
Women always have. Women always will.
It's time to support women like Jennie Linn McCormack. All women, but especially poor women. Women who are so poor they don't have many - if any - choices. Women who will do whatever they can to protect the children they already have.
Both Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have both stated publicly that they considered abortion. Palin considered it carefully when she discovered that the unplanned fetus she was carrying had Trisomy-21 (Down's Syndrome). Bachmann was unexpectedly pregnant for the third time, and thought her family could not take another child at that time.
Both women decided to continue with their pregnancies. Not every woman would have made that decision, but these women were able to make the decision that was best for them and their families.
Palin carried her pregnancy to term. Bachmann's pregnancy ended in miscarriage.
Ironically, Palin and Bachmann have used their personal stories to underscore their commitment to anti-choice policies and beliefs. The point - which is obviously lost on them - is they had a choice to do what they decided was best for them and their families.
Jennie Linn McCormack is quoted as saying, "I just didn’t know what to do. I did what I thought was right for my kids, that’s all."
Isn't that what we all want to do? Isn't that what we want for all women?
Please consider writing or calling Planned Parenthood (212-541-7800 ) and NARAL: Pro-Choice America (202.973.3000) as well as RCRC: Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (202.628.7700) and urge them to support Jennie Linn McCormack's case.
No case is perfect. And, if not now, when?
One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is someone I have to cross the aisle to agree with on most any given subject. She is quoted as saying: "No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg."
Want to end abortion? Work to end the situations that contribute to the reasons women have abortion - poverty, limited access to affordable health care, poor educational resources for women, lack of information about reproductive health and choice.
The choice is clear. Not easy. Not simple. But, very, very clear.
Please support Jennie Linn McCormack with your prayers, your phone calls and emails, and your activism to end poverty and improve the status of women.
No fetus should be left out in the cold in a box on the back porch - or, in an evidence locker.
No woman should be left out in the cold, either.
Abortion is a personal decision. Not a legal debate.