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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jennie Linn McCormack

Jennie Linn McCormack (Robyn Twomey for Newsweek)
Since last August, I've been closely following a story no one on either side of the abortion debate wants to touch.

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
Understand, please, that this sort of thing happens every day. Many, many times a day. Indeed, it's happening more and more as the Right-wing, so-called "Pro-Lifers" continue to wage their War Against Women.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
Ah, see how these Christians love one another!

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.

Well, my friends, this is EXACTLY what we've been fighting for since Roe v. Wade in 1973. The images of a desperate woman, alone in her room with a coat hanger or in a dirty, back alley with a sleazy abortionist have been replaced with the image of a poor woman using a library computer to order RU-486 and taking it without any medical supervision or care.

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."

Don't want abortion?  Don't have one.

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.


Unknown said...


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Andrew. Please do make a few phone calls. It's really important.

IT said...

A correction on Newt Gingrich.

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

Actually, that was wife #2 he had the affair with, while serving the papers to Wife #1 in hospital.

From The Daily Beast:Mr. Gingrich’s marital history is a matter of public record, and it is not tidy. He first married at age 19, to his 26-year-old former high-school geometry teacher and then, so the story goes, presented her with divorce terms after she was wheeled out of cancer surgery.

Mrs. Gingrich #2 was dumped after her husband had carried on an extramarital affair with a fetching, blond congressional staffer named Callista Bisek, who went on to become the present Mrs. Gingrich #3. This Family Values paradigm was complicated by the fact that whilst Mr. Gingrich was filibustering Ms. Bisek over the Speaker’s desk, he was simultaneously leading the impeachment charge against a naughty president of
the United States

Jim said...

I will make the calls. Not sure it will matter much, poverty stricken old men are not exactly a major constituency. But I will.

I will also add the young woman and her kids to my prayer list.

It seems like so little to do, and yet I do not know what else there is.

Your post is brilliant, passionate, and compelling.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim - Neither Planned Parenthood, NARAL or RCRC count on your vote in order to do their work. Indeed, I think hearing from "poverty stricken old men" to SAY SOMETHING and support this woman is most compelling. You have no stake in this issue and yet YOU see it's wrong. Thanks for making the calls. The three people I spoke with from the three organizations were apologetic and receptive.

I hope we hear something from one of them soon.

And, thanks for your kind words

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Well, in another article in Newsweek, that's pretty much what it said. I mean, what I said Apparently, a daughter who was present for the .... um... "heated discussion" wrote much the same thing as I did. I tried to summarize and capture that in this post, which was not about Newt but Ms. McCormick.

I object to the description of wife #3 as "fetching". She looks like an advertizement for Botox, plastic surgery and "helmet head hair products". Oh, and "Gold Diggers R Us". Sheesh!

IT said...

Yeah, I'm just outraged that Newt did the same thing I try to make it clear which wife was which.

but more to the point, Newt and men like him pontificate about abortion, but you KNOW they make sure their women have access. Well-off women will always be able to get abortions because they know the right doctor or have money to travel. This is an attack on POOR women and an effort to make/keep them weak. It's part of the class war that they really are waging.

The US has an outrageous level of pregnancy in unmarried women, and abortion, because we have awful healthcare and education. And a very, very twisted attitude about sex. If you look at, say, Norway, where they are not hung up about SEX, they also have lower rates of pregnancy and abortion. They ALSO have really enlightened views about supporting families, maternal leave, and real family values. Both mom and dad get leave and its not uncommon for an office to clear out by 4 where everyone goes to pick up their kids.

But all the American anti-choice zealots probably don't support child care or maternal leave policies. And sex is sinful, and a child is wages of sin.

I continue to find a vicious irony in the fact that many of the anti-abortion activists are aggressively against birth control--and not just hormonal control, but anything. They WANT there to be unwanted pregancies

Barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen, and subservient. This is a war on women.

Preach it, Elizabeth!

Ellie Finlay said...

This truly makes me feel like throwing up. It's a horrible story.

I will make the calls tomorrow morning.

johnieb said...

I will make a call with my donation; I believe that works better.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - What I also find outrageous is that many insurance companies will not cover the cost of contraceptive devices or pills but those same insurance companies will cover Viagra or Cialis.

It's a national disgrace.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ellie - It's like it's 1973 all over again, this time no coat hangers and back allies but private apartments and the internet.

I'm tired of kowtowing to the religious right. If we don't stand up for Jennie Linn McCormack, we might as just let them roll right over us.

I, for one, am not going to let that happen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Johnieb - Bless you, my dear friend.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Anonymous: No it's not, it's legal, and you know it.

Lindy said...

I am just now getting around to reading this, but I'll write some letters this afternoon.

One of your best, btw.

Bill Bell said...

I just read about this case in a British newspaper article: How an abortion divided America.

Is there no support network or group for Ms McCormack?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill - That's a good question. One hopes so.

Claire said...

Elizabeth - this is a touching story, and one that needs to be discussed (Whether we want to or not). I will do my best to start and spread this discussion. Is there anything that can be done to directly support her? I feel that even though we can fight for her rights and talk about this - that maybe I can do something (send her a message or card) that would directly impact her, in addition to just this national issue. I obviously dont think her info is public, but if I could send a letter or card - please let me know!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Claire - If I were in Jennie Linn's shoes, I'd sure appreciate a card. I think, if you sent one to her home town (as I did) they would know how to forward it.

Jen said...

I'm unimpressed with this article. Of course Jennie Linn McCormack and her children deserved much better support before, during, and after this ordeal.

But not everyone who questions whether abortion itself tends to harm women physically and psychically, or whether even late stage fetuses ever have any rights to speak of, is a Mormon, a Birther, a Bible-thumping misogynist, a quack doctor, at War Against Women, etc. These are offensive ad hominem attacks that only alienate and distract from real issues, better alternatives.

There is no doubt Jennie Linn McCormack has suffered; for that I am sorry. Given accepted medical data on fetal development, there is no doubt her fetus suffered as well. That I do not treat this fact as insignificant does not put me in league with the likes of Newt Gingrich.

Kellie said...

Hi. I live in Pocatello and have not been paying attention to the news. This is a disturbing story. I googled the case and found that a local attorney is taking offensive action. He is an MD/attorney

Richard Hearn, MD
201 East Center Street
P.O. Box 1391
Pocatello, ID 83201

I will write to Jennie and send him a donation for the legal costs. Thanks for sharing the story.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you so much, Kellie.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jen - Well, good thing I didn't write this to impress you.

You're right - not everyone who opposes abortion is a Mormon, bible-thumper, right wing wackadoodle. People can and do oppose abortion for well-considered theological positions. However, that's not who is attacking Jennie Linn. The above mentioned people are and so deserved to be called out for their behavior.

The story of Jennie Linn points out the increasing complexity of reproductive justice and how it is deeply connected to all sorts of other issues of justice like poverty and lack of access to affordable health care.

Rather than be "unimpressed" - why not climb down from your high horse and spend some time talking with women who are in these situations? You might actually do some good - and, maybe even learn some things.

Tanis said...

I wonder when we took steps backward in this state, because women used to be able to obtain an abortion legally in Pocatello during the 80's. Being pregnant and considered high risk in Pocatello, I haven't found an OB/GYN that I trust to safely deliver here. I have no confidence in the doctors at the women's clinic or Portneuf Hospital. I have no doubt I'm going to end up in SLC if even the slightest thing goes wrong. I really feel for Jenni... the community here does not care about women or children in need, and if you aren't Mormon, you aren't worth a damn!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tanis - I have a feeling that if a certain Republican candidate is elected (gasp!), you'll see parallel behavior in terms of who is important and whose needs are addressed.

Joanie said...

I really wish people used this as a learning tool for preventative care. It's time to get people's head out of the sand and say abstinence only education (as is likely the case in Pocatello) is ineffective. I really do hope somehow Jennie Lynn gets access to low cost preventative birth control, whether through condoms, oral contraceptives, IUDs, etc. I don't think the government should mandate insurance companies cover it 100%, but we need to make sure we don't give people an excuse not to use it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Abstinence education gives you what you get: nothing. Besides, there is so much more to "prevention" than a condom or a pill or an IUD. There's self-esteem /worth issues and domestic violence and poverty and.....

I think what's most insulting about "Just Say No" is the "just" if that's all you have to do. As if it's so easy.

Maybe if you're a celibate old man....

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous, when you find the courage to sign your name to what you claim are "facts" I'll consider printing it. You had just better have good sources (spare me the Fox News screeds) to back you up. Oh, and did I mention you need to leave your name? Why yes, I think I did. Not like you're listening.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Anonymous who supposedly "reported" this story: Get yourself a spine, admit who you are and maybe . . . just maybe . . . if you write something sane and reasonable, I just might post it here.