Pre-Roe lessons for a post-Roe world

While the country waits with bated breath for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, it is becoming clearer by the day that this impending decision is part of a broader, reactionary push to undo decades of social progress and solidify the US as a hyper-unequal, theocratic, undemocratic fortress state. “All that we have fought for, from voting rights to reproductive rights, has been whittled away since the right began organizing its counterattack 50 years ago. We are entering dangerous and perilous waters, my friends…” So begins this special installment of The Marc Steiner Show, in which Marc speaks with Dani McClain and Susan Simensky Bietila about the right-wing war on women, bodily autonomy, and civil rights, the failure of the Democratic establishment to protect us, and what lessons we can draw from the pre-Roe days of abortion activism that can help us navigate a post-Roe world.

Dani McClain is an award-winning reporter whose writing focuses on race, reproductive health, and political organizing. She is a contributing writer at The Nation, a fellow with Type Media Center, and her writing has been featured in a wide range of outlets, including The New York Times, TIME, The Atlantic, Slate, Colorlines, EBONY.com and The Rumpus. She is the author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood. Susan Simensky-Bietila is a renowned activist, artist, and curator who has been producing radical artwork—including barrier-breaking illustrations for leftist newspapers like RAT and The Guardian—for over half a century. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and makes artwork in collaboration with movements for social justice advancing the causes of healthcare as a human right, public education, immigrant rights, Indigenous-led movements to protect water from mines, pipelines, and oil trains, and more. She has been a registered nurse for 49 years and worked for many years in OB/GYN care.

Tune in for new episodes of The Marc Steiner Show every Monday on TRNN, and subscribe to the TRNN YouTube channel for video versions of The Marc Steiner Show podcast.

Pre-Production/Studio: Adam Coley
Post-Production: Stephen Frank, Adam Coley


Transcript

Marc Steiner:        Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, and it’s great to have you all with us. I have to tell you, my stomach really churned and my heart sank when I read about the leaked document from the Supreme Court that brought into grim reality that Roe v. Wade, a woman’s right to choose, could be overturned, that a deep blow is being struck at women’s reproductive rights in this country. It runs even deeper than that. All that we have fought for in voting rights, reproductive rights, have been whittled away since the right began organizing its counter attack 50 years ago. We are entering dangerous and perilous waters, my friends.

Let me take you back to what could be part of our future. From 1965 to 1973, I was part of the abortion underground. My first girlfriend in college, who became my first wife and still is a dear friend, became pregnant. We weren’t ready to be parents, so I went to my parents and to my mother. I had no idea she had helped other young women obtain medically safe but then illegal abortions. People went to jail for performing abortions and setting them up. People died from back alley abortions, as did my last girlfriend in high school, who was found dead in her dorm room at Howard University in 1967. She bled to death alone. She had been afraid to tell her parents who were both Baptist ministers. We lost a brilliant, loving human being because abortions were illegal.

Think about the reality of the abortions underground then that were medically safe could cost up to $500 in 1965, that women had to be blindfolded, lying down in the back seat of a car, taken to a secret clinic to have these procedures done alone. Is that the world we’re about to reenter? What happens if they overturn Roe? What’s our response? How does all this fit into the battle against the rise of the right, and to our fight for women’s rights, reproductive rights, for our future?

The leak, the unprecedented leak of that Supreme Court document probably means that Roe v. Wade will no longer be the law of the land by some time this summer. What does that mean for our future? For our political battles ahead? What does it mean for women, for women who need and seek a medically safe and legal abortion? What does it mean for our future?

Well, today we’re joined by Dani McClain. She’s joined me before numerous times. She’s a writer on race, reproductive health, and political organizing, and she’s a contributing writer to The Nation magazine where we first met. And is Puffin Fellow at the Type Media Center, her most recent book is We Live For The We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood. And Susan Simensky Bietila has been a registered nurse for 45 years. She’s also an artist and an activist. She makes artwork and collaboration with movements like healthcare as a human right, immigrants rights, Midwest Indigenous movements that protect water from mines, pipelines, and oil trains, and in support of public education. Sisters, welcome. Good to have you both on the air with us.

Dani McClain:    Glad to be here.

Marc Steiner:        I think it’s important the way this conversation can unfold is because both of you from different generations and different times around the struggle, around this for women and for people in America. Abortion has always been a very tough thing for many people on many levels of many places. I’d like to hear what both of you think about what you think is really going on at this moment. How a minority of Americans, the evangelical right and others, have been able to overturn what has been the law of the land since 1973? I know it hasn’t happened yet, but the writing’s on the wall. What do you think about the political dynamic that’s allowing this to happen at this time? And Dani, let me start. And then Susan, jump in.

Dani McClain:    Well, Marc, again, I’m really happy to be here talking to you and to be in conversation with Susan. I think the right was incredibly strategic in the way that they crafted these laws in state legislatures over the course of the past decades. These bizarre… I remember doing reporting on some of these bills and the way that they got so specific. Okay, well, the width of a hallway in a clinic needs to be this amount or else it’s not going to be appropriate, or someone has to have a clinician, a provider has to have admitting privileges at a hospital in order to provide abortions in a clinic, even though it’s such a rare occasion that a doctor would need admitting privileges at a hospital because the procedure of abortion is so low risk that like, why? I just think they took this approach of chipping away at abortion rights over the years.

Well, no abortions after 15 weeks. Now no abortion after six weeks, just this incremental effort over the years to chip away. And then now we see where that’s landed us with Roe on the verge. I have been very interested in how the right has crafted this effort to do away with the right to abortion over the years. And I think it’s part of, as you mentioned in your intro, Marc, a larger white supremacist, religion driven vision for what this country is supposed to look like. Misogynist, obviously, vision for what this country is meant to look like, and here we are.

Marc Steiner:        Susan?

Susan Bietila:    I think that the abortion issue is being used as a wedge, just as Dani has said. And the Republicans and the anti-abortion folks are part of a strategic plan that will divide people on an issue where people have a great deal of feeling, but it’s a wedge used to disenfranchise people. It’s going along with the gerrymandering, with the voter ID. It’s going along with this whole, you will not replace us crap. Excuse me. I said crap.

Marc Steiner:        You can say crap. You can say worse than that if you like, that’s fine.

Susan Bietila:    So it’s part of an agenda to line people up on one of their minor issues of a whole attempt to make everything go back before 1960, every one of the gains that we’ve made, and even further back to bring this country into line with a very small minority view. And they did a very good job of it, of putting people in all the wrong places for us. And unfortunately, the Democrats have done very little other than short-term action, when they should have started a long time ago. And other folks ought to have been more aware of this agenda. I was a reporter at the National Right to Life convention. I had credentials from The Nation back in the early 1990s when it was in Milwaukee. And you had William Bennett for the Republicans in the marriage together with the Right to Life folks. And you could see the unity planning that was going on.

Marc Steiner:        Let’s say for argument’s sake that the worst is going to happen. And perhaps it will. Many people think the writing’s on the wall, that Roe v. Wade will be null and void sometime in the summer when the decision has come out. Before we get into the whole question of what it means for families and women, what does it mean for the response? Politically, what happens next in this country? And it’s huge. When you take Roe v. Wade, and I was also thinking, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about all the voting rights laws being overturned throughout the country that many of us in the Civil Rights Movement fought for in the early ’60s. And we’re watching this massive pushback and turning everything backwards by not a majority of Americans. So what do you both think happens next? What strategically happens next? How do you confront, how do we confront what’s now upon us? And Susan, I’ll start with you and then go to Dani.

Susan Bietila:    Well, I think it’s obvious that we need a mass movement that deals not with things issue by issue, and deals with the whole deal. And being an RN, I look at how it’s going to affect American healthcare in general, and who is going to want to be a nurse after COVID, and the neglect of nurses on the front lines, and now the threat of being arrested for doing what’s absolutely the right thing for a woman’s health when it comes to situations where they could get arrested for assisting in a D&C in a miscarriage or surgery in an ectopic pregnancy. It just brings things to a ludicrous, threatening situation that hopefully will bring people from all places together. But I don’t think this is going to be an easy thing to end. I think it’s going to split the nation in two. Or not in two. A majority of people against a very small number of people who are hurting everyone.

Marc Steiner:        We’re highly armed and highly organized.

Susan Bietila:    Yes.

Marc Steiner:        And not to be a pessimist, because I’m not a pessimist by nature. Dani, I’m curious where you think this also takes the movement and takes the United States. You grew up in a world and a time when large parts of racist driven laws were pushed back, and grew up with women having reproductive rights. What about how your feelings are at this moment and what you think the response is?

Dani McClain:    I was born in 1978, so I’m definitely a recipient of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and grew up with a fair amount of expectation that those wins would be around for my adult life. And I now have a five-year-old and assumed that she would have these things to a certain extent. I’ve also been reporting for many years on movements, and you can’t follow reproductive justice organizing and not know that people have been preparing for this moment for a very long time. So I think your question about where does this land us? I think we’re going to see a lot more mobilization on the local level, on the state and local level.

So for example, I live in Ohio, we’re one of 26 states that have a trigger ban that’s either already on the books or that’s moving through the legislative process, which means that if Roe is overturned, these states are certain or likely to ban abortion. So it’s interesting to me that we saw hundreds of thousands of people, they’re saying over a million people who mobilized in different cities around the country this past weekend because of this leaked draft opinion. But I wonder how many people are showing up in Columbus at the Ohio State House as the two trigger bans that are here in Ohio have been moving through the legislative process.

Similarly, I know in 2020, 64 district attorneys pledged not to criminalize abortion if Roe falls. We’ve seen a lot of mobilization in recent years around getting progressive prosecutors elected, it’s been this whole thing with Pamela Price and Larry Krasner and so many. But I think what mobilization looks like at the county level or the local level to put pressure on these DAs and say, are you actually going to bring these cases? Are you really going to do this? And if so, we’re going to turn up. So I’ll be interested to see how organizing shifts more to a local level around these issues. There’s a great article in Harper’s Bazaar about what’s going on in Illinois. We know that as abortion restrictions spread and are likely to get even worse in the Midwest where I live and in the South, Illinois is going to become this oasis where people from surrounding states are going to have to go in order to get abortions and even to get pills. I’m so interested to hear from you, Susan, about where this leaves us with medication abortion.

And there’s this great article in Harper’s Bazaar around this new initiative. It’s a project, it’s real. They’ve set up this place, it’s like you make one call to this regional logistics center in Southern Illinois that’s doing coordination with abortion funds so that if I’m living in, say, I don’t know, Texas.

Susan Bietila:    Wisconsin.

Dani McClain:    Wisconsin, right? Yeah. We’re both in the Midwest. And I need to get an abortion, I just have to call one place to both make my medical appointment, get the funds to fly me there, get the funds and the reservation for the flight and the hotel. And it’s just like this brilliant model that is already in the works. It’s been serving people I think since January. And so I think we need to look around at these advocates and activists. They’ve been doing the work. They’ve been preparing for this moment and we already have models that I think are going to be really instructive if and when Roe falls.

Marc Steiner:        So what you just raised, Dani, I’ve been thinking about this. So let’s say for argument’s sake it does happen, that Roe is overturned this summer, and we’re going to see this divide. And then some states are going to allow abortions to take place. And the movement you’re describing is going to have to be built. Maryland may be one of those places, where we broadcast from, where abortions will remain legal, and it’ll be a minority of states. So what was once an insane underground in terms of having to assure that women get safe and clean abortions is going to have a very different look in the 21st century if we have to fight that again. So let’s paint that scenario for a minute. What would it mean if Roe is overturned and what we think that movement’s going to look like to both oppose this, but also to what Dani was talking about, Susan, in terms of what the response is going to have to be? What it’s going to mean to have to go across state lines and help women go to other places to get abortions. It’s almost unfathomable, but I think that’s a world we’re about to enter.

Susan Bietila:    I think so, too. I know that there’s a clinic opening right across the border from Wisconsin in Northern Illinois. And I think in terms of what we’ve seen in the last few years, it’s going to be a massive, what we call a mutual aid network. In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, in terms of Standing Rock and Native American activism, there are networks, there are these networks of people everywhere, and we’ll have to come together on a higher level of communication. In terms of women, we have midwives, we have nurses, we have OB doctors, and in the states where abortion won’t be available, I think people are going to be pushing the limits and doing whatever they can to get what they need for women. But exactly how this’ll happen, I don’t know. And I think people will get arrested, I think they’ll be test cases, but I think the outpouring is going to be massive.

Marc Steiner:     And I was thinking about what you were saying, Dani. I could see a response to this from the right in many states, and maybe depending on who the next president administration, is that women and physicians and people who provide these abortions, get prosecuted. Let’s say somebody goes from Pennsylvania to Maryland and that leads to prosecutions in Pennsylvania, or even federally. I could see a whole process unraveling here that would cause a different kind of movement to be built.

Dani McClain:    Yeah. And the element of Texas SB 8, that really deputizes just anybody.

Marc Steiner:        That’s insane.

Dani McClain:    But I think to your point, we could start to see more of that too. So it’s like, who is helping these people cross state lines to get to a state where they can actually get an abortion? This whole vigilante element to these laws. One of the things I’m hearing a lot from advocates and activists is let’s not whip up too much fear and frenzy here. The reality is that abortion is still legal, clinics are still open, let’s all take a breath and just deal with what is true in the present. And I understand why that’s part of their strategy right now. But to your point, yes, I think the legal landscape is uncertain. We don’t know what it’s going to look like to exist in this new reality, should it come.

Marc Steiner:        I can start with you, Dani, please, and both of you just go back and forth and jump in here, but do you think that this has, this particular crisis, what’s happening at this moment has the ability to build a different kind of movement? To build a movement in this country, to be the basis for that? When you look at most of the polls, people’s positions are nuanced around abortion, but the vast majority of Americans, every poll I’ve seen is in the 60 percentile, saying, yes, abortion should be legal and safe. How do you think that plays out? And we haven’t even touched yet upon what happens in communities of color in this country, which we have to get to in a moment. But how do you think this all plays out?

Susan Bietila:    This is getting personal, it’s getting absolutely personal and intrusive, and people are going to be really shocked that this could happen in the US. That their access to birth control, I mean, the next step after making abortion illegal is restricting certain kinds of effective birth control. And not just the day after pill, the Plan B and the RU 486 kinds of drugs, but actual regular birth control pills and other methods and IUDs that have been the basis of women’s loss of fear of unwanted pregnancies. And being my age, I remember what it was like when women could not access birth control, and where there was a fierce double standard, where there’s intense shame associated with unwanted pregnancies in terms of pregnancy when you were not married. And men got away with walking away and women were stigmatized forever.

And this is what the cultural, the turn-back, the cultural aspect of making abortion illegal leads to. And those of us who remember it know that, and we’ve known people who had abortions when it was illegal, and people who left home and visited their aunt in Florida for six months, and then came back with no baby. And so it’s really a vicious attempt to turn the clock back to a very ugly time. And in the 1960s, when African Americans in the South didn’t have access to delivery of babies in a hospital, when they delivered on the lawn of hospitals because of segregation. And that happened in Baltimore at Bon Secours Hospital.

Marc Steiner:        Exactly did. Yes, it did. Yes, it did.

Susan Bietila:    And so that’s where we can go into how this affects communities of color as well.

Dani McClain:    Yeah. To your question about how does this change the movement, first and foremost, I identify as a reporter so I like to see what’s actually happening before I say too much. But I am looking forward to seeing whether and how things shift to a local level in terms of people organizing and mobilizing. I also think that there’s just a real level of ignorance, especially middle class people who consider themselves privileged, I think, are kind of like, oh, so, well, can’t I just go to my primary care physician if I need this? Or, well, I don’t even need to contact an abortion fund because I have the money to get a plane ticket where I need to go. I think it’s going to start to really click for people. Like, yes, you too. It’s illegal for you too.

I think we’re going to see a lot of… On my group chats already, we’re all like, how do you get the pills? Can we get them now so we’ll have them for ourselves or other people when they need them? There’s a lot of trying to really figure out, okay, yes, I understand what the law is going to be. But we’re savvy, we’re educated, we know how to get what we need. I think there’s like this real wake up call that’s happening for people who have always kind of… The framing of Roe, it’s always been that this is, abortion restrictions hurt people of color and low income, poor people most. Which the flip side of that framing is like, the rest of y’all don’t really have to worry that much. And I think that there’s a kind of wake up call happening right now among some of us that, no, it’s illegal for you too. And I think that’s going to actually radicalize some people.

Marc Steiner:        So when I started my radio show in 1993, the very first show I did was the debate around Norplant. And it was a huge debate that divided white and Black women in Baltimore over the issue of this contraceptive technology. And we know that access, getting across state lines, we know that access to reproductive healthcare could also be affected by race in this country, and has been. So how do you think that plays out in this new world without Roe, without the Medicaid, without health insurance paying for women to be allowed to have an abortion? So Dani, I’ll let you jump in there and then, Susan, please leap right in after that.

Dani McClain:    Yeah. I think we already see it, because as you just said, without Medicaid paying for abortion, there’s nothing new about that. The Hyde Amendment has been in place.

Marc Steiner:        Yes.

Dani McClain:    There hasn’t been Medicaid coverage of abortion, so we already see how people who don’t have private insurance have to figure it out, have to string together the funds to get the abortion care that they need. It’s interesting what you’re saying about bringing Norplant into the conversation, because – You can correct me if I’m wrong – But what I’m thinking about is this divide over the distrust of medical systems to begin with. This idea that what they call these set it and forget it methods of birth control. Oh, you just have someone stick it in your arm. But don’t worry, it’s fine. It just means you don’t have to manage condoms or pills. Like, it’s all good. Versus women who are aware of our legacy of reproductive coercion and control, who are like, no, thanks. If I can’t pull it out myself, I’m good. No doctor’s going to be in charge of my reproductive decision making, because then it’s a fine line between that and eugenics, somebody else getting to decide whether or not I reproduce.

And so all of these issues are at play for sure. And to be honest with you, that has been the approach that my beat has taken for the past decade, the way that I’ve covered reproductive rights has been specifically to focus on the reproductive justice movement, specifically to focus on primarily Black women and other people of color who are organizing around these issues and these rights. And they always take a nuanced, it’s always all the nuance, it’s always about, wait a minute, should Margaret Sanger’s name actually be on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in New York City? Because she had ties to the eugenics movement.

And we actually have to talk about eugenics if we’re going to talk about abortion and contraception. We have to talk about maternal health. We have to talk about the fact that Black women are three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women. And so I think we’re not going to lose that. I think just because Roe is on the brink doesn’t mean that you’re going to see people close ranks in this way, that we’re forgetting about the complexities and the nuances within these movements and the disagreements between a lot of white-led reproductive rights organizations and the people of color who have always pressed for a more complex understanding of people’s lives.

Susan Bietila:    What I think of first… So I worked in OB for 30 years. In my last 10 years, I worked as a school nurse in a public school, in a high school. And in a school system that has comprehensive health education and taught health education classes to students who were intellectually disabled as well. And was free to say what really is going on and lead discussions that got into specifics of sex, as well as counseling students who are coming out as gay. As a trusted person who, unlike other folks in the school, keeps information completely confidential. And I’ve always worked in hospitals and in communities that were African American my entire career, and I did home visiting of pregnant teens in Baltimore. And so I have a firsthand view of how these disadvantaged communities, you would say. I came from a disadvantaged community myself, in public housing.

So teaching real health education and teaching about abortion and teaching about birth control and preparing teenagers to make those decisions is a crucial step in this. And what will happen when abortion becomes illegal in all these states that have bans on the books already? A lot of them restrict sex education also. So what we’re talking about down the tubes is having another epidemic of teen pregnancy. And having worked for the health department and teen pregnancy programs both in Baltimore and in Ashland, Wisconsin, a small, mostly white community, white and Native, white and Ojibwe community, and having the freedom to do things the right way, it just is really shocking to think that I couldn’t do what was medically right. And these people who want to ban abortion, their attitude is, in terms of turning their backs on science, they turn their backs on science completely and say things like, I’ve witnessed a doctor who was anti-abortion say, oh, a 13-year old is at no greater risk having a baby than any other woman. And this is like one of the main OB doctors at a Catholic hospital here in Milwaukee.

Having been with 13-year olds who hid their pregnancies, who gave birth to children with severe brain damage, couldn’t go back to school because they were giving 24/7 care to a child that was severely damaged. I remember each of these young women 50 years later because the situation was so shocking and tragic. And that was because there was no prenatal care, a lot of them in Baltimore, families had come from the South, they came from Mississippi in particular because families tend to migrate North from wherever they were in the South. In Milwaukee it’s Mississippi also, and Alabama. But with the history of not having prenatal care in the South and not being admitted to hospitals, it’s taken many, many years and many generations to bring people to having prenatal care, to having birth control in the first place because of the distrust of medical institutions.

And going back in terms of, we already have a differential in maternal morbidity, of mortality in Milwaukee that’s shocking, and in the US in general, that’s down at the bottom of the developed world, where more African Americans die of childbirth than the rest of the population. It’s also Native Americans as well. And so they’re taking us back, not to just getting rid of abortion, but this is impending shockingly making worse a situation that’s already really bad and needs correction.

Marc Steiner:        I think both of you are describing here, when we think about the end of Roe, is that to begin to understand what comes next if Roe is destroyed, could be one of the most pivotal moments in building the future of the United States. And then building what the political and human battles are that we’re going to face in ways, I think, is going to be difficult to comprehend. Because when abortions were illegal nationwide, for the most part, there wasn’t a political movement around in the very beginnings. There was this underground that helped women get abortions as safely as possible. But this is a different world we’re talking about now. That’ll be taking place, but also the political struggle around it will be intensified. And I’ve been covering with my colleague and friend Bill Fletcher Jr. the rise of the right in America, and this is all wrapped up in that for me because it is the push by the minority of evangelical right-wing Christians that have helped push this whole issue.

Susan Bietila:    Marc, I have to jump in and correct you though.

Marc Steiner:        Please do.

Susan Bietila:    So second wave feminism came together largely to fight for legal abortion.

Marc Steiner:        Absolutely. Yes.

Susan Bietila:    And we were pivotal in pushing for a legal abortion starting in the ’60s until 1970 when abortion became legal in New York. The women’s movement also brought issues that were not for public discussion, like the issue of sexuality, of different gender conceptions than we were taught, of women’s right to orgasm. Issues that were hush hush, [inaudible] about that all related. And that’s when women in Boston wrote the incredible book –

Marc Steiner:        Our Bodies, Ourselves?

Susan Bietila:    Our Bodies, Ourselves collective.

Marc Steiner:        Right.

Susan Bietila:    Came out in 1970.

Marc Steiner:        I remember.

Susan Bietila:    And so yes, abortion became legal because of a women’s movement.

Marc Steiner:        Yeah, absolutely correct. And the way I laid that out was wrong, and the way you corrected it was right. So yes, yes, absolutely.

Susan Bietila:    There was a tremendous movement. And women, they saw many gains as a result of that movement. And so the gains, all the gains are at risk of being taken away.

Marc Steiner:        So that’s a good jumping off point. So Dani, I’m curious whether you think this builds the movement for the future. How does that play into what you envision as to what you’re going to be writing about, covering, and advocating for?

Dani McClain:    So I am really curious about, there was a great article in The Times just recently that was about an organizer, a feminist organizer in Mexico, and basically about how things have changed in Mexico from no codified right to abortion and really not even the expectation that change was going to happen in the courts or on a policy level. But then this organizer who worked with feminists nationwide to start letting people know, you use this ulcer medication that you can get over the counter, and you can use it to self induce abortion. And not only that, you can use it completely outside of the formal medical system. You don’t even have to do it under the supervision of a doctor. Because the medical establishment was not necessarily in cahoots, but kind of following the law.

This article, it just crystallized something for me. Because essentially, it was listed up on The Daily, The New York Times podcast that they do. But it really showed that their approach there has been more of a hearts and minds and a person to person, the network that Susan was talking about, building these networks, accompanying – Almost like abortion doulas, women who have done this accompanying other people who need abortions saying like, you don’t need to go to the doctor. I’ve done it myself. I’m going to sit with you, and you take this medication. And really their approach has been more of a hearts and mind and a cultural shift. And the article really points out that here in the US, our focus has been more on the policy and the legal framework, the legal right.

And I’m so curious whether we’re going to see more of a shift in this country, where we start to say, you know what, whatever they’re saying, that’s what they’re saying. But people have always terminated pregnancies. And we’re going to continue to figure out ways to terminate pregnancies, and we’re going to support each other in doing it, we’re going to figure out these medications that we need to use. And I don’t want to overstate the medication thing because I know it only works up to a certain point in gestation and a lot of people get past that point, so I don’t want to harp on that too much. But that’s what I’m going to be curious to find. I don’t want to romanticize the Jane collective. We’re moving forward, it’s not all about underground. But people help people and people get done what they need to get done in order to have the families that they want and the lives that they want. And so I’m going to be interested in looking at how people continue to do that, even outside of a fight in the courts and in state legislatures.

Susan Bietila:    Follow up just really quickly.

Marc Steiner:        Go ahead, Susan, please.

Susan Bietila:    So the counseling, one of the ways of chipping away of the right to have an abortion, a safe and legal abortion, what’s been chipped away is what has to be included in the counseling. And so women are forced to delay for 24 hours in many places, and they have to look at an ultrasound. Back when abortion was becoming legal in the first place in New York, two of us, myself and my friend Barbara who was Haitian American, we were asked by the New York Women’s Movement to come up with what should be included in counseling women when abortion became legal. And so we learned all about women’s health and anatomy and medical stuff. And it was the self-study thing at the same time that Our Bodies, Ourselves was being written. And we’ve seen what women were told be shifted to lies and intimidation already. So I’d like your idea, Dani, of taking that part, the counseling part, into our mutual aid hands and make it unintimidating and loving again.

Marc Steiner:        This has really been fascinating for me just to think about how this horrendous ruling could take place. But a lot of what I hear both of you talking about is the potential to build something out of that. Let’s finish with that together here in this part of our conversation. The oppression against women in this country, what this would mean, and what that means for building a greater unity across America to confront this pushback that has taken place since the ’70s. This could be in some ways one of the most pivotal moments, not just in terms of taking away women’s reproductive rights, but in this entire struggle for the future of the country that we’re in the midst of. And I think in some ways, their victory of the moment, you might say, they know not what they’ve just wrought in terms of what they’re about to do. So let’s conclude with that idea and how you both think about that. You want to jump in, Susan, first? I’m saying you because I can see you’re ready to roll. So go ahead.

Susan Bietila:    Well, I know as we’ve said that about many things. People aren’t going to take anymore, that things have gotten so bad. And I certainly hope so. I certainly hope that people are going to rise up. It seems more outrageous and more personal than many things, but then again, the murder of George Floyd was that. There were many moments before that. And people rise up. But in the end, there were a couple of positive changes as a result of it, and more awareness. And hopefully the levels of awareness, one on top of another, will bring people to the point of stepping out of their comfort zone and going into the streets and talking to their neighbors and trying to figure this out in a collective way, and not going back to leaving it to the politicians. Because the politicians on both parties, all parties, have shown that they’re immensely incompetent in dealing with meeting the needs of people.

Dani McClain:    I share Susan’s hopefulness. I think we are just coming out of two-plus years of this pandemic. And I think a lot of us are still grieving. I think a lot of us are still disoriented. I know I am, as someone who just had to shepherd a preschool and then kindergarten aged child through this. A lot of us lost people in this pandemic, which is ongoing. Relationships were torn asunder. We saw some people who we thought we knew act in selfish ways, and just an inability to wrap their minds around some of the public health guidelines and precautions that we needed to take to keep ourselves and each other safe. When the Buffalo massacre happened over the weekend, it was a reminder of this just deep sense of disorientation and numbness and deep chronic grief that I can’t quite seem to figure out how to shake enough to even do, to even be my usual prolific kind of go, go, go self.

I think it’s like, we’re not supposed to talk about that. But I think that even with what we’re facing with Roe on the brink, I think people are just taking a beat. What is the right way to confront this and all the other misogynistic, white supremacist challenges that we’re up against right now? And I love the idea, Marc, that they’ve really done it this time. And like, this is going to be the thing that really moves us closer to getting a version of this country that is more accepting and works for all of us. I really hope that’s true. And I also just want to acknowledge that I think people are really tired and a little bit confused, but we’ll see. All we can do is keep moving forward together. And all I can do is keep trying to reach out to the people who are on the front lines of this particular struggle and try to learn best practices from them, because I know that they’re doing their best and they’re working their hardest.

Marc Steiner:        I think we all hope that we have to galvanize around this and organize around this and make voices heard. And this is one of those moments that I think will be seen as a pivotal change in terms of the movement in this country and where we might be going. And we’re going to look at this in greater detail over the coming weeks and months as well as we continue to look at the rise of the right and what we do about that, and not let America fall back into a 21st century redux of 1877 when they killed Reconstruction. So I do want to thank the both of you, both for the work you both do, what you bring to the table in your lives and your work. Dani McClain, it’s always a pleasure to see you and have you with us. And Susan Simensky, is it, make sure I say this right, is it Bietila?

Susan Bietila:    Bietila.

Marc Steiner:        Bietila. Bietila. Sorry.

Susan Bietila:    It’s Finland.

Marc Steiner:        And so I want to thank you as well for all the work you’ve done and the work you’re doing and for joining us today. And this has been a great conversation, and we’ll continue this with the two of you and other folks as well. So thank you both so much for joining us today on The Marc Steiner Show.

Susan Bietila:    Great to meet you both.

Marc Steiner:        Same here.

Dani McClain:    Thank you for the conversation.

Marc Steiner:        Same here.

I want to thank you all for joining us today. It’s always a pleasure to have all of you with us here on The Marc Steiner Show. And to let you know that you can reach me at mss@therealnews.com, and I’ll write you right back. Leave thoughts about this program and what you think we should be covering. And today I want to thank the folks who make this show possible: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, Stephen Frank, and Kayla Rivara, without whom the show would not be possible. So for all the folks here at The Real News and The Marc Steiner Show, I’m Marc Steiner, take care, stay involved, and thanks for being part of the discussion.

Marc Steiner

Host, The Marc Steiner Show

Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.
 
marc@therealnews.com
 
@marcsteiner