IN SEPTEMBER of this year, a Pennsylvania woman named Jennifer Ann Whalen was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Whalen's crime? She'd ordered abortion-inducing drugs online for her teenage daughter, who wanted to end an unplanned pregnancy. For Whalen, a low-income single mother, obtaining a clinic abortion for her daughter would have meant lost wages, two trips of over 70 miles—Pennsylvania requires women seeking abortion to wait for 24 hours—and listening to a medically inaccurate script about the dangers of abortion, debunked by most mainstream medical institutions, yet still required by state law. This is to say nothing of the cost of the procedure—roughly $500 without insurance. Whalen's decision was likely the least-worst option available to her family.
Now she's going to prison for it.
As abortion restrictions advance nationwide, putting women in desperate situations, Whalen's story is no longer unusual. How did it get this bad? That's a question feminist pundit Katha Pollitt asks in her new abortion rights polemic, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. For too long, argues Pollitt, the pro-choice movement has been playing defense—couching abortion rights in nonthreatening terms like "women's health," allowing public funding for abortion to become something of a scarlet letter—as the anti-choice movement uses state legislatures and "Just trying to help!" rhetoric to gut abortion access.
Anyone who watched the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program lose funding during the 2013 GOP-led government shutdown—when the so-called "pro-life" party literally allowed babies to starve—will appreciate Pollitt's deconstruction of the anti-choice movement's hypocritical glorification of motherhood ("Choose life!") and refusal to support policies that actually promote children's quality of life after they're born.
Pollitt also debunks the oft-drawn connection between making adoption easier and lowering US abortion rates, noting that adoption actually has little bearing on abortion rates, because women rarely choose it. In one study Pollitt cites, only nine percent of women who sought abortions but couldn't obtain them—women who actively did not want to carry their pregnancies to term—gave up their children for adoption. There's a good reason for this: Adoption is painful, says Pollitt, citing another study that found 12 to 20 years after relinquishing their children, three-quarters of birth mothers still felt "grief and loss."
If Jennifer Ann Whalen's daughter had traveled to an abortion clinic in Pennsylvania, she would have had to listen to a state-mandated, scientifically inaccurate script about the dangers of abortion. She would have had to wait 24 hours before her procedure. She would have been informed about her "options." But she wouldn't have been warned about that.