Katha Pollitt | The Nation

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

Obama's 100-Day Hope Check

Are Barack Obama's  supporters wondering where the hope went? Does the campaign now seem only a golden dream? After all, Obama's been in the White House for over three months, and people are still losing jobs and houses, US troops are still overseas, single-payer health care is still not on the agenda.  Surely the President should have fixed all that by now with the power of his mighty hope machine.

In her current Nation column, Naomi Klein claims that disillusion is setting in. She has a  clever list of  words to describe the phenomenon: Hopefiends feel hopebreak which will (hopefully) lead to hopelash, "a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related." Enough of these cowardly compromises! Back to the streets! 

I have a lot of respect for Naomi Klein, but I think her own hopes for  a mass radical movement are getting in the way here. According to polls, after all, Obama is wildly popular.  A Harris Interactive poll released on April 7 found that 68% of Americans  have a good opinion of him. That doesn't necessarily mean they approve of everything he's doing, but it means that a heck of a lot of people who didn't vote for him like him now.  Is there any evidence that "a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard"? And by the way, did anyone over the age of  21 ever really believe this? That hope, an emotion, was going to "save the world," the way  children clapping their hands saves Tinkerbell? Are Americans really such idiots? Hmmm, better not answer that. 

Naomi and I must talk to different people. For example, I don't know anyone as stupid as the hopefiendish "Joe" who "actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions." Think what you're saying, Joe! Had Obama intentionally put in someone he knew would fail, he would not only be a clairvoyant and a psychopath-- callously indifferent to the ruin of possibly millions of people--  he'd also be risking political suicide. Because had he first chosen a course he knew would fail he would not have the political capital to "what he really wants."  

I know a lot of people who supported Obama, and every time I see them I ask how they think he's doing. The only people I've found who've given up on him, who feel betrayed, misled, and foolish, are those leftists who didn't like him in the first place and voted for him in a weak moment as the lesser evil. They, predictably, went back to their cabins on Mt. Disdain before Obama  had even been inaugurated.   Obama will never satisfy the left because no president could. FDR didn't satisfy the left either.

I was a strong supporter of Obama but I always thought hopespeak fell somewhere between metaphor and twaddle. Obviously, Obama was not going to turn the US into Sweden. Obviously, he would make all sorts of compromises and deals.  And obviously I would hate that. That's politics.  Where am I on the hope-o-meter?  Like everyone, I'm worried about the bailout, Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm appalled that he envisions no prosecution of those who set up the legal framework of torture  and those who carried it out. And what about Bagram? On the plus side:  he's been terrific on women's rights and reproductive rights here and abroad, made some excellent appointments (Hilda Solis at Labor), reached out to the Muslim world, opened communications with Cuba and Iran, said he'll close Guantanamo, declared an end to torture, and, with the stimulus, successfully challenged the notion that government spending (except on the military) is bad. He's made it less embarrassing to be an American.  I think he'll make good judicial appointments. If another Katrina happened tomorrow, I think he'd handle it well.

It's important to challenge Obama. No president deserves mindless loyalty. But color me modestly hopeful -- for now.         

Get Rid of Bush's Last-Minute HHS Regulation

Thursday, April 9th, is the deadline for comments on the proposed rescission of the Bush administration's last-minute HHS regulation expanding provider "conscience" clauses to allow just about any health worker to deny contraceptive services to women. Under this vague, confusing rule, a pharmacist could refuse to fill a birth-control prescription, and also refuse to get another pharmacist to do so. A nurse could refuse to give emergency contraception to a rape victim, and give her a lecture about "babykilling." Abortion clinics would be forced to hire, and retain, personnel who refused to carry out the very duties they were hired to perform. Nor does the regulation stop there. Conceivably, a health-care worker could refuse to care for a gay, lesbian or transsexual person, on the grounds that to do so would violate their religious beliefs.

The law already provides "reasonable accomodation" for religious beliefs, by the way. This regulation is just President Bush's farewell gift to the religious right. It only takes a few minutes to encourage President Obama to return that gift to the store.

(Thanks to intrepid reporter Cynthia Cooper for the heads up.)

1) Go to this site:  http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=SubmitComment&o=090000648090229f  

2) Sample letter from the Center for Reproductive Rights -- I am writing to support the "Rescission Proposal" to repeal the Provider Conscience Regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in December.

The regulation unnecessarily expands the current laws protecting healthcare workers at the expense of women's access to healthcare. The regulation creates uncertainty that could allow healthcare providers to deny access to contraceptive services by equating them with abortion. In addition, it allows providers to deny women the information necessary to provide informed–consent for their healthcare.Undoubtedly, the women who are hit the hardest by these regulations are the most vulnerable in our society. Many low–income women rely on federally–funded hospitals and clinics and cannot afford to shop around for healthcare providers. By expanding both the types of workers who can refuse services, and the range of services which can be denied, the government is restricting access to health services for those who already face significant barriers in accessing basic healthcare.

I ask that you rescind this unnecessary regulation which only exacerbates the lack of affordable healthcare for women in this country.

[Optional - add your additional comments here]

Your name


From My Inbox: WRRAP Says Thanks; UPDATE

Despite hard times which have made philanthropy hard for many, readers responded to the appeal in my last post for donations for the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, which helps low-income women from all over the country access abortion care. Here's an e mail I received from WRRAP yesterday, with some details about the situations of the women they've been able to help, thanks to you.

Too often, the debates surrounding abortion obscure the women themselves. Right now, for example, we are hearing a lot from pundits like Will Saletan, who argues that women have unwanted pregnancies because they are careless about contraception, conjuring up a picture of lackadaisical sluts who just can't be bothered to take their pill. Real life is more complicated: chaotic lives, poverty, social isolation, lack of regular access to health care, ignorance, misinformation, drugs, alcohol, male violence and hopelessness all play a part, along with the simple facts that every method has a failure rate and nobody's perfect. Similarly, it is hard for some people to imagine women so poor that they cannot come up with, let's say, $500 for a first-trimester abortion -- don't they have friends? won't the man help? Can't they just put it on a credit card? Hello, this is a country where millions rely on food stamps and soup kitchens! Where people can't pay their utilities or their rent!

The descriptions of WRRAP clients below are a tiny window into the struggles of low-income women. More information, and a donation button, can be found at www.wrrap.org.

UPDATE: Keep it up, trolls. Your callous, ignorant and sexist comments have inspired readers to donate over two thousand more dollars to WRRAP since this post went up.

Subject: Thank You is Not Enough

Date: March 30, 2009 12:16:05 PM EDT

To: katha.pollitt@gmail.com

Dear Katha:

Your mention of our work brought us donations totaling $955. It was money that was greatly needed and was put to immediate use.

These are the just some of the women we helped since over the last 2 weeks:

A 38 year-old woman with one child from MI. She and her husband are starting a new business that hasn't yet generated income. Her family and friends are helping them and they needed very little money from us.

A 29 year-old low-income woman who works but her insurance will not cover abortion services.

An 18 year-old doing part-time work with no insurance. Her parents are unemployed. The man beat her and left when he found out she was pregnant.

A 17 year-old student who can't tell her mother. She went through the system and got a judicial bypass.

A 20 year-old with one child who lives with two sisters and three other children. Works part time at McDonald's and the man will not help.

A 28 year-old who is a multiple cancer survivor. She and her boyfriend are living in their car.

A 29 year-old with three children. She works part time and receives $200 a month in child support.

A 40 year-old with four children. She makes only $500 per month. Her low-income mother helps her with rent and bills. The man left.

A 34 year-old with the mental capacity of a 6 year old was raped. Her sister is her guardian and is one of the working poor.

A 34 year-old with 5 children lost her job, her insurance, her home and stays with friends while her kids are with their grandmother.

A 26 year-old with one child, lives with her mother on Medicaid and little or no child support. Fetus had profound anomalies that were incompatible with life.

Over 50% of these unwanted pregnancies were the result of failed birth control.

We are so grateful to you and your readers for your generous support of poor women in crisis.

Joyce Schor

Judith Krain

National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers

March 10th is National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, and man oh man could they use some love. Obama's victory may protect Roe v Wade in the Supreme Court, but state legislatures are doing their best to pile on the obstacles and restrictions: mandatory ultrasounds are the latest fad, with bills being considered in eleven states ( because apparently women are so stupid they might not realize they're having an abortion because they're pregnant). And then, as Michael Winerip reported in an unusually thorough piece in Sunday's New York Times (in the Style section, sigh, along with the rest of the girlynews), the women's health activists who form the backbone of many clinic staffs are retiring and proving hard to replace in the more conservative and rural regions, like upstate New York, the South and Midwest. Doctors, nurses and technicians are reluctant to work in clinics in anti-choice places where they will be picketed, socially ostracized and forced to protect themselves daily against possible violence. Low pay is another factor: anti-choicers love to talk about abortion as a business, but adjusted for inflation, the price of a first trimester abortion is about what it was thirty years ago, although security-related costs have skyrocketed -- one reason why clinic staffers make about half what they would in another specialty.

Will the next generation step up to the plate? Sally Burgess, head of the National Abortion Federation, thinks that growing up with legal abortion, too many lack "the fire in the belly." Then too, med school policies mean only a small proportion of medical students are even learning how to perform this relatively simple procedure.

You can show your support for the selfless people who make more than words on a page by making a donation to the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP) , an all-volunteer group which helps low-income girls and women around the country pay for their abortion care. As the economy sinks and unemployment rises, more and more women will find themselves both needing to terminate a pregnancy and unable to come up with the cost. Help WRAPP be there for clinics and for women.

Donations of any size are more than welcome (and yes, the rather odd name on the Paypal account is correct -- I checked), but if you send me your receipt for $50 or more, I will mail you a signed copy of Learning to Drive: and Other Life Stories, my collection of personal essays.

Open Letter to Defend Shirin Ebadi

From the Campaign for Peace and Democracy comes this open letter in defense of Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate and defender of women's rights and human rights.I think it does an excellent job of disentangling support for human rights in Iran from the bellicosity that sometimes accompanies it. In fact, as Shirin Ebadi herself told Amy goodman (Democracy Now, February 4, 2009)

"A military attack on Iran or even a threat of a military attack on Iran will deteriorate the situation of human rights and women's rights, because it gives an excuse to the government to repress them more and more often."

You can add your name or make a tax-deductible donation to publicize the statement atthe Campaign for peace and Democracy website. Problems? E mail the CPD at cpd@igc.org.

IRANIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LEADER SHIRIN EBADI IN DANGERPeace Activists Call on Teheran to Ensure Her Safety

To:Supreme Leader Ali KhameneiPresident Mahmoud AhmadinejadAyatollah Shahrudi, Head of the JudiciaryMohammad Khazaee, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United NationsIslamic Republic of Iran

We are writing to protest in the strongest terms the threats that have been mounted against Shirin Ebadi, co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the Organization for the Defense of Mine Victims. Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, has spoken out vigorously and repeatedly for women's rights and human rights for all in her own country. She has also been a vocal and effective advocate for peace and against military attacks on Iran in international forums.

Ebadi today is in considerable danger. On December 21, 2008, officials prevented a planned celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and forced the closure of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), which Ebadi helped found. The Center provides legal defense for victims of human rights abuses in Iran. The group had invited nearly 300 human rights defenders and supporters to the private celebration. A few hours before the start of the program, members of state security forces, and plainclothes agents entered the DHRC building. They filmed the premises, made an inventory, and forced the center's members to leave before putting locks on all entrances.

On December 29 officials identifying themselves as tax inspectors arrived at Ebadi's private law office in Tehran and removed documents and computers, despite her protests that the materials contained protected lawyer-client information.

Ebadi's former secretary has been arrested, and on January 1, 2009 a mob of 150 people gathered outside her home, chanting slogans against her. They tore down the sign to her law office, which is in the same building, and marked the building with graffiti. The police, who have been quick to close down unauthorized peaceful demonstrations, did nothing to stop the vandalism.

In similar cases, Iranian authorities frequently have followed office raids and other harassment with arbitrary arrests and detention, often leading to prosecutions on dubious charges

As peace activists, we have a special concern for Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi has spoken out, as we have, against any U.S. military attack on Iran. In 2005, Ebadi wrote, "American policy toward the Middle East, and Iran in particular, is often couched in the language of promoting human rights. No one would deny the importance of that goal. But for human rights defenders in Iran, the possibility of a foreign military attack on their country represents an utter disaster for their cause." ("The Human Rights Case Against Attacking Iran" by Shirin Ebadi and Hadi Ghaemi, The New York Times, Feb 8, 2005).

We oppose any military attack on Iran by the United States or any other nation. We reject too the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it protests repression in Iran while turning a blind eye to or actively abetting comparable or worse repression in countries with which it is allied like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Israel in the Occupied Territories. And we condemn as well Washington's double standard in criticizing Iranian repression while itself engaging in torture and undermining civil liberties at home. But that in no way deters us from protesting in the strongest terms the denial of basic democratic rights to the people of Iran. We protest because we believe in these rights, and also because we see social justice activists in Iran and all countries as our natural allies in building a peaceful, democratic world.

We call on you to cease and desist from the threats to Shirin Ebadi, to move immediately to prevent any further harassment, and to ensure Shirin Ebadi's safety and security.

INITIAL SIGNERSErvand Abrahamian, Janet Afary, Michael Albert, Kevin B. Anderson, Bettina Aptheker, David Barsamian, Rosalyn Baxandall, Medea Benjamin, Michael Bérubé, Norman Birnbaum, Eileen Boris, Roane Carey, Joshua Cohen, Noam Chomsky, Gail Daneker, Manuela Dobos, Ariel Dorfman, Martin Duberman, Carolyn Eisenberg, Jethro Eisenstein, Zillah Eisenstein, Daniel Ellsberg, Jodie Evans, Gertrude Ezorsky, Samuel Farber, John Feffer, Barry Finger, Joseph Gerson, Jill Godmilow, Arun Gupta, Thomas Harrison, Nader Hashemi, Adam Hochschild, Nancy Holmstrom, Doug Ireland, Melissa Jameson, Jan Kavan, Nikki Keddie, Leslie Kielson, Ian Keith, Kathy Kelly, Assaf Kfoury, Naomi Klein, Dan La Botz, Joanne Landy, Jesse Lemisch, Sue Leonard, Mohammed Mamdani, Betty Mandell, Marvin Mandell, Kevin Martin, Scott McLemee, David McReynolds, Ali Moazzami, Claire G. Moses, Molly Nolan, David Oakford, Bertell Ollman, Christopher Phelps, Charlotte Phillips MD, Katha Pollitt, Danny Postel, Dennis Redmond, Sonia Jaffe Robbins, Matthew Rothschild, Jason Schulman, Stephen Shalom, Adam Shatz, Alice Slater, Stephen Soldz, Stephen Steinberg, David Swanson, Chris Toensing, David Vine, Lois Weiner, Naomi Weisstein, Reginald Wilson, Kent Worcester, Stephen Zunes

This Week's Woman We Love to Hate

Just in time for the Big Recession comes Nadya Suleman, the unemployed single mom with six kids under the age of seven plus a complete set of octuplets and no more sense than a goldfish. Must there always be an woman whose out-of-control female body gives us something to gawk at? Step aside, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Palin (remember all that ridiculous conspiracy theorizing about her baby really being Bristol's?), Jessica Simpson's weight and the endless procession of celebrity baby bumps. Photos of Suleman's naked grotesquely distended pregnant belly rule the internet, along with much speculation about her resemblance to Angelina Jolie (plastic surgery?), her finances (unclear), the father (mysterious) and the fertility doctor who violated professional guidelines by implanting so many embryos in her (time to regulate!).

Suleman, who says she's only trying to make up for her lonely childhood, seems completely insane to me. Indeed, she's been treated for a variety of psychiatric conditions. But she's obviously not too crazy to try to seize the day. She hired a pair of publicists who gave new meaning to the word "chutzpah." In response to a horrified editorial in USA Today,they wrote that she would raise her children in a "caring, Christian home" with the help of that child-raising village Hillary Clinton likes to talk about. They've even set up a website where said villagers can send good wishes, cash and presents. A caring, Christian home! Take that Phyllis Chesler, who, mistakenly identifying Suleman's father as Palestinian (he's Iraqi), wonders if she'll "become a poster child/mother for....free baby formula and diapers? Or for Jihad?" Here in the US, it's Christian fundamentalists like those in the Quiverfull movement who think God put women on earth to breed armies of the faithful.

I've received a number of e mails urging me to defend Suleman on feminist grounds. But really, there is nothing feminist about borrowing all this trouble. We're supposed to be reasonable creatures, remember? Talk about giving single mothers by choice a bad name! Suleman seems to have combined an extraordinary degree of planning for conception with no realistic planning for childraising. If the Suleman house was a daycare center it would be illegal. Even if all the octuplets are healthy, a big assumption, the fact that three of her six older kids are receiving disability payments from the state of California -- one is autistic, the others have undisclosed problems -- underscores how hard it will be to give all these kids the attention they need. Just helping an autistic child to thrive is a huge amount of work all by itself.

The vitriol heaped upon Suleman as her story dribbled out revolves around the money the octuplets will cost society, beginning with an estimated 1.3 million dollars for their premature birth and extended hospital stay. If she was a millionaire (or a married christian) people would call it a medical miracle,wish her well and move on. The vituperation on comment threads -- "spay the stupid bitch!" and "they need to cut out this woman's uterus" are typical -- shows that welfare reform did nothing to put a damper on the all-American resentment of "welfare queens." Her case, though, is not much like that of real mothers on TANF, who have only 2.3. children on average, and would probably have fewer if they had better access to sex education, birth control and abortion, and better prospects in life to begin with-- prospects like Suleman's, who comes from a middle-class family (school teacher mother, translator father) and has a college degree. Basically she's a one-off, a mentally disturbed individual with excellent manipulation skills. She's the maternal equivalent of a cat collector.

Well, America loves big families-- the Christian fundamentalist Duggars (18 kids and counting) are currently sharing the small screen with Jon and Kate Plus 8 ( a blended family that includes artificially conceived sextuplets). True, we prefer them married, with a traditional division of labor. But we love freak shows, too, and celebrity wannabes who combine blithe narcissism with a staggering lack of self-awareness, so maybe Suleman will reap big money for interviews, photos, a reality show ,a book deal and she won't be a burden on the taxpayer after all. Won't that be frustrating to the people who want to feed her freeloading self to the woodchipper now? Or maybe she'll be nudged aside by some other reproductive train wreck-- as I write, "13 year old Dad spends first Night at Home with Baby, Plays Playstation" has 213 comments on Huffpost.

The latest development is that the publicists have resigned, citing death threats, and have been replaced by an agent, Wes Yoder, whose Ambassador Agency claims to be the oldest Christian-based talent agency in the United States. His best known client? Rick Warren.

Octomom Told Doc: Don't kill my babies!

Christmas at Nadya's: It's All About the LOVE!

Jesus to the Rescue. And not a moment too soon.

Today's the Day to Donate to Tom Geoghegan

Have you been wondering about the best possible moment to donate to the campaign of progressive labor lawyer/ writer/ activist Tom Geoghegan? As you may know, he's running in the Democratic primary for Rahm Emanuel's seat in Congress. Well, it's today. Midnight tonight, February 11, is the FEC filing deadline for campaign contributions.

Why does this deadline matter? A strong showing encourages donations from those who've been waiting to see if the campaign has legs. It also attracts press. So far, none of the candidates have gotten much attention in the local media -- you could help change that.

Even a small donation, added to others, really helps. So don't be shy, visit

Tom's ActBlue page.

Why should you support Tom Geoghegan? He wants to give all Americans single-payer health care. He wants every American to get a decent pension on retirement-- social security, as the working people and retirees in his district know all too well, is not enough to live on. He wants to restore controls on banks and the credit industry so Americans aren't burdened by usurious rates of interest that, until recently, were illegal. And as if that weren't enough, he's really smart, he's honest, he's pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. He not only wrote one of the best books ever about unions, "Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor when it's Flat on its Back," he's fought for worker's rights in court for thirty years. That is not something many politicians can say.

Read more at the campaign website. Read even more about it at The G Spot.

From My Inbox: UPDATE on Dr. Susan Wicklund's Clinic

The Mountain Country Women's Clinic in Livingston MT has been open for one week. There were 51 picketers, and patients from hundreds of miles away. That tells you that for all the talk about how there are "too many abortions," right now in much of the country clinics are too few and too far between.

It's not too late to Pledge-a-Picketer, a peaceful, nonviolent, amusing way to show your support for Dr. Wicklund's commitment to help women regardless of their ability to pay. It's a scandal that she needs to spend precious funds on a security system, but that's the world we live in -- her previous clinic was targeted by an arsonist. Set your own rate -- a dollar? a quarter? Even a postcard of support would be nice.

(Want to read the post of which this is an update? If Nation blogs were designed like 99 percent of the blogs in the world, you'd just scroll down. But for some reason ours are designed so that you have to click on the blog title, in this case And Another Thing, which will bring you to the intro paragraphs of earlier posts, which you can then click on to get the whole story. Exhausting,I know.)

Dear Pledge-A-Picketers/ Friends:

First week's numbers: 51 picketers were outside Mountain Country Women's Clinc

PLEASE SEND YOUR PLEDGES TO:Mountain Country Women's ClinicP.O. Box 1780Livingston, MT 59047

PAYPAL PAYMENT Option will be available by Feb. 10 via a pledge link at WWW.MOUNTAINCOUNTRYWOMENSCLINIC.COM.


Letter from Dr. Susan Wicklund:

Hello, and so many thanks to all of the people who have taken "The Pledge"!! It is Wednesday night, three days after opening Mountain Country Women's Clinic in Livingston, Montana. I am exhausted, but happy to report that we are successfully caring for women who need our services. We have had patients who have traveled from North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, many parts of Montana, and from right here in Livingston. For those of you not familiar with our wide-open spaces, it means some of our patients have driven up to 8 hours to get here. We provided services to one woman for no cost because she had been bleeding and cramping for two weeks and unable to find anyone who would help her without her Medicaid being in place first. We helped another find partial funding through an organization in Wyoming, and have accepted others at a sliding scale. I never turn patients away because they can't pay. I've been there.

The protesters were out in force on Monday, opening day, numbering 35 at high noon. Tuesday was quiet with only 6 protesters near a local grocery store, and then 6 again today on our street corner and near the clinic door. Any money that is received through the Pledge-A-Picketer campaign will be used to help defray the cost of subsidizing patients, and to help pay for the security system necessary to keep staff and patients safe.

On February 6th we will send out an email letting you know what the total protester count for the week is. Please do your own math and send in your pledged amount. Some of you will rather use the PayPal account on our website, which will be up and running next week.

Honestly, however, I would love to get something by snail mail from each of you, telling me why you are so willing to do this. It makes these long, long days easier to know there is so much support for women in the far corners of rural America who are just trying to make the best choice they can for themselves and their families.

Yours in Choice,

Susan Wicklund, MD


Welcome aboard. It has been quite a ride since we sent out the call. People keep forwarding the notice, so that our responders have been signing up from all over the country, and from as far away as New Zealand. Our call made it into The Nation after one of their writers, Katha Pollitt, got our email and signed up. More importantly, the level of commitment and support has been inspiring. People write in saying that they've been cut to part-time work, but will do what they can. Others say they are pledging on behalf of their daughters and grand daughters. Others say that it's time to put their money behind their beliefs. One woman said she's sending $1 for every year since Roe v. Wade.

As you read in Dr. Wicklund's statement, the clinic has been up and running all week. She is again engaged with women in need, and using her skills to help them through. It has been fairly intense in Livingston. Picketers have been active. They have been leafleting cars and lobbying downtown businesses to turn people against Mountain Country Women's Clinic. On Monday night, at the City Commission meeting, there was a standing room only crowd waiting to give testimony. Sue had many supporters there, who spoke on her behalf, but the anti-choice crowd lined up to speak as well. Fortunately, the city commissioners appear to line up behind the clinic and its legal right to be in town. On a darker side, some group has established a website which spreads malicious lies about Sue's work and abortion in general. It's ridiculous, although if a person doesn't know better, it sounds awful.

In any case, here's the deal with the pledges. This week's picketer total is 51. We want to make it flexible and up to individuals to fit their commitment to the need and their own budgets. Please don't feel tied down a specific pledge amount, or obligated to send money every time we contact you. Ideally, decide what you can pledge, do the math, and send a check to: Mountain Country Women's Clinic, P.O. Box 1780, Livingston, MT 59047. We are also in the process of setting up a PayPal account for folks who have forgotten how to use a checkbook and want to pledge on line. That should be up and running via a Pledge-A-Picketer link on the MCWC website, www.mountaincountrywomensclinic.com, by early next week.

While we don't want to be heavy handed about soliciting support, we also don't want to downplay the importance of it. This is a crucial time, and Sue really needs help to pay for the security system, to make her payroll, and to establish a fund for indigent patients. If ever there was a time to demonstrate support for Sue, and for women's reproductive rights, this is truly it. Please do what you can.

Stay tuned for next week's report. You have no idea what this network, and this palpable level of community, means to Sue.

In Solidarity,

Alan Kesselheim and Martha Kauffman

From My Inbox: Pledge-a-Picket for New Clinic in Montana

Dr. Susan Wicklund, whose 2008 book This Common Secret, detailed her life as an abortion provider, has just opened a clinic in Livingston, Montana. Even before it opened on February 2nd, the clinic was being picketed by opponents of abortion rights. In the mail below, Wicklund's co-author, Montana writer Alan Kesselheim, explains how you can turn their protests peacefully against them. (I've pledged $1 per picketer. That puts me in a slightly weird position: Do I hope lots show up so the clinic gets plenty of cash, or few show up so that I can save mine?) If you want to pledge, e mail Martha_Kauffman@msn.com.

Dear Friends of Dr. Susan Wicklund:

As most of you know, Susan Wicklund has been hard at work trying to open a women's reproductive health clinic in the Bozeman/Livingston area. It has not been easy. It has taken several years. Deals have fallen through because word leaked out and landowners were intimidated by violent threats. Other potential arrangements have collapsed due to financial difficulties, political controversy, or simple logistics.

Despite the setbacks, Sue has persevered. On Monday, February 2nd, precisely sixteen years after she opened her Bozeman clinic, back in 1993, Mountain Country Women's Clinic again opens its doors, this time in downtown Livingston. It is a moment of triumph and satisfaction, achieved with the support of many people. It is also a moment of tension. Not only has Susan incurred significant personal debt in a very uncertain economy, but the usual voices of dissent are echoing in letters to the editor and in anti-choice picketers appearing on Main Street in Livingston, protesting the existence of Sue's legal services. Even before the doors opened, protesters walked the sidewalks outside. Also, even before the doors opened, women were calling Sue to make appointments.

The need for a compassionate, professional, and thorough women's clinic is as great as ever. Unfortunately, the strident voices against choice rise up as expected. The difference between 1993 and 2009 is that Sue Wicklund has friends. All of you on this mailing list, and many more friends and neighbors, support her cause. Many have volunteered in the past. Some have written letters of support. Others wish they knew how to help.

I propose to begin a Pledge-A-Picketer Campaign in support of Mountain Country Women's Clinic. The concept is simple, and it mirrors the grassroots style of the Obama campaign, during which many small contributions created a huge impact. Each of us signs on to donate, say, $1/picketer to Susan's clinic. If, over the period of a week, 17 picketers parade on Main Street, we each send a check for $17. It isn't much, but if $17 gets multiplied by 50 people, it comes to $850. If 100 people send in checks, we raise $1,700.


Many of us wish to help Mountain Country Women's Clinic. We wish we could confront the picketers face to face. Unfortunately, that sort of public disturbance is precisely what the anti-choice forces would love to foster. However, by turning their efforts against them we can help Mountain Country Women's Clinic serve patients, and deflate the energy of the protesters.

Susan Wicklund has agreed to keep track of picketers during her first week of operation. At that point we will contact all of you again with the numbers, and an address to send the check to. Even if you can only pledge .25/picketer, the cumulative impact of our efforts will still be significant. Also, I urge you to forward this message to any of your friends who might help support Sue's new clinic. If they would like to participate, they should contact Martha_Kauffman@msn.com and ask to be added to the list.

With Sincere Thanks, and In Solidarity,

Alan KesselheimCo-Author of This Common Secret

Birth Control Belongs in the Stimulus Bill

To the outrage of many feminists and family planners, yesterday Democrats heeded President Obama and dropped from the stimulus bill aprovision that would have made it easier for states to offercontraception through Medicaid to low-income women not covered byMedicaid now. This followed several days in which Republicans mocked theitem as frivolous pork, like Las Vegas's proposed Mob Museum or thereseeding of the national mall. And how dare Nancy Pelosi suggest thatwomen should be helped to avoid unwanted pregnancies in the midst of aneconomic crisis! It's eugenics and China's one-child policy rolled intoone. You wonder how giving women more freedom to plan their kids equalsforcing them not to have any? Ask Chris Matthews, that noted expert onwomen, who on last night's Hardball seemed to think the US hadnarrowly escaped becoming a reproductive gulag:" It turns out the ideaof getting people to have fewer children didn't sell as national policy. Maybe people don't like Washington, which has done such a bang-up jobregulating the sharpies on Wall Street, to decide it's now time toregulate the number of kids people might be in the mood for."

There are people who thought Obama practiced some clever politicaljiu-jitsu by bending over backwards to meet Republican objections. Supposedly, this bipartisan gesture would make it harder forRepublicans to reject the bill. Whoops, guess not: House Republicansjust voted against it unanimously. Backup theory: Well, now Obamalooks reasonable and statesmanlike, while Republicans look rigid andinsane. The stimulus will pass, and Republicans will get no credit.Low-income women get the shaft, but they should be used to it by now.

But then there are those who think birth control really doesn't belongin the bill.Matt Yglesias writes, "Unlike some, I'm not per se outragedby the idea of dropping a family planning provision from the stimulusbill in response to conservative objections. I'm all for the provision,but it's genuinely tangential to the point of the bill, so if this isreally what's standing between us and a universe in which a substantialnumber of conservative get on the stimulus train so be it." Over atSlate's XX Factor, E.J. Graff, rather surprisingly, agrees.

Is birth control tangential to the stimulus? Only if all healthspending is, but no one (so far) is arguing that the massive sums forhealth care be removed from the bill. In fact, when it comes to keepingwomen hale and hearty contraception is right up there with childhoodvaccines and antibiotics. So, given that the stimulus bill containsother health provisions, including 4 billion dollars for preventivecare, why is contraception different? Because anti-choice Republicans say so? If health care belongs in the bill, and birth control is healthcare, then it is not "tangential." QED.

I would go further: expanding access to contraception does indeed help the economy. The production, prescribing, buying and selling ofbirth control is an economic activity--funding more of it means moreclinics, more clinic workers, more patients,more customers, more peoplemaking the products. Moreoever, the provision removed from the stimulusbill would spend money now--about 550 million, over ten years, a drop inthe bucket--to save the government much more money later, as theCongressional Budget Office estimates would happen within a few years.(Actually, according to the Wall Street Journal blog, it would save anannual $100 billion, but I'm putting that in parenthesis because it sucha huge amount I keep thinking it has to be a typo.

Update: Yes! According to the New York Times, the CBO actuallysays it would save 200 million over five years. More as I track down thesource of this elusive stat.)

More important, what about the economics of actually existing women andfamilies? This is no time to be saddling people with babies they don'twant and can't provide for, who will further reduce the resourcesavailable for the kids they already have and further limit parents'ability to get an education or a job. In a Depression, birth rates godown for a reason. People. Have. No. Money. Furthermore, when peoplelose their jobs they lose their health insurance. A year's supply ofpills is around $600 retail. That's a significant amount of money tolow-income women.

In his first week in office, President Obama did some reallywonderful things for women: He overturnedthe global gag rule, indicated his support for resuming funding for theUnited Nations Family Planning Program, supported the Ledbetter Act, and put educationand health care high on the stimulus bill, thus ensuring women will getsome of the work the bill will create. It is bewildering that hesacrificed low-income women's rights and health in a vain bid to wooantediluvian rightwing misogynist Republican ideologues who will never,ever vote his way.

Call the white House comment line at 202 224 3121 and tell PresidentObama to put back the birth control provision. Then call your Senatorsat 202 224 3121 and tell them the same.

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