Commentary

‘We saw this day coming’ — midwives prepare to protect abortion access in Wisconsin

May 4, 2022 7:00 am
Photo by Joe Brusky via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Photo by Joe Brusky via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

The morning after the terrible news broke about the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v Wade, I called my homebirth midwife, Ingrid Andersson. Ingrid is my hero. She helped me have all three of my daughters at home. No one is more dedicated to women’s health and bodily autonomy, to creating a warm, nurturing environment for children and families, and to fighting like hell for reproductive justice.

I wanted to talk to someone who knows that defending women’s rights and caring about babies and children are not opposing values. Contrary to the anti-abortion billboards that have been popping up everywhere recently — including one I drive by regularly near my kids’ school featuring two little girls nuzzling a cute newborn — the people who want to force young girls and women to give birth against their will are not the guardians of family values and loving bonds between parents and children. 

Closer to the truth is Laura Bassett, who reports in Jezebel that Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked opinion draft striking down Roe relies heavily on a 17th century English judge who had two women executed for “witchcraft.” 

Bassett digs into a treatise by Sir Matthew Hale, cited approvingly by Alito, calling abortion a “great crime.” In the exact same text, Hale also writes a ringing defense of marital rape: “For the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”

The modern anti-abortion movement “is an outgrowth of many centuries of virulent misogyny and violence against women,” Bassett concludes.

Ingrid, whose work is part of the long struggle for women’s reproductive freedom, agrees.

“It’s a sad day,” she said when I reached her. “But it’s saddest for people like my parents.” In the 1960s, Ingrid’s mother sought an illegal abortion in Chicago — a procedure she could have accessed legally in her country of origin, Sweden. But she couldn’t afford to fly home. “It turned her into a political activist for life. And I inherited that,” Ingrid says.

Her parents, now in their 80s, were grief stricken when they heard about the Supreme Court’s draft decision striking down Roe. It feels to them as though a lifetime of work fighting for reproductive justice is going up in smoke.

“I’m not grief-stricken,” Ingrid says, “because I know it’s not all lost.” 

For the last several years, Ingrid has been dividing her time evenly between her home birth practice, her poetry and the nonprofit group she helped found, POWERS: Pregnancy Options Wisconsin: Education, Resources, & Support, Inc. — an alternative to crisis pregnancies centers that are really stealth anti-abortion propaganda outfits. POWERS, a coalition of doctors, nurses, midwives, activists and doulas, has been helping Wisconsinites access abortion services in an increasingly restrictive environment since 2019.

Together with other groups, it helps connect patients with housing, child care, transportation and money to help them access abortions.

“We’ve all been collaborating. We saw this day coming,” Ingrid says.

Since there is no waiting period for abortions in Illinois and Minnesota’s two-visit requirement can be accomplished through an initial visit by phone, Wisconsinites seeking abortions can call POWERS for logistical support and get a speedy abortion in either of those nearby states.

“But what’s really going to happen in big numbers is pill abortion,” Ingrid says.

Medication abortion, commonly known as the “abortion pill” now accounts for more than half of all U.S. abortions, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion pills that can be ordered through the mail through the group Aid Access have changed the landscape, Ingrid says. She credits the Dutch obstetrician Rebecca Gomperts, who founded Women on Waves — a nongovernmental organization that provided abortions on a ship moored in neutral waters near countries that lacked legal abortion services. Gomperts also founded the international nonprofit Women on Web to make safe abortion services available through telemedicine worldwide.

While pill abortion through the mail is still not legal, patients who choose to use the method anyway can go to any Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin to seek follow-up care after a self-managed abortion. Self-managed abortion is not distinguishable from miscarriage, and Planned Parenthood takes a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach to treating patients.

“You don’t need to worry about being turned in — even after the ruling comes down,” Ingrid explains.

That’s not true for your average hospital emergency room, she adds.

POWERS has taken many calls from people around the state who went to the hospital when they had a miscarriage and were questioned as if they were criminals, she says. “There’s a lot of suspicion and distrust,” she adds. “Talk about rubbing salt in a wound.”

As self-administered abortion becomes the norm, authorities will have a harder time regulating women’s bodies. Ingrid counts that as a win. All of the callers she has spoken with when she staffs the POWERS call line “know what they want,” she says. “No one says, ‘I’m undecided.’”

Mostly the callers need help finding funds to travel or other logistical help to get an abortion. And they have been made to feel bad — not about their decision, but about themselves. “Guilt is the common denominator,” Ingrid says. “That’s what this divide is really about.”

In her gentle, supportive way, Ingrid relieves some of the guilt and shame that causes so much pain and damage.

“Most people choosing abortion are mothers,” Ingrid says. “They want someone on the other end to not judge them.”

Ingrid sees empowering possibilities in the rise of safe, self-administered abortion.That’s the biggest difference between now and the pre-Roe v. Wade era,” she says.

She compares home abortion to home birth. “You are in your place of comfort, on your timeline and in a body-led way. It’s not a process that’s done to you by someone with tools and technology.”

“We can do so much better in the clinic, too,” she adds. POWERS helps supply abortion doulas. “It can be very supportive to have someone experienced, who can tell you what’s normal and what’s not,” she says.

“Access to abortion is still going to happen,” she concludes. “It’s just going to look different.”

“I feel a lot of hope.”

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.

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