You should be completely outraged after reading the story of Jennifer Ann Whalen.
t I certainly was. Especially after reading some of the subsequent highly insensitive commentary about her case.
t Jennifer Ann Whalen is a 39-year-old single mom, who works as a nursing home aide for minimum wage. She was jailed for giving her 16-year-old daughter RU486, the abortion pill. A choice millions of women, without access to clinics or health insurance, make every day. Whalen’s choice was exposed after the girl had excessive bleeding and was taken to the emergency room.
t The actual charge was for violating a state law that requires abortions to be performed by a physician. Not possible for Whalen since she does not have health insurance and, therefore, desperately needed to rely on the services of a clinic. However, there was no clinic anywhere near her rural Pennsylvania town. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of counties in Pennsylvania don’t have even one abortion provider, leaving over 50 percent of the state’s women without access to legal, safe abortions.
t At least she didn’t live in Mississippi where 99 percent of counties don’t have a single abortion clinic.
t The nearest clinic was 74 miles away, which amounts to a 90-minute drive each way; a drive Whalen might have been willing to make if it weren’t for an outrageous law in Pennsylvania. As of July first of this year:
t A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
t Which means not only two 90-minute drives but four, plus state-mandated counseling. Counseling that research has shown is both misleading and biased.
t In his weekly column, journalist Dan Savage addressed Whalen’s case with the proper indignation the story engenders, “Anti-choice politicians have worked to make safe and legal abortions harder and harder to obtain… and then those same politicians turn around and punish Whalen for getting her daughter the only abortion she could get her. Whalen… is paid poverty-level wages for the important work she does. Our economic system impoverishes working people like Whalen and then persecutes them for the choices they make under duress.”
t A pivotal article in the Lancet called for an end to “the silent pandemic of unsafe abortion” and referred to situations similar to Whalen’s as “an urgent public-health and human-rights imperative.” Making it even more offensive when entitled, classist writers make judgmental, flippant and insensitive remarks based on a lack of information.
t And speaking of research, a groundbreaking study by Dr. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, followed 300 teenage mothers and their children over a 17-year period and found that teen mothers are less likely to return to school or educate themselves in a way that could earn a salary conducive to raising a child. Subsequently, that child is less likely to have resources necessary for optimum development. Her study also found that children of teen mothers were more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
t While Whalen’s choice may be troubling for some, it represents a frightening reality that many women, who lack financial resources, are forced to make. If Whalen couldn’t afford an abortion for her daughter (choosing the less-costly option of a pill purchased over the Internet), do you really think she could have afforded proper prenatal care had they chosen to keep the baby or put it up for adoption?
t This nightmare scenario is one of many predicted by those who fight tirelessly to provide access to all possible reproductive choices for women. Compounding it by jailing (and shaming) the mother who did the best she could with the available resources she had, is the stuff one hears about totalitarian regimes or third world countries… yet here it is right down the street. While Ms. Whalen’s story is an individual one, her story symbolizes the continuing struggles of all women.
t Photo credit: Image Source/Getty Images