Our April salon speaker is journalist and author Robin Marty. We first fell in love with Robin’s work through her deep dive investigative pieces on the repro rights landscape for publications like Cosmopolitan, Rewire, and Rolling Stone, which make complex policy debates concrete and human. Her new book, Handbook for a Post-Roe America is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what is likely to unfold when it comes to abortion rights in the United States over the next few years, and who wants to be able to prepare for it - personally or politically.
We sat down with Robin to talk about what the map is likely to look like, how we got where we are now, and how she funds her investigative reporting.
“The right needs abortion in order to motivate voters and achieve an electoral majority.” - Robin Marty
Powerbitches: How did you get started writing about reproductive rights?
Robin Marty: I had been a progressive activist for a while, but I started writing personally in 2009 after I had a miscarriage. We were expecting our second child and I assumed everything was fine until the 12-week checkup, where we found out there wasn’t a heartbeat and the baby had stopped growing at 8 weeks. My OB didn’t know how to do a D&C, so I had to try to find another doctor who would help me take care of it. It happened right at the moment they were having the debate about whether abortion should be allowed in the insurance exchange, and I wrote about my experience for RH Reality Check (now Rewire). One of the things that struck me was how many people responded to the article saying that it was okay for me to have an abortion because the baby had stopped developing. But it’s all the same procedure, all the same hospital paperwork. That was the moment when I really understood that it’s all the same, and it’s just that we’re creating these fine lines between what is acceptable and unacceptable.
PB: In your first book Crow After Roe, you look at how, although abortion is technically currently legal in the United States, the pro-life movement has whittled away at rights and access on a state and local level. How has that played out? And how has the addition of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court change that?
RM: At the time we were writing the book, there were all these model legislations being floated by red state legislatures. This was the first time a fetal heartbeat bill had been introduced, the first time a 20-week ban had been introduced. All of these bills were designed to go to the Supreme Court. They were written to appeal to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was then the swing vote on the court, trying to persuade him to come up with a new line at which abortion should be banned. Now with Kavanaugh on the court, the swing vote is Chief Justice John Roberts, who has publicly said that he believes Roe was wrongly decided. Right now, we have 20 different cases that are right at the approach of the Supreme Court. My guess is that the court will overturn Roe, but not until after the 2020 election. The right needs abortion in order to motivate voters and achieve an electoral majority. It’s the same reason I don’t think we’re ever going to see a total federal abortion ban in the United States. There are too many people who will vote Republican because they want to make abortion illegal, but who don’t agree with them on anything else.
PB: For a lot of people, the idea of a “Post-Roe America” evokes images of a Handmaid’s Tale-style dystopia. Is that realistic? What should we expect?
RM: We’re basically going to a situation where abortion is legal on the northern part of the East Coast, on the West Coast, in Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, and Minnesota, and illegal through most of the rest of the country. Wisconsin and Michigan should be able to keep things in place, but it depends on who is in power. In some ways, the pro-choice movement is really well prepared for this situation: there are activists and organizations who are already transporting patients interstate to receive treatment, the system is just going to have to be embellished. The other side of it is that unlike before Roe v Wade, doing abortions ourselves at home is much safer than it was prior to the 1970s. We have a system where people can obtain medical abortion safely, but we don’t yet have a legal system that accepts it. There’s no medical reason a clinician needs to be present when a person ingests mifepristone, but legally restricting the use of telemedicine is an effective way to restrict access. One way activists are fighting back is through a bill called the Pregnant Person’s Dignity Act, which argues that every person should be free from scrutiny if they’ve had a miscarriage or other difficult situation in their pregnancy. Because once abortion is illegal, every miscarriage is a suspected abortion.
PB: We first encountered your work as a reporter for outlets like Cosmopolitan, Rewire, and Rolling Stone, writing incredibly detailed investigative pieces that put a human face on the reproductive rights landscape. Of all the stories you’ve covered and the people you’ve met along the way, what are the ones that have most stayed with you?
RM: One of the most interesting stories to me was traveling to Idaho and meeting Brandi Swindell, who was working to position her organization Stanton Healthcare as “the new Planned Parenthood,” only without abortion. She was the first “pro-life feminist” I had encountered, and it was the first time I really understood how someone could view themselves as a feminist but not believe in access to birth control. It was puzzling to me, but also really fascinating. We were so close on so many issues, but because we disagree on abortion, we can’t work together on any of them.
“Look at where your closest clinic is. How far away is it? Would you need to travel? Do you need to start saving for your own abortion fund?” - Robin Marty
PB: How do you fund that kind of deep reporting work - especially when it involves travel?
RM: [laughs] I’m broke most of the time. I self-fund a lot of my work and just hope for the best. I’ve found granting organizations can be good at providing the money needed for things like travel, but there’s often an extra layer of editorial that goes on top of that. There are things they want to see that the story doesn’t always bear out. I try hard to make sure everything I do stands up to scrutiny. I have abortion opponents who are more than willing to throw me up against the wall, and on the other hand, abortion rights reporters who are worried that [through Robin’s reporting and her podcast Ask An Anti] I’m too close to the enemy.
What’s the number #1 thing you recommend pro-choice people do to prepare for life after Roe?
If you have any money, give money to an abortion fund. They are doing all the work to move people from place to place so they can access the care they need. Also, look at where your closest clinic is. How far away is it? Would you need to travel? Do you need to start saving for your own abortion fund? Would you need to take time off work? Make a plan now, because it’s going to take money, it’s going to take resources, and it’s going to take time. When you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be, you have to do things fast. And the more information you have, the fast you can move.
Robin Marty will be in conversation with Powerbitches founder Rachel Hills at our next Salon event, on April 25. Click here for more information and to secure your tickets.