from Adrienne, member of Stop Patriarchy
A Stop Patriarchy comrade and I arrived at Columbia County Prison in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania by 9am. We stepped out of the car into the gray, coldness with signs that read “We Support Jennifer Whalen! Assisting someone with an abortion is not a crime!”, “Free Jennifer Whalen”, and, of course, “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!” Jennifer Whalen is a Pennsylvania resident and mother who sought to help her daughter have an abortion. Now, she is serving a 9-18 month sentence.
Her daughter was sixteen and pregnant, and as Whalen’s husband Keith told us outside of the jail, “unable to raise and care for this child.” Jennifer was looking out for the well-being of her daughter. The closest abortion clinic to Whalen is 75 miles away, and abortion is not covered under her insurance. With restrictions on medical abortions, it’s become more and more expensive and difficult to access. Jennifer was only doing what she needed to do, in a society that is making it more and more difficult for abortion to access. Jennifer obtained the medicine necessary, the same medicine provided by clinics for medical abortions, legally, and gave them to her daughter. (It’s important to note that most clinics aid a woman in deciding between the two types of abortion, medical or surgical, she could have. There are examinations provided to see which abortion would be best for the woman’s body. Once it’s determined that a medical abortion is safe, a provider will allow the patient to take one pill in office and another pill the following day at home. This is perfectly safe.) Her daughter did have some complications, so Jennifer took her daughter to the emergency room. For this Jennifer was charged and sentenced for violating a state law that requires abortions to be done by physicians and for distributing medicine without a prescription.
A journalist at the jail told us that the judge was contemplating charging her for manslaughter (for termination a 3 week fetus!!). This law does not exist in a vacuum and must be examined alongside the circumstances created by when access to abortion is restricted! With abortion becoming more and more difficult to access, how can we expect that women will not do whatever it takes to terminate their unwanted pregnancies?
It is totally illegitimate when laws are blindly used to make an example of someone; this case truly highlights how stigmatized abortions have become. Criminalizing abortions will NOT stop women from trying to obtain them. The horrific thing is that this is not the first time women have been condemned to prison for protecting themselves or their loved ones. This must stop now!
We waited for about a half an hour, before a car arrived in front of the jail. Jennifer was set to report to the jail to begin serving her sentence that day. My stomach turned itself into knots as I watched and waited for Jennifer to step out of the car. I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like to know you were going to be away from your children, your family, your friends, your life, and that all of these people knew why. I can’t imagine all of the anger, sadness, and shame she experienced. It’s devastating to know that in order to receive a lesser sentence a person has to internalize the horrors and inconsistencies of the system.
When Jennifer stepped out of the car she walked briskly with her head down. My comrade called out to her and she walked back, standing in the arms of her husband, with her head down and hair in front of her face. My comrade looked at her and told her that what she did was not wrong, and that many, many people support her. “Did you know this?” Jennifer shook her head. Women, especially moms, face a different set of standards; they are blamed and shamed for their children’s behaviors—their daughter’s sexuality, their daughter’s choice in clothing, and the list goes on—but while it’s true that a child’s behavior is not always a reflection of their parent, what’s more important is that ALL of these expectations and complaints are blatant attacks on WOMEN!
Should she have to apologize for being a woman. Hell no! Should she feel sorry for protecting the welfare of her daughter? Hell no! To see her stand in shame was an awful reflection of why criminalizing and stigmatizing abortion does nothing but perpetuate violence against women.
It was gratifying to be out there in support of Jennifer Whalen and to speak to her. Seeing us could have made a slight dent in chipping away the guilt and shame she’s felt. However, this slight dent needs to be strengthened and transformed into a major crack in this whole illegitimate system. We must continue to fight against a patriarchal society that is condemning women for thinking on their own.
We must fight illegitimate laws, change the way people think about abortion and act on what they know to be true. Standing in support of prisoners is important. Standing in opposition to a law is important. Protesting is important! Making your voice heard is important. I encourage people out there who see this as an injustice to flood the court and/or jail with letters of support of Jennifer Whalen. Write to her yourself* and tell her of your support. There is a need for an outpouring of support. We need all kinds of people to get involved on this front. Now is the time.
* Send your message of support for Jennifer Whalen to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send them to her husband, Keith Whalen, to send to Jennifer.