All across our country, abortion bans are sweeping our nation. These bans are attempt to take an ultimate hit at the famous 1973 case, Roe. vs. Wade. This U.S. Supreme Court case affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right. With senators confirming extreme conservatives to essentially lifetime positions on the U.S.'s federal courts — including the Supreme Court — Roe v. Wade is at risk now unlike ever before. But, will we go back.
Nah. (Rosa Parks) We won't go back.
Meet SC HB3020. Today, we chat it up with Mac, who shares with us her own abortion story and the current House Bill that is residing in the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in South Carolina. South Carolina currently ranks 49th in the nation in healthcare for pregnant mothers and newborns, 49th in the number of midwives and Obstetricians / Gynecologists per capita[SC WREN], and 38th in the nation in infant mortality[SC WREN]. SC's maternal mortality rates are the 9th highest in the nation, and black mothers are more than four times more likely to die during pregnancy or in childbirth than white mothers.
Q: Mac, thank you for agreeing to do this piece with me. I know for some, this is a sensitive topic, but when I heard your story at the SC State House protest a while ago...there was a certain fire about you and courage. Would you share your story with my readers?
A: I am always happy to tell my abortion story, the question really is, which one? HA!
In 1948, my mother’s mother, Elaine Reaugh (pronounced Ray) was married to my grandfather, an Army officer, and already had 2 small children. Back then, the Army would not let her relocate with my grandfather to his next post in Alaska, while she was pregnant. She was quite the feminist even back then and procured an abortion somewhere on or near Fort Jackson. From what my aunts and mother have hinted at, a sympathetic doctor “induced a miscarriage” (wink wink), and I have no doubt that Elaine was happy and very relieved.
Within a few months, she became pregnant with my mother. Had my grandmother not had the abortion, she would have still been pregnant and unable to conceive my mother. My grandmother did what she had to do to keep her family together. My mother is alive thanks to an abortion. My brother and I are alive thanks to an abortion. My 4 young nephews are alive thanks to an abortion.
My Grandmother did her patriotic duty in order to support a man doing his; a man who 5 years prior had been captured and tortured by the Nazis. I remember the scars from where they had burned him with cigarettes. He and my grandmother were far from perfect, but were wonderful grandparents.
Jump forward a few decades to the day before I graduated from Dorman High School. I was diagnosed with a blood disorder called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura or ITP for short; best described as a mimic of Leukemia. My platelet levels were so low that I was at risk of spontaneously bleeding. At one of my first check-ups, it was actually day 9 of my period, and I was bleeding to death. For anyone who understands blood levels, at that appointment my CBC showed 5,000 platelets. The nurses said they had a hard time even getting the machine to read it, because my platelets were so low. I was immediately thrown into a whirlwind of medical tests and protocols. However, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth was, “Get her on birth control now!”
It was the beginning of several years of surgeries, hospital stays, and a lot of needle sticks. At one point, as a sophomore at Wofford College, I was told I had 2 years to live. For me, life saving measure number 1 was getting the birth control pill. I continued to use the pill throughout my life. I had a Mirena IUD put in a few months after I got married. In 2018, I had my fallopian tubes removed. I never wanted to be a mother. I hated it when people would gaslight me (and mostly any woman who says they don’t want kids) with lines like, “Oh you’ll change your mind.” If children are so precious, why do people keep wanting to give them to people who don’t want them?
Honestly, the simplest part of my story is when I had 2 abortions; one D&C and one pill form. One was a condom malfunction and one was a miscalculation of my ovulation cycle. (Shout-out to all those people who swear by “the rhythm method”.) I was sick of taking the pill, finding time to pick it up, paying for it, or enduring the side-effects. Pregnancy and parenthood were financial and medical burdens I could not and did not want to afford. My abortions were a decade apart and a few months into respective relationships. I did not want to be connected to the father(s) for the rest of my life. Anti-choice advocates often mourn the high percentage of relationships that end after an abortion. I would bet my right arm that the relationship was bad in the first place. An abortion was probably the extreme scenario that toughened up the woman enough to finally end it. Abortion saved my life romantically, professionally, emotionally, financially, socially, and physically. Getting pregnant was horrific. Had I not had access to an abortion, I have no problem admitting that I would have gone to extreme and deadly measures to end a pregnancy. Abortion is one of the best things a woman can get or have access to; like finding out you’ve been cured of a deadly disease. No one wants chemotherapy, but millions endure it to find freedom.
Q: When and how did you get to a place where you were comfortable to live in your truth and share your abortion story?
A: It is all my legacy, and I had to learn to embrace it. As tough as it may be, I encourage people to embrace theirs. Shame only has power over you if you let it. However, I have to remind myself to not judge people who do not want to share their story. There are real threats in the world. The reason I am comfortable sharing my story (stories) is because I have that luxury, now. I had to stay quiet for a long time or risk my job. I was a 26-year-old independent, educated, career-oriented woman, who loved my job at a Presbyterian Church. I ran an outreach for junior high and high school students. I had also been guilted and politically pressured to join the church I worked at.
So, the breakdown went like this. Had I told the ministers that I was pregnant, I would have been fired. Had I told the ministers I was going to have or just had an abortion, I would have been fired. Had I decided I was a mature woman who wanted to raise a child or even give it up for adoption, I would have been fired. But these ministers who were my superiors, were also my ministers since I had joined the stupid church. So not only was I lost professionally, I had no one to turn to spiritually. My suspicions were confirmed the last week I worked there. After giving my notice, I confided everything to the only female minister on staff. She agreed that I probably would have been fired, even though she did not agree with it. The church should be the first-place people should turn to in crisis. Not the first place you will be vilified.
We don’t remember the first breath we take coming into this world, but I remember the breath I took the day I quit church work. It was just as glorious, just as freeing, and a great metaphor for escaping from a dark place. Religion had been a noose around my neck for over a decade at that point. I had to unlearn everything I had wrongly been taught to be ashamed of. God is awesome, but sometimes his people can be real assholes.
Q: How have you been using your own story to advocate for women and reproductive rights?
A: It has definitely been a self-propelled journey. There are so many more opportunities than people think. Like most people, I have very limited free time, so I wanted to find things that would have the most impact. Every citizen has the right to testify at subcommittee hearings. It is nothing that I “miraculously achieved.” We all have direct access to our legislators. Whether it is making a call to their office, writing and sending a letter, or going down in person, it is our right as citizens; something the majority of us either forgot or never knew. Remember, in America, our legislators work for us, not vice versa.
Q: Before we get into HB3020....I think we should clear up the basics. What is a pregnancy? When do most women know that they are pregnant?
A: Pregnancy is the medical condition where a fertilized human ovum (now a zygote) implants in a woman’s uterus. There are ectopic pregnancies where an egg implants in the fallopian tubes. Those are nonviable and deadly. Most women do not know they are pregnant until 8 weeks.
Q: What “kinds” of abortion restrictions are out there now? What is a “heartbeat bill”?
A: Uhg. Too many. The 2 main legislative strategies that have been employed across the United States, including South Carolina, are so-called “personhood” and “heartbeat” bills. “Personhood” legislation (typically) is an effort to amend state constitutions from “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of …” to “life, beginning at conception”. It is an extremely subversive way to go through the judicial areas of state governments instead of directly attacking through medical affairs committees. “Personhood” bills equate to political cowardice.
Even though most people have never heard of it, it has been around for decades. “Personhood” legislation has been formally introduced in the SC Legislature for over 15 years. It is the Trojan horse of legislation. It gives full legal rights and protections to a fertilized egg; a fertilized egg that may not have implanted yet. It essentially makes most forms of birth control illegal including the pill and IUDs. Fertilization can still take place without implantation. It would also dismantle the IVF industry; a fact I wish more financially privileged people knew. Anyone who thinks IVF will be around should they ever need it, is in for a rude awakening.
So-called “heartbeat” bills are the next-worst abortion-ban tactic. It goes like this: if a woman becomes pregnant and seeks an abortion, the provider (Clinician) would be required to perform an ultrasound. If a “heartbeat” is heard, they would be unable to procure an abortion. Here’s the thing. Gestationally, there is a rhythmic pulsing that begins before a heart is actually developed and even able to beat. Besides the fact that most women don’t know they’re pregnant at 6 weeks, calling that pulsing a heartbeat is another inaccurate, highly unscientific manipulation branding tactic. Also, a transvaginal ultrasound is standard medical procedure into the second trimester. However, that is never what is portrayed by anti-choice groups.
Earlier this year, a good friend and fellow advocate was telling me about one state that brought a pregnant woman into the Statehouse Chamber and gave her an ultrasound so everyone could hear the baby’s heartbeat. Now, my friend failed to mention that the woman was very far along and the ultrasound was external, like what you typically see “on TV”. So, the image that went through my head was of what would ACTUALLY happen; a woman, on an exam table, legs in stirrups (in the lithotomy position), with a transvaginal ultrasound wand up her vagina for all the Statehouse to see. I exclaimed, “WHAT?!?! They had a woman, spread eagle with a wand inside her in the middle of one of the statehouse chambers?!?!” It was then that we both realized how completely inaccurate and contrived that “demonstration” was. The external ultrasound was in NO WAY representative of a 6 to 8-week gestational ultrasound. They may as well have demonstrated how to make waffles. That “show” had nothing to do with the law and its real-life procedural implications.
Frankly, I equate any so-called “heartbeat” bills to legalized rape. “Heartbeat” bills would legally require someone to stick something inside a woman’s body whether she consented or not. The argument is that “if she wants an abortion, she is consenting to it anyway.” That seems an awful lot like the “slut shaming” approach to rape: “If a woman already likes sex, why is it rape?” Consent. I like drinking water, but I do not consent to water boarding.
Anyway, all these bans are just a way to dangerously restrict, if not completely outlaw abortion. Even before these laws have become officially enacted, there is a growing “Handmaid’s Tale” dystopian atmosphere across the country. Women, particularly women of color, are being indicted for suspicions of trying to induce their miscarriage. I highly recommend reading either of these 2 articles explaining the hundreds of cases:
1. Pregnant and no civil rights https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/opinion/pregnant-and-no-civil-rights.html
2. When a Miscarriage Becomes a Crime https://www.elle.com/culture/career-politics/a44552/when-a-miscarriage-becomes-a-crime/
Some other strategies/bills you may have heard about include (almost humorous) restrictions on clinics themselves such as requiring facility/building code enforcement on hallway width. There is also a 20-week abortion ban; passed in SC about 3 years ago. We are seeing a few pro-choice “wins” in more progressive states, like New York’s Reproductive Health Act. (https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2019/S240 or https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/06/12/separating-fact-fiction-abortion-talking-points/)
Q: Tell us what you know about SC HB 3020.
A: SC HB 3020 is an outright abortion ban, no matter what you call it. It has passed the House, and the conservative majority-led SC Senate is using every tactic to “play dirty.” The September 10, 2019 subcommittee hearing was one of the most contrived pieces of theater I have ever witnessed, and I am just a regular citizen. I am not even privy to the crap I am certain went on “behind the scenes”. Basically, the SC Senate Medical Affairs Committee and Subcommittee Chairmen have the right, however unusual, to call a hearing outside of the normal SC legislative session (January to June). The September 2019 HB3020 hearing was not widely publicized, and they required prior registration to testify instead of the usual day-of “show up, line up, and sign-up” process. Then, the sign-up to testify was a google form, with no information identifying its source, and the link to the google form was buried at the bottom of a 2-page PDF agenda which was posted on the statehouse website and emailed out to only a select few people. A lobbyist friend of mine just happened to forward me the link/announcement. Otherwise, you would have had to know that the hearing was taking place outside of legislative season and to then go to the statehouse website, click at least 3 pages deep into the subcommittee hearing schedule, and open the PDF document to then click on the link to the google form, and complete it within the 48-hour window that link was “live”. They then took testimony from an even number of proponents and opponents, which is far from the real representation of South Carolinians who oppose this extreme abortion restriction. This is all an attempt to rush this onto the Senate floor for voting and passage as soon as the official legislative season opens in January 2020.
Q: Why do you think SC, among other states, are passing these bills now?
A: Pro-choice advocates (lobbyists and citizens like me) have known this has been “the play” for years. The 2016 election sadly created the perfect environment to take down Roe. I wept at least 4 times on November 7, 2016, because I knew this was coming. It led to the appointment of anti-choice Supreme Court Justices. Extremely “Red” states have mobilized to take advantage of this power structure. Believe me when I say, every state driving anti-choice legislation is hoping that they are sued in an effort to appeal their way to the Supreme Court. That is and always has been the insidious plan. On the other hand, that election fired-up people that had been complacent. People, like me, that have been in this fight for a long time are so happy to be seeing this grassroots groundswell of allies. It has been a lonely, often easily dismissed, fight. I just hate it had to get to this point. Welcome to the rebellion. We have cookies.
Q: Will these bills have any direct challenges to Roe vs. Wade?
A: Yes. I mentioned the strategy above, but I would never call these bills “Direct”; just a little joke to point out how insidious these strategies and bills are.
Q: Who will HB3020 impact? What happens now? What will this bill mean for women of color in SC?
A: Frankly, who doesn’t it impact? Bills like HB3020 particularly impact women of color and anyone struggling with financial security. In order to process my pain, the nerd in me will try to “put numbers” to it. I attached the full document which shows how some “introductory” numbers from just 4 areas means economic implications for the state (public) budget of $397,366,717. Every South Carolinian should be angry at that number, and that doesn’t include the direct impact on individuals. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has better numbers than I do, but limiting abortion access (and access to reproductive healthcare in general) dramatically and negatively impacts job participation and educational attainment for multiple generations. Again, for conservatives to hate poor people, they really enjoy making them. (https://iwpr.org/publications/economic-effects-abortion-access-fact-sheet/)
Q: Will women still be able to get abortions in SC after HB3020?
A: No. No matter what “pretty” language they use, this is an outright abortion ban.
Q: Will it be illegal for people OUTSIDE of SC, in states with less restrictive abortion laws, to help and/or transport SC women to obtain abortions?
A: As of right now, I am not sure. I actually do not know enough about the bill to remember if it addresses that. Any bill in any state that does criminalize interstate access impacts, among everything else, that state’s economic competitiveness. Like we have seen in Georgia with calls for Netflix to stop production there, it makes us less attractive to businesses, potential residents (which would be their workforce), and even OB/GYNs, which we are in desperate need of. What doctor wants to practice in a state where their expert, medical judgement call could land them in jail? Or questioned, possibly detained, or even charged with a crime even if the charges are likely to be dropped? I am in NO way trying to diminish the horrific implications that all of this will have on women, especially women of color. I am trying, with every fiber of my being, to make anti-choice advocates see that abortion access is a vital part of their stereotypical battle-cry including economic prosperity, individual liberty, and personal attainment.
Q: What will emergency contraception and birth control access look like after HB3020?
A: Limited at best. I see many arguments from anti-choice advocates who lack a true understanding of what access actually means. I am a privileged, educated, well-employed white woman, and getting my medications every month is still a struggle. It doesn’t matter what is legal if there are no doctors to treat you, much less, comfortably write you a prescription. It doesn’t matter what is legal if you can’t afford it financially. And if you can’t afford an abortion, then you certainly can’t afford the pregnancy or the child. I just wish more men realized if they can’t afford the condom, they can’t afford to have sex.
Q: Mac, thank you for taking the time to share your story and educate readers about HB3020. The last question is for readers interested in getting involved in the fight against HB3020 and these restrictive bills across the country....how can they help?
A: If you’re in South Carolina, register with WREN, the South Carolina Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network. I have found them to be the best resource around for all of this. Also, go find your legislator at www.scstatehouse.gov. Learn how to use that website. Vote. Vote. Vote. Register other people to vote.
And last, but certainly not least, self-care. Don’t argue with strangers on the internet. Yes, there is power in living your truth, but not everyone is worthy of hearing it. Ironically, social media and the internet does provide easier access to information and other advocates. At the very least, follow, donate, or volunteer with Planned Parenthood. I also attached a document I made years ago with additional resources including books and documentaries. Overall, I wish I could remember who to credit for this quote, but all of this can be summed up in one statement. “Anyone who is trying to make abortion illegal doesn’t remember why it was made legal in the first place.”
*The documents that Mac mentioned are available for viewing below.
About Melissa (aka MAC)
Melissa-Anne Cunningham-Sereque, MBA (Mac) is the President/Owner of Motivation & Achievement Concepts, Inc.; a career development company specializing in Resume Writing, Job Search Training, Interview Training, and Cover Letters. The MAC office is in Spartanburg, SC, but has clients in over 20 states and 8 countries. She is often referred to as “the Harriet Tubman of crappy jobs” and is a fierce advocate for pay equity policies and legislation.
Her 2018 TEDx Talk titled, “If you’re my boss, who’s running hell? Why social issues are actually good for business” is available on youtube at: https://youtu.be/3G9kdSyq-e4. Mac has an MBA in International Finance and a BS in Exercise Science & Business Administration. Before launching her company, Mac was a Branch Manager for a Fortune 500 International Staffing Firm, and has over 15 years of Specialized Workshop Leadership, Coaching, & Training in tandem with a career in Public Accounting, and Non-Profit Management. She has served as Adjunct Professor at the Johnson College of Business & Economics at USC-Upstate, specializing in HR Management, Organizational Management, and Innovation & Entrepreneurship.