Women’s Liberation Radio News Podcast Transcript
Episode 1: Women’s Reproductive Freedom & the Purvi Patel Case
Transcribed by Niki Mohammadian
“Real Voice” by Thistle Pettersen:
But through the hallways of academia
And on the face of the moon
The footprints of conquest
Haven’t left us any room
To say what we think, or
To speak what we know
To hear different voices
At least a sound from below.
Elizabeth MCKEOWN: Greetings and welcome to the first edition of Women’s Liberation Radio News. Our goal is to produce a monthly radio broadcast to break the sound barrier women are blocked by under the status quo rule of men. This blocking of women’s discourse and ideas we see in all sectors of society, be they conservative, liberal, mainstream, progressive, or radical. The thread that runs through all of American politics and ties it all together is male dominance in all spheres. My name is Elizabeth McKeown and my background is in advocating radical birth autonomy against the patriarchal model. I am the author of In Search of the Perfect Birth and I have a special concentration in reproductive rights for girls and women. I will be reporting later on the Purvi Patel case, which is the case of a woman being arrested after a miscarriage in Indiana.
Thistle PETTERSEN: And hi, my name is Thistle Pettersen. Welcome to the first edition of Women’s Liberation Radio News. My background is in sociology and Spanish on the academic side of things, but I have developed a small singer-songwriter career and I am a volunteer community organizer and activist with Madison Action for Mining Alternatives, an environmentalist organization that stands in solidarity with Wisconsinites fighting big corporate resource extractors that plague our state. I have a background in producing radio programs via the access hour on my community radio station, WORT 89.9 FM in Madison. In the early 2000s I produced programs with Latino youth highlighting and bringing to the airwaves underrepresented voices from the Spanish-speaking immigrant community in my city. Most recently I aired a documentary of the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and a live interview with Sheila Jeffreys, a lesbian feminist professor of political science and author of Gender Hurts. We are creating WLRN to be a new feminist news service that will bring underrepresented and challenging voices to the fore for a more just and balanced world.
“Sister Voices” by Thistle Pettersen:
We keep on walking, walking
Walking in a haze
Hoping that one day
We’ll rise above the burning blaze
Of a society gone mad
Of a people insane
The whole world at arm’s length
Our silent efforts are all in vain
MCKEOWN: On today’s broadcast we will interview Lierre Keith, ecofeminist author and small-scale urban farmer, about the important differences between liberal feminism and radical feminism to give the listener a broad overview of why WLRN is hoping to forge new territory in the field of women’s radio news. But now, the headlines and my report for today’s broadcast.
This past September, the state of Indiana denied the appeal of Purvi Patel, who was convicted of feticide in 2014 and has begun serving a twenty-year jail sentence. The Court of Appeals later agreed this past January to hear arguments from both sides, which will take place on May 23rd. The Walk for Life, an anti-abortion demonstration, took place the weekend of January 23–24 in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Counter-protests occurred, including one by a group called Stop Patriarchy. This came on the heels of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which was on January 22nd.
A financial incentive program to bring more women to birth in hospitals in India has shown to be ineffective in reducing the maternal and neonatal mortality rates, particularly in poorer regions. Without adequate socio-economic support to elevate overall conditions, these in-hospital numbers are not expected to improve, giving credence to the theory that life situation, and not childbirth itself, is what threatens safety of delivery.
A California woman sued her doctor and won after a video captured a disturbing forced episiotomy during delivery. Dr. Alex Abbassi surrendered his license in what his lawyer described as “age-related cognitive defects” as his reason. Forced episiotomies and other forms of birth rape are not uncommon however, although they are not always captured on film.
PETTERSEN: And now, here is Elizabeth McKeown with our featured story.
MCKEOWN: Choices in childbirth, including whether or not to go through with it, have always been regulated for women against our wishes. When Purvi Patel entered the ER for heavy bleeding back in 2013, a doctor on site, who was also part of an anti-abortion group, alerted the authorities. Patel was arrested in July of 2013 when it was determined that she had given birth. Patel alleges a stillbirth and disposed of the fetus in a trash receptacle, a point which was used against her to show ill intent. The state worked hard to attempt to prove in court that her baby had been born live and allowed to die, while the charge against her remained feticide. Curiously, the charge of neglect was added, in apparent contradiction to feticide. Dr. Kelly McGuire was one of the examiners of the fetus, which was determined by them to not have been born still. Dr. Maguire is a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The state alleged that Patel took abortion drugs to self-induce a miscarriage, even though taking abortion medication, in and of itself, is not illegal in the state of Indiana. Ordering the pills online without a prescription is against the law. Abortion itself, however, is legal in the state only under very strict guidelines with a physician. They were not able to produce any evidence that Patel, in fact, ingested the medication. The proof came from text messages on Patel’s phone in which she informed a friend she purchased the drugs from Hong Kong and had taken them for the purpose of ending the pregnancy. The drugs she allegedly took to induce her own abortion were misoprostol and mifepristone. Misoprostol, commonly called Cytotec, is a drug used to induce uterine spasms or contractions with relative strength and speed. It is used in many countries for abortion as well as for inducing labor, despite it being contraindicated for pregnant women and childbirth due to likelihood of uterine rupture. Prevention and treatment of stomach ulcers is the intended use of the drug, although doctors have been routinely ignoring ill effects in recent childbirth history. While not proven, it is still entirely possible Purvi Patel took abortion-inducing drugs. Cytotec is metabolized rapidly and would be undetectable after only hours or minutes. However, are we going to lock up a woman for twenty years over a text message as evidence? If you could actually prove Patel gave herself an abortion, was the crime of letting herself do it over a doctor worth twenty years’ imprisonment? And, if she is guilty of delivering a live baby and neglecting it, how is that feticide?
When self-induced abortions become a crime, every miscarriage and stillbirth requires us to scrutinize the mother. As it stands now, we live in a society that.scrutinizes mothers who truly lack good information on their reproductive health and rights far more than we scrutinize the doctors and other healthcare professionals who oversee them and are expected to be experts in their fields.
“Real Voice” by Thistle Pettersen:
So speak out, speak over, speak under
Speak through the noise
Speak loud so I can hear you
I wanna know you, I wanna hear your real voice
I wanna hear your real voice, your real voice
PETTERSEN: As promised, we will now be talking with Lierre Keith, ecofeminist and author. I began our interview by asking her what the key differences are between liberal and radical feminism.
Lierre KEITH: I think anybody who calls herself a feminist would agree that women are human beings and we deserve universal human rights. That’s why they’re called universal —because everybody should have them, and because we are hurt when we don’t have them. So I think that there’s generally a sense, whether you’re liberal or radical, that things are not fair in this world and that women are hurt in various ways. From there it diverges, and I think there’s sort of a classic difference between liberals and radicals generally, and then you can apply that to feminism. But to really understand this you have to understand that difference.
To make it quick, liberals generally believe that society is made up of individuals, so that’s the basic unit of society is the individual person. And in fact, in this world view, individualism is so sacrosanct that being identified as the member of a group is where the harm lies. That’s what they say creates social harm or social disadvantage, is saying that women are women, or pointing out that black people are black, and that that’s where the harm is—in treating people differentially, in noticing that. For radicals it’s completely different. Radicals see society as made up of groups of people, and some of those groups have power over other groups. So being a member of a group is not where the affront lies, in fact identifying with that group is your first step, really, towards political consciousness and ultimately effective action—you have to make common cause with the people who share your condition. So the things that are happening to you are not happening just randomly. It’s not because your name is Robin and you like to play the flute, it’s because you’re a woman and you’re a black woman and you’re a poor black woman. And other women who share that condition will have life experiences that match yours, and it’s not until you get together and confront those life experiences that you start to understand: well, this is all of us, it’s not just me, it’s not because I was unlucky or I was bad or I deserved it somehow, it’s all of us. And, you know, you put it together—so these various institutions have all made this be true, and the only way we’re going to change it is by fighting together.
So that’s the difference ultimately between the liberal and radical viewpoint. I would say the other cardinal difference between liberals and radicals is that the nature of social reality is something different. For liberals, they call this idealism, so it’s idealist, and it means that social reality is formed by attitudes and ideas. And so social change happens through rational argument and education. That’s the liberal side, and for radicals again it’s really different, it’s materialism. So society is organized by concrete systems of power, by institutions, not by thoughts and ideas. It’s a material arrangement. So for radicals the solution is to take those systems apart, because once you see them, of course, you realise—well, this is going to have to come down . Liberals, on the other hand, their main goal is to always educate, because if social change happens because of people changing their minds, of course education’s going to be your main form of struggle.
And it’s not that radicals think that education’s unimportant—I mean, of course, you have to help people come to consciousness, achieve an analysis of their situation, and of course education does that. You know, I’m a writer, and I believe in trying to reach people, but that’s just the beginning. It’s an important first step. Beyond that, the real goal is to change those material institutions. So those are the two differences, I think, between liberalism and radicalism, and how this applies to feminism—you know, we might have common goals sometimes, but I think that the ultimate goal for radical feminism is to bring these systems down. And for liberals that’s not necessarily true, because they don’t see the overall power structure as the problem, it’s just that women don’t have parity inside it.
And I remember when I was, I don’t know, maybe 19 or 20—already a very radical kind of young person—and I took a women’s studies class. I remember the professor being asked that question—how will we know when feminism has won? And she said—I still haven’t forgotten this like forty years later or thirty years later—she said, “We’ll know when half of the CEOs are women.” I mean, my jaw just about hit the floor. I was like, “Are you kidding me? I don’t want to be an equal member of a society that’s based on nothing but hierarchy and domination and exploitation.” The point was to bring that all down, so that we all had equal say over the conditions of our lives. That, I think, is the big dividing line, is that they don’t, overall, see the nature of the system as a whole. It’s just: in any given situation are women being treated the same? And again, that’s not really the issue. I don’t really want to be treated the same as a rich white man. I don’t want anybody to get treated like a rich white man. And likewise, on the other side, I don’t want anybody to get treated like the least of the least of us, either. I mean, nobody should be lacking human rights and water and food and medicine, the things that we all need to have a decent life.
And so the power structure has to come down, and the people at the very bottom have to be lifted up. That ultimately, to me, is the goal of radical feminism. And you can look at campaigns, like reproductive rights certainly would be a big one, where you can see that radicals and liberals are certainly going to work on that both, but we’re going to have goals that are different at the end of the day. There’s always, every movement has—if it’s going to make social change, it’s got to be broad enough to encompass a lot of people. And I’m, I mean, I’m not someone who wants to vilify people who are liberals, it’s not really—it doesn’t help, but it’s good to know what the differences are because when you have these kinds of conflicts in groups, when it’s a political nature, it’s often about the division between liberals and radicals. And when you see the pattern you can say, “Oh, wait a minute, this is because you’re really coming from a liberal framework, so we’re never going to see eye to eye. Can we still work together?” And then at least you can get something done.
PETTERSEN: That was Lierre Keith speaking on the differences between liberal and radical feminism.
“Sister Voices” by Thistle Pettersen:
I’m afraid to speak, I’m afraid
What I’ve got to say
I’m afraid you’ll weep
And then go back to sleep
But in the early morning
When I rise…
And now, to conclude this first broadcast of WLRN, we will interview Elizabeth Hungerford, feminist writer and non-practising attorney living in Massachusetts. Her work is primarily on the subject of gender identity, with an interest in the difference between sex and gender. Laws such as feticide uniquely impact female-bodied people, so we’re happy to have her here today to hear her input.
MCKEOWN: Hi Elizabeth.
Elizabeth HUNGERFORD: Hi Elizabeth!
MCKEOWN: Thanks for joining us.
HUNGERFORD: Thank you for having me on.
MCKEOWN: So I wanted to ask you, could you just start by just talking a little bit about the history of feticide as a charge, in terms of its origin and intended application?
HUNGERFORD: Absolutely. Feticide laws are not a new phenomenon, they have been on the books in many states in the US for decades. But the original intent of the statutes was to protect pregnant women and their unborn fetuses from third-party actors. So, for example, if you had domestic violence perpetrated against a pregnant woman, the feticide laws would allow for prosecution of harm to both the mother and the fetus. They’re starting to be applied in a way that was not originally intended.
MCKEOWN: Okay, so how can feticide be proven for a conviction?
HUNGERFORD: Well, it depends on the age of the fetus, and that’s something that can be difficult to determine. For example, in the case of Purvi Patel, there was no way to determine when she first became pregnant and the age of her fetus was contested. So this is a place where law and medicine don’t exactly match.
MCKEOWN: Last year Purvi Patel was convicted of feticide for what would have possibly been a miscarriage, and then a few years before that, Bei Bei Shuai tried to kill herself with rat poison while pregnant and was also charged with feticide. Both of these took place in the state of Indiana. And now, just recently, we have the new law in that state against aborting a fetus with certain abnormalities. Do you have any insight into what is going on with reproductive justice in Indiana? Or is Indiana unique in its law, in the way it’s prosecuted?
HUNGERFORD: Those are great questions. The Indiana law is not unique in the way that it is written, and that’s part of what I think is so scary about this situation. The difference in the Patel and the Shuai case is the way that the law was utilized to prosecute women themselves rather than third-party actors. So in Patel’s case, the charges that the prosecutor chose to bring were unique, and the way that the case was put through the trial was also unique. For example, one of the issues in the Patel case was whether her fetus was born alive or not. So they were trying to determine, was the fetus alive or not at the time that she allegedly miscarried? And the judge allowed some particular evidence to come before the jury, that is called the float test, and—just briefly—they take the fetus’s body and surgically remove the lungs and place them in water. If the lungs float, it is assumed that the fetus took at least one breath. Now, this is a test that has been discredited for almost a hundred years, and there are other ways that air can get into a fetus’s lungs. Which is not to mention that just because a fetus took a breath does not mean that it was a sustainable life. And this evidence was potentially pivotal to the outcome of the case. The judge’s decision to allow that information to come before the jury was necessary for the conviction.
MCKEOWN: Is there potentially something strategic about the state of Indiana targeting women of color, or these particular women of color?
HUNGERFORD: Well you are certainly not alone in asking that question. I think it is certainly suspicious. I think that strategically what Indiana is doing is targeting more vulnerable women, who may not have access to healthcare or legal resources, in order to establish a precedent that they can then apply to all women. And I know in Bei Bei Shuai’s case, she did not have access to legal representation at the time. And she ended up spending, I think, about a year in jail because of that. We can see that establishing that precedent had many potentially damaging downstream consequences for other women in the state and possibly across the country. Some of these laws have been used in other cases, such as women who have delayed caesarian surgery. I believe there was a case of a woman who fell down the stairs and was prosecuted under a feticide law. So basically any woman who cannot guarantee a positive or a “normal” outcome to her pregnancy could be vulnerable to prosecution under these laws.
MCKEOWN: Right, and that is exactly one of my concerns. Actually that does lead into my next question for you, which is: what are the legal implications women face when potential natural miscarriage, or even self-induced abortion, can be criminalized as if it were homicide? I think you kind of touched on that there, but was there anything else that you could elaborate on with that?
HUNGERFORD: Some people call it the criminalization of pregnancy. That you could be prosecuted for murder if you had, god forbid, a miscarriage—that is just terrifying.
MCKEOWN: Yeah, I mean I’m thinking about a world where a woman has a miscarriage or a stillbirth or is proven to have induced her own abortion at home, but with any of these being brought in to trial or having doctors give their determinations where we’re using this really archaic means that apparently aren’t scientifically accurate or useful, is really alarming because a lot of women have no control over these but now they’re being held completely accountable. To me, that’s very frightening.
HUNGERFORD: The idea that something like that could result in a prosecution for murder—it’s hard to believe.
MCKEOWN: When it comes to the reproductive rights of women and girls, are there any approaches within feminism which turn out to be detrimental to the cause or our overall freedom and autonomy?
HUNGERFORD: Choice is something that we hear a lot. All women have choices, it’s empowering! But you look at Purvi Patel or Bei Bei Shuai—they were in a state where abortion was legal. They ostensibly had the same choices as other women but that did not protect them. There’s financial access, there’s even cultural access. One of the concerns in Purvi Patel’s case was that she didn’t want to share her pregnancy with her family. You have to ask what good is a choice—you know, it’s strictly legal. So I think that approaching the right to abortion or access to abortion merely as a choice is a very privileged approach. Abortion has to be not only legal but it has to be accessible and it also has to be socially acceptable.
MCKEOWN: Is there anything that our listeners can do to help Purvi Patel or to stop this from becoming an increasing trend within the justice system?
HUNGERFORD: Something that I noticed in reading about the Bei Bei Shuai case was that public pressure on prosecutors and judges is one way to potentially support women who are in this situation. A need remains to document these cases.
MCKEOWN: And that concludes our first program of Women’s Liberation Radio News. Thanks for tuning in, and if you’d like to get in touch with us to volunteer or comment please email email@example.com. We are looking for other radical women to join us in this new radio news service and would love to see a copy of your resume and references, though you need not have experience in radio to apply. We are all-volunteer run, people-powered radio and are happy to work with you at whatever level of experience you have in radio journalism.
Thanks for listening. I am Elizabeth McKeown, your co-host.
PETTERSEN: And I am Thistle Pettersen, signing off from this first edition of Women’s Liberation Radio News. Be sure to tune in next time for our monthly program. We are always interested to hear what you think, so that email address again is firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you.
“Michigan” by Thistle Pettersen:
But how will we find our way out of this?
What is the antidote for the patriarchal kiss?
How will we find what needs to be shown?
And then after that
Where is home, tell me
Where is my home?
Cos gender hurts