Notes on How to Pull Apart the Earth

By Karla Cordero


MasonjarlightsLick every meadow down to its root
& store each leaf behind your gums.

Spoon empty the last bits of grandmother’s jelly
& mason jar the night sky into your pocket.

The stars will go orphan & you will
call yourself mother & rename each one of them

after every broken bone in your body.
Tell them how you healed for them.

Tell them how the air is full
of honeyed darkness & the angels

have all gone home for good.


About Karla Cordero
KarlaCordero1Born in the hot little border town of Calexico, California, I started my new life in San Diego where the weather spoils the living. I’m currently an MFA candidate at San Diego State University, studying creative writing under Sandra Alcosser and Illya Kaminsky. Aside from the graduate life, I’m an associate editor for Poetry International and my work has appeared in the California Journal of Women Writers.

In 2013, I helped the San Diego poetry slam team place fourth in the country at the National Poetry Slam in Boston. I believe that activism exists in the ability to pick up a pen and paper, transforming one’s thoughts into a tangible action for change.

Photo credit: By Darin House via a Creative Commons license.


Sen. John McCain on CIA Torture Report


January 13, 2015, Writers Read Presents

Jim Ruland

Writer. Sailor. Punk. Rat.


Forest of Fortune and more…

Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose


Date: Tuesday, January 13, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

Jim Ruland is the author of the novel, Forest of Fortune, the short story collection Big Lonesome and co-author of Giving the Finger with Scott Campbell Jr. of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.

He is currently collaborating with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF!, on his memoir My Damage: 40 Years on the Front Lines of Punk.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Jim also runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its eleventh year.

For more information, contact K-B Gressitt at or 760-522-1064.

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By Scott Gressitt


“Go outside and weed the garden!”
Lordy, how I hated that.
I do it nowadays. It’s my Zen.
But it was torture, as a child.

I pulled up crabgrass, yanked at milkweed,
some I wrestled pissed me off.
I walked into my fathers shed
and grabbed his pickaxe with both hands.

When I stood it on its end,
I was barely taller than.
But it had heft and handled well,
would uproot any straggler there.

Up came the weeds and some rocks, too.
I tossed them over father’s fence.
He’d built it out to end our driveway,
garden on the other side.

I tossed a bigger rock and heard
a noise that shook me to my soul,
the sound of tempered glass I’d hit
a shatter heard, I knew the end.

I peeked around the fence to see
that our guest’s car had one black eye.
If anyone should try to drive,
he’d have to hang his head outside.

I looked around and saw that I
had sinned with full impunity.
No one was looking and I thought
I might just get out with my hide.

When our friend came out later on
I sat upstairs, my bedroom just
above the scene of gravity.
I watched him stop dead in his tracks.

His hands flew up, the words flew out.
He turned and swore—in Swedish, though.
I didn’t know a single word
but I knew just what he had said.

The cops were called, the neighborhood
all stood around the fine black Saab.
The cops observed the trail of dirt
and bits of rock, adorned the hood.

I grabbed a book and acted as
if nothing had transpired there.
The cops asked everyone in sight
if they had seen a thing transpire.

All were silent, no one moved,
then mother turned and looked upstairs.
She saw me in my window reading
nonchalant as hell, was I.

She called me down, I looked surprised.
“Who did that!?” I said aloud.
“We don’t know yet, but we’ll find out,”
the cop said with authority

I saw the rock beneath the car
and bent down, grabbed it, standing up,
“I bet this is what broke the glass,”
and gave it to the officer.

“Thank you, son” he said, and turned
it over in his hands three times.
He held it up against the glass
portraying massive sleuthing skills.

“I’m going back to read my book.
It’s all about a guy who goes
to live alone in Southern Seas.”
I thought that guy might soon be me.


About Scott Gressitt


An amateur writer and rapscallion, I write of my past, a life laden with extraordinary events.

I have walked in places most of the population avoids.

Besides scars and bruises, I’ve collected experiences that frighten, delight and entertain.

I write with the intent to take you on a wild ride where all your senses are fully engaged.


Windshield photo credit: Mattias via a Creative Commons license.

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World status update from Fallbrook

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Thanksgiving day was warm in Fallbrook. We turned on the fountain, set the patio table and dined in the midafternoon sun, sipping a nice California pinot noir brought by a guest. Birds arced gracefully from palm to live oak, a red-tailed hawk homed in on its prey, and I alternated between struggling to hear over the running water and resisting the urge to pee. To quote my mother of pearl, aging sucks. And she ought to know—it finally got her.

FallbrookSunsetPerhaps it’s better to be gone, though, than to query the state of the world today. The question arose in the rumbling stupor that follows gluttony. The erudite guest who posed it didn’t deserve the crude answer I considered slinging his way: To quote Mother again, it sucks, the world sucks. Instead, I opined that we are in decline, decline of integrity, freedom, responsibility, faith, respect, health, love—and my list was a conversation bomb. But by some social miracle, the talk moved on—to terrorism, Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, OPEC’s oil prices that punish Russia and, if we’re lucky, undermine the economics of U.S. fracking. While we reviewed the world’s status, the sun set in a moment of radiance, we basked in the pleasures of privilege, and then we said our goodnights.

I awoke the next morning relieved of the lower back pain of cooking for six hours and the decrepit attitude that goes with it. Feeling a bit more hopeful about the world’s vicissitudes, I skipped my way through my morning ablutions while listening to public radio’s Here & Now. Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr was touting four films one might see over the Thanksgiving weekend, including The Theory of Everything, the story of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde, based on her memoir. Although Burr clearly liked the film, he concluded with this:

It really is the story of a marriage, told from the woman’s point of view. It really is, in a weird way, it’s more of a women’s picture in the classic sense, than it is— It’s certainly not a science film. Don’t go to this movie if you want to learn about string theory or black holes. It is about the romantic and personal relationship and as such, very affecting.

In twenty seconds, Burr managed to denigrate women—of course the romantic and personal relationship of a brilliant theoretical physicist and his extraordinary wife, as such, is mere chick-flick fodder, less than those films not relegated to the status of women’s picture in the classic sense—and Stephen Hawking—men aren’t interested in the personal life of a brilliant theoretical physicist with a severely disabling disease. Oh no, don’t go see The Theory of Everything if you want to know about smart stuff, like string theory or black holes. Better you should go see Dumb and Dumber To. That’s a men’s picture in the classic sense, so it must have smart stuff, you know, in it.

And this was KPBS, public radio, one of the purportedly liberal media. Is there a point on the space-time continuum at which one can be simultaneously liberal and sexist?

Now, you might be thinking that this is such a minor thing in the grand scheme of social decline, insidious but, in the moment, an insignificant annoyance—when so much worse things are happening.

Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy, was killed by police who were too afraid of an African-American child to take a second to actually look at him, to see who he was.

An epidemic of rape infects our culture, and students brutalized on college campuses are asked, are you sure it was rape?

Author Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the Young People’s Literature National Book Award for her poetic memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, was splatted by a watermelon joke, lobbed at her by the master of ceremonies at the awards event.

And on and on and on. …

But it’s another warm day in Fallbrook. We’ll turn on the fountain again and eat turkey sandwiches in the midafternoon sun. Birds will arc gracefully from palm to Live Oak, and I’ll bask in gratitude that I peed before lunch and there’s something I can do about that insignificant annoyance. I’m sending this to KPBS, thankful to be the woman Mother made me.


Photo credit: K-B Gressitt



last night I dreamed I was born … black

By Conney D. Williams


last night, night before
twenty-four robins was at my door
last night
before the long & short hand
of the time hugged midnight
I dreamed I was born
not breached or aborted
like black neighborhoods and schools
brains drained from communities
and gene pools
not suctioned from the womb
before we get an appropriate Head Start
but born in the U.S. of A.
forcefully swayed and dismayed
by my racial makeup
mulatto, octoroon, or baboon
or a coon swooning
beneath a poplar moon
but black people ain’t holding grudges
like white america did me wrong or something
but it seems as though
you get pleasure from this


~~~ “Break every Yoke; let the oppressed go free.” ~~~

because we were never dating
never in a real relationship
so I am breaking up with those
who were the original hostage takers
my great-grandparents
harvested as chattel
the battle across this land would be
like the pledge given to all immigrants
for a dignified humanity
give us your poor, your weak
but our huddled masses
were never ferried through
an Ellis Island, but
maligned and then redefined
as nigga, colored and negro
naw this ain’t D.C. 1963
‘cos we have been awakened
from the dream
that purely American Dream
last night I dreamed
I was born into this masquerade
called freedom
this Shakespearean façade of us all
created equally
monetarily, but not legally
out, out damn spot;
out I say, out I say
you have no time to be black
as a matter of fact I never had time
never had time to be black
I was born out of spite
I was born in Jamestown
but incarcerated soon thereafter
I was born here before
the British were coming
but after Juneteenth
because time was never on my side
never mine to negotiate with
as though I were a stock option
belonging to a Coldwell Banker
or hedge fund advisor

last night I dreamed I was born … black
beneath 23 red and white stripes
separating connective tissue, dangled
beneath 13 stars and a rebel’s yell
this hell we have inherited
verdicts, buried beneath a
Floridian stand your ground
hands raised like a Ferguson
but surrender is never an option
the abundance of melanin, always
makes me an imminent threat
how to become an insomniac
cause last night,
I dreamed that I was born … black
born terminally ill
born shooting range silhouette
black lacks constitutionality
to be vetted
last night, night before
twenty-four robins was at my door


About Conney D. Williams

ConneyDWilliamsConney D. Williams is a Los Angeles based poet, actor and performance artist, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he worked as a radio personality.
Conney’s first collection of poetry, Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet, was published in 2002. His poetry has also been published in various journals and anthologies including Voices from Leimert Park; America: At the End of the Day; and The Drumming Between Us. His newest collection, Blues Red Soul Falsetto, was published in December 2012.

Conney has performed his poetry on television, radio, galleries, universities, grade schools, coffeehouses, and stages around Southern California and across the country, including the Black Arts Festival. He is a talented public speaker with more than thirty years of experience. Read more about Conney at

Lithograph from the U.S. Library of Congress, designed by R. Thayer ; L. Prang & Co. Lith., Boston. 1861.


Dorland Mountain Arts Colony

  Fall 2014
Dorland Logo102_0327 - Version ADorland Mountain Arts Colony is a beautiful retreat where artists, writers, musicians and composers can create in a secluded, natural setting overlooking the Temecula Valley Wine Country of Southern California.

Dorland…An Enchanted Place

Deer at Dorland“Dorland is an enchanted place.” That was jotted down in my journal twenty years ago when I first came here. In time, we learned that long ago the Pechanga Indians made a seasonal camp here to gather acorns for their winter food supply. An elder from the neighboring reservation, who still visits, tells of other rites that took place here in our oak grove. Now a small herd of deer come in the spring with their fawns to feed on the acorns. Is it still an enchanted place?Most of our residents find that in their first few days here, curiously, they begin to shed much of the complexity, the jingle-jangle, the noise of what we accept as “normal life.” Their creativity finds a channel and begins to flow. They often accomplish much more than they had hoped to. We have word from them after they’ve left that whatever it was that happened to them here amid the oaks carries on. So yes, it is still an enchanted place.

Robert Willis 

Dorland  News

Your Truth in Fiction: Writing Workshop

102_0196 - Version 2On November 2, a group of writers met withLisa Fugard, author of Skinner’s Drift.  Attendees explored the process of taking their own life experiences and weaving them into fiction. Lisa said, “I was so happy to introduce new folks to the serenity and creative energy on the Mountain.” 

Lisa has been teaching at the Wellness and Writing Retreat in Nerano, Italy. She plans to return to Dorland early in the spring to continue the work on her next novel.Watch the Dorland website and Facebook for future workshops.

Associate Artists: Upcoming EventsThe January Associate Artist Gathering will feature readings, music and art presentations by members. In March, Dorland Associate Artists have been chosen to share their work at “Art Off the Walls on Mercedes.” The spring event, “Arts Under the Oaks” will be held in April. A “Picnic at Dorland” will be held in June to celebrate our members and all “Friends of Dorland.”
Dorland Associate Artists 2

Members, friends, and all those interested are invited to these gatherings. Watch the Dorland website and your email for more news and dates.


On behalf of Dorland, board
Michael at the lakemembers Michael Craig Carrier and Eileen Doktorski awarded plaques to Josh Wheeler, Justin Moreno, and Boy Scout Troop 301 to thank them for trail and pond restoration projects during 2013 and 2014 at Dorland. We are also grateful to the troop fortheir donation of a water-weed whacker.

ichael Car
rier, Dorland board member, and Gonzalo Aguado have been clearing thLake Ticanue reeds and brush around Lake Ticanu. He It is a joy to be able to see the water, complete with tiny fish, native frogs, and other pond life.The Reflecting Pond by the gazebo is being restored by  Pechanga Tribe members Vincent Ibanez and John Burbee. Thank you to these faithful friends and donors!


Horton Cottage, Fall 2014
orland offers residencies from one week to twelve weeks to emerging and established artists, writers, musicians and composers. See our website for information.


Alumni News

Jane Culp: Dorland Artist Captures Desert Landscapes
by Susan Montgomery (for full article, click here.)T

hroughout the years, many jane_'08 (1) - Version 2 4
accomplished artists have created some of their best work while they were Dorland Mountain Arts Colony residents. Dorland has provided the serenity and inspiration they needed to move forward with their work. Jane Culp is one of those artists.
Jane says, “Staying at Dorland over numerous residencies offered an emotionally supportive paradise where, immediately surrounded by the landscape and beauty, I could wake up to paint, contemplate, and understand more fully the Western landscape, as if we were one.”Dorland MountainJane is well known for her evocative Western landscapes in oil, charcoal and watercolor. She was a Dorland resident many times throughout the ’90s and has also been involved with Dorland in other significant ways. She has been a caretaker, served on the Dorland Board of Directors, and made a sizeable donation to help the Colony recover from its devastating 2004 fire.

Jane Culp’s paintings have received national recognition throughout her career through many exhibits and publications. Nineteen of her recent Anza Borrego paintings comprised a recent exhibit called “Suspect Terrain,” at the John Davis Gallery in Hudson, New York.

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony’s friends and supporters are very proud of Jane Culp’s association with the Colony over the years. Thank you, Jane, for your beautiful work and your support of Dorland.

If you are interested in viewing or purchasing Jane’s work go to her website: or contact her directly at

Tony Eprile has recently hadTony Eprile  residencies at the Studios of Key West and Yaddo. He received a 2014-15 grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and will be an invited resident artist at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. His writing has recently appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine, Inch, andPost Road, and he has work forthcoming in Agni.

Noelle SickelsNoëlle Sickels has just published her fourthOut of Lovenovel, Out of Love, about teen pregnancy in the 1960s. The book deals with search and reunion between birthparents and adoptees. Noëlle worked on previous novels during Dorland residencies in the 1990s.

BooksNaturallywebSue Ann Robinson‘s artist book was included in Binding Desire: SARstudioUnfolding Artists Books, a 2014 Exhibit at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles. In addition to working in her studio and as curator at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Robinson has begun teaching “Artists Books & Papermaking” at California State University Long Beach. Her artist book, The Walking Fools, was inspired by and begun during a residency here at Dorland.

lescarbeaumSince his residency a year ago at Dorland, Mitch LesCarbeau has had several poems accepted in literary magazines. “Nancy Underwood,” written at Dorland, was just accepted by The Bryant Literary Review.

on-foot-photo 2Thea Gavin‘s essay “Rim to Rim, Barefoot” has been included in a new (and first!) anthology of essays dedicated to the Grand Canyon hiking experience. On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories was published by Vishnu Temple Press. (Vishnu Temple is an iconic rock formation in Grand Canyon.)

3 Guitars Black and WhiteIn July, Scott Ibex released his newest album,Horizon Tides. It is available on iTunes, Amazon MP3, and CD Baby. You can hear the first single Unconditional and a Behind the Music Interview with Scott on YouTube. He will soon be publishing his first novel, entitledHurricane Blues, which he wrote during his residency at Dorland.

Nathan Rivera began the song, How FaNathan Riverar Away while traveling through Spain and France and finished it on the piano at Dorland. Following his Dorland residency, he went on tour with his group, “The Orcastra,” through the western states. He is now traveling in Mexico and will stay again at Dorland in the late fall.

Alsop at DorlandMaureen Alsop was selected as the winner of the 2014 Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. This biennial award is given to an accomplished poet with an outstanding, innovative body of work. Maureen Alsop’s latest poetry collection, Later, Knives & Trees was just publishLaterKnivesandTreesed in November 2014 and she will be doing readings in Hawaii, California, and Australia later this year. You can access an interview that was completed during her recent stay at Dorland here.
Residents Say …
Lesley Stern
Professor Emerita, University of California at San Diego, author of The Smoking Book and
Dead and Alive: The Body as Cinematic Thing
Lesley Stern

“Dorland is the perfect place for writing. Beautiful, serene, inspiring landscape. The cabins are extremely comfortable and the self catering suits me fine. It may seem to be more isolated than some other residencies, but shops are only 10 minutes away (though when you are there it seems a world away). Robert and Janice, who oversee the property are supportive without being intrusive. I have completed two major articles while staying at Dorland.”

Sherri C. Perry
Author of Venn, Mockingbird Lane Press 

“Dorland was exactly what ISherri C. Perry needed. Living in a big city and trying to write alongside a busy life requires serenity and time. At Dorland, I wrote, read, walked, and wrote some more. The wind, the hummingbirds and the sunsets were my companions. I can honestly say my summer residency in this wonderful place was the most productive two weeks I’ve ever had as a writer. I am excited to be returning in the spring.”

Diane Cluck


Diane Cluck by Herve Dulongcourty-1475x1475 2

My time at Dorland was so very special for me. Karen Parrott was the director and Robert Willis was the lovely caretaker. When I visited the colony it was still without electricity (which was a factor in my choosing to go there). Robert gave me the best recipe for the apple pie that he had made in his woodstove for a potluck we had that summer.

I‘m a singer-songwriter, and wrote my most successful album to date, Oh Vanillewhile staying at Dorland. You can see a little dedication I made on my website, here.

Barbara Perryman
Visual ArtistBarbaraPerrymanPainting“Inner peace, and creative spirit is what my Dorland residency brought to me. It is a very unique place, with so much to offer any serious artist. Dorland provides that special solitude we need in order to feed our creative minds.

BarbaraPerrymanI was recently asked to be president of the Canyon Lake Art Association. It is proving to be challenging, but rewarding. My goal is to bring a more expanded knowledge of art to its members, and to expand the community’s exposure to the visual arts.”

Linda Saslow
Freelance Writer and Art TeacherLindaSaslowMy three trips to Dorland Arts Colony are remembered as a time of tranquil productivity in my life as a writer and painter. Getting away from the clutter and chaos of daily life is a gift that Dorland offers to the creative soul. My screenplay and memoir would have never been completed if not for my three sojourns on the
mountain. I can’t wait to come back to the calm and beauty of Dorland to reignite my spirit. The limited internet and lack of television offers a much needed break from the distractions of daily modern living. Being left alone to savor the natural beauty of California’s native landscape for long periods of time is truly magical for anyone lucky enough to become a resident at Dorland.”

Note to Re102_0297 2sidents…

If you have had a residency here, Dorland would be pleased to include your recent news and quotes in upcoming issues as space allows. It was good to hear from so many of you who were here before and after “the fire.” Dorland remains a truly enchanted place.

Artist walk
riends of Dorland

Thank you to these friends who contributed during 2014.Barbara Allen
Beverly Biber
John Burbee
Marcia Edwards
Frank Ellis
Penny  & Joe Fedorchak
Eleanor Goldstein
Curtis Horton
Misha Merrill
Christopher & Mary-Louise Muller
Donald Philip
James Reiss
Phillip Routh
Zane and Jane Trinkley
Jeff Thayer
Marion & Yet Siu
Robert Willis

If we’ve left anyone out, we sincerely apologize and appreciate your support. Many others have helped Dorland in ways that can’t be quantified. Dorland would not still exist today without the support of all.

Mailing address: P.O. Box 6, Temecula, CA 92593 ~ Physical Address: 36701 Highway 79 South, Temecula, CA 92592
 Tel: (951) 302-3837 ~ ~
A California 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization


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By Penny Perry

for Bill

saguaroMy rented cabin closed up
all day. My pillow from home
fire on my back. Windows,
doors open.

Our first bedroom,
that knotty pine cathedral,
the sweet salt and yeast of us.
My body opening, a surprise
like the lipped fruit of a saguaro.

I sit outside on the balcony,
floating like a ship in the pines,
eat spicy spinach with a plastic fork.

Maybe you are resting on the pillow
that is the mate of mine.

A gray squirrel watches me.
I sip ice water. Another hour
until the room cools enough
for sleep.

Maybe you are in your studio tonight.
Your notes from the saxophone
settling on our new green figs.

Here the moon almost full,
curls into the curve of a pine.


About Penny Perry


A three time Pushcart nominee, twice for poetry and once for fiction, my stories and poems have been widely published in literary magazines. Fiction Daily tagged my short story “Haunting the Alley,” published online in Literary Mama in August 2011.

My first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage, was published in 2012 by Garden Oak Press. The collection earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski, and Maria Gillan.

I was the fiction editor for Knot Literary Magazine, a Middle Eastern literary journal. I was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and my movie A Berkeley Christmas aired on PBS. And, I’ve just completed a novel about a school shooting.

I write under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.

Photo credit: Ken Bosma via a Creative Commons license.


A Short Review of Women in Cycling: Not Just Pretty Faces

From Over the Top Cycling, reprinted with permission.

By Jodie Lawston, PhD

cyclistIn the late 19th century, doctors singled out women as potential victims of a dangerous and shocking new medical ailment: bicycle face. As reported by Joseph Stromberg on, people, but especially women, were warned by doctors that:

 “Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted ‘bicycle face.”

The condition consisted of the woman appearing “usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness.” Others argued that one could spot bicycle face by the “hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes” of the woman. (To my chagrin, I’m afflicted with full blown bicycle face every time I climb Mt. Palomar, but my suffering can be the subject of another blog.) Some “experts” warned that bicycle face could become a permanent condition, while others comforted the patients that the condition would fade with time. All agreed, though, that women should stay away from the bike, as it could lead to insomnia, exhaustion, heart palpitations, even depression.

It should come as no surprise that “bicycle face” was cooked up during a time of political and social upheaval. With the women’s suffrage movement in full swing, society was changing rapidly, with large numbers of women demanding full citizenship rights. The bicycle represented freedom, independence, and agency, all of which women were fighting for as they demanded the right to vote. The truth is, bicycles, in the 19th century, gave women a measure of mobility—and therefore, independence—characteristics that were not socially acceptable for women to display in the late 1800s. Medical conditions like “bicycle face” could be seen, in many respects, as last-ditch efforts to proscribe women out of social and political life. This would keep them dependent, rather than independent agents in their own right.

Despite the social, medical, and even political pressure for women to stay off of bikes and to stay in the home, women were riding bicycles during this time period. Many suffragists traded dresses for “bloomers” and rode bikes to symbolize freedom and equality with men. In the new television show The Knick, the independent minded Nurse Elkins rides her bike around New York City in the year 1900 as a symbol of her free spirit. Susan B. Anthony famously said that the bicycle did more to emancipate women than anything else had, and explained that she was delighted every time she saw a woman cyclist because it represented freedom and self-reliance. Similarly, as Peter Zheutlin points out in Bicycling Magazine, leading suffragist Frances Willard learned to ride a bike at age 53, and “mastery of the bicycle as a metaphor for women’s mastery over their lives was the message of her 1895 book, A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride a Bicycle” (more at this link).  Perhaps even more impressive, in 1894, Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky embarked on her journey to become the first woman to cycle around the world. At that time, her journey was described by the New York World as, “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman” (more here).  Thomas Stevens had cycled around the world ten years earlier, and two wealthy men bet that a woman could not do it. Annie Kopchovsky left her family responsibilities—leaving her three children and husband behind in Boston, which was almost unheard of during this time period—for a 15-month journey from Boston to destinations such as Rhode Island, New York City, Cleveland, Chicago, France, Egypt, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Saigon, China, Japan, and San Francisco. She supported herself and her journey by riding with advertisements for various products pinned to her clothing and hanging from her bike. This was before the days of carbon frames, so her bike was initially a woman’s 42-pound Columbia; she quickly switched to a men’s 21-pound Sterling, making her trek a bit less arduous. Kopchovsky’s journey can certainly be seen as an early form—if not the earliest form—of ultra endurance cycling for women. It is a phenomenal testament to what is possible for any of us to accomplish when we set our minds to it.

Fast forward to today. It is 119 years after Annie Kopchovsky became the first woman to ride around the world, courageously defying the odds that she would get a fleeting—if not permanent—case of bicycle face. Today, the numbers of women cyclists are on the rise, undoubtedly due to the women who fought before us for the right to live boldly, freely, and as full human beings. We have seen the numbers of women in all sports increase significantly since the 1972 passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act, which prohibits discrimination against girls and women in federally funded education programs, including athletics. Prior to the passage of Title IX, there were approximately 310,000 girls and women playing high school and college sports in the U.S.; today, there are more than 3,373,000 (see NY Times Before and After Title IX: Women in Sports ).  Times have certainly changed since the suffragists put on their bloomers and rode into the sunset on their steel bikes.

While women and girls are still underrepresented in all forms of cycling, including ultra-endurance, our numbers are growing and there is a strong movement to represent women in the sport. In 2014, Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley, Marianne Voss, and Chrissy Wellington formed a group and collected almost 100,000 signatures to have a women’s race, alongside men’s, in the Tour de France; this effort resulted in a one-day event, “La Course by La Tour de France,” in which 120 of the top female cyclists raced on the last day of the Tour. The Women’s Cycling Association supports the growth of women’s cycling by working to advance policies to increase the number of professional races that include women, to increase media coverage of those races, and to improve the earnings for women’s fields—amongst many other goals—and “Women Bike,” part of the League of American Bicyclists, works to encourage and empower more women to ride bikes.

cyclist2In terms of the ultra-endurance community, according to the Race Across America website, almost all ultra-endurance events still comprise less than 20 percent women. However, that percentage is growing, and many organizations, like RAAM, encourage women to participate and race in ultra-cycling events. In my own bubble of a world I live in, I’ve been lucky to have countless strong, independent women who love ultra-cycling and who excel at it. Given the momentum to recruit more women into cycling, it is a matter of time until women comprise a higher percentage of those in the world of ultra-cycling. And, teams like Panache Cycling strongly encourage women to come into this world, providing—among many other things—support, camaraderie, coaching, and most importantly, adventure.

So, what do you say? Will you brave bicycle face like the women before you, and come join us in the world of ultra-endurance cycling?


Where I Stand with Juanita

Flash fiction by
Dan McClenaghan

My wife’s Chihuahua, Ginger, is a pampered little mange-ridden mutt. Juanita loves her more than she does me. I hate that dog. So one night when the little bat-eared mongrel was whining for a morsel of my sandwich, I poured a shot of my cheap wine into her water bowl, to go with the corner of my the corned beef and rye. I figured the alcohol would put her to sleep, and she’d leave me the hell alone.

twobuckchuckApparently, the spicy meat went well with the Merlot’s biting tang, and she yapped and scratched my leg for more. I complied with her request and found that it did not take much of the good old Two Buck Chuck to get the diminutive Ginger snockered to the point of passing out and loosing bladder control—on Juanita’s precious beige rug.

I caught hell for this, let me tell you, but now that the annoying little dog has tasted the fruit of the vine, she whines incessantly when she sees Juanita or me enjoying a glass. Alcoholism runs in her family, perhaps, but Juanita caters to her, and buys her the good stuff, the six, seven, eight dollar a bottle brands, leaving me with the cheap crap.

That’s where I stand with Juanita.

But that’s OK, because when Juanita’s at work, I get my little plastic funnel and pour Ginger’s good stuff into a Two Buck Chuck bottle and my Two Buck Chuck into hers. She whines about the reduction in quality, but after two glasses she can’t tell the difference, and after three she’s out in the backyard, howling to that stupid dachshund, Rusty, from up the street, enticing him over for some romance. He crawls under the fence, and they go at it like a couple of minks. Then she staggers inside and collapses on the throw rug in the kitchen, as I enjoy her expensive Cabernet in my recliner in front of the T.V.


About Dan McClenaghan
DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: Token Blogger via a Creative Commons license.


Writers Read at Fallbrook Library Presents

Deborah Smith Parker, author of The Horse that Haunts My Heart


Sarah Tauber, author of For Dear Life

Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose
DateTuesday, November 18, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Please note this is the THIRD Tuesday of the month.)
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650


ForDearLifeCoverDeborah Smith Parker, a professional astrologer, recalls the equine romance of her youth in The Horse that Haunts My Heart. This coming-of-age memoir takes place in the 1950s during three transformative summers Parker spent on a horse ranch in site of the Rocky Mountains.

Sarah Tauber’s For Dear Life is a survivor story. The memoir is about the two years Tauber lived in Tehran, Iran, the most challenging time of her life.

For Dear Life and The Horse that Haunts My Heart will be available for sale and signing.

For more information, contact K-B Gressitt at or 760-522-1064.

• • • • • • • • •

There will be no reading December 9, 2014 in recognition of the extra work everyone has to do to survive the holidays.

See you again on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.


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Zebra Mythology

By Karla Cordero


grassfingerssky never knew the taste

of running bullet

grass grew

swirling like wild fingers

our skin melting piano keys

our music made between hoof & soil

one day some god forced rain down on earth

a wet fire peeling our skin

hooves bloom a bouquet of fingers

& toes unfamiliar flesh

our stripes a bleeding grey cry

our reflection upon river

neither stallion nor mare

a vision made in his image

we a village labeling each other black or white

never again beautiful in both shades


More from and about Karla Cordero

Born in the hot little border town of Calexico, California, I started my new life in San Diego where the weather spoils the living. I’m currently an MFA candidate at San Diego State University, studying creative writing under Sandra Alcosser and Illya Kaminsky. Aside from the graduate life, I’m a contributing writer for Poetry International and a cofounder and editor for Spit Journal, an online literary review for performance poetry. My work has appeared or is forthcoming in the California Journal of Women Writers, Cleaver Magazine, theNewer York Press, and Cease, Cows.

In 2013, I helped the San Diego poetry slam team place fourth in the country at the National Poetry Slam in Boston. I believe that activism exists in the ability to pick up a pen and paper, transforming one’s thoughts into a tangible action for change.

Photo credit: © 2013 Kit-Bacon Gressitt 

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Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

An excerpt from Katha Pollitt’s new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Picador, October 14, 2014), reprinted with permission.




Available at Powell’s and other independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Abortion. We need to talk about it. I know, sometimes it seems as if we talk of little else, so perhaps I should say we need to talk about it differently. Not as something we all agree is a bad thing about which we shake our heads sadly and then debate its precise degree of badness, preening ourselves on our judiciousness and moral seriousness as we argue about this or that restriction on this or that kind of woman. We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women—and not just modern American women either, but women throughout history and all over the world, from ancient Egypt to medieval Catholic Europe, from today’s sprawling cities to rural villages barely touched by modern ideas about women’s roles and rights. Abortion takes place in Canada and Greece and France, where it is legal, performed by medical professionals, and covered by national health insurance, and also in Kenya, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, where it is a crime and a woman who terminates a pregnancy takes her life in her hands. According to anthropologists, abortion is found in virtually every society, going back at least 4,000 years. American women had great numbers of abortions throughout our history, when it was legal and when it was not. Consider this: At the beginning of the nineteenth century effective birth control barely existed and in the 1870s it was criminalized— even mailing an informational pamphlet about contraceptive devices was against the law and remained so until 1936. Yet the average number of births per woman declined from around 7 in 1800 to around 3.5 in 1900 to just over 2 in 1930. How do you think that happened?

We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child—indeed, sometimes more moral. Pro-choicers often say no one is “pro-abortion,” but what is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by? Why do we make young women feel guilty for wanting to feel ready for motherhood before they have a baby? Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world—what, for example, it means to the children she already has? We tend to think of abortion as anti-child and anti-motherhood. In media iconography, it’s the fetus versus the coat hanger: that is, abortion kills an “unborn baby,” but banning it makes women injure themselves. Actually, abortion is part of being a mother and of caring for children, because part of caring for children is knowing when it’s not a good idea to bring them into the world.We need to put abortion back into its context, which is the lives and bodies of women, but also the lives of men, and families, and the children those women already have or will have. Since nearly 1 in 5 American women end their childbearing years without having borne a child (compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s), we need to acknowledge that motherhood is not for everyone; there are other ways of living a useful, happy life.

We need to talk about abortion in its full human setting: sex and sexuality, love, violence, privilege, class, race, school and work, men, the scarcity of excellent, respectful reproductive health care, and of realistic, accurate information about sex and reproduction. We need to talk about why there are so many unplanned and unwanted pregnancies—which means we need to talk about birth control, but also about so much more than that: about poverty and violence and family troubles, about sexual shyness and shame and ignorance and the lack of power so many women experience in bed and in their relationships with men. Why is it such a huge big deal to ask a man to wear a condom? Or for a man to do so without being asked? Why do so many women not realize they are pregnant until they are fifteen or twenty or even twenty-five weeks along, and what does that say about the extraordinary degree of vigilance we demand women exercise over their reproductive systems? And speaking of that vigilance, what about the fact that some 16 percent of women, according to a Brown University study, have experienced reproductive coercion in at least one relationship— a male partner who used threats or violence to control a woman’s contraception or pregnancy outcomes—with a remarkable 9 percent experiencing “birth control sabotage,” a male partner who disposed of her pills, poked holes in condoms, or prevented her from getting contraception. One-third of the women reporting reproductive coercion also reported partner abuse in the same relationship. Behind America’s high rate of unintended pregnancy—almost half of all pregnancies—and high rates of abortion lies a world of hurt.

ProBackcvrWe need to talk about the scarcity of resources for single mothers and even for two-parent families, and the extraordinary, contradictory demands we make upon young girls to be simultaneously sexually alluring and withholding: hot virgins. We need to talk about blood and mess and periods and pregnancy and childbirth and what women go through to bring new life into the world and whether deep in our hearts we believe that those bodies mean women were put on Earth to serve and sacrifice and suffer in a way that men are not. Because when we talk about abortion as a bad thing, and worry that there’s too much of it, sometimes we mean there’s too much unwanted pregnancy and that women and men need more and better sex education and birth control, and sometimes  we mean there’s too much poverty, especially for children and their mothers, but a lot of the time we mean a woman should have a good cry, and then do the right thing and have the baby. She can always put it up for adoption, can’t she, like Juno in the movie? And that is close to saying that a woman can have no needs, desires, purpose, or calling so compelling and so important that she should not set it aside in an instant, because of a stray sperm.

Abortion has been legal across the United States for more than four decades. More than a million abortions are performed every year—some 55 million since 1973, when Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. A few facts: By menopause, 3 in 10 American women will have terminated at least one pregnancy; about half of all US women who have an abortion have already had a prior abortion; excluding miscarriages, 21 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Contrary to the popular stereotype of abortion-seeking women as promiscuous teenagers or child-hating professionals, around 6 in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers. And 7 in 10 are poor or low-income. Abortion, in other words, is part of the fabric of American life, and yet it is arguably more stigmatized than it was when Roe was decided. Of the seven Supreme Court justices who made up the majority in Roe, five were nominated by a Republican president. These men were hardly radicals: Potter Stewart, nominated by President Eisenhower, had dissented in the court’s 1965 landmark decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down that state’s ban on the sale or use of contraceptives even by married couples; in two separate decisions he upheld prayer and Bible readings in public schools. Warren Burger, Richard Nixon’s choice for Chief Justice, went on to rule in favor of laws criminalizing “sodomy” in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) on the grounds that historically homosexuality had been viewed as heinous and wrong. What made these staid, gray-haired gentlemen permit abortion virtually on demand in the first six months of pregnancy?

To understand that, we have to see what those men saw. In the law, they were witnessing a rapid evolution toward increased personal freedom, and in particular increased freedom for women: These were the years when feminism was a true grassroots movement, one that achieved remarkable success in a very short time, knocking down hundreds of laws and regulations, challenging centuries of tradition and custom, and expanding women’s rights and opportunities in almost every area of life. Ten million women were taking birth-control pills, and two-thirds of all Catholic women were using some form of contraception. Women were pouring into colleges and the workforce. The year before the Roe decision, the Senate had passed the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

In tandem with these huge social shifts, elite views were changing on abortion. Doctors had helped criminalize abortions after the Civil War as part of their effort to professionalize medicine by marginalizing midwives and lay healers. Now significant numbers of them saw abortion bans as a constraint on their right to care for their patients: Barring malpractice, there was no other circumstance in which a doctor had to defend his professional decisions as a matter of law. There had always been a little wiggle room in state abortion laws, because doctors were still permitted to perform them for “therapeutic” reasons—to save a woman’s life, for example. But what did that mean, exactly? An amicus curiae brief in Roe from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical groups observed that “a woman suffering from heart disease, diabetes or cancer whose pregnancy worsens the underlying pathology may be denied a medically indicated therapeutic abortion under the statute because death is not certain.” Meanwhile, the definition of “therapeutic” was being quietly expanded—for women with money, connections, and luck. Certain psychiatrists were willing to bend the rules by certifying abortion-seeking patients as mentally ill or suicidal (of course, you had to pay them for this service, and know how to find them in the first place). Beginning in the late 1940s, hospitals in many states set up abortion committees to which a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy could appeal. It was a humiliating process, which could involve multiple physical examinations and interrogations by unsympathetic doctors. For some women, the price of an abortion was sterilization. But it meant that some small fraction of middle-class white girls and women were able to obtain legal abortions, especially if they happened to be related to one of the doctors on the committee.

As a matter of public discussion, abortion was coming out of the shadows. In 1962, Sherri Chessen Finkbine was granted a legal abortion because she had taken Thalidomide, a sleeping medication her husband had brought back from a trip to Europe that, she belatedly discovered, had resulted in the births of thousands of babies with disastrous deformities. When the abortion was canceled after a newspaper article about her situation created an uproar, Finkbine publicly went to Sweden and terminated her pregnancy there. Her story was featured on the cover of Life magazine and helped break the silence around abortion. But it did more than that. It presented an abortion-seeking woman as sympathetic, rational, and capable. Finkbine was not a college student or low-income single mother to be either pitied as a victim or scorned as a slut. She was a white, middle-class married mother of four, well known as Miss Sherri on the local version of Romper Room, a popular children’s television show. In the early 1960s, epidemics of rubella, which is linked to birth defects, had the same effect: Americans had to listen to respectable white women unapologetically demanding the right to end their pregnancies. At the same time, Americans had to face the fact that illegal abortion was already common.

The more exceptions there were to the criminalization of abortion, the more glaringly unfair and hypocritical the whole system was seen to be. By the time Roe came to the court, well-off, savvy women could flock to New York or several other states where laws had been relaxed and get a safe, legal termination; poor women, trapped in states that banned abortion, bore the brunt of harm from illegal procedures. There was a racial angle, too: Not only did women of color, then as now, have far more abortions than whites in proportion to their numbers, they were much more likely to be injured or die in botched illegal procedures. According to the Centers for Disease Con- trol and Prevention, from 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women. The injustice of a patchwork system, in which a simple medical procedure could leave a woman dead or in- jured based purely on where it took place, was obvious.

Women were speaking up, too, about their abortions. In 1969 feminists invaded and disrupted the New York state legis- lature’s “expert hearing” on abortion (the experts consisted of fourteen men and a nun). Women talked about ending their pregnancies in public speak-outs. In 1972 the first issue of Ms. magazine carried a statement headlined “We Have Had Abor- tions” that was signed by more than fifty prominent women, including Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Billie Jean King, Lee Grant, and Lillian Hellman. In Chicago, the Jane Collective began by connecting women with an illegal provider and ended up performing abortions themselves. And if you assume the churches were united against abortion, think again: Begin- ning in 1967, the Clergy Consultation Service founded by the Rev. Howard R. Moody, a Baptist, along with Lawrence Lader, Arlene Carmen, and others, helped thousands of women across the country find their way to safe illegal abortions. In the years leading up to Roe, legalization of abortion under at least some circumstances was endorsed by the Union for Reform Judaism, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Asso- ciation of Evangelicals, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and other mainstream  denominations.

Because so much of this history has been forgotten—what, the Southern Baptists supported legalization?—we tend to see Roe as a bolt out of the blue. But to the Supreme Court—and to the public, a majority of which supported liberalization—the ruling ratified and expanded social changes that were already under way.  At the time, what its supporters saw as its chief effect was to transform an operation that was commonplace, criminal and sometimes extremely dangerous into an operation that was commonplace, legal, remarkably safe—and becoming ever safer: “Deaths from legal abortion declined fivefold between 1973 and 1985 (from 3.3 deaths to 0.4 deaths per 100,000 procedures),” reported the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs, reflecting increased physician education and skills, improvements in medical technology, and, notably, the earlier termination of pregnancy. The mortality rate for childbirth from 1979 to 1985 was more than ten times higher than that from abortion in the same period.

Today the real-life harms Roe was intended to rectify have receded from memory. Few doctors remember the hospital wards filled with injured and infected women. The coat-hanger symbol seems as exotic as the rack and thumbscrew, a relic waved by gray-haired “radical feminists,” even as anti-abortion advocates use rare examples of injury and death to paint all abortions as unsafe. They seized on the horrifying case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who ran a filthy Philadelphia “clinic” where a teenage girl administered anesthesia, a patient died and others were injured, fetuses were aborted well into the third trimester, and the ones who survived had their spines “snipped.” You wouldn’t know from their reporting that what Gosnell was doing was completely against the law; he was found guilty of three acts of first-degree murder on May 13, 2013. Using deceptively edited secretly videoed encounters, abortion opponents tar all abortion clinics as inhumane “mills” staffed by callous, greedy people—transferring the century-old taint of the criminal “abortionist” to legitimate providers. Yet paradoxically, abortion opponents deny that when abortion was illegal it was both widespread and sometimes (though not always) dangerous. Look, they say, in 1960, Mary Steichen Calderone, medical director of Planned Parenthood, herself said there had been “only 260 deaths” in 1957. (They don’t mention that she also said it was likely that there were one million abortions a year—almost as many as today, in a much smaller population— and this was in the supposedly staid and moral 1950s, before the sexual revolution or the women’s movement.) Years ago I debated a leader of Massachusetts for Life who pooh-poohed the health risks of recriminalizing abortion: Thanks to suction machines and antibiotics (which illegal providers would all have access to) illegal procedures would be reasonably nonfatal. So there it is. Legal abortion: very dangerous. Illegal abortion: remarkably safe!

For many years after Roe, abortion opponents talked a lot about the need to overturn the decision, and worked hard to elect officials who would install anti-abortion justices on the Supreme Court. So far, they have not seen that dream realized. But they have been shockingly successful in making abortion hard to get in much of the nation. Between 2011 and 2013, states enacted 205 new restrictions—more than in the previous ten years: waiting periods, inaccurate scripts that doctors must read to patients (abortion causes breast cancer, mental illness, suicide), bans on state Medicaid payments, restrictions on insurance coverage, and parental notification and consent laws. In Ohio, lawmakers have taken money from TANF, the welfare program that supports poor families, and given it to so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) whose mission is to discourage pregnant women from having abortions. (That’s right: Embryos and fetuses deserve government support, not the actual, living children they may become.) Twenty-seven states have passed laws forcing clinics into expensive and unnecessary renovations and burdening them with medical regula- tions intended to make them impossible to staff. Largely as a result, between 2011 and 2013 at least 73 clinics closed or stopped performing abortions. When these laws have been challenged in court, judges have set aside some of them, but not all. The result: In 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute, around one-third of American women of reproductive age lived in states hostile to abortion rights, one-third lived in states that supported abortion rights, and one-third lived in states with a middle position. As of 2011, more than half of women lived in hostile states. Middle-ground states, such as North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin, have moved in an anti-choice direction. Only twenty-three states could be said to have a strong commitment to abortion rights. In 2013, only one state, California, made abortion easier to obtain.

What this means is that although abortion has been legal for four full decades, for many women in America it might as well not be. It is inaccessible—too far away, too expensive to pay for out of pocket, and too encumbered by restrictions and regulations and humiliations, many of which might not seem to be one of those “undue burdens” the Supreme Court has ruled are impermissible curbs on a woman’s ability to terminate a pregnancy, but which, taken together, do place abortion out of reach. It would be nice to believe that no woman is deterred from an act so crucial to her future by having to wait a mere twenty-four hours between state-mandated counseling and the actual procedure, but what if the waiting period means two long round trips from your rural home to a distant city while trying to juggle work and child care, and because the clinic has to fly in a doctor from out of state, the twenty-four hours actually means a week, and that puts the woman into the second trimester but the clinic only does abortions through twelve weeks? What about the teenage girls who must tell their parents in order to get an abortion and can’t bear to do so until it’s too late? (Thirty-eight states currently require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.) What about low-income women who live in one of the thirty-three states without Medicaid abortion coverage? What if, while she is putting together the $500 for a first-trimester abortion, a low-income woman goes over into the second trimester, and now the abortion costs $1,000? It is as if a woman has a right to vote, but the polling place is across the state and casting a ballot costs two weeks’ pay, and as if she has a right to be a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist, but her place of worship is a four-hour bus ride away, and before she can go to services she has to listen to a fundamentalist Christian sermon warning her that if she doesn’t accept Jesus as her personal savior she’s going straight to hell. We would never accept the kinds of restrictions on our other constitutional rights that we have allowed to hamper the right to end a pregnancy.

How has this happened?

One answer is that the Republican Party, home base of the organized anti-abortion-rights movement, has won a lot of elections. The midterm elections in 2010 were crucial: The GOP won the House of Representatives and, even more important, in twenty states it had “trifectas”—control of both statehouses and the governorship. By 2013 it had twenty-four. Democrats, by contrast had only fourteen. (It’s important to note that not all Democratic politicians are pro-choice, especially in red states. In 2014, Louisiana’s bill that requires doctors at abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges, a measure that could close three out of the state’s five clinics, was written by a Democrat, Katrina Jackson.)

But there’s a deeper, more troubling answer. The self- described pro-life movement may not represent a numerical majority—only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to ban abortion—but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in intensity, dedication, cohesion, and savvy. It is the closest thing we have right now to a mass social movement. It works in multiple ways at once—through its own organizations, electoral politics, abstinence-only sex education in the public schools, the Catholic and fundamentalist/evangelical churches, public protests like the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, and “sidewalk counseling” in front of clinics. It reaches all the way from a terrorist fringe that it regularly disowns but that has very effectively discouraged doctors from performing abortions to popular radio and TV haranguers like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to respectable journals like National Review and the Weekly Standard. Indeed, it is hard to think of American conservatism today without its opposition to abortion. You would never know that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater were pro-choice, and that in 1967, the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, signed what was then the most liberal abortion law in the nation. Some of this hostility to abortion is surely for political reasons: Right-wing Christians vote. But the fact that opposition to abortion is de rigueur even for mainstream Republicans like Mitt Romney shows the movement’s power.

The anti-abortion movement has made abortion a lot harder to get in many states, but even more important, it has reframed the issue. It has placed the zygote/embryo/fetus at the moral center, while relegating women and their rights to the periphery. Over time, it has altered the way we talk about abortion and the way many people feel about it, even if they remain pro-choice. It has made abortion seem risky, when in fact it is remarkably safe—twelve to fourteen times safer than the alter- native, which is continued pregnancy and childbirth. It has made people think the abortion of viable fetuses happens all the time when in fact it is illegal in most states except for serious medical reasons, and happens very rarely: According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 1.5 percent of abortions occur after twenty weeks’ gestation. (The Supreme Court has said twenty-four weeks is the threshold of viability.) It has made practices that are virtually unknown in the United States, like sex-selective abortions, seem routine and clinics like Dr. Gosnell’s seem typical.

Most of all, abortion opponents have made ending a pregnancy shameful, even for women who don’t believe a fertilized egg or a lentil-sized embryo is a child. It is hard now to believe, or even remember, that for a brief moment in the 1970s (let alone when abortion was an illegal but common practice), it was permissible not to consider your abortion a personal tragedy and failure. You were not automatically a callous, superficial person if you felt nothing but relief that you were no longer pregnant, and you were not a monster if you said so.

Nowadays, we take it for granted that having an abortion is a sorrowful, troubling, even traumatic experience, involving much ambivalence and emotional struggle, even though studies and surveys consistently tell us it usually is not. Even pro-choicers use negative language: Hillary Clinton called abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” True as far as it goes, but you’ll notice she didn’t add, “and for many others, a blessing and a lifesaver.” For decades, the Democratic Party mantra has been “safe, legal, and rare,” with the accent on the rare. Among hardcore opponents, the language is completely over the top: Abortion is a Holocaust, providers are Nazis, the womb is the most dangerous place on Earth for a child, the Democratic Party is the Party of Death.

As long as abortion has been legal, pro-choice activists have complained that abortion opponents have stolen the language of morality and used it to twist public opinion. Who can be against “life,” after all? Or responsibility, family, babies, motherhood? But it’s not just opponents who paint abortion as awful and tormented. Pro-choicers do so too.

We may roll our eyes when abortion opponents contrast the anguish of abortion with the joys of unwanted babies, and the selfishness of women who end their pregnancies with the nobility of women who keep theirs whatever the difficulty, but over time it seeps in. So defensive has the pro-choice community become since the 1970s, when activists proudly defended “abortion on demand and without apology,” that in 2013 Planned Parenthood announced that it was moving away from the term “pro-choice,” which was itself a bit of a euphemism: Choose what? In mass-media messaging you’re likely to hear about “defending Roe,” even though only 62 percent of Americans (and only 44 percent of those under thirty) know what Roe is. When abortion opponents at the Susan G. Komen Foundation canceled its grants in 2012, Planned Parenthood’s response emphasized that “More than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood health care is preventive, including lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of STDs, breast health services, Pap tests, and sexual health education and information.” True, this cautious approach won the day—Komen was forced to restore the grants, and the anti-choice faction left the organization. But was there no room for Planned Parenthood to add, “Yes, we perform abortions, and we are proud to offer that service to women who make the decision not to bear a child at that time, because abortion is a normal part of health care”?

It’s not just our leaders and spokespeople at major organizations who unwittingly participate in what’s been rather uneuphoniously called the “awfulization” of abortion. Anywhere you look or listen, you find pro-choicers falling over themselves to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult.” How often have you heard abortion described as “the hardest decision” or “the most painful choice” a woman ever makes, as if every single woman who gets pregnant by accident seriously considers having a baby, only a few weeks earlier the furthest thing from her mind and for very good reason? Or more accurately, as if every accidentally pregnant woman really should seriously consider having that baby—and if she doesn’t at least claim she thought long and hard about it and only reluctantly and sadly realized it was impossible, she’s a bad woman who thinks only of her own pleasure and convenience.


Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights is available at Powell’s and other independent bookstores,, and Barnes and Noble.


AbouKathaPollittt Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt, a feminist author and poet, writes the “Subject to Debate” column for The Nation. Her other books include Learning to Drive, The Mind-Body Problem poetry collection, Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time. She tweets at @kathapollitt and blogs at kathapollitt.blogspot.

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