The closest clinic was 75 miles away

That woman in Pennsylvania who’s in jail for ordering miscarriage-inducing pills for her daughter online – here’s why she ordered those pills:

Whalen told me that in the winter of 2012, her daughter came to her and said she was pregnant. Whalen told her she would “support her in any decision she made.” Her daughter, who was in high school, took a few days to think and then asked her mother for help ending the pregnancy. “She said, ‘I can’t have a baby right now,’ and she asked me to look up clinics,” Whalen said.

The daughter was 16. I remember being 16. I was not mature enough to raise a child, nor was I in a position to support a child – to put it very mildly. Having a child at that age would have been horrific in every way I can think of.

Together, they looked online. The closest clinic was about 75 miles away. Pennsylvania requires women seeking abortions to first receive counseling and wait 24 hours before returning for the procedure. The cost of a first-trimester abortion is typically between $300 and $600. Whalen works as a personal-care aide at an assisted-living center for the elderly. She didn’t have health insurance for her daughter. And she was worried about taking time away from work and her family to make two trips or to stay overnight. At the time, Whalen and her husband shared one car, which they both used to get to work.

You see that’s what all these bullshit laws and regulations making abortions logistically extremely hard to get actually do in practice – they fuck the poor. The clinic is far; there’s a waiting period; the abortion is expensive; health insurance is expensive; many jobs pay very little, Whalen’s job being one such job; low-level workers have a hard time getting time off work; transportation is expensive and difficult. It’s fuck the poor every step of the way – because it’s such a brilliant idea to saddle the children of the poor with unplanned children before they’ve even graduated from high school. Yeah that’s a just and fair society.

What Whalen did in trying to help her daughter — order pills online — is probably an increasingly common response to the rising wave of abortion restrictions that has rolled across the states in the last four years. “Her situation is very scary legally, because we are seeing the number of clinics dwindle,” Nash said. “If women don’t have access to abortion clinics, some will turn to the Internet, and then, will they be charged with a crime?”

The grim answer was yes for Jennifer Whalen because of a series of choices made by officials who had the discretion to respond differently. Hospital authorities decided that they were mandated to report Whalen, according to the district attorney, because they made a judgment call that what she did was “suspected or actual child abuse.” Warren, the district attorney, could have declined to press charges. And Norton, the judge, could have refrained from sending Whalen to jail.

When I asked Jennifer Whalen whether the case has been especially hard on her older daughter, she didn’t want to talk about it. “She’s going to college and working two jobs,” she said with a bit of pride. It was clear that Whalen is still trying to shield her child. She just wants her to go on and live her life.

But how very tragic and unfair that Whalen has to pay for that with a felony conviction, prison, and the loss of a job she loved.


  1. Karen Locke says

    I heard about this earlier, but I’m still sputtering. My country is screwed up and getting more screwed up daily, right before my eyes. I do what I’m supposed to do: vote and pester my congresscritters. But I live in a community and state where my congresscritters are already pretty much doing the right thing, at least on issues like this. I’ve made it to the island; now, how do I make a difference for the people who are still out there being eaten by the sharks?

  2. Eric MacDonald says

    I read this story yesterday and was appalled, of course. What could the District Attorney and the Judge have been thinking of? Both of them men, both of them without any understanding of the issues involved, both apparently “pro-life” in the ugliest meaning of the term, both doubtless wanting to be tough on “crime”. It’s like passing through the looking glass! Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but when things are readily available on the internet, how is someone to know what the law is? Besides, there were issues of privacy involved. No 16 year old should be forced to bear the burden of a pregnancy, especially in a country where sex education seems frowned upon lest it create sex-crazed youngsters!

    I have some difficulties with the criminal law in the US. Here in Canada criminal law is a Federal responsibility, which means that the law has fewer tricks up its sleeve, since there is one criminal code for the entire country. Giving states this kind of power is just asking for this kind of trouble, since the law can dramatically vary from state to state. Since I can’t contact my congresscritters (though I often write my MP) I will have to leave it up to you folks south of the border, but these stupid gits should be taken to task for their thoughtlessness and cruelty.

  3. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Heartbreaking. It’s ridiculously expensive to be poor. (And by poor, I mean normal working class.)

  4. Jenora Feuer says

    Of course, Canada is nowhere near as much better as we’d like on this. There’s no service at all in PEI, only one hospital in New Brunswick will handle abortions (and it requires two doctors to approve first), most provinces don’t actually cover the medical costs… Quebec is probably the best place for this, a side effect of the Quiet Revolution and the heavy secularization of the province. B.C. is apparently the only province that legally enforces a bubble zone around clinics, and while there are several hospitals in Ontario that perform abortions, all but one of them are in either the Toronto or Ottawa areas. (And Ontario is bloody huge: Thunder Bay, a city of over a hundred thousand people, is well over 800 miles away from either Toronto or Ottawa. And that’s not the furthest away you can get.)

  5. jenniferphillips says

    Doing the math, the mom in question was still a teenager when she became pregnant with her first child (the article mentions that the 39 year old mom has a 20 year old son), so she possibly has some relevant opinions on what sort of parenthood timeline she might prefer for her kids.

  6. Dunc says

    because it’s such a brilliant idea to saddle the children of the poor with unplanned children before they’ve even graduated from high school

    Well, the helots aren’t just going to oppress themselves spontaneously…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *