Queen Anne’s Lace and The President of the United States


1) THIS ELECTION I find myself entirely depressed – depressed at being a woman when there is the War on Women, depressed at being “middle class” but unable to afford real health insurance. Depressed that in everyone’s accounting, 47, 99, 1 and 30 percents, I have no idea where I fall. Well, it’s certainly not the 1 percent, but I feel like a number in a country that really could care less about me.

Rhetoric all seems directed at me, or rather not at me specifically, certainly not at me as an individual but me as an object: my earning power, my uterus and when life inside me is a “person.” How can two cells replicating having the same legal standing as me an adult woman? How can anyone even suggest that, not to mention making decisions over my reproductive power, what birth control I do or don’t have access to… In my confusion over this is a question: Do these people debating and discussing these issues not have sisters and mothers and wives? And how can the 51% (note that the extra one makes women the majority) be so ignored and pushed aside? What is that 49% thinking?

2) Despite our majority status, this year women are more like things, footballs, political footballs. I feel just short of chattel. Somehow this year I’m nostalgic for 40 years ago: 1972, back when the ERA was central to the Republican platform and state legislatures lined up vying (vying, people) to be the first to ratify it. Title IX was passed. Also under Nixon, he established the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act…

Nixon, hero to liberals. Now.

3) He was also pro family planning: Nixon wrote in 1969:

It is clear that the domestic family planning services supported by the Federal Government should be expanded and better integrated. Both the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the Office of Economic Opportunity are now involved in this important (yes, that says “important” and is helped out by the federal government, Mr Ryan) work, yet their combined efforts are not adequate to provide information and services to all who want them. In particular, most of an estimated five million low income women of childbearing age in this country do not now have adequate access to family planning assistance, even though their wishes concerning family size are usually the same as those of parents of higher income groups.

“It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition. I believe, therefore, that we should establish as a national goal the provision of adequate family planning services within the next five years to all those who want them but cannot afford them. This we have the capacity to do.

“Clearly, in no circumstances will the activities associated with our pursuit of this goal be allowed to infringe upon the religious convictions or personal wishes and freedom of any individual, nor will they be allowed to impair the absolute right of all individuals to have such matters of conscience respected by public authorities.

“In order to achieve this national goal, we will have to increase the amount we are spending on population and family planning. But success in this endeavor will not result from higher expenditures alone. Because the life circumstances and family planning wishes of those who receive services vary considerably, an effective program must be more flexible in its design than are many present efforts.”

4) Now I get called a slut, and rape has adjectives around it like “legitimate.”

5) What would Paul Ryan call Nixon?

6) Abortion. Of course no one “likes” it, contrary to what Todd Akin says about doctors liberally performing the procedure.

7) You know, I nearly started this off with my abortion. It wasn’t dramatic; nothing was remarkable but for how ordinary it was. I was in my early twenties. I had a boyfriend. We weren’t going to last. I loved him and knew it was going to end. I had a bad job working in bars. My mom helped me pay for the abortion.

She herself almost had one after I was born. She was in her forties; she’d had three children, the last, me, a generation after the first. She knew she didn’t have the wherewithal to have another kid. Her period was late. She went to a neighbor who knew to find a doctor who could provide an illegal abortion. Turned out the problem was menopause. She was lucky.

My decision was emotional. The hormones from being pregnant make you emotional. And, I want to write about the experience as average, boring, nothing of consequence. I hadn’t been raped. There hadn’t been birth defects. No incest. I, yes, even saw the sonogram. It didn’t look like a bean. I was just a young woman in my early twenties who was far from ready for motherhood, with too little emotional (not to mention economic) stability. And, you who might say, “Adoption!” with a hectoring tone of voice. I was terrified by my friend, daughter of a prominent Republican politician, who spent her last trimester living with me and my roommate in our one bedroom apartment (that is one bedroom, three women, one more than seven months pregnant) in Chelsea, while she waited to put up the baby for adoption. This was also a Chelsea of tenements, not today’s neighborhood with fancy co-ops and art galleries.

I write about this here because abortion is taboo, and Republicans make it more taboo, and yet as a woman many of us have made this same choice. Few speak of it. Does that make me a slut?

8) What about my mother?

9) What about Romney’s aunt? His aunt by marriage, that is, his sister’s husband’s sister, Ann Keenan, was 21 and pregnant like me. She died from a hemorrhage and infection due to an  illegal abortion.

10) Romney used to say about abortion when he was governor of Massachusetts: “Believing in people is protecting their freedom to make their own life choices, even if their choice is different than yours. That choice is a deeply personal one, and the women of our state should make it based on their beliefs, not mine, not the government’s.”

11) On his own website you can find his view on 25 different issues from “Veterans” to “Values” to “Human Capital” but nothing on “Women.”

12) Yet under “Values” his statement says: “Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade – a case of blatant judicial activism that took a decision that should be left to the people and placed it in the hands of unelected judges. With Roe overturned, states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.”

He also promises to support the Hyde Amendment ending Federal funds for Planned Parenthood. None of the money from the government goes for abortion but for family planning, cervical cancer screening, breast cancer screening – in a word: women’s health…. When my mom was first married in 1949, she said the first thing she did upon arriving in Syracuse, the town to which she and my dad moved, was go to Planned Parenthood. When I ask her what kind of birth control she got, she said, a diaphragm. “It was horrible and uncomfortable, but it’s what there was in 1949.” She is 85. When I was a teenager and started having sex, I went to Planned Parenthood. I also took many other teenaged girls I knew there.

13) Last week on Wednesday Romney said in an interview with the Des Moines Register: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

14) I feel like he’s confused. I certainly am. It seems like he wants to be on both sides of the debate for all of us, Ann Keener, my mother, me – and the Republican base. I don’t think this makes him bad. Instead I see someone torn by human issues and his own human relationships.

15) Meanwhile Ryan, at least before last Thursday’s debate, opposes abortion for rape and incest, let alone a case like mine or Romney’s aunt.

16) While rape has been “forcible” (Ryan’s language in the bill he introduced) and “legitimate,”  he also called it a “method of conception.” I am uncomfortable with this. Yes one can get pregnant from rape, some 2,000 women in the US do a year, that’s about 5% of all rape victims, but “method of conception”?

17) Ryan also voted against federal employees (that’s approximately 2.65 million people and doesn’t include those in the military, but you could easily count them as federal employees) from getting birth control coverage. I wonder if he believes Cialis should be covered?

18) This is Paul Ryan, who, living in DC prior to marrying his wife Janna, dated aerobics instructors (he too was a fitness instructor there to make ends meet). Did he as a 29 year-old freshman Representative from Wisconsin not have sex with these aerobics instructors? Did he not use contraception? It is hard to believe that a man in his late twenties is not having sex, but he is someone who said in the last debate he doesn’t “see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or their faith.” Which means he’s either the 29 year-old virgin or else he’s breaking the dictates of the Catholic Church where he sees fit.

19) That inability to separate faith from public life seems to say that he can’t separate church and state, a founding principle in the constitution.


The new morning after pill. Not tested by the FDA.

20) Queen Anne’s Lace. Daucus carota aka wild carrot, white carrot. So named for the queen because the red dot in the center represents a prick of blood from where she was tatting lace. The plant is invasive, was imported from Europe, now is common at roadsides and in ditches. Help is at hand, women. Help is now harvestable, spilling its seed. Because the seeds from Queen Anne’s Lace are a progesterone inhibitor – basically like the morning after pill. You can (apparently) take a teaspoon a day as an effective birth control pill. You can take more the morning after unprotected sex. I have not tried this, I make no claims for medical efficacy, but perhaps this is what women will turn to. Perhaps this is what we will be forced to turn to. Maybe the Republicans will try to outlaw weeds and wildflowers. I take no responsibility for the results. I just put it out there.

But caution, Queen Anne’s Lace resembles closely poison hemlock before flowering. Picking the stems and leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace can burn too. They can cause “Phytophotodermatitis,” which basically means burns on the skin caused by a chemical in the plant activated by light. However on the upside, you can eat and roast the white carrot roots, and they are a beneficial plant when growing near tomatoes.

Notice how the seed-head on Queen Anne's Lace looks like a clenched fist?

21) It seems a political cycle full of contradictions. The first debate was held less than ten miles from where there was a mass shooting. Yet, no one discussed gun control, but people want to control whether I can have a first trimester abortion. They support “life,” but what about when people can take it so callously? In a movie theater at midnight?  This is not a new question. That doesn’t stop it confusing me.

22) In the first debate Romney says he doesn’t want the government to be involved in health insurance but he supports the government dictating women’s health care options? Meanwhile Ryan doesn’t think federal employees should get birth control coverage because he is a Catholic? Romney and Ryan are talking about making decisions that will result in more single mothers, which means more economic instability, which means more need for help in paying healthcare costs.  They also don’t account for more deaths like Romney’s aunt who will turn to illegal abortions.

23) Speaking of gun control, healthcare costs: The average cost of treating a shooting victim (this is one victim) is over $50,000. Most don’t have health insurance, so this costs falls to the public to cover. Additionally there is a cost in lost productivity and jobs.

24) While I am pro hunting and even my right to own and shoot (or, at least, learn to shoot) a gun, I don’t see what is wrong with stricter gun permitting? Also what is the deal with concealed carry? Why is this a right, now?

25) I am also confused by the fact that there is a man running for president who pays on average a tax rate of 14-15% on his income, legally, mind you. Legally and happily using every offshore tax haven at his disposal, while I struggle to pay my rate of 25%. And, that he has a horse, a fancy dressage horse, on which he takes as a tax deduction of $77,731. That is more than what my husband and I earn a year. Now I just want to say he has only thus far written off $50.00 for the horse. But, now that said horse has performed at the Olympics, he could become valuable for breeding etc, which would allow the Romneys to offset those earlier losses.

One dressage horse food, brushing (yes), lodging and transport costs: $77,731. This is a horse.

26) Just to say the Rafalca deduction is just over what Romney earned from his Chinese investments: $77,262 in CNOOC Limited, the Chinese state-owned oil company, and in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Is this the same China he promised in the debate he wouldn’t borrow money from to pay for Big Bird or the China he said he’d “crack down on if and when they cheat”?

Yes that is $21 million... And yes that is the Romneys' return...

27) I am also confused about how the Supreme Court can decide that a company has a right to free speech but that people in many states are now required to carry ID cards to vote. Don’t you think the millions that companies can spend on elections have the power to influence them more than some poor person working three jobs who doesn’t have the time or the means to get the photo ID needed? What about the old lady who doesn’t drive? Their ability to commit fraud by not having proper identification seems pale compared to the power of companies to spend freely.

28) These things make me achingly sad. Maybe I have PMS, to put this back on me as a woman. Maybe I am emotional, certainly I feel raw, but the tenor of the debate (I mean the general notion of political discourse rather than the debates so far) from attacking women as whores to rape leaves me numb. So too how the Republican establishment at first ignores such attacks and then expresses mild approbation followed by distance and shame. And, now in the case of Akin, is coming around to him again? All of this makes me feel like the front line in this war.

29) Yet in the Seventies, the Republicans were to the left of Obama on many issues. Maybe because of Vietnam and Watergate the rancor was elsewhere. Maybe the extreme wings of the party can stake out the parameters and make it safer for those at the center? I don’t know, but I wish for Reagan-era taxes and Nixon-era feminism and environmentalism.

30) I also find it sad to live in a country where we turn on ourselves – our mothers, sisters, wives and friends.

31) Irony: 51 % of the population are women, yet the Republicans in the House voted overwhelmingly (with three representatives crossing party lines) against equal pay for women. Ryan voted against it. Akin called his vote about “freedom.”

Yes: “I think it’s about freedom. If somebody wants to hire somebody and they agree on a salary, that’s fine, however it wants to work. So, the government sticking its nose into all kinds of things has gotten us into huge trouble.” Yeah. Just to say women earn 80% of what men do. Still, today in 2012.

What is it about Akin & "freedom?"

32) Another irony: “health care.” It doesn’t feel like care in any way. It doesn’t care about me. Blue Cross Blue Shield hardly does. It cares about my money. It also doesn’t even feel like insurance. It’s insuring me against something catastrophic. In my household this “insurance” is my biggest expense, now that we have changed our mortgage payment to interest-only, which, of course, is like the middle class joke. It means that a larger amount will come due, down the line. It’s just another issue coming to a head in our lives, only deferred. Meanwhile this health “insurance,” which is our biggest expense, is a high-deductible plan, so only kicks in after we pay $5,000. And, the cost is going up nearly 20% in January for this negligible coverage. Welcome to the middle class. Are you laughing?

33) We could get an HSA, that is a Healthcare Savings Account. They’re available to people with high-deductible plans. The idea is that you put the difference between your insurance costs at your less expensive plan and what a full plan would cost into a tax-free savings account. This is another joke on the middle class. Few people sign up. I have no spare savings to do this. If I did, I’d have better insurance or be paying off the principal on my mortgage. Meanwhile these high-deductible plans damage the operation of an insurance pool. They attract the healthy. The healthy pay less money into the pool. Those who are sicker pay for better coverage. The idea of risk being spread around many is now spread around fewer, so the healthcare costs everyone more. Rates go up. Likewise, many people with high-deductible plans avoid going to the doctor when they need it to save money. When they do go, their needs are more critical and the care costs more. This legislation was passed by Republicans set up at the same time as the prescription drug coverage changes under Bush.

34) The HSA concept is similar to Ryan’s plans for changing Medicare where you get a set amount of coverage targeted to the cost of inflation (not the cost of medical inflation either, which, as the 20% jump in my insurance shows, skyrockets exponentially no matter what happens to the cost of gas or milk or eggs). You are free to buy additional coverage, like I’m free to save the money I would have paid in a tax-free account.

35) When I lived in the UK, I paid lower taxes overall – including my local and property taxes and my National Insurance tax for my nationalized healthcare. There they have better outcomes for everything but cancer. That is: strokes and premature births and infant mortality and heart attacks… and they “ration” health care. They have something called NICE, an acronym for an agency that tests and, yes, costs out treatments to see if they’re effective. Part of medical-industrial complex is to keep developing and pushing treatments without knowing if they are effective. We do know they are expensive.

36) When Romney was Massachusetts governor, he enacted Romneycare, the model for Obamacare, because the state was going bankrupt from rising healthcare costs. If I am typical of the middle class, and Romney’s state government was going bankrupt – in Massachusetts, a fairly “rich” state – what does that say?

37) People without insurance cost you and I money both in our health care costs and in our taxes. Those without coverage go to the ER (and I’m not talking George Clooney on TV here) for things that might have been treated sooner, had they had coverage. But they wait till it’s an emergency. This makes the care more expensive. ER is expensive, the condition for which they need care is more costly because it’s more dire. Those costs get passed on to us in two ways. 1) Hospitals increase costs to recoup their losses. That equals increased costs for care, which then equal increased medical premiums. Hospitals also get money from the government to cover the cost of treating the uninsured because legally emergency rooms can’t refuse people, so someone has to pay. Us. We are paying for this from our taxes too. On both ends.

38) “Nationwide, the total amount of uncompensated care provided to the uninsured reached an estimated $56 billion in 2008, according to one study.”

39) So, given that, what is so scary about Obamacare? Or, to push the boat out, the idea of universal coverage? When I lived in the UK (and this wasn’t decades ago just six years), I had two house calls. The UK is also a country that celebrates its doctors and nurses – actual NHS doctors and nurses – swing dancing in the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Now minus how weird that image is, when would the US ever do this?

High-kicking swing dancing nurses. Actual NHS doctors and nurses, needless to say. Who Britain loves.

40) What did Romney think when he was at the opening ceremony? Maybe he pondered Rafalca and his tax write-off.

"Ha! Single payer health insurance! Socialized medicine. That must be a joke, right,? Right, Ann?"

41) Now it’s autumn in the Catskills where I live. We’ve had a hard frost; the leaves are gone. There are some seeds left on the Queen Anne’s Lace by the roadside. I’ve been thinking about collecting them. It’s quaint, in a sense, far more so than wire hangers. Is that an option people want to return to? I have also been thinking of Becky Bell who died in 1988 of an illegal abortion. This was in ’88 long after Roe V Wade made abortion legal. But, she was 17 and parental consent laws led her to get one however she could – without asking her parents. She died of an infection afterwards as Ann Keenan had. Next October will be the 50th anniversary of Keenan’s death. Is this who we want to be – a country where women, girls, die in their teens? Or at any age?

Queen Anne's Lace seeds last week in Margaretville, NY.


About Jennifer Kabat

A recent finalist for Notting Hill Editions’ Essay Prize, Jennifer Kabat (@jenkabat) is working on a book called Growing Up Modern, exploring art, ideology and the landscape from the modernist suburb where she grew up to the Western Catskills where she lives now. She’s been awarded a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for her criticism and teaches at NYU. She contributes to BOMB, The Believer and Frieze and was once an editor at the legendary style magazine The Face in London.
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5 Responses to Queen Anne’s Lace and The President of the United States

  1. A.E. says:

    What a wonderful piece. Too much sad but rich bits to address, but I will comment on abortion. I’ve lived in Mexico for 3 years. Just to further imagine a cruel policy and ideolgy fall backward, take a peek or two at reproductive rights here, considering the scale of “it”: Mary, mother of sorrows. And but a simple medical procedure! My 1st, I was trying to educate myself, my 2nd, I had no insururance. Not a regret to the Oligarchy. In the 50’s my mom drove a friend from LA to TJ for one, risky that. What? We are going to die of shame, not stand up or will more die of botched Queen Ann Lace abortions? My 2 cents is that there was a boom of intense Jesus love in the 60’s & 70’s and this morphed into Baptist style fundamentalism which is anti reproductive rights and often anti female. Again, superb article.

    • Jennifer Kabat says:

      AE, thank you. Queen Anne’s Lace seems like a rather lyrical solution. The idea that we might go back to wire hangers is what terrifies me. And, truthfully it seems the War On Women does have casualties. Women are the 51% but losing rights, we will die, and that will mean no longer being the majority.

  2. Jennifer Kabat says:

    further to the war on women– this in Illinois from Rep Walsh: “There’s no such exception as life of the mother,” Walsh told reporters following the debate. “And as far as health of the mother – same thing. Advances in science and technology. Health of the mother has been, has become a tool for abortions any time and for any reason.”

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