Writings

An open letter to Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. John Stinner

This morning, I sent emails to Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and my state representative, Senator John Stinner. Last month, the legislature narrowly defeated a bill that would have banned abortion in the state. Since the SCOTUS draft leak, Gov. Ricketts has been making the rounds in the media indicating he may call an emergency session of the state legislature to try and pass the bill again. He would like to ban all abortions, without exceptions for rape and/or incest.

I can rage on the internet all I want, but these two men are my only hope for abortion to remain legal in the state. I don’t know if my letter, my words, or my story would sway them to reconsider, but I had to try.

I’d like the thank all of the folks who have been supportive of me over the last few weeks. The news over the last few months have been demoralizing, but you all give me some hope that things can get better.

The only portion of the letter to Ricketts and Stinner which has been changed are the embedded links as they are easier to do here on my website than just sticking a link at the end of the post. Otherwise, any typos or grammatical mistakes will remain as I prefer to keep the letter original even if there is a typo or missing comma.

Let this sentence serve as a trigger warning to anyone who may be sensitive to some of the graphic content below.

Dear Gov. Ricketts and Sen. Stinner,

I am writing to you today to ask you to reconsider calling the legislature into special session and voting to ban abortion in the state of Nebraska. I would like to explain to you why this would be detrimental to thousands of Nebraskans.

Consider the case of a 14-year old child, who is out for a walk with her cousin. They walk a few minutes from her home, where her cousin convinces her to climb under a tree with large, overhanging limbs which reach the ground. He asks her to sit. She declines. He asks again, in a more forceful tone and steps closer to her. When she declines again, he grabs her around the throat and squeezes. She asks him to stop. Instead, he uses his full force to shove her to the ground. She hits her head on the ground and struggles to get up. He is on top of her. She struggles to get free, but she is small and not strong enough. It doesn’t matter how loud she screams. There is no one who will hear.

He grabs her face and slams her head on the ground. The last thing she remembers is staring at the red berries on the tree. Forty-seven years later, she still doesn’t know if she blacked out from the blows to her head or if she dissociated. At some point, she realized she was pinned down and was not going to be able to get free. When it was over, he blamed her. He told her it was her fault.

Several weeks later, this 14-year old child was so severely ill, she was taken to a specialist hospital to find out what was wrong with her. She had been vomiting day and night and could barely eat. She was pregnant. It was 1984 and Roe v. Wade was settled law. Even if it wasn’t, this girl grew up in New York State where abortion was legal before Roe had been decided. There was never a question of what was to be done. I was that girl and I have never regretted the decision to conduct a safe, legal medical procedure to remove a loose connection of cells the size of a blueberry from my body so I could live.

Abortion should always be safe and legal. I am in the 1-2% of people who have had an abortion. Statistically, I know it’s a small number of total abortions, but the reasons for obtaining an abortion should not matter. A pregnant person should have bodily autonomy. They should not be forced to permanently damage their bodies for anyone’s benefit. It should be their decision alone. It doesn’t matter if a person is pregnant because of rape, incest, failed birth control, poverty, or because they want one. It is morally repugnant to tell someone they are nothing more than chattel, there to do the will of someone who does not care about them.

Gov. Ricketts, you are also wrong to use disingenuous language such as “pre-born babies.” There is no such thing. Those are words to rile up a specific group of people. The terms you should be using, in chronological, developmental order, are zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and fetus.

You are also in the minority when it comes to the issue of abortion. According to the latest poll, only 5% of Americans want abortion banned completely. Fifty-five percent of Nebraskans and 63% of the American population want abortion to remain legal in most cases.

Banning abortion in Nebraska will not eliminate abortion. It will eliminate safe, professional abortions by medically trained personnel. Nebraska’s abortion laws are already overly strict and prohibitive. Making them stricter will simply lead women to attempt unsafe methods, which carries a higher risk and worse outcomes than safe medical procedures.

Gov. Ricketts, I urge you to find a backbone and stand up to the people who are attempting to influence you into making a decision that is wrong. Under your tenure, you have not solved the problem of too few foster care homes. You have not solved the issue of poverty. You have not provided care for the children who are here, who are unwanted by the very people who demand forced births. You have simply never given a damn.

Do you know what it is like to sit across the table from a 12-year old youth, who has been passed around the foster care system since they were six months old and listen to this youth ask, with tears streaming down their face, “why does nobody want me?” Tell me Gov. Ricketts and Sen. Stinner, why have you not adopted this youth who you deem is so worthy of life, yet you have not helped? I work with youth like this every day. Do they not deserve your help more than cells?

Explain to me why a child can go through a school system, such as your home city of Gering, John, and never have any kind of comprehensive sex education? We know from several studies that proper sex education helps to reduce abortions because youth learn about contraception and other methods to reduce pregnancy, but this state plays lip service to the importance of sex education. When an attempt was made last year to introduce such educational mandates, the religious right stepped in and the politicians such as yourselves cow-towed to the minority and it was quashed.

No, you sirs do not actually care for youth, children, babies, or whatever label you choose to use to rile up your base to attain more power and control. Gov. Ricketts, you have not helped women in this state. If you decide to push your agenda, you are only going to hurt more people.

John, I implore you, if Gov. Ricketts insists on moving forward with such vile legislation, rise above the crowd and say no. No, you will not subject any female to a forced birth. It is what the majority of your constituents want and it is the right thing to do.

You do not have a right in this secular country to legislate another person’s autonomy. Did you learn nothing in school when they taught you about slavery and the subjugation of people? Controlling other people’s lives will always be wrong.

I can tell you what would have happened to 14-year old me if she lived in a Nebraska where abortion would be banned. She would spend her last day hiking to the top of the Scotts Bluff National Monument and hurling herself over.

This is the future you, Pete and John, will create for hundreds, possibly thousands of Nebraskans if you choose to make abortion illegal. I urge to not legislate morality. I urge you to not try to control someone who already exists over something which does not exist.

I do not think you understand the emotional and physical trauma, fear, and desperation women feel when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. What is a hoped-for blessing for some is a nightmare for others. Sometimes, even that hoped-for blessing becomes a nightmare.

If you ban abortion in Nebraska and really do care, I fully expect legislation to increase mental health care and hospital care for the women who will be forced to give birth against their will. I expect to see increases in SNAP and other nutritional benefits. I expect free neonatal care and postnatal care. If you force women to give birth, I expect the state to pay for all care, including hospital care and care for the child, until it is 18-years old. We know this is not going to happen because this is purely about control and telling women they are less than you, subhuman even.

Let each individual decide what is best for their life. Your attempts to control what a person does with their own being will only cause a dramatic increase in the suicide rates of women. Without the right to abortion, women are gestational slaves to government-mandated organ use. Is this really what you want your legacy to be?

I urge you both to reconsider your position for Nebraskans. This letter will also be posted on my website. I eagerly await your reply.

Sincerely,

Irene North

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4 Comments

  1. Katie

    I don’t know that I have the words for the all the emotions this upset in the legal order have caused, and I can only imagine that you are feeling this many times stronger than I. I was up at 2:30am with angry thoughts running through my head.

    • Irene

      Your thoughts are appreciated. I know words of any kind are hard to come by right now for a lot of people. I’m always awake at 2:30am, so you can always text and vent. I still get angry, but there’s much more sadness and frustration today. Oh, and lots and lots of tears. I know it will shift back to anger as the next six weeks or so progresses and I’ll go through it all again.

  2. AJ

    To deny a woman of having control over her owner body, absolutely continues to baffle me.
    I am destroyed thinking about women being forced to carry the baby of a rapist. A crime has been committed, and the woman is being treated criminally.
    Your words are powerful.
    I’ve met with Stinner on an related matter years ago. He is an expert at ignoring people.

  3. Extremely powerful letter, Irene. Once again, your willingness to be vulnerable and brave for the greater good gives me tears and hope. At this point, writing letters, telling our stories, protesting loudly, speaking out, is all we can do. I, and countless others, are right there with you in anger and disbelief. I have not been okay for many weeks and like you, know it’s about to get worse. Much, much worse.

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