Lizz Winstead — co-creator of The Daily Show, co-founder of Lady Parts Justice, courter of Twitter trolls — wants you to know about a Supreme Court case that’s less than a month away: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. It’s a challenge to a law in Texas which would leave the state (population: 27 million people, give or take) with only 10 abortion clinics.
The state law, passed in 2013, requires all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a neighborhood hospital and for all clinics in the state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers.” Amy Hagstrom Miller, lead plaintiff and president of Whole Woman’s Health, has said that shutting down so many clinics “would have devastating effects on women and families around the state.”
The comedians and writers at Lady Parts Justice decided to dedicate the month of February to raising awareness around the case. Each Tuesday, the organization is releasing a new video focused on the obstacles women face in seeking abortions. This week’s is “Clinic Hunters,” a House Hunters spoof in which Susan, who needs an abortion, decides which of her three (terrible) options is the best. The closest one is 200 miles away but has a 72 hour waiting period; the Denver clinic 500 miles away but is covered by Colorado laws that keep anti-abortion protesters a decent distance from the entrance; and one in Mexico City, which sounds like a fun field trip and all, but Susan isn’t sure she wants “a destination abortion.”
To get the story behind this Lady Parts Justice campaign, I spoke with Winstead. Read on for her (edited and condensed) thoughts on de-stigmatizing abortion, how comedy makes for more effective messaging, and the art of calling bullshit.
The backstory behind this specific video campaign is the fact that, through all of our work and all of our research, what we found is that most people don’t even know that this Supreme Court case is happening. It’s insane. Even people who are active. Never mind people who consider themselves pro-choice and feel like they kind of understand the erosion of abortion access is happening. It’s almost non-existent information: Media’s not covering it, folks don’t know. And they doubly don’t know about these laws, that they’re called TRAP [Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers] laws, and what they are.
So we thought, let’s spend the month of February letting people know this important Supreme Court case is happening. We hope that if people look at these videos, they’ll pass them on and be outraged. We’ve started a whole TRAP law page on our website, where you can learn about what TRAP laws are, learn about the movie Trapped, learn about the march in Washington. We’re trying to inundate people with this information.
[In the election, candidates] are still framing reproductive rights as women’s issues and not human issues. I’ve watched all the debates, and the moderators aren’t raising it. I’ve heard it’s because the candidates [within each party] don’t disagree. But it’s not about being pro-choice. We’ve had so many rights erode, and we have this toxic waste of a Hyde Amendment, and I want to hear from candidates how they’re going to go about restoring access and removing barriers. If we are still living in a space, in a world, where people don’t look at abortion as an issue that affects everyone — women, men, families, economic justice — then no one is ever going to talk about it, you know?
In looking for frameworks, not unlike our Hinder app, we like to look at places where people who are paying attention to a certain genre or thing. We were researching reality shows and I read an article that said that the House Hunters series is [one of the] fastest-growing reality series. And I thought, well, this is a good starting off point. The second you have the satire, people will like it even if they just like House Hunters. You get a wide swath of people.
Then I was like, it’s so interesting the way they phrase things: She’s looking for a house in her budget, what are the obstacles, what does she have to choose from? I thought it was a perfect framework for the distances people have to travel to be able to get a simple abortion. To be able to use the framework for it — she literally lives in this town, here’s the closest place, the place that might be within her budget but it’s farther away, and then the place that’s just out of the box, which they always have on House Hunters — I think it does a really good job of amplifying what people have been considering “convenient.” It also shows the state of reproductive health in places that people might not think about. In America, that’s what people have to do: If she lives in this part of Utah, that’s a problem for her. Sadly, if we don’t win the Supreme Court case, that video is literally how it’s going to be for a lot of people.
I think that when you can point out hypocrisy, and you can call out bad guys with humor, [that’s the] thing we are able to do. We use humor and use language that people understand. We’re calling bullshit. We live in what-the-fuck times; somebody needs to be saying, what the fuck? When we put out our videos, we’re not presupposing anybody knows all the stuff. We started this organization because we felt like messaging out there wasn’t effective. Because I’ve done it in my job and I’ve seen humor get people to sit up and take notice and say, “Wow.”
“Abortion without apology,” people still wince when you say that. And that’s a big hurdle. If I say I believe in abortion without apology and on demand, that means I believe if you want one you should be able to get one. There’s a panoply of reasons and feelings why people have abortions, and none of them are moral failings, and none of them should be discounted. I’ll be damned if somebody who needs an abortion and feels relief when they have one, not on my watch will they feel shamed about that. I just can’t let that stand.
We’ve lived for the past 40 years hiding from the word abortion, caveating the word abortion, using the shaming language set forth by the other side to talk about it, which puts providers in a position to feel marginalized, and people who have had abortions to feel marginalized and not empowered to talk about it without stigma, and that shit needs to change.
What I do hope is that we really start educating people about the phrase “undue burden” and where that came from. People talk about Roe a lot. But the Casey case, which a lot of people don’t even know happened, when the Supreme Court gave states the right to curb access to abortion as long as those restrictions didn’t cause an “undue burden on the patient,” well, nobody defined what an undue burden was. When you have states creating laws where clinics are closing down and the average distance someone will travel to get an abortion is 150 miles, and a lower, hostile court says, “Why can’t a woman just drive faster?” That’s problematic.
I think what we should all pay attention to is, when this case is presented to the Supreme Court, see what legislators across the country have decided is not an undue burden. We ourselves need to say: Why are we allowing this to happen to people? One in three women have it, and no other medical procedure has been as regulated, as denied, has been made so inaccessible, especially one that occurs with such regularity. So I feel like, it’s a pretty scary place to me when it’s happening.
When you start having waiting bans, which are happening all over the place, if society starts thinking it’s okay and it becomes part of the fabric of our psyche, that we think that it’s okay to make somebody wait 24, 48, 72 hours before they have a procedure, the message is: “You are a frivolous person, and we believe that women don’t think about important decisions.” And if we as a society just start making laws that are putting that down as the way we view women in our society, who is going to say a women is someone you want to hire, someone you want on the Supreme Court, someone you want to elect? I think when you look at stuff like this, it gets farther and farther away from abortion and gets closer and closer to, let’s marginalize people who would like a seat at the table, who would like to exert power, who would like to be part of the decision making process.
Anybody who has ever thought they were pregnant and it was not a time that was right for them — or it was! — they think, from the second they pee on a stick, about a lot of things. So think about that message: “Are you sure? Have you really thought about it? You need to think about it some more?” It’s so insulting.
Learn about trap laws, learn that this is happening on March 2, and understand that, if we lose this case, that abortion can be legislated right out of existence without ever having to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s no longer okay to just give money and wonder why this is happening or how. It’s happening because we’re not standing with our clinics, not telling our politicians that this issue is one we vote on. We need to prioritize this in a real way.