Let’s learn about some precedent: McFall v. Shimp

When you think about a court ruling and abortion, what comes to mind? If it’s some other case than Roe v. Wade, I want to hear your answer! Today I want to talk about a different case that can be seen as relevant precedent on the subject, McFall v. Shimp.

I was digging around the Wikipedia article about bodily integrity in order to get my bearings before venturing into primary sources, when I came across this case for the first time. This is a case between two men–cousins in fact.

Picture it: Pennsylvania, 1978. Robert McFall was battling aplastic anemia, and his doctors believed that his only chance for survival was a bone marrow transplant from a suitable donor. The only donor he was able to locate was his cousin, David Shimp.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Someone, perhaps even someone you know, approaches you with the knowledge that some part of your body can save their life. And luckily, it’s a part that you don’t need to stay alive. The risks are minimal. It’s the only chance they have.

In this scenario, you might have a moral calling to donate. You say yes because it’s the right thing to do. Hell, some would say yes reflexively, I suspect.

Obviously, this isn’t what happened because the matter ended up in the Common Pleas Court of Allegheny County.

Identifying a donor was not a relief to McFall. Shimp refused to donate. It seems as though he wasn’t interested in risking his own health for McFall, though it looks like there’s only one interview on the matter. McFall sued him in hopes that the court would compel Shimp to undergo the procedure.

You may have some judgement right now towards Shimp, especially if you found yourself standing in moral conviction a moment ago. You aren’t alone. The court stated that it felt the “the refusal of defendant is morally indefensible.” But the court swallows its feelings on the matter because to enforce morality at an individual scope in this case, “… would defeat the sanctity of the individual, and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn.

Remember this was 1978. The court couldn’t imagine what this would be like in modern America. Had they ruled in McFall’s favor, we might be living in a very different world.

Imagine it: Alternate Universe America, 2017. Since people have a duty to donate tissue in order to save another’s life (it was deemed a duty after the courts were swamped by cases compelling people for their kidneys, blood, bone marrow, bones, portions of livers, and lobes of lungs), everyone is required to be tested, and our blood and tissue types are stored in a database. Someone could knock on your door at any time and compel you to come with them in order to have your blood drawn or have a non-essential organ removed. Who would get to determine what is “non-essential?” What, if anything, would be deemed too risky for the donor if the recipient’s life hung in the balance? How would you feel about your body not being your own?

The court felt as though Shimp as a person was acting immorally, but the state must attend to a different set of morals. You should really go read the ruling if you haven’t already followed the links above. It’s blessedly short, and it’s pretty accessible as legalese goes.

Are you back? McFall was trying to use precedent from ancient English common law (yeah, you can try that in the US). The court deemed that the precedent was in conflict with our nations principles: “Our society, contrary to many others, has as its first principle, the respect for the individual, and that society and government exist to protect the individual from being invaded and hurt by another.

Shimp is responsible for his own soul. The court is responsible for ensuring our nation respects the principles on which it is founded, specifically that of individual liberty in this case.

So I started this post mentioning abortion, and the only woman in it so far is me as the writer. What does this have to do with anything?

Pretty much everyone agrees that people are people between birth and not requiring life-support to be alive. As per usual, things get murky in the margins. Is a person still alive if they are in a persistent vegetative state? At what point in gestation or birth does a fetus become a person? Debates quickly become a clash of personal values, with the same words being used to represent a multitude of definitions.

During abortion debates, the debate over personhood is brought up to cast doubt as to whether abortion is the killing of a person or, more directly, murder. In the light of McFall v. Shimp, the “personhood” of a fetus become immaterial.

Pregnancy is considerably more risky than donating bone marrow. I had my kiddo three years ago and learned the important lesson of NEVER GOOGLING PROBLEMS WITH PREGNANCY. Especially when one of my symptoms of pregnancy was anxiety attacks that could last for hours. Livers can fail. Women can have strokes or bleed out. There is so much more that can go wrong. If you ever plan on being pregnant, I would not recommend looking into it (a rare case where I advocate ignorance).

A woman grows an entire organ in the process of pregnancy and then expels it when its over. The fetus depends on this organ, the placenta, and its mother’s blood in order to survive.

And the principle of individual liberty, particularly regarding bodily autonomy, says that the woman is not required to dedicate her body to the survival of another.

The State is not there to be responsible for the morality of the woman’s choice regarding the use of her own body. It is there to “protect [her] from being invaded and hurt by another.

In the case of any hypothetical woman, as it is with Shimp, she is responsible for her own soul.

How any woman calculates the morality of dedicating her own body to the survival of another is her own calculation to make, according to this reasoning, just as it is of a man who must decide whether to donate bone marrow. To shift this burden onto the State would not only violate the liberty of women (and men, since now their marrow, kidneys, and other bits are fair game), it violates the distinctive principles upon which our nation was founded.

You can tell I find this argument compelling. Through a combination of luck, education, and diligence, I have never needed to have an abortion. There have been times in my life, however, that I would have had one had I gotten pregnant. Those reasons are my own and no one else’s, because I am a person within the US, and we as the People have decided to value individual liberty as a core principle of our nation. I prefer leaving any responsibility for my soul (whatever that abstract concept may be) to me.

Living the life I’m fighting for

I find myself unsettled, concerned, and outright alarmed by a variety of events at pretty much every scope of life right now. I was about to type some of them, and I just felt my heart rate start to increase, my lower back tighten, and my stomach hurt.

So I’m not going to do that right now.

I’m sitting on the couch, watching the latest episode of Arrow, basking in the purr of Lucy Cat. My kid is asleep, and my spouse is catching a Pidgey in Pokemon Go on the other side of the couch.

Why aren’t you petting under my chin, human?

The world is crazy. I’ve been calling elected officials. I’ve been attending meetings about engaging state politicians. I’ve been to rallies. I’ve been connecting friends who need each other. And I’m feeling pretty guilty about vegging out on the couch tonight because there is so much to do.

I pulled out my laptop to start writing on one of several topics that had come up in conversations over the last few days, but I don’t have those words tonight. I don’t have deep thoughts. I don’t have questions. I don’t have answers.

I have a cat. And a family. And a warm, safe place to live. And access to an unreasonable amount of television and fuzzy blankets. And I want to keep it–and all the invisible infrastructure of culture and government that are required for it to exist–intact.

And I’m fighting so that everyone can have a life in which they can thrive and find fulfillment as well.

“Self-care” is making sure that you take care of yourself so that you can engage the world and do whatever it is you need to do. I have had to hold caring for myself with conscious intention since I was in my early 20s, for reasons that will be explored in an upcoming post. Even with 13 years of being mindful of sleep hygiene, managing stress through meditation and exercise, and extensively mapping the boundaries of my limits, I am sitting here after two weeks of Trump in the White House, and I am feeling the urge to wring myself bone dry.

I know better than to do this to myself, so I’m on the couch. We’ve moved on to watching Agents of Shield after nailing down our not-at-all-politically-related weekend social plans. I’m writing this post to remind myself and you that nights and weekends like this are important, too.

We can’t stop living while we’re fighting. Our lives are important. Living the lives we’re fighting for is vital to winning. The second we stop, we cap the well that feeds our drive and passion. What do we love? What engages our hearts? What fills us back up? What is our calm in the midst of the storm?

Take time to recharge and reconnect. Take care of your health the best you can. Get some sleep. Listen to music you love. Make art. Indulge in some cake.

You matter. You matter to those who love you. You matter to our country. You matter to humanity. You matter to me.

Yeah, I’m talking to myself as much as you. You are not alone.

The work of our lives

So I spoke at a rally at OU yesterday, supporting diversity in the face of Trump’s nonsensical and terribly executed immigration ban. This ban is not about stopping undocumented immigration (this is a ban on documented foreign nationals and refugees). This ban is not about stopping unvetted immigrants or refugees (everyone stopped had been through appropriate vetting). While the official order does not mention Islam, representatives of the administration have made it clear in interviews that it was focused on Muslims.

It was implemented in a chaotic fashion that hurts real people, undermines our reputation and institutions, and endangers our diplomatic standing worldwide.

These were not the points I made yesterday, however.

In order to change anything, we must connect with one another in order to better prepare ourselves to connect with whom we disagree.

In order to change anything, we need to see what our own talents bring instead of getting discouraged because our contributions don’t look like someone else’s.

In order to change anything, we need to accept that this is going to be our lives’ work, because making the world we live in *is* always the work of our lives.

Let’s do it with intention and heart.

Song of Myself: An Intersectional Autobiography


A written snapshot of me

So the selfie above is me, Emilie, on a nondescript afternoon in May of last year. If you were to see me out in my natural habitat of the Oklahoma City suburbs, I suspect I would fade into the background. My appearance and mannerism fall within the norms of a slightly-harried woman with full-time white collar job trying to keep her toddler from taking over the world. Or Target. I think she currently has set her designs on Target.

It’s a university town–this demographic is over-represented in comparison to the population at large.

Like many women recently, I have been alarmed by the direction of our national (and state) politics. I have spent my adult life figuring out what I think about the world and what I want to do about it, and my circumstances have allowed that to be a mostly armchair pursuit. But I find myself feeling like my armchair has not only been upended, but also dismembered for firewood. Or vampire stakes. Or spare parts to build my daughter and all our children’s future. I find myself standing up with nowhere to sit, so I better get moving.

And I look up and begin to get an inkling–not just with my head but somehow with some strange fiery, clipboard-toting activist part of my heart that I didn’t even believe was there–what it means to have no armchair. To have my rights not be an intellectual exercise, but a matter of active, constant engagement and struggle.

I am embarrassed. I feel like an idiot. I feel like a fraud.

I’m a white, well-employed, college-educated progressive. I have had an active interest in the study of gender, race, and economic class for a decade and a half. An active intellectual interest.

Donate the money. Vote. Sign some petitions. Call some representatives a few times a year. Listen to NPR in the car. Have discussions with people not too far from me in the political spectrum on hot button topics. Read think pieces from people with whom I mostly agree. SHARE ALL THE PROGRESSIVE MEMES! Complain to my friends about hearing sexist/racist/homophobic/classist language.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

For what little it’s worth, I knew this wasn’t enough as I listened and learned more from the Black Lives Matter movement last year. I made a marginal effort to join a nascent SURJ chapter. I began intentionally speaking up when I heard racist language, whether it be from family, friends, or strangers. I started learning about community policing practices.

And I watched the Black Lives Matter OKC demonstration via my friends’ posts on Facebook.

I don’t recall my specific reasons for not going. I know I didn’t feel that guilty about it, like I had a good/understandable/easy justification for not showing up. But in the days since the Women’s March, I have listened to the perspectives of people I know and people I am just meeting through the magic of the internet talk about how disenfranchising it is to see a sea of white women show up to protest what Trump says he will do when that same force did not come out to stand up against an ongoing, soul-numbing list of injustices already done.

I have hid inside of my brain because I could. Showing up against any injustice hurts because injustice hurts. When I am a recognizable part of the group being threatened, showing up also provides a sense of solidarity and purpose. When I am not a recognizable part of the group, when I’m recognizable as similar in some way to those who are perpetuating or blind to the problem, showing up is an exercise in self-managing my awkward, embarrassed, guilty, confused self. Which is hard work to push through in order to actually have the positive impact I really want to have.

Hard work is hard, and I have had the luxury of being able to be lazy.

Let me be the first to point out that throughout my adult life, my easily recognizable identities have not been threatened to the point of me getting out of my damn armchair except to stretch my legs and get a bit of air.

Dear World: I’m sorry. I’m learning to do better.

So why am I saying any of this?

I want to say that this is some selfless exercise in… something? I want it to be selfless because I’m owning up to a whole lot of selfish, weak-tea living up to my values. Better philosophers than me, however, have debated whether any action can actually be considered selfless. So part-of-me-that-wants-to-make-a-good-show-of-selfless-humility, suck it up. I’m writing a damn blog post on the internet, and I hope people read it. The Mother Teresa boat has sailed.

I’m writing this because it’s important to clean up messes I make.

Digging into why I’m writing these words in particular on the internet, I want to explore and name who I am, what my values are, and what actions I need to take to honor that. I can’t do that if I don’t clean up the pool of embarrassment spilled across the metaphorical space of my mind. If Brene Brown has taught me anything, it’s that when embarrassment is left to fester, it quickly becomes shame, and shame is a dungeon from which nothing good ever comes.

So in this and connected posts, I’m going to be shining a light on my once and future embarrassments whenever it’s appropriate. I’m not looking for you to console me about them. Trust me–I’ve processed them enough to write long-form blog posts about them. I don’t need you to pat me on the head and tell me it’s okay.

Besides, I’m a grown-ass woman. I can admit when I’m wrong without it breaking me.

I’m writing this to keep focus and intention.

There has been a lot of chatter about how to keep the momentum from the Women’s March, how to make it into a movement and not a moment. This post and the ones I am committing to continue to write are my way of doing this. I have a very distractable mind when it comes to meaty intellectual challenges. It’s part of what has kept me in that armchair for so damn long.

But like I said, there’s no more armchair for me. I’m left with the question of what to do about all this, and I know that I don’t know yet. I have a lot of skills and experience that could be useful, yet I’m still figuring out where I fit in the quickly forming and shifting efforts underway. But one thing I have always been told that I do well and impactfully is write. So instead of just mulling this all over in my head, I got up at 3:00 am and started typing.

I’m not just writing because I’m good at it, though. I’m writing because I can refer back to this when I’m tired and distracted and remember where we’re headed. I’m writing this so that I can look back someday and see how far we’ve come. I’m writing this so you read this and nag me about it. This is public accountability. This is naming something into being.

I’m showing my work.

Remember back in math class when the teacher made us write all the steps we needed to find the answer? That’s part of this, too.

I want to show my work to others who are struggling with how they’ve lived their values in the past and what they need to do differently in the future.

I want to show my work to people with whom I will be an ally so that they have a better idea of who I am and from where I am coming.

I want to show my work to my friends and family so they understand what all this (seemingly) sudden passion is about.

I want people to know, no matter how similar or different their experiences are from mine, that the journey we must all take to find ourselves is booked as one-person passage on a ship full of humanity. You are not alone even though you are the only one who can find who you need to be.

Begin again

This post is the beginning of a series of posts in which I explore my various identities, how they have and have not changed over my life, and how they inform my values and actions. This approach is informed by the framework of intersectionality, that one must take into account a variety of a person’s attributes and how these attributes interact in order to understand that person’s experience. (Want to know more? The internet is awash in talk of intersectionality and intersectional feminism currently. This article by Latoya Peterson, and the series of which it is a part, from a couple of years ago were particularly useful to me.)

When I first encountered intersectionality, it made SO MUCH SENSE. Even now, I’m a bit baffled that it is controversial. As I said at the top of this, I present to the world as a white, married-to-a-man, mom-to-a-kid, white-collar, suburban woman. All of those things are true. Find me 10 other women who fit this description, and some of our experiences will be similar and some will be vastly different. Some of that difference is going to come from the identities you don’t see in that off-the-cuff sketch above.

I strongly suspect that ignoring this nuance of self and experience is part of why people have so much trouble understanding one another.

Thank you for joining me as I explore my own identities and how they inform and shape my experience. I hope to hear from you about your own experiences. No doubt, we will find common ground in places we least expect.

I’m not giving up, and neither should you.

**I originally posted this to my Facebook account, but I wanted to add it here now that I’m starting to blog again.**

The jester’s role allows her to shift her audience into raw, new understanding. The discordant juxtaposition of McKinnon, whose savvy we-all-know-what’s-going-on-here gaze glitters through every performance, and the authenticity and vulnerability of these lyrics suddenly shifted my inner turmoil this morning. For most of the song, I found myself feeling like this was bordering on sacrilegious–to have her singing *these words* with such bare honesty while in satirical character. But of course, the jester doesn’t just speak truth to power, she speaks truth *of* power, and damn if I am not enraged at the sacrilege of this election. Of the callous use of divisive language, of the willingness to pit people against one another for political gain without an ounce of responsibility for the fallout. It is not new, but it is profoundly in opposition to the pluralistic values I hold most dear.

I have been non-theistic for a decade and a half, and I had forgotten what sacrilege tastes like. I may not believe in a god, but I sure as hell believe in e pluribus unum. I may not put my faith in an afterlife, but I believe in sacrificing to ensure that there is a better world after I am gone. I am responsible for my world, and I hold true that we are morally obligated to work toward justice and equity. The messy, tangled, imperfect truth of reality provides no absolution of our duty of care to one another.

Love is not a victory march; its connection calls us to reach out across division and heartbreak and confusion and pain. It drives us to turn towards one another even when we’re terrified. It is the solid rock upon which I build my life. It gives me a place from which to stand and stay through fear and pain and sadness, a place from which to listen and connect and see myself in others and be ceaselessly curious in the face of confusion. It is the foundation of the world for which we yearn. I’m not giving up, and neither should you. Hallelujah.

What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.

I identify politically as a progressive. During the primaries, I was excited to vote for Bernie Sanders because it was the first time I had gotten to vote for a candidate who so closely aligned with my political views. Earlier this month, I was elated to vote for Hillary Clinton because over the summer, I found that despite our differences of opinion on some topics, I could see a great deal of her in myself, and I experience a deep resonance with a vision of a world where we are Stronger Together.

To be totally clear: It would have taken a complete break with the historical arc of the Democratic Party to make me even consider not voting for a Democrat when the other choice was Trump/Pence. The selection of Pence as a running mate is itself an open threat to established LGBTQ* and women’s rights. Their campaign actively courted the “alt-right” (which is difficult to distinguish from white nationalism) and then officially aligned itself with them by making Breitbart’s executive chairman Steve Bannon the CEO of the campaign and now the chief strategist to the President. Their tax plan would reduce revenue by cutting taxes, especially for the rich, while somehow still raising taxes on for some low and middle income families. Setting aside the consequences of reducing Federal revenue, the widening of the wealth gap is the last thing this country needs right now. I could go on. And on. And on.

You can guess how I feel about the election results.

Just in case you need some help: I feel sadness. I feel fear for those who have been and will be hurt by the discrimination and violence that has been normalized by inflammatory, divisive language. Trump’s lack of civility and condoning of violence brings out the worst in all of us. I am afraid for my rights and the rights of others who are not rich straight white men, because Trump is a narcissist, and he does not see me in the mirror. I feel the urge for action, but my resolve is only beginning to re-solidify after such a disruptive result.

And this is who I have been over the past few days as I have seen the NotMyPresident hashtags and signs. I do not doubt I share much with many of those who have taken up this phrase. The sentiment is familiar to me even–I felt it acutely after the election of George W. Bush when I was a sophomore in college.

And yet, now, it is uncomfortable and will not settle in my mind.

Despite my disagreement with the election of George W. Bush, despite my personal rejection of him, he was nevertheless the President of the United States of America. I spent the summer of 2001 through the summer of 2002 studying in Europe, and the distance taught me that I had to take responsibility for the results of my country’s democratic process. I had disagreed. I had argued with people. I had made my opinion known. (I did not vote in that election because I was too young to do so, which made it an all more bitter pill to swallow.) I did not support his election, and I spent his administration in a constant state of disagreement with an alarming number of his words and deeds. He spoke for my country at home and abroad. He commanded my Armed Forces. He led the executive branch of my government. He was not my choice. And yet he was still my President because I cannot abdicate my responsibility for my elected officials, even when I do not vote for them.

When Barak Obama was elected, I was relieved and excited. The last eight years have had me angry less often, though I have deep disagreements with some of what is now quickly becoming Obama’s legacy. Acknowledging him as the President of my country never caught in my throat as it has for many. Despite their denials, he has been their President, too.

The wheel has turned, and I find myself dreading hearing from the not-too-distant White House, in acrid anticipation of rhetoric and policies that step on my values and my own interests. And I find myself called to find what it means to take responsibility for my country. To find what it means to take responsibility for these men leading our nation.

I know that the protesters who chant that Trump is not their President are doing so out of their own sense of responsibility. They need to let others in our nation and around the world see that his election is not a unanimous choice, that our country should not be synonymous with the regressive comments and disturbing alliances that have been woven into his campaign. I can understand that, and I can see value in that. I hope people listen to them more than I listened to those who said the same sentiment about President Obama. Had I listened to them more, I would have learned much more about the state of our electorate and been less surprised this month.

I did not vote for Trump. He and Pence poorly represent my identities, values, ideas, and dreams for the future. They are not mine because I want them or because we are alike. They will be my President and Vice President, nevertheless, come inauguration day because their administration is the product of our democracy, and no matter what anyone says, this is my country. And it is the country of those who voted for him. And it is the country of those who voted for other candidates. And it is the country of those who chose not to vote. And it is the country of those could not vote for whatever reason and yet call it home. The Presidency is responsible for the whole country, and the whole country is responsible for it. We do not lose our relationship to the highest office just because we don’t like the person in it. Whoever lives in the White House is mine.

And don’t think for one minute that I will let them forget it.

On the cusp of action: A published draft

Things don’t have to be the way they are.

This surprisingly controversial statement is at the heart of all social change, technical innovation, home renovation projects, make-up counters, and dreams for better lives for our children. One day, we lay eyes on some something and it hits us–”Oh honey, that just won’t do.”

The tricky part is what comes next. Once you see the problem, what comes next?

Seriously, what comes next for you? (Don’t think for a moment that you just get to sit back and read! I’m typing, so you’ve got to put in some effort, too!) What does it take for you to go to Home Depot and get what you need to fix the sagging fence? What shocks you off the couch and into a community meeting? A protest? What threshold must be met in order for you to start sketching your idea on a napkin? What astronomical alignment are you waiting for to start your book?

This is a particularly pressing question because I find myself wondering what has changed that has led me to start typing after years of talking a good game about starting my blog back up once I get my thoughts in order. Once I finished grad school. Once I learned more about leadership. Once I got settled into parenthood. Once I got used to my new job. And it’s not just blogging. I’m sketching out notes for potential workshops talking with friends about and on podcasts. What’s different now? How can I trust that I’ll keep this up? Why should I get my hopes up that this will be different from past attempts at changing my world?

The easy answer: I have homework from my leadership program that is challenging me to design and pursue an adventurous expression of my life purpose—a quest, if you will. I’m being a good student and doing the homework as assigned, wrestling with it head on while the coursework has my attention.

Another take: I have a toddler. Life may never be as sweet or as frenetic as it is right now. Little One is in a constant state of flux, a living embodiment of the power of transformation. A year ago, she could barely sit up on her own, and now she’s running, talking, and attempting to make her own lunch. Some days she wakes up and entire areas of cognition have been upgraded overnight. Oh wow, she can suddenly pick up cereal with a pincer grip. Hey, she knows to walk to her room when I say, “Time to change your diaper!” This creative, changing energy is contagious. At least blog posts are more sanitary than a pile of used Kleenex.

And another: The tension between my contentment and my unrest has hit a tipping point and something has to give. I have a *good* life. I have love and comfort and fulfillment and gentle intrigue and relatively benign things to complain about. I have financial security, physical safety, and the ability to indulge my dreams, rather than chasing them for fear of my life. This is an amazing life, and I have it because of a combination of privilege, social support, dumb luck, and hard work. And I know, deep down in my bones, that it is not enough for me and mine to have comfort. Things do not have to be the way they are. I must barter with Life for this ease, not with liberal guilt, but rather by contributing to positive systemic change.

This is the point where I want to curl up into a ball. There is too much that should be different. It’s all too big. I’m just not that important. Why even start when I know I’m just going to fail? At some point. Eventually.

And here is the giant pile of bullshit that smothers my (our) (your) good intentions and revolutions before I (we) (you) even get off the couch. Stories have great power to provide meaning in our lives, but we can’t fall prey to the narrative. We cannot define success as a well-defined plot arch that ends in a clearly obtained goal. And I’m not calling bullshit because life just doesn’t adhere to this ideal. I’m calling bullshit because this ideal doesn’t work in the real world.

Take a moment. Breathe this in: the world isn’t changed by solo adventurers in three-act hero’s journeys. There are no magic words, perfect policies, or definite movements. The world is a system of systems, and systems don’t work like that. They’re messy. Unexpected. Apply a ton of pressure to one spot, and the outcome doesn’t change. Sneeze on some other lever, and everything shifts. Into something you have never conceived. The difference may only become apparent long after your action—systems don’t care much about human timescales. You must be always present to what really is, not what we assume is there. And we must hold our dreams lightly in case they no longer make sense.

This is the paralyzing paradox: we cannot know the effect of our actions or our inactions. When we have the urge to act, we must do so with only the faith that it will ultimate serve.