As an actor, Martha Plimpton has conquered the stage, screen and television. The Emmy Award-winning thespian, has been in over 30 films including, of course, The Goonies, Running on Empty, Pecker, Parenthood (“electric ear cleaner,” anyone?) and I Shot Andy Warhol. As an outspoken activist, Plimpton is taking on misogyny and the attack on our reproductive rights, freedom, choice, health and access. She is one of the founders of A is For, an organization that advocates for and supports organizations protecting abortion and reproductive rights. Recently, she was the keynote speaker at the Physicians for Reproductive Health‘s annual Rashbaum-Tiller Awards Ceremony, which honored Eve Espey, MD, MPH, and Willie Parker, MD, MPH, MSc, two doctors who provide outstanding abortion services. On Thursday Plimpton will be at a New York City fundraiser for A is For at the sex toy boutique Babeland (“electric ear cleaner” call back, anyone?) in Soho, along with A is For co-founder Lizz Winstead. You should “Come for a Cause.”
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Martha Plimpton.
Martha Plimpton: A is For came about almost a year and a half ago now during the whole contraceptive mandate hearing on the hill debacle with Sandra Fluke. As I’m sure you were as well, we were all completely gobsmacked by the treatment she received. Is this the 21st century? What? And it threw into real relief something which had been lying dormant in the culture for a long time. As a kid, I was involved as much as I could be with Planned Parenthood, in the early 90s when the clinic bombings were happening. Then we entered this period of relative calm when we weren’t really paying attention to what was going on on the state level. It wasn’t really making national news. And so the fact that abortion access was becoming less and less and less available across the country wasn’t really on people’s radar. And so when Sandra Fluke was horrifyingly excoriated, and we heard this vicious, misogynist, violent language, it inspired a lot of people to take a closer look at what was going on. It just exposed this gross underbelly that we hadn’t really been paying attention to.
And so, some women friends and I got together in Los Angeles, we wanted to do something, we didn’t now really what. And we noticed on Twitter and elsewhere people were starting to say, “why don’t they just slap a scarlet letter on us and be done with it.” And I thought, hmm that’s not such a bad idea. And we decided we’d come up with a way to utilize that symbol of the Scarlet Letter and change its meaning, and appropriate it, and use it as a symbol of defiance and in recognition that we all, at some point, male and female, have worn this scarlet letter. And we wanted to use it as way to raise awareness and build some kind of unity and so in doing that we created this organization A is For and basically what we are is an advocacy organization that ‘s there to provide not just financial support but strategic support for other organizations that are working in this field. And one of the organizations we partnered with was the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). And then, I had some friends who were connected with Physicians for Reproductive Health and I was invited to go to their Tiller Awards last year. And then they invited me to be their keynote speaker this year. They’re an incredible organization, obviously.
KH: How was the event?
MP: It was fantastic and it was a nice coming together of A is For, CRR and Physicians for Reproductive Health because their Tiller Award was for Dr. Willie Parker, who is one of the two physicians who is traveling down to Mississippi and who is one of the plaintiffs in the case that CRR has brought against the state of Mississippi to change these insane TRAP laws. And he’s an extraordinary guy, and he travels down there, under no small measure of risk, and helps women in a state where helping women doesn’t seem to be a particularly high priority, in a state where helping women actually seems to get you into more trouble. It doesn’t make any sense but there you go. That’s the state of the country.
And when I tell people these things, friends of mine who are involved in other civil rights movements, like marriage equality, just for example, when I tell them about what’s going on with abortion rights around the country and the level of danger these doctors are in, they really can’t believe it. Their jaws drop. People don’t know what’s going on and that’s how A is For came to be. We need people to know what’s happening. Because when they find out they’re just astonished. But in this day and age these are the realities. Women are, as we speak, suffering from these laws. They’re physically suffering, they’re emotionally suffering. Women are in danger. When people hear the word feminist they think “oh I’m a feminist. I don’t wanna shave my legs.” Like that’s the biggest thing. We don’t want to shave. It’s like a fashion choice.
KH: and we hate men.
MP: And we hate men. Right? They don’t understand that this is about life and death things. So that’s why we started A is For, so we could try to capture that as much as we can.
KH: What recent news story made you want to scream?
MP: Oh boy. It’s just so hard to keep track of all of them, quite frankly. There’s just so many of them. On the more comical, ridiculous side, there was Saxby Chambliss blaming military sexual assault on teenage hormones. That was pretty absurd. It’s kinda hard to believe that people with these truly out of touch, ridiculous prejudices are actually in positions of power in our government. That’s always mind-boggling to me. I always forget that that’s possible. And then somebody like Saxby, good old Saxby, comes out and says something that ridiculous and really gets away with it. He’s not going to learn about the subject as a result of this gaff.
And then on the more horrific and tragic side is the case of this woman in El Salvador who was quite ill and had been trying to have an abortion for quite a while and has been getting denied, denied, denied, despite human rights organizations from all over the world appealing on her behalf. And this argument that you hear very often from people in the right to life movement — who really have no ideas of the medical realities that they’re discussing, and no apparent curiosity about it either. It’s just based entirely on emotion and not on any scientific or medical truth in any way — arguing that nobody really knows if this baby could survive and pro-choice people are just saying that because they’re so desperate to kill a a baby. And then this woman has to essentially subject herself to this unnecessary, far more dangerous surgery, and of course, the surgery had the outcome everyone knew, every single doctor knew would happen, which is that this fetus was unable to survive. But these people aren’t very curious either. They never want to learn. There’s never any real introspection on the position of women’s rights to make these medical decisions by themselves and with their doctors. There’s just this kind of emotional desperate frothing at the mouth, this panic to control something that they don’t understand.
What it ends up doing is really revealing how little compassion has to do with this position. The straw man is that this is all about compassion and the protection of the sanctity of life. When you really see what they want done being practiced, when it really happens, either in the case of Beatriz or in other cases that we don’t know about, or the woman in Ireland a few months ago, who died, you see that when put into practice how compassionless it is and how little it has to do with protecting anybody. And it has a lot more to do with a religious or cultural desire to prevent women from being autonomous. That’s really at it’s core what it’s about.
I mean, I don’t think that many people who oppose abortion are evil monsters. I don’t at all. I think many people truly believe that what they want is good and that they truly believe that it is wrong. I don’t mean to say that all people who oppose a woman’s right to choose are lunatics. However, when taken to its logical conclusion, these are the situations that arise. And I think it’s very hard for these people to look at these conclusions and say to themselves, “huh, maybe we need to rethink this.”
Want to know what Martha thinks is the greatest challenge facing feminism today? Want to know who her real and fictional heroines are? Want to know which feminist and what drink she’d bring to a desert island? Come back next Saturday for part two of the Feministing Five with Martha Plimpton! But for now, enjoy this clip and stroll down memory lane (if you’re old enough to. I am.)