'Why I'm Knitting and Purling for Reproductive Rights'

It's official: I'm a Mad Hatter.

Last week, I joined a group of local ladies who are knitting and purling for political resistance. Led by an inspired first-time activist name Lila, we're raising money—more than $7000 and counting—for Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and other like-minded organizations by making pink pussy (cat) hats by the dozens.

For the price of materials ($6) and a $30 donation, you, too, can be the proud owner of a hat that's hand-knitted with love—and purpose.

Here's why I dusted off my knitting needles for the first time since making a baby blanket for my now 12-year-old boy.

First, after seeing the sea of pink at the Women's March on January 21, I wanted a cat hat of my own. When Lila announced she needed to grow her merry band of knitters and was offering free lessons for knitting neophytes, I signed up.

My fellow Mad Hatters are straight-up beginners and seasoned pros, as well as folks like me who can crank out a simple scarf but find patterns and circular needles intimidating.

In my new knitting circle, strangers quickly become friends as we figure out how to pick up dropped stitches, untangle twisted yarn and solve The Mysterious Case of the Backwards-Knitted Hat (mine).

The cat hats are pretty cool. But, truth be told, Lila had me at "Planned Parenthood."

I've been a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights my whole life. In college, I drove to Washington DC for a historic pro-choice rally. Once, when leaving a Planned Parenthood clinic after getting an annual pap smear, I was confronted by screaming pro-lifers lining the driveway. I slowed my car to a crawl, rolled down my window and looked one of them right in the eye. "I just had the best abortion," I said, before driving off, shaking with rage.

Rage overcame me again, years later, when my kids and I drove past another mob outside our local Planned Parenthood. Without thinking, I flipped them the bird. No one saw except my shocked boys, but my angry impulse segued into a meaningful conversation about reproductive rights.

I knew from a young age that my mom had helped a college friend get an illegal abortion in Montreal, an experience that was equal parts terrifying and dangerous. Years later, my mother's IUD failed when my twin sister and I were babies (screaming, colicky ones to boot). Fortunately, Mom was able to have a safe, legal abortion in New York City.

The contrast between those two experiences was stark, and she later compared them in a magazine article. This excerpt is about her painless abortion in a clean hospital, in broad daylight, in 1971:

Our babysitter arrived early on the day of the abortion. My husband drove slowly through the uncrowded streets of Manhattan to the hospital. He kissed me goodbye at the door… I was wheeled into the operating room where I saw the smiling face of my obstetrician. It reminded me of the way he looked after the birth of our twins… The last thing I remember in the operating room had something to do with an imagined resistance to the anesthetic. A few hours later, my husband arrived at the hospital with a huge bouquet of daffodils. On the way home, we bought the babies a new teddy bear each.

And here's how she described her friend's furtive, frightening midnight ordeal in 1965:

I had a Montreal phone number and instructions to follow…Jenny was to call the number after 11 p.m. and, using an assumed name, ask for the man whose name we now had. This person would then give her the time and address where she was to be dropped off, alone, with $200 cash in her pocket. Under no circumstances was anyone to try and get in touch with her for five hours after she was dropped off… (Hours later, Jenny reappeared on the street corner.) I jumped out and hugged her. We clung to each other, crying. No one spoke all the way home. No one ever spoke of it again.

I've known this story for most of my life, but even now, it makes me cry to think about it. I can only imagine how scared Jenny must have been, conscious and alone during a painful, risky procedure.

I can only imagine how grateful she must have been to have a dear friend hug her tight on that cold dark street corner in Canada. I can only imagine how brave my mom must have been, helping her desperate friend get access, somehow, some way, by any means possible, to what was her only conceivable choice.

Her only conceivable choice.

I'm going to be thinking about those words this week as I wield my needles—ironically, the same instruments Jenny's backstreet abortionist may have used—to knit and purl with my fellow Mad Hatters. We'll keep on knitting and purling until we've used up all our skeins of soft, strong, bright, bold, defiant pink wool.

Because this time, it's our choice.

Want a pink pussy hat to call your own? Place your order at mvpinkhats@gmail.com. Tell them Newsy! sent you!