Photo by Maddie McGarvey

The Interview: Amanda Patton

The topic of abortion really gets our panties in a bunch. Amanda Patton is a Pro-Choice activist who can talk about abortion all day, and can fight for a woman’s right to have one until the cows come home—yet, the fight is hard, grueling, affecting, and sometimes alienating. It’s easy imagine her as a liberal cat, wielding the sword of women’s rights. It’s also easy to forget that behind the activism, the protests, and the lobbying is just… a person.

So how did Amanda Patton become the Amanda Patton?

The University of Toledo offered me a lot of scholarships and I didn’t really know what to do—I mean, I like talking and I like being around people, so I guess I’ll do communications. I was just throwing it randomly on the wall and saying “I’ll do this!” I found a sense of community and it was really cool to spend my days in the broadcast studio—I got hired by the local news station to do the traffic and I was so terrible at it, but I actually did it for a year. I ended up finishing six months early in my program and I got offered a job here (in Columbus), as a Legislative Service Commission Fellow. They placed me with four Republican Senators, so I worked in their offices for about nine months and saw a lot of crazy things that felt wrong.

What kind of crazy things did you see?

Inside I was very pro-choice, and I couldn’t say it because I was afraid. I just was a fly on the wall. I would hear the meetings where Ohio Right to Life would come in and sit down with the senators who were very conservative. I would hear ORTL say they “wanted to pass very unconstitutional restrictions, and then it’s going to go to court, and then it’ll overturn Roe v. Wade, and that’s our long term goal.” And the senators would be listening and they’d say, “yeah, yeah, sounds good.” And I listened to that and thought, what is happening? This is insane!

… It was just such a rude awakening, and it was very difficult for me to just sit there and pretend that I was ok with these things.

Did you gain any level of understating for “the other side?” 

I learned that their true intentions are to truly block access, and they don’t really care about the ramifications of that—they don’t care about the people whose lives are being affected. Mostly, I was working for male senators, and they were so far removed. They get to make decisions about women’s bodies even though they don’t have any medical experience. I was charmed by them while I was working with them because I got to know them as real people, and they treated me like one of the staff. I tried to care about them and empathize with them, and I couldn’t really handle the things that they were doing, even though they were nice to me. I always feel weird speaking ill of them.

Did things change for you when you decided to become an activist?

I didn’t stay in politics that’s for sure! After I left politics, I ended up working for a food website. I was senior editor of Recipecorner.com for two years. I got to work from home and manage a team, and I got to write … I felt like I wasn’t helping people or changing my community, and really, I felt like it was kind of meaningless. It was enjoyable and beautiful work, but I decided that I wanted to do something more.

I saw a friend working at a clinic and being very outspoken and talking about abortion and showing pictures of what the protestors were doing and that’s when I said, I don’t care—I don’t care how many people hate me. I will do what I can to help my community, and that’s when I started working for Founders. Even in 2014, I realized that bad things were brewing and I didn’t know how long these clinics would be here. Either I do this now or I may never have the chance. The more I got involved the more people wanted to help, and so I tried to do whatever we could to help our patients and support them. Showing them that the protestors were a small number and the true Columbus community was there for them.

You’ve put yourself out there as a lobbyist for pro-choice rights, what was that like for you?

I ended up speaking with [Representative Michael] Stinziano who was at the House, I believe at that time, and I stayed in touch with his office. When he left office, and Kristen Boggs replaced him, she contacted me and asked to meet up to talk about the issues because she was new. We talked about the things that I thought were important, and I expressed to her that I wanted to do a clinic protection ordinance. So she connected me to Liz Brown, and I said maybe the zone around the clinic can be a little safer. She made sure that the bill was crafted in a way that was constitutional. I threw the idea out there and other organizations helped to craft it. Now, it increases the penalty if you touch or impede or basically commit disorderly conduct within grounds of the clinic.

But hey, you helped make that happen, it was a victory in your favor, right?

We had to testify for it and a lot of anti-choicers came out… they were extremely rude to city council members and it was really tense. When they voted, it was unanimous and it was a huge victory.

The council members basically stood up and said we’re for the patients and the staff at the clinic. They saw that what the protestors were doing was more than free speech—it was harassment … Anything is helpful, but you know when you poke the bees nest it just gets worse—we want to stand up for ourselves but we don’t want to aggravate the protestors even more to the point that it makes the patients’ lives more miserable. There’s a delicate balance.

I felt like the law shined a light on them and showed the world what these protestors were capable of. But at the same time, it draws them to you and they attack and become more aggressive.

That sounds like it’s coming from a really hard place to talk about. If you’re comfortable, could you tell me about how the protestors treated you?

They learn your name. They will talk to people who know you and they will find out things about you. They’ll stalk all your social media accounts and when they see you they’ll yell things at you to try to trigger you. They would say things like, “we know you’re sick, we know you have a condition, isn’t this so stressful for you? Don’t you want a different job?” And I do, I have fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism and Reynaud’s syndrome. I have a lot of physical ailments that impact me greatly and so for them to say those things to me was creepy and hurtful …

There were days when I would go to park and they would be waiting for me outside of my car. They would be right up in my face with cameras … getting in my personal space and making me feel unsafe. I would go to events or protests and they would be there to single me out and goad me … it’s super unnerving. You feel like you’re always being watched and you don’t know who to trust. People who mean well can be tricked by these people and provide more information that’ll get used against me.

There’s a lot of things out there that are untrue about my life, and have been written about me as a way to ruin my marriage, my reputation, and call into question my credibility, and my motivations, and really my employability. That’s been difficult. I’m getting divorced. I feel afraid. I feel like I don’t want to do any of this anymore because of how much it has impacted my life. I don’t like to go out anymore; I don’t like to be around people.

… It makes me wonder if it was the right choice to be so outspoken. You turn yourself into a target. I think in the end I’m very proud of the work that’s been accomplished and the patients I’ve helped and the people who support, but I think there’s a steep price to pay for being a woman who is unapologetic about the fact that people need abortions.

So what keeps you going when everything else is shit?

There have been so many people who have helped. I’ll never forget the people who cried in my arms and said this is what they needed and they just needed someone to listen. Those women changed my life, and I’ll never forget them. Some women I’ve helped have come back to be an advocate for their community, and they feel less alone.

The people who run the clinics have been wonderful to me, and I care about them deeply. That helps me stay focused on trying to make change—they deserve that support. I would feel so guilty to turn my back on them … I want to be there for those people, and I don’t want to let them down.

Who stands out in your mind over the course of your career?

The ones that stick out the most are the ones that are homeless, or they just can’t afford to keep a child. Just their reaction to know that the money came from donations of people who care and they don’t have to forego rent, or not feed their family and are able to buy their kids Christmas presents. They cry, they thank you. They hug you—you can tell when someone really needs it because their gratitude overwhelms them … The ones who walk in thinking things were hopeless but walk out knowing they just got a gift. And it is a gift.

If we weren’t there to help them, they might go out and prostitute themselves for the money, they might do it themselves … Saving someone from an at-home abortion or saving them from doing things they don’t want to do… I will never allow a woman to go to those lengths. It kills me that women are put in that position in the first place.

You’re so passionate about this—where does that personal connection come from for you?

To this day, I credit my pro-choice stance to the experiences of my mother and my aunt. They hold a very special place in my heart, and they never were rabidly pro-choice, but hearing their experiences made me realize that pregnancy shouldn’t be forced.

My mom would talk to me about her pregnancies and how she almost died giving birth when she was pregnant with me, and that made me realize that pregnancy is a big deal … My aunt also had very difficult pregnancies, and she almost died several times. There was one pregnancy that was so difficult the doctors said she might die and she might need an abortion … I didn’t know this was a thing that could hurt someone I love.

She’s been very brave and she had that choice, and she chose to go on. But no one should have to be forced to go on. She considered her options with her doctor and her husband. I will always look back on that and think, “what if a politician had gotten in the way? What if that wasn’t an option and it had killed her?”

One time, I remember I was talking with my grandmother when I told her that I didn’t want kids and didn’t think it was right for me, and she told me, “If I had the option, I probably wouldn’t have had kids either.” That never left me either. She felt like she had no choice. I’m here because of her, but I’m here because she had no choice. That doesn’t negate how much love she has for us, but it was awesome to me that that’s how she showed her support for me.

I’ve never had an abortion, and I’ve never been pregnant. For me, pregnancy is not something that I see in my future.

So this issue is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, especially this year considering the new presidency and their stance on women’s health rights. How do you feel about the future considering that?

I really don’t feel hopeful about the future of abortion care. I think it’s going to continue to dwindle.

I did my pro-choice campaign during the election with the Pussies Against Trump billboards, and that whole time I never thought he would win—I didn’t even think it was possible. That was really naïve of me because I didn’t consider that outcome until it happened. It’s taken me a very long time to accept that he’s going to be president despite all the evidence that maybe he shouldn’t be. I’m very worried about the future for [safe] abortion access.

It seems as though they’re very much poised to infringe upon this right even more. We’ve fought very hard the last few years and fought very shitty things like trap laws, and all the fighting these clinics have had to do just to stay open. And now I realize they were just warming up. It’s about to get a whole lot worse, seeing that they just passed the 20 week ban. I think they’re emboldened by Trump being President and Mike Pence being Vice President. I see the Supreme Court’s composition is changing and I don’t know if they’ll accomplish the goal they originally set out to do, which was to overturn Roe V. Wade.

What do you say to both sides to try create understanding and cohesiveness?

I don’t think I’ve really figured that out yet. I think that trying to reason with protestors is like talking to a brick wall, and neither one of us are ever going to change each other’s mind. I think that having people share their stories and their experiences with this issue can help bridge the gap. Being divisive is not going to resolve the issue, and it’s just going to create an even bigger rift. If women are coming out and sharing their stories and being fearless, people are going to start to realize how many women around them need abortions, and how hurtful their words can be.

I’ve been able to connect women together when they want to share their story so that women in Columbus can share their experiences, so that’s something I can help with while still taking time. Maybe I’m not out there in your face, but behind the scenes—I’m working with people to help them realize their aspirations and their goals.

I left this question towards the end because I figured this would be a heavy talk: why the cats?

My cat was moderately famous on Instagram, and my cat hates kids. I don’t think she really cares what I do with my body. She is my baby and no one else can take her place, so I thought she was inherently pro-choice and it was a fun thing to support the cause through that. Then other [Instagram] famous cats started messaging me and wanted to support, so that’s where Pro-Choice Cats got started. They’re real cats that exist in real life … and I guess it got people’s attention! It’s a labor of love and a passion project. In the end, I can at least go to bed at night knowing that my cat is pro-choice.

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