May 2012, Week 4


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Wed, 23 May 2012 22:14:31 -0400
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American Airlines Rejects Female Passenger Because Political Pro- 
Choice T-Shirt is "Inappropriate" 

by Jodi Jacobson, 
Editor in Chief, RH Reality Check 

RH Reality Check Reproductive & Social Health and Justice - News, 
Analysis & Commentary 

May 22, 2012 - article updated at 12:41 pm, May 23rd, 2012. 


Yesterday I attended a meeting of pro-choice colleagues working to 
ensure women throughout this country get safe, compassionate 
abortion care. Today, I received an email from one of those 
colleagues, detailing the ordeal through which she was put by 
American Airlines on her flights home. They actually forced her to 
miss her connecting flight and demanded she change her top. The 
reason? Her politically salient pro-choice t-shirt was offensive 
to the flight crew. 

That sign said: "If I wanted the government in my womb, I'd fuck a 
senator."The t-shirt is the now-popularized version of a sign held 
by Oklahoma state senator Judy McIntyre (D) at a pro-choice rally 
in early March to protest Oklahoma's so-called personhood law, 
which in conferring the rights of a living, breathing person on a 
fertilized egg denies all rights of personhood of women, full 

At the time of the rally, and asked about the sign, State Senator 
McIntyre "acknowledged that some in Oklahoma, which is 
overwhelmingly Christian, may find her sign's language offensive, 
but she wasn't much concerned about them." 

"I would hope they would have that same passion about how 
offensive it is for the Republican Party of Oklahoma to 
ramrod, because they have the votes to do so, bills that 
are offensive to women and take away the rights of women," 
she reportedly said. 

My colleague, O., of the same mind of many of us in believing that 
sign says it all, wore a t-shirt with the same message under her 
shawl and boarded an American Airlines flight home from our 

So what happened? O. writes: 

[O]n the plane of the first leg of my flight home, I spent 
the majority of [time] sleeping, using my shawl as a 
blanket. Right before we were set to land the flight 
attendant from first class approaches me and asks if I had 
a connecting flight? We were running a bit behind 
schedule, so I figured I was being asked this to be sure I 
would make my connecting flight. She then proceeded to 
tell me that I needed to speak with the captain before 
disembarking the plane and that the shirt I was wearing 
was offensive. 

The shirt was gray with the wording, "If I wanted the 
government in my womb, I'd fuck a senator." I must also 
mention that when I boarded the plane, I was one of the 
first groups to board (did not pass by many folks). I was 
wearing my shawl just loosely around my neck and upon 
sitting down in my seat the lady next to me, who was 
already seated, praised me for wearing the shirt. 

When I was leaving the plane the captain stepped off with 
me and told me I should not have been allowed to board the 
plane in DC and needed to change before boarding my next 
flight. This conversation led to me missing my connecting 
flight. I assumed that because I was held up by the 
captain, they would have called ahead to let the 
connecting flight know I was in route. Well, upon my 
hastened arrival at the gate of the connecting flight, it 
was discovered that they did indeed call ahead but not to 
hold the flight, only to tell them I needed to change my 
shirt. I was given a seat on the next flight and told to 
change shirts. 

Due to the fact that my luggage was checked, changing 
shirts without spending money wasn't an option. I 
consulted a friend with a law background who told me 
covering with my shawl would suffice. Upon boarding the 
now rescheduled flight with shawl covering my shirt, my 
ticket dinged invalid. I was pulled to the side while the 
gentleman entered some codes into the computer and then 
told, "it was all good." I did finally arrive home to 
pick up my daughter an hour and a half later than 

So let's review some facts. O. went through security and was 
stopped for additional screening, but not deemed a "security 
risk," and no one at TSA made the slightest mention of her t- 
shirt. She boarded her first flight, and none of the airline 
personnel at the gate mentioned her t-shirt. She quietly took her 
seat, wrapped her shawl around herself, and went to sleep. 

When her plane landed the flight attendant confronted her and said 
she had to speak to the captain. At no point did anyone say 
quietly, hey... could you keep that covered with your shawl? Could 
you turn it inside out? We have a policy.... 

Instead, after the plane landed the flight attendant brought her 
up front where the captain berated her publicly and made her miss 
her connecting flight. It turns out when she asked if anyone had 
complained the answer was: NO, Only the flight attendant! 

The captain and flight attendant took it upon themselves to call 
ahead to the next gate and make them keep her off the next flight, 
causing her to miss it. Two American Airlines employees decided 
"after the fact" to make an issue of this of their own accord and, 
instead of asking discreetly if she could cover her shirt or turn 
it inside out, she was humiliated in front of other passengers by 
a captain out of control. Yes, in some way this obviously has to 
do with profanity, but where does that stop? Is she allowed to 
walk into Target? Is she allowed to go to CVS? She was allowed to 
walk through the airport... If we women all over this country are 
being fucked over, and we can't say that, where does that end? 

No.. In this country, you see, fundamentalist right-wing male 
legislators in every state can take away your rights. They can 
deny you access to contraception, breast exams, Pap smears, and 
other primary preventive care. They can deny you access to safe 
emergency contraception and safe medication abortion. They can 
force any woman in need of a safe abortion to listen to lies about 
outcomes of the procedure long disproven by medical science and 
public health professionals. They can mandate that you to listen 
to religious dogma at crisis pregnancy centers, force you to look 
at an ultrasound or hear a heartbeat, make you wait 24-, 36-, 72- 
hours before you can get a safe, legal abortion, just because they 
feel like it, and just because they feel like it, they can raise 
the costs of that abortion -- in terms of travel, childcare, 
medical expenses and time -- to really shame you good. Moreover, 
they feel empowered to coerce you into procedures like trans- 
vaginal ultrasounds, which I maintain is a form of state-sponsored 

But protest these laws and the War on Women with a t-shirt that 
gets right to the point? Let people know the basis of all of it, 
the people that "want government out of our lives" want to place 
it directly into our bodies? In a country supposedly founded on 
freedom of speech and expression, in which protestors can stand 
outside clinics harassing and threatening women and doctors, and 
run through every public square with gory doctored photos? A 
country in which other protestors can stand outside the funerals 
of gay soldiers killed in duty and scream disgusting insults, and 
still have their rights protected? 

Oh, no. You can't do that. You can't take that message that your 
body is your own anywhere. Because in the United States today, 
that is like taking your burqha off under the Taliban. That is 
"offensive," "insulting" and "not for public consumption." 

At least according to American Airlines, which apparently has not 
heard the term freedom of expression. 

Let's be clear: This is a woman who was not a security risk -- she 
got through the gauntlet of DC airport security, which I assure 
everyone is easily the most rigorous of any in the country -- and 
obviously was not considered a "risk" of any kind, because... she 
was not. She boarded her plane without incident and went to sleep. 
It was at the end of her flight that the flight crew decided she 
should not be able to board the next flight because her t-shirt 
was offensive. How is it okay for American Airlines to decide what 
she can wear on her t-shirt or not? I have been on flights with 
men wearing tatoos that demean women, and t-shirts that advocate 
violence against women, that demean women, that treat Obama with 
racist derision... What someone wears on their body is their 
business. Whether or not you would wear that t-shirt is not the 
point. It is not for American Airlines to decide what is 
politically okay or not. 

In March, State Senator Judy Mcintyre told the Huffington Post: 

"I was so excited about the fact that the women in 
Oklahoma have finally begun to wake up and fight for their 
rights. I saw a sea of signs that caught my eye, but this 
one in particular -- I loved its offensive language, 
because it's just as offensive for Republicans of Oklahoma 
to do what they're doing as it relates to women's bodies. 
I don't apologize for it." 

We don't apologize for fighting for the freedom of women. We don't 
apologize for taking that war into streets, on sidewalks, into 
legislatures, into airplanes. We don't apologize for protecting 
our rights and our bodies and those of every woman in this 

While there are plenty of people in power right now that owe women 
of the United States an apology, American Airlines owes a huge -- 
and public-- apology to O. 

Tell them so. 

[Jodi L. Jacobson is a long-time leader in the health and 
development community and an advocate with extensive experience in 
public health, gender equity, human rights, environment and 
demographic issues. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality 
Check. In September 2011, Ms. Jacobson was awarded the "Preserving 
Core Values in Science" Award by the Association of Reproductive 
Health Professionals. 

Previously, Ms. Jacobson was the Director of Advocacy at American 
Jewish World Service, where she established a new department, 
leading the organization's efforts to mobilize the American Jewish 
community toward ending the genocide in Darfur, fighting global 
AIDS, ensuring access to quality basic education worldwide, 
addressing the global food crisis, and promoting global debt 
relief and effective anti-poverty policies, among other issues. 

From 1994 to 2007, Jodi served as founder and Executive Director 
of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) (est. 1994), 
an organization that monitors and seeks to promote accountability 
of US international policy to women's reproductive and sexual 
health and rights.] 


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