Jordan Modell and TEDxAsburyPark co-host Ben Freeberg talk about “Common Ground on Reproductive Rights? Yes. Really”,
which will be presented at TEDxAsburyPark on May 18, 2019
Ben Freeberg: Hello, everyone. This is Expert Open Radio. I am Ben Freeberg, and I’ll be a co-host of the 2019 TEDxAsburyPark conference. Today, we are here with Jordan Modell, who is going to be a speaker at this year's TEDx conference on May 18th. Welcome, Jordan.
Jordan Modell: Hello, Ben.
Ben Freeberg: Thank you so much for taking the time. Today we are going to talk about the chaos that comes along with reproductive rights, which should be quite exciting. Can you give an overview, Jordan, on what the talk is about?
Jordan Modell: Sure. There are probably few issues in this country that are more divisive than reproductive rights or abortion in and of itself. But, after having traveled the South, the deep South, for four straight months a couple of years ago, I think that there is a way to, oddly enough, bring people together on this issue. I wanted to talk about it, and I wanted to talk about some of the ways we could actually do that. And maybe get some of the chaos out of the discussion and have people talk.
Ben Freeberg: that's an incredible first step. I was reading about that trip you took. Was that a trip that you were just doing for fun down South, and ended up finding this along the way? Or did you choose it as a place to start, where you thought it could be a good starting point for just the discussion?
Jordan Modell: Actually, what gave birth to the trip was a dinner in San Francisco. There are some friends of mine who have this thing called Thursday night dinners where they invite people from all walks of life and we get together and we discuss current issues.
It's been going on for like 30 years. At the dinner was someone who actually runs the women's reproductive rights part of a foundation. She was citing some amazing, amazing statistics. For example, one in three women in the United States has had an abortion, which is incredible because nobody actually talks about that. Or the fact that abortion was totally legal in the United States until the 1860s, and it was done by women for women...midwives. The only reason it was actually outlawed was because the AMA decided "Nope. This is a lucrative practice and doctors should do that," and at the time, only men were doctors.
Anyway, this sort of got me thinking a little bit. They started talking about studies that were done, and one of the things that came out of it was, "Well, okay. You're extrapolating out from a study to all of America, but nobody's really seeing what life's like on the ground."
All of these people were fairly well off. There and then I pitched the idea saying, "I’ve got an idea. I have some time. I have a Prius. I'm willing to actually drive down. If you'll pay my expenses, I will spend four months wandering the South." So I put my dog in the Prius and literally started out with one single connection. I had one single phone call to an amazing group of people called West Virginia Free. They’re a reproductive rights group based out of Charleston, West Virginia, and all of a sudden I just found myself connected from one group to another group, to really finding out what was going on and the incredible horrors that were taking place. I also ended up going to anti-abortion rallies...
Ben Freeberg: I was going to ask about those. I'm sure that was quite a unique experience.
Jordan Modell: Here's the amazing thing that I found out about this when going to these megachurches and talking to people afterward: I'd say that a good 80% of the people who there were people you could actually have an honest and open discussion with. It wasn’t totally closed minds at all. If you think about it, both sides agree on one thing, right? If there weren’t any more abortions in the United States, everyone would be thrilled. If no woman actually wanted to have an abortion in the United States, then that would be a good thing. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "This is what I'd really like to do today." What I was trying to do was find some common ground among all of these things and find some way that, at least in part, we could open up a dialogue. So that's what gave birth to a lot of this.
Ben Freeberg: That's what's so interesting about this... It's such an inherently emotional topic... it's kind of one of those arguments where a lot of the time what I've seen is just that people get more and more entrenched in their own views. So how have you structured the discussion or what tricks or tips have you used in order to make it productive and have people really start to hear each other out?
Jordan Modell: I'll give you a really interesting example. I was volunteering about 10 days ago at the Women of the World Conference that took place in the Apollo Theater in New York. It was a women's empowerment conference, and I was manning a reproductive rights table with some other people. You would think that that would be one area where people are very strident in one particular direction. But this woman came up to me, an absolutely fabulously intelligent young woman who was absolutely, positively, against the choice of what to do.
So I tried out my idea. We talked for, I don't know, at least 15 minutes, and it was a really interesting give and take as to what could be done. I came away with respect on both sides and with her thinking "Well, maybe there are some areas that we could open up discussion in." So yes, I think on all sides of the issue there is room for dialogue. I was just basically inspired by all the people that I met, and the other thing that I thought was really important for this movement was that it can't just be a single-sex movement, right?
Ben Freeberg: Yes.
Jordan Modell: It may be a single sex person that's having to make that particular choice about their body, but if you just have one sex involved in it, then it's kind of almost a losing proposition. So the first dialogue was actually getting people to talk and open up, which I would do, and there is a lot of input that can take place across gender as far as this goes.
Ben Freeberg: That makes sense.
Jordan Modell: It was fascinating. It was life-changing. All the people that I met... I met people on both sides of the issue, who were absolutely... their lives were never the same. On either side. Either knowing people who chose to have an abortion or knowing people who chose not to have an abortion, and it was a really interesting experience.
Ben Freeberg: If our audience members want to get more involved looking and seeing what some of these discussions have been like and then be part of it themselves, what's the best way for them to do that?
Jordan Modell: Anybody who would like to contact me, feel free to send me an email. The best email address is jordanmodell (all one word) @yahoo.com. email@example.com. Other than that, if people are open and want to discuss a dialogue of what's really going on, I’m planning to reinstitute a blog that I once had, so if you contact me, I will happily do that. That will be updated, of course, by the time of the TED Talk.
Ben Freeberg: That sounds great. Is there one piece of advice or one maybe quote or something someone said throughout this whole process that really, really resonated with you about how big this problem is?
Jordan Modell: Yes. I can boil it down to one story, and it's two stories that are concatenated because I very much want to protect the privacy of anybody I talk to. So it's just a composite story. This is what actually drove me to travel sometimes 8 to 10 hours a day to get from one city to another. I met a woman of color in my travels, and she was a former high school cheerleader. She was the valedictorian of her high school. In her state, it was legally mandated that the only option they could give was abstinence; that’s what she was told. That was not going to happen in our day and age. She knew nothing of protection, so she got herself, as they say, in a family way. Didn't find out for a long time, again, because she had no education about this whatsoever and didn't know what to expect, didn't know what was going on with her body. So she found out fairly late that she was pregnant. She went to her much older boyfriend who beat her into a coma. When she came out of the coma, she didn’t have a choice. She had to drop out of school. She had a full scholarship that was taken back. Her whole life was changed at that moment.
There was no support system for her. What I would say is that people should think that this is an incredibly human issue, right? It's a human issue for a large number of people, and they shouldn't have to go through the trauma in the first place... With the right type of education, with the right type of counseling, with the right type of supportive services, they don’t have to. If we spent the same amount of money that we're spending on divisive issues on inclusive issues, then this woman would've had the support system, no matter what she did, to live a very different life than she is living now. That is my message.
Ben Freeberg: Well, Jordan, thank you so much for taking the time today. And thank you to all of our listeners. You've been listening to Expert Open Radio. This is a reminder to get your tickets for the largest, highest-rated TEDx conference on the east coast, TEDxAsburyPark, on May 18, 2019. You'll get to hear the rest of Jordan's story and so many other great speakers there. Thank you, Jordan.
Jordan Modell: Thank you, Ben.
Read more about Jordan Modell here.
Graphic Created by Kel Grant.