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Amy Brenneman opens up about the abortion she had when she was 21.

'The Leftovers' actress joined several other women in filing a briefing with the Supreme Court.

Amy Brenneman opens up about the abortion she had when she was 21.

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing what's been called the most significant abortion case in more than two decades.

It's a case that will determine whether or not states can enact strict abortion laws aimed at shutting down clinics, and it's a case that may have far-reaching consequences for the future of reproductive rights in America.

It's called Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, and it tackles the constitutionality of Texas' HB2 anti-abortion law.


Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Ahead of the case, a number of women shared their stories with both the court and with the world. Among them was actress Amy Brenneman.

During her junior year of college, Brenneman had an abortion. Until now, she'd never publicly shared the story but only because it was so uneventful.

Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images.

Here she writes for Cosmopolitan:

"My abortion story is absolutely uneventful. It has left no scars. But in this current political climate, one in which a woman who makes the responsible choice of not bringing an unwanted child into this world is forced to drive 500 miles or is violently harassed on her way to the clinic door or is pushed to take matters into her own hands, this uneventful-ness seems downright miraculous. May it always be so uneventful. May abortion once again be accepted for what it always has been: a necessary component of responsible family planning."

In a video recorded for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Brenneman tells her story, which begins during her junior year of college.

She had been doing everything the "right" way, she says. She and her boyfriend had been having safe sex, but as no form of birth control is 100% effective, she became pregnant — a pregnancy she wasn't equipped to deal with.

GIFs from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

She eventually went on to have two children of her own at a time in her life when she was ready and able to parent.

And that's not at all odd. Many women who've had abortions either already have children (61%) or plan on having children at another point in their lives. In cases where a pregnancy is terminated as the result of a fetus being non-viable or threatening to the life of the woman, many of those pregnancies are even planned.

Still, in Brenneman's case, this was an unplanned pregnancy, and she chose to terminate it for the sake of her own well-being and the well-being of her future family. And legally, this is her choice to make. Whether somebody else would do the same thing in her situation is beside the point — that's why it's called a choice.

The world we now live in, the world of laws like HB2, would have taken Brenneman's uneventful experience and turned it into a nightmare.

Rather than that simple experience of finding a doctor in a phone book, undergoing a quick procedure, and being able to move on with her life, things could have been so different.

Since 2010, more than 231 new abortion restrictions have been implemented by states across the country. HB2 just happens to be one of the harshest.

Here are three things restrictive abortion laws like HB2 do to make things as inaccessible and uncomfortable as legally possible.

Recall how Brenneman called her abortion "uneventful"? Lawmakers are actively trying to make sure that's not the case anymore.


1. Restrictions on clinics would have made finding a doctor a whole lot tougher for Brenneman.

HB2 includes a host of provisions aimed at shutting down clinics. From requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals (often difficult to get and totally unnecessary) to regulating the size of hallways, signage, or even bathrooms, these provisions — called targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws — serve one purpose: to make it harder for clinics to stay in business.

Lawmakers claim these regulations benefit women's health, though it's unclear how making sure a hallway can accommodate two rolling beds at the same time (something that you'd almost never need to do in an abortion clinic) accomplishes that. And it's not as though there's any data to back lawmakers up. The only data that seems to matter is the number of clinics that get shut down as a result.

2. With laws like these on the books, Brenneman may have had to wait up to 72 hours after an appointment with her doctor before having a procedure.

Dozens of states have waiting periods for abortions, often ranging from 24 to 72 hours. The stated goal of these periods is to make sure the woman is comfortable with her decision (as though she wasn't able to make up her mind on her own), but the end effect is that it often requires the person seeking the abortion to take off from work (a luxury many don't have), travel to one of just a few clinics in the state, stay in a hotel for multiple nights (which can be expensive) — all before having this simple procedure. What Brenneman described as "uneventful" suddenly becomes a stressful, multi-day road trip for basic health care.

3. Brenneman would have been forced to wade through piles of medically-dubious "counseling" designed to discourage her from going through with the procedure.

Six states require that the person seeking the abortion be told that personhood begins at conception. Four states make doctors tell women inaccurate information about their future post-abortion fertility. Five states require that doctors tell a woman that there's a link between abortion and breast cancer (there's not).

The goal here is to confuse and manipulate the woman. Officially, these are all presented as being in her best interest, but given the inaccuracy of so many of the claims that need to be made, it's hard to believe it's for anybody's good.

Today, as the Supreme Court hears arguments in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, this is how we fight back — by telling our stories.

We all know somebody who has had an abortion (though we may not know it). In her opinion post at Cosmo, Brenneman recounts asking former NARAL president Nancy Keenan why it seems the marriage equality movement has been able to make sure leaps forward in such a short amount of time while reproductive rights seem to be going in the wrong direction. Her answer? "Stories."

"The tide of marriage equality turned when same-gender couples began to tell their very specific stories: not being allowed in the hospital room of their partner, not being able to adopt children together, not being seen as equal to their heterosexual peers," writes Brenneman.

She's not wrong — and this is exactly why we've recently seen more women come forward to share their stories, whether it be through the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag, A is For's "Abortion Tweets Theater," or even in the story of Wendy Davis, whose famous 13-hour filibuster of the bill that would eventually become HB2 made her a national hero to some women. Sharing stories makes a difference.

And that's what it'll take to move the needle on reproductive rights, too: stories. There's a lot of shame and stigma attached to abortion, but people like Brenneman are speaking out, filing briefings with the court, and just generally fighting back.

You can watch Amy Brenneman tell her story in the video below.

via Pixabay

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It's good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don't see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

"Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

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via Pixabay

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It's good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don't see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

"Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."