Jordan Modell on "Common Ground on Reproductive Rights? Yes, Really”

Ben Freeberg:        Hello, everyone. This is Expert Open Radio. I am your host, Ben Freeberg. We are the hosts of TEDxAsburyPark. Today, we are here with expert speaker, Jordan Modell, who is going to be a speaker at this year's TEDx conference on May 18th. Welcome, Jordan.

Jordan Modell:        Hello, Ben. Welcome, audience. Hi.

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 a quick few second 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.

Ben Freeberg:        That sounds great.

Jordan Modell:        And maybe get some of the chaos out of the discussion and have people talk.

Ben Freeberg:        Awesome. Yeah, and that's an incredible first step. Yeah, 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:        Would that it were. Actually, what gave birth to the trip was I was having 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. At that dinner-

Ben Freeberg:        Oh, that's great.

Jordan Modell:        Yeah, it's actually a lot of fun. It's been going on for like 30 years. At the dinner was someone who actually won the Women's Reproductive Rights part of a foundation. She was citing some amazing, amazing statistics. I mean, 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 that, "Nope. This is a lucrative practice and doctors should do that," which were all men at the time.

Jordan Modell:        So 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." So all these people were fairly well off. There and then I pitched the idea saying, "I 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." I have a Prius and I have a dog, and who doesn't like a dog, right?

Ben Freeberg:        Of course.

Jordan Modell:        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 are a reproductive rights group based out of Charleston, West Virginia, and all of a sudden I found out ... 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 being taken place for people. I also ended up going to anti-abortion rallies-

Ben Freeberg:        Yeah, I was gonna ask. I'm sure that was quite a unique experience.

Jordan Modell:        Yep. 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 there were people you could actually have an honest and open discussion with. It was not totally closed minds at all. If you think about it, both sides agree on one thing, right? If there wasn't anymore abortions in the United States, everyone would be thrilled. But from the perspective of, 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." So 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:        So that's what's so interesting about this, is that for something where people are so ... it's such an inherently emotional topic and people ... it's kind of one of those arguments where sometimes you just, or a lot of the times what I've seen, is just 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 a week ago, 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. She was probably, I'm guessing, in her 20s. I'm terrible at this stuff, but I'm guessing somewhere in her late 20s. A lovely person, intelligent person, well-spoken person, educated person who was absolutely, positively, against the choice of what to do.

Jordan Modell:        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. It came away with respect on both sides and with her thinking about, "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. Yeah, 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 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 that there is a lot of input that can take place cross gender as far as this goes.

Ben Freeberg:        That makes sense.

Jordan Modell:        So yeah, 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 have chosen to have an abortion or knowing people who've chosen not to have an abortion, and it was a really interesting experience.

Ben Freeberg:        Wow. So if our listeners wanted to get more involved in either, just start out by just 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:        Oh, okay. An interesting way of doing that...well first of all, let me first make a plea for help. One of the scourges that we have, and it's funny because after I wrote this app up, John Oliver did a whole hour special, well, half hour special on it. One of the scourges is that there are these fake clinics. I would say that that's the wrong end of the discussion, and essentially what happens is these places that call themselves abortion crisis centers literally set up next door, like can be within a few feet of a regular clinic. They entice women in and then they have an open playbook which has been published, and they lie to them about how pregnant they are because after 12 weeks the price goes up so much that you couldn't do anything. They basically make a lot of peoples' lives not for the better.

Jordan Modell:        So I wrote an app identifying what are fake clinics versus what are real clinics, so if people would like to get in touch with me personally, I could use some help because before I put it out, you have to update it because things are constantly changing. For example, in Toledo, Ohio, which is a pretty decent sized city, had one clinic that was open because they passed what's known as a TRAP Law, which requires the doctors in the clinic to be registered with another hospital. They said you can be registered with any hospital within 75 miles, so they dutifully did. Then they changed the law to say, "Okay. No, we're gonna make it within 25 miles." They couldn't meet that standard and that clinic was just closed. People need to know where to go and what the laws are around it.

Jordan Modell:        So anyway, anybody who would like to contact me, feel free to send me an email. I could use all the help I can get publishing the fake clinics. The best email address I think to, so I don't get one box flooded over another ... You can send it to the old one, which is jordanmodell, all one word. J-O-R-D-A-N M-O-D-E-L-L,

Ben Freeberg:        Awesome.

Jordan Modell:        Other than that, if people are open and want to discuss a dialogue of what's really going on, I may reinstitute a blog that I once had, but I don't want to mention it yet because I think I have to do some work on it before we do that. So if you contact me, I will happily do that. That will be updated of course by the TED Talk.

Ben Freeberg:        That sounds great. Very cool. Is there one, we have to hop off soon, but is there one piece of advice or one maybe quote or something someone said throughout this whole process that really, really resonated with you and really made this issue seem... Aside from the stats which you shared, which were staggering... is there any one piece of a story or a quick line that 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 together because I very much want to protect the privacy of anybody that I talk to. So it's just a general story of two people that were concatenated together. This is what actually drove me on driving 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, at that time, of her high school, and she ... in her particular state, it was legally mandated that the only option they could give in a sex ed class was abstinence. So, she was a dutiful religious person.

Jordan Modell:        That was what she was told, and 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, and went to her much older ... 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. 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 couldn'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.

Jordan Modell:        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 that I would estimate, for a large number of people, 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. 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.

Ben Freeberg:        Wow, incredible.

Jordan Modell:        That is my message.

Ben Freeberg:        Awesome. 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.