Women’s Deja Vu

Women’s Deja Vu

Editor’s Note: This piece is excepted from a speech Ellen Sweets made for Women’s Day in Austin, Texas. Her words are more timely now than when she composed  it.

I’ve steered clear of discussions about abortion because I find the topic so frustrating — mainly because I completely fail to understand how a woman’s decision to have or not have a child is hers and hers alone. Nobody else’s.

We’re never going to be rid of women who need abortions and / or doctors who will perform them.

Let me tell you a story. Come back in time with me. Join me on one of my periodic visits to St. Louis. We’re in my 86-year old mother’s kitchen. I’m drying dishes and somehow we got off on how I wished I’d had a sister, and she’s telling me why she couldn’t have managed four children.

Then my mother started on why she has always given to certain nonprofits like the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.

“Really?” I asked. “Why?”

“Because,” she replied, continuing  that it was so she could have a safe abortion.

I almost dropped the glass I was drying.

She and my father had only been married a few months in the 1930s and they agreed it was too soon to start a family. A surgeon friend — who became my godfather — took care of it, as they used to say.

While we’re in St Louis, let’s ride bicycles over to Emily Brown’s. It’s the 1950s. Emily was the youngest of three sisters.

Mrs. Brown opens the door and walks away, barely speaking. We walk through the house into the back yard where we sit and visit, unaware that Opal, the middle sister, is in her bedroom bleeding to death from a botched abortion.

Fast forward a decade or two. In 1970 I walked to the office of a well-known abortion provider but chickened out. I carried my daughter to term. She was a surprise child, given the fact that years before an accomplished surgeon told me my endometriosis was so severe I could never have children. Turned out he wasn’t as goddamned accomplished at fortune telling.

But never mind. My daughter became a dancer, a chef, and a Columbia University honors graduate, and is now a data analyst in geophysics. So that’s pretty much it.

Thank y’all for walking with me. Our St. Louis journey is over: So, let’s come back to Austin.

I’m accompanying a darling young woman to her procedure. She was a student with goals and aspirations. She wanted children; just not then. I sat and waited for her. When it was over, she was a little pale around the gills but otherwise ok. She is now happily married with two gorgeous children and a wonderful husband.

What is the thread that ties these women together, from the 1930s to the 1950s, 1970s and the 21st century?
Abortion access.

One was fortunate to have well-to-do friends; one was unfortunate enough, to not know a competent surgeon. The third had access to a safe, medical procedure, and is a wonderful mom.

The battle to achieve safe abortions isn’t about to be over just because narrow-minded politicians and judges want to tell us what to do with our bodies.


We will win the war against women. We will do it in Opal’s memory; we will do it in celebration of a courageous student and in tribute to a gutsy woman, my mother, one tough broad who died at 97.

We will win this war because we are fucking unstoppable.

Solo Travel Safety

Solo Travel Safety

(Originally appeared in Penny’s Travel Blog, “Adventures of a Carry-On.”  To check out some of her other travel entries, click here.)

I don’t normally blog about solo travel, even though it is a topic in which I’m well-versed. It’s trendy to travel solo as a woman, something I’ve been doing most of my life and never given a second thought. But, a recent experience in downtown Los Angeles made me realize that there is a good reason this is a hot topic and maybe I could help someone else by sharing my insights.


Solo travel safety ©pennysadler 2013 Broadway St. Historic Broadway District, Los Angeles

Last Sunday I was with friends in L.A., and we decided to take an architecture walk in the Historic Broadway District. In addition to the old vaudeville and movie theaters, you’ll find the Bradbury Building (Blade Runner location), and the Grand Central Market. The theaters date from the 1800’s to the 1960s. On Broadway St. The architectural styles range from Renaissance Revival to Art Deco.

This was once part of the garment and jewelry district, too. It’s a wonderful area for photography and for culture and history, which I will cover in a future post.

So, I’m standing on the street in front of the Bradbury Building taking photographs while my friends have disappeared into the Sprint store next-door.

Out of nowhere, two guys appear, and they are in my space. I wasn’t afraid at first, mostly just annoyed. They had an attitude –- street guys doing an I’m cool routine. They didn’t seem threatening, but, there were two of them. One of them said, “Hey, you look like a tourist.” I replied back (foolishly perhaps), “Hey, because I am a tourist.”

They then started sort of a rant about the pretty tourist woman on the street. I don’t know if it was meant to be flattering or to distract me but I began to feel uncomfortable. That’s when I knew it was time to make a quick getaway.

I still didn’t feel true fear, but I wasn’t going to wait for it either. I dropped an F bomb and walked away while they yelled at me what I could do with parts of their anatomy I’d prefer not to ponder.

I never felt truly threatened by those guys, and they probably weren’t dangerous. The point is that I never saw them coming. They surprised me. Reflecting on that day I realize that I really was vulnerable, even if they weren’t dangerous.

What happened?

It was daylight, friends were nearby, and though I was on the street, there was no one around me. I didn’t know the neighborhood, but the car was parked only two blocks away. I felt safe. But, I was distracted by all of the cool architecture.


If I’d been alone, truly alone, my intuitive radar would have been on high alert. I would have been scanning the area for several blocks, not just the block I was on, and I don’t think I would have spoken to those guys at all. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake. I’m not suggesting that women should walk in fear, or even that they should never talk to strangers on the street, but know when to walk and when to run, and when to keep your mouth shut.

Coincidentally, later that day, I was describing the neighborhood to a friend on the phone who said, “Is that where the Canadian girl’s body was found in a water tank on the rooftop of the hotel of her hotel?”

Wait, what? I knew nothing about this. I soon learned that a young Canadian girl, a tourist, had gone missing. Guests in the hotel had been complaining about the color, taste, and smell of the water, thus, the missing girl was found.

I was stunned. Yes, in fact, we had been in that very neighborhood and walked right past the Hotel Cecil. Now my brief encounter with the two guys on the street seemed more ominous.

I still believe in most cases I’m just as safe on my own as with someone, but there are many factors to consider. My message today is this:  do your research, pay attention, and if anything seems the least bit uncomfortable, get the hell out.

If you’d like to read some of the most current news regarding solo women traveling,
here are some suggestions:

                or follow the discussion #WeGoSolo on Twitter.