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About one week after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the strictest anti-abortion legislation in the country, HEA 1337, into law in March, his office got a call from Sue Magina. “That’s M-A-G-I-N-A,” the caller told the operator. “It rhymes with,” she said, before the operator said, “I’ve got it," and hung up.
Magina began calling Pence's office daily and published several transcripts of her phone calls on a Facebook page she had started, called Periods for Pence. Soon women from all over the state were joining Magina in calling Pence’s office with updates about their menstruation cycle. The page launched a social movement with people tweeting Pence about their periods and posting transcripts of their calls on the Facebook page. The Facebook page, which also shares news and commentary about reproductive rights and feminism, now has over 77,000 likes.
A federal judge blocked the controversial law in June. But when Pence went on to become Donald Trump’s running mate in July, the group doubled down rebranded itself as Periods for Politicians with the goal of calling other anti-choice legislators around the country. On Nov. 2, less than a week before Election Day, the group organized a pre-election rally at the Indiana Statehouse to "highlight damaging laws aimed at women across Indiana legislated during the last four years of Mike Pence’s term as Governor," according to a press release. At the rally, Magina also revealed her true identity as 39-year-old Carmel, Indiana, resident Laura Shanley.
Ahead of her identity reveal, Shanley spoke to Cosmopolitan.com about her activism, why she is no longer anonymous, and where the Periods for Politicians movement is headed.
Why did you start Periods for Pence?
Initially, it began because Gov. Pence had passed a really, really restrictive abortion law. One of the things that it said was that pregnancy began when an egg was fertilized. But anyone with basic biology knowledge knows that you can expel fertilized eggs during a period without knowing. [Editor's note: According to the Guttmacher Institute, federal policy and scientific communities consider a woman pregnant "only when a fertilized egg has implanted in the wall of her uterus."] So I thought if you’re going to want to know this much about my body and why I’m making the choices I’m making, then you might as well know all of it. Let’s just cover our bases and make sure nobody’s doing something illegal when we have a period.
Contact @GovPenceIN to report your periods in response to HEA1337! Because it IS his business, now!- PeriodsforPols (@periodsforpols) March 30, 2016
I threw up the [Periods for Pence] Facebook page - took me about 20 minutes. I typed out a rant, and it just took off from there. The very next day, I started calling [Pence's office] and started transcribing my calls. Then people just started calling as well. When it caught the media attention about two weeks later, [the Facebook page had] about 55,000 people.
How did "Sue Magina" come about?
The first time [I called] I actually used my real name. I said that I wanted to call and report that I wasn't pregnant. They said, "Can I get your name?" and I said, "Sure, it's Not Pregnant Laura." That, unfortunately, was the call that started showing up in stories in the media about Periods for Pence. So I started giving them a fake name when I would call, for about a week, and then I thought, This is no fun at all. I started thinking about What are they going to do? Sue my vagina? That's where Sue Magina came from.
How many times have you called Pence's office?
Oh, I called every day for the first probably two to three months. Then we started calling the author of the bill, Casey Cox, and we started calling some of the co-sponsors of the bill - Liz Brown was one that was running for Congress.
The switchboard would answer, and I would say I wanted to speak with someone in the governor's office please, and they would transfer you. Of course, usually I would say, "Hi, can I speak with Gov. Pence?" and they would say, "No, he's not available, I can take a message," and then I would just speak with whoever happens to be on the line. I never actually heard of anyone getting the representative on the phone.
@periodsforpence @GovPenceIN do I get bereavement leave at work every 28 days for the potential missed births?- Elle Woods (@AttyWoods) April 3, 2016
What response did you receive?
Someone that worked in the governor’s office would let me know that [Gov. Pence] was getting very perturbed by the whole thing. He would just walk in in the morning and beeline to his office and shut the door and lock it [laughs]. One day, reports came in that we had shut down the phone lines altogether, and so after that happened, they had started farming it out so that the main switchboard was answering instead of his office.
Did anyone ever hang up on you?
Very often. My favorite was when we called Trump's office once, and I just said, "Hi, I wanted to give this message to Mike Pence that I'm having really terrible cramps today." And the lady on the phone said, "Oh, you're sick people. You're sick." And I said, "No I'm not sick, I just have cramps. I'm OK," and she hung up.
Is there anyone you are calling regularly?
Right now we're not [calling any politician regularly]. We wait to see who's in session, what law is pressing at the time. Next week, we're going to start calling Gov. Greg Abbott from Texas regarding their anti-choice law that's being passed. When I saw "we," I mean the [Facebook] page as a collective.
How has this impacted the abortion rights movement?
I have a lot of women that said, "Gosh, I never knew that I could call my representative." There’s nothing wrong with going to protests and we need those things to call attention. But we also need our voices to be heard on an individual level.
What was your reaction when Mike Pence was chosen as Donald Trump’s running mate?
Mike Pence has had a pretty abysmal record in Indiana of pushing a very theocratic agenda. He had the whole Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was allowing discrimination against gay people. [Editor's note: The RRFA allows businesses to cite religious beliefs as a legal defense if sued. After outcry over fears of anti-LGBT discrimination, the law was amended to state it would not allow discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity]. He tried to run a state-run media service. As extreme as Donald Trump is, Mike Pence is far more so. I don’t think Donald Trump really knows exactly what he’s doing all the time. Mike Pence knows exactly what he’s doing all the time.
Good morning it's your hoo-ha! Keep calling @GovPenceIN but add the author Casey Cox as well! 317-232-9863. Tell him hey from your hoo ha!- PeriodsforPols (@periodsforpols) April 4, 2016
Why have you chosen to remain anonymous until now?
At first, there were a lot of reasons. I really liked my boss. I taught pre-K in a church, and the church was a very conservative church. She would’ve had to fire me and I just didn’t want to put her in that position. So I stayed anonymous as long as I could, and then at the end of the school year, I lost my job [for reasons unrelated to Periods for Pence].
My safety is another. I have received more than one threat on the [Facebook] page. And we have some family members that are very pro-life and I tried to be respectful of that while still taking a stand.
@GovPenceIN @periodsforpence I really like that you are so into my uterus, would hate to think it was only me & my OBGYN- Elle Woods (@AttyWoods) April 3, 2016
But the more I’ve heard Donald Trump and Mike Pence speak and reiterate their beliefs that women are second-class citizens, it’s just more important to me to speak out and to give women some encouragement to use their voices. And I can’t really ask them to do that if I’m sitting behind the veil of anonymity. That’s not good leadership.
Follow Prachi on Twitter.
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