CARMEL, IND. - Until that night in March, Laura Shanley was like many women who support women’s health rights but have not spoken out about it. But as the Carmel mother of one and her husband watched the news about Gov. Mike Pence’s approval of a bill that would expand the state’s already restrictive abortion laws, she decided she had to do something.
"If the governor is this interested in what’s going on in my body, I might as well call and tell him," she said. The next day, Shanley, 38, a preschool teacher and former social worker, did just that.
Speaking in her sweet Southern drawl, Shanley told someone at Pence's Statehouse office, “I just wanted to call and let the governor know my flow was particularly heavy today.”
Then she put up a Facebook page reporting on the conversation and thus was born the Periods for Pence movement.
Today that page, which morphed into Periods for Pols after Pence became the Republican vice presidential nominee, has more than 77,500 followers, the majority of whom are women age 25 to 35. It has been written about by NPR, Cosmopolitan and Time magazine. Shanley has overseen the page from its inception but never shared her real name, opting instead to use the name "Sue Magina."
Indiana's new law would prohibit abortions solely on the basis of a genetic physical disability in the fetus. It would also have required abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal tissue. In June, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction suspending the law, saying it was likely unconstitutional.
On Wednesday at a get-out-the-vote rally, Shanley spoke for the first time in public. In advance of her appearance, she spoke with the IndyStar.
Question: What was the reaction to that first call?
Answer: The person on the other side, said, "Excuse me?" I said, "Well, he just seems very concerned about my reproductive health so I thought he would like to know." And she said — I believe it was a woman — "OK, thank you," and I hung up. They got funnier after that, and I started to have more fun with it. I called every day and so did a lot of other women.
Q: Were you actually reporting what was going on with your body?
A: Oh yeah, most of the time. There were days, I would say, "OK, everything all in the clear today. No babies up in there."
Q: How many calls have you made?
A: Me personally, couldn’t tell you exactly. We called Gov. Pence, we called (the bill's author) Indiana Rep. Casey Cox (R-Fort Wayne), Indiana Rep. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne), (Donald) Trump headquarters, after he announced the vice president pick. We called Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office because he made some nasty woman comment. We just keep an eye on things and if it has to do with women or holding us to a different level of scrutiny than a man would be, we call and ask why.
Q: What’s the most outrageous call you’ve made?
A: I called and left a message, and I said I was on I-70 and I had hit a pothole and I was worried it had jiggled something loose in there.
Q: Did you ever get answers when you called?
A: We asked actual questions about why does this bill say this, and we never got straight answers from anyone. It was, "Oh I didn’t write that part" or someone else was responsible for that part. It was just a lot of passing of the buck.
Q: Is this a movement?
A: People use the word movement. I feel like movement is a big thing and it’s hard for me as one little person to wrap my head around that. So I always hesitate to use the word movement but people have. Action maybe is a good word.
Q: What do you think the page's overall impact is?
A: I don’t want the page to become about me. I don’t want to be the story and that’s going to happen for a little while. I’m one person. I’m not this group. We’ve built an amazing community. There are women on here who talk back and forth all the time now and it’s a support system.
Q: Have you had an effect on the debate over women's health?
A: I think we have had an effect in the state of Indiana. We had enough calls that they stopped directing the calls to the governor’s office. I think they know we’re paying more attention. I think we have started that conversation about women’s health in Indiana. I don’t feel like it had any immediate effect, but it may have a longer effect.
Q: Why did you opt for anonymity at first?
A: At the time I worked for a church that was very conservative. I left that job in May. My primary reason was general safety, which is always a concern.
Q: So why come out now?
A: It’s become too important. I don’t feel right asking women to put themselves out there while I’m surrounded by this level of protection. And I feel like I can’t stay quiet. This page has morphed into a community that’s about a lot more than being pro-choice.
Q: Will people who know you be surprised?
A: Most of my good friends know. Others may be surprised that I kept it secret this long, that I didn’t have a bigger mouth. My mom knows. She calls it my project. She’s a very proper Southern lady.
Q: Has there been a backlash?
A: Once in a while, I will get a really horrible message. My favorite one, was "I’m pro-life and you’re a horrible person and I hope you’re barren and die from AIDS." And I was like, "you’re very pro-life." Had one guy say one time, "Don’t think nobody knows who you are." And I was like, that’s really scary.
Q: Have reproductive rights always been an important issue for you?
A: I’m a Type 1 diabetic, so I really understand you can do everything right, follow every rule and do what you’re supposed to do and your body is not always going to cooperate. For you to have the ability to make a choice regarding your health and some guy somewhere thinks he has a better say in that infuriates me. Because I know how that feels, to really not control your body.
Q: Have you had any personal experience with abortion?
A: I had a pregnancy scare once when I was in college and single, and I seriously had to consider it, but I wasn’t pregnant. Mine would have to be health reasons. I was very brittle, and it would have been dangerous.
Q: If you met Pence in person, would you share what was going on with your cycle?
A: Probably not. Maybe as the parting sentence, "I’m a little bit crampy."
I would really like to have a conversation with him. I understand why he feels the way he does. I was raised in a conservative church. I know the basis of where he’s coming from. But there has got to be a point where empathy overrides theocracy. We are adults, autonomous beings. A portion of the population thinks abortion is a mistake. I’m not saying I think that, but then you know what, adults should be allowed to make their own mistakes.
Q: How did you come up with Sue Magina?
A: Sometimes things just pop into my brain. I thought, what are they going to do? Sue my …?
Q: Do you see your primary role as running the Facebook page?
A: I get suggestions every day, let’s talk about this, have you seen this. I try to curate and make this fun and make a difference doing it.
This isn’t a funny issue, but what we’re doing isn’t working. Yelling and screaming isn’t working. Talking about it quietly isn’t working. So snark, that’s the last line of defense.
Call IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at (317) 444-6354. Follow her on Twitter: @srudavsky.