“Out From Under The Rug” Featuring Emily Cortez

Theme: “Out From Under The Rug”
Storyteller: Emily Cortez

In her early twenties, Emily Cortez felt her life was really starting to take off when she fell in love with an older man, missed some birth control pills, and suddenly found herself gaining weight and fighting back nausea. With multiple tests confirming her pregnancy, Emily knew she was not ready to be a mother. Going against her Catholic faith, she chose to abort her pregnancy. “Walking into the clinic, I was greeted outside by a middle-aged man holding a sign: ‘You’re going to hell!’” Later, a full range of emotions overtook her, including fear of being judged and a wavering between guilt and non-guilt. Ultimately, however, the experience transformed her: “My unplanned pregnancy helped shape the timid woman I was into the strong, vocal woman I am today. To that protestor who held that sign, I want you to know: I am like you—a person—a human with stories, moments and experiences that have shaped me but do not define me.”

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Oral History: Out From Under The Rug [Austin]


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On Monday, October 10, 2016 Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales) produced its first-ever show outside of Dallas at the regionally recognized Zach Scott Theatre in central Austin. 150 Austinites packed the jaw-droppingly beautiful space with anxious energy. “What is Oral Fixation? And what will a show about abortion be like? Not depressing I hope,” they may have been thinking.  But the group of men and women who shared their own, true personal stories related to abortion took them on an emotionally positive and healing journey through women’s reproductive lives. After the performance, the lobby was buzzing with strangers greeting each other. With tears in their eyes, they shared deep gratitude to the storytellers for their courage in speaking out. Some people divulged their own abortion stories in show of support. The show in Austin was undoubtedly impactful and made even more special by the presence of two documentary film crews. Stay tuned for more #SweepOutTheShame to come!

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Introducing Shiloh Venable, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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Shiloh’s life has changed immensely since she was a college student. She came out of the closet to her family and friends, and now she is sharing her abortion story live, when the Austin “Out From Under The Rug” cast takes the Zach Theatre stage.

Shiloh Venable is a native Texan, a feminist, an Aggie, and an amateur healthy eater. She loves her finacée and her pups, and can’t get enough of improv comedy or road trips. If you can’t find her in her kitchen, look for your nearest soapbox, and there she’ll be.

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Introducing Mayela Gutknecht, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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After having two abortions, each at a different stage of her life, Mayela reflects on her life and her choices. Hear her brave story in “Out From Under The Rug.”

Mayela Gutknect has a Master’s degree in Advanced Public Health Nursing from the University of California, San Francisco and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Beloit College, Wisconsin. As a Public Health Nurse in San Francisco, she home visits with pregnant women and mothers with newborns to promote safety, bonding, and breastfeeding.

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Introducing Elise Bilodeau, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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When she was 16, Elise Bilodeau had no idea what her future would look like. Later this month, she’ll take the Oral Fixation stage in “Out From Under The Rug” to share her story of how an experience she had as a teenager changed her life.

Elise Bilodeau is a transient liberal, who mistakenly made Dallas home. She works at an abortion clinic and volunteers with TEA Fund and DARCC. Her favorite acquisitions while living in the South include an affliction for cheese fries, a dog named Boo, tattoos, and an appreciation for “family” near and far.

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Introducing Valerie R. Peterson, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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After learning that the baby she is carrying has a condition that is 100% incompatible with life, Valerie R. Peterson chooses abortion. Her experience was complicated by Texas’s HB2 legislation, which led her to become an advocate for women’s reproductive rights. Hear her story in “Out From Under The Rug.”

Dr. Valerie R. Peterson was born and raised in Chicago. New to Texas, Valerie has personally experienced the effects of House Bill 2, which limited women’s access to abortion services. Valerie’s mantras are “just watch me” and “I Believe, I Trust, I Let Go.” She currently resides in Austin.

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Introducing Scott Ross, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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Scott Ross and his wife, Jeni, experienced the tragedy of a medically induced abortion due to fetal anomaly. Hear how this experience forever changed his life in “Out From Under The Rug.”

Scott Ross is a tech professional and father of three young daughters. He has lived in Austin for seven years with his wife, Jeni. He grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Boston University, and has lived in New York and San Francisco. He spends too much time on sports and making jokes.

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“Out From Under The Rug” featuring Britt Payne

Theme: “Out From Under The Rug”
Storyteller: Britt Payne

When Britt Payne discovered she was pregnant, she thought “everything would fall into place.” The opposite occurred. “I want the whole package,” the man said, “and you are not it.” Britt questioned everything. “Would I bring this little spirit into the world, knowing that its father would likely dip in and out, a sentence of a lifetime of heartache? Or would I have an abortion and set the spirit free? ” No easy answers, but in choosing to terminate her pregnancy, Britt ventured onto a path of self-love where she realized that she actually is the whole package.

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Introducing Sherry Merfish, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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In 1972, before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, Sherry Merfish had an abortion at a clinic in New Mexico–the only state to offer an exception to U.S. anti-abortion laws. Hear her personal story in “Out From Under The Rug.”

Sherry Merfish has had a long career in advocacy and fundraising. Sherry holds a B.A. from the University of Texas, a M.A. in American Studies from USC, and a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. Sherry lives in Houston despite an extreme dislike of both mosquitoes and heat. She and her husband, Gerald, are the proud parents of two daughters, Brett and Beth. 

Fixated Facts:

What would you title the autobiography of your life? Champion of Women and Girls.

What inspired you to participate in Oral Fixation? I am committed to social change in a variety of ways. I wholeheartedly believe in advocating for women to emerge from the shadows to reclaim their reproductive history and the choices they have made. It’s harder to hate up close, once people identify an abortion story with a person they know, respect, and love.

What is your favorite smell? Simmering chicken soup with matzo balls, because it evokes memories of my maternal grandmother, Yetta, who modeled boundless love.

Who is your favorite cartoon character? Growing up in the 1950s, Brenda Starr stood out, because she actually had adventures and an occupation as a reporter!

Sneak peak: “The momentous, landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which would make abortion legal and which was argued courageously by Sarah Weddington, was mere months away. But as far as my situation was concerned, the decades of statutes criminalizing abortion were very much in effect.”

Don’t miss Sherry perform on the Oral Fixation stage in the “Out From Under The Rug” Austin show on Monday, October 10th.

Introducing Carole Wall, “Out From Under The Rug” storyteller

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Carole Wall and her husband were excited to have a baby, but their lives changed forever after receiving devastating news during the 20-week sonogram. Hear Carole reflect on her experience with abortion in “Out From Under The Rug.”

Carole Wall was born and raised in Austin. She has a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences and a master’s degree in Liberal Arts. She is the Manager of Grants for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and the mother of a 6-year-old daughter. 

Fixated Facts:

What inspired you to participate in Oral Fixation? I welcome any opportunity to discuss abortion and the way my life has changed since I took control over telling my story. We can’t necessarily write the plot of our lives, but we can write the chapters.

What is your favorite word? Any curse word will do when my daughter isn’t around.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Fulfilled.

What is the weirdest compliment that you’ve ever received? I have had more than one dental professional comment on the strength of my tongue. I don’t think it’s actually a compliment, but it’s definitely weird.

Sneak peak: Knowing that your daughter is dying is heartbreaking. When you are given the news that there is nothing that can be done to save your baby’s life, it feels like your soul has been ripped apart.  But we had a decision to make.

Don’t miss Carole perform on the Oral Fixation stage in the “Out From Under The Rug” Austin show on Monday, October 10th.

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