ColumnThere is no shame in abortion. ABORTION. Say it with me. You don’t need to speak in hushed tones: your abortion stories, my abortion story – they’re the stories of our lives. And they’re as normal as normal can be.
According to Katha Pollitt, author of the wonderful and important new book, “PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights,” abortion is a social good. Pollitt, a longtime contributor to “The Nation” makes an excellent argument about why women need to stand up for reproductive rights not just by fighting in the streets and halls of congress – but in our everyday relationship to the abortions we’ve had or might have. We need to talk about our abortions with ease — and often.
Three in ten women will have had an abortion by the time they’re 45-years-old. That’s a lot of women – that’s you, or your mother, or your sister, or your friends. That’s most of us.
Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the zealots of the anti-abortion movement have taken women and their bodies down a rabbit hole-like rightwing agenda built on so-called Christian values. The people leading this movement aren’t simply religious nuts; they’re deeply misogynistic in every possible way. Pollitt’s book shows that states where the status of women is lowest are also the ones where there are the most restrictions on abortion. Bottom line: the assault on abortion is an assault on women – on human rights. Full stop. These are the folks who don’t believe in birth control, that think women should not work, and are bound to perform their “wifely duties.” But we don’t often hear from them unless we attend their sermons or traffic their (truly scary) websites.
What we do hear about, almost every day, is the result of the work they’ve done over the last 40 years of careful public relations planning. They’ve patiently constructed a long-term agenda to chip away at reproductive rights. They employ radical ideas that most Americans disagree with, but they’ve been smart and strategic, and that’s why we should be scared – because right now — they’re winning.
Here’s what not radical: talking about abortion without shame. But we’ve been worn down by decades of Operation Rescue talking points – and we sometimes end up inadvertently speaking their language. Even those of us who’ve had more than one abortion out of pure necessity – not being ready for a child, not wanting to have a child with a particular father, not wanting to be a single mother – sometimes speak of our abortions in terms of “good” and “bad.” “Good” abortions, in the parlance of those who believe abortion should remain “legal and rare” are those that are of medical necessity, rape or incest. “Bad” abortions are the ones we have because we chose to have sex, got pregnant and then decided that it wasn’t time to have a kid.
There are no good abortions and bad abortions. There are just abortions. Pollitt doesn’t want us to be defensive about our abortions simply because our opponents have managed to own the conversation. She wants us to reconvene the conversation on our own terms, as each of us share our abortion stories.
This isn’t to say that all abortions are free of emotion. Some friends have had abortions, and went on to have several children – and then had another abortion. Some people have one easy abortion, and then another problematic one, perhaps because of a complicated relationship problem. But the rhetoric of the anti-choicers – that all abortions are heavy, dark, difficult regret-laden errors in judgment, is patently false. They say it over and over again and this idea seeps into the culture so deeply that some women believe it to be true, and perhaps feel sadder about their abortions than they would have. If our movies and TV shows and our politicians tell us that abortion is sad, it’s no wonder some of us feel sadness when we have the procedure. That’s part of the strategy, of course.
My own abortions have not been terribly fraught, but that doesn’t mean I was flippant about them. I live in a blue state with a life of relative privilege – I didn’t have to worry about access for a moment, even though I encountered rosary-bead wearing, angry people with signs that said I was going to hell. Good luck with that, I thought — I’m Jewish so you’re really not scaring me. But those signs, and those people — culled from the same herd that don’t think there’s anything wrong with shooting doctors that provide abortions — those people are scary.
I was 20 when I had my first abortion, and even though I had support from my then-boyfriend, from my friends — I was still too ashamed to talk about it in any public way. Even though I wasn’t sad or regretful, because the idea of a baby was remote and abstract, I understood that a nice Jewish girl like me had made a huge mistake. And sure, getting accidentally pregnant is a mistake of sorts — but I’d been drilled with the idea that I should be embarrassed, ashamed. And even though I was defiantly pro-choice — and cut my first political teeth as a teenager on the abortion front — I carried shame. Even though I made signs and marched on Washington for reproductive rights, my own experience was somehow walled off and separate.
This is precisely why Pollitt tells us that we need to unequivocally take back the conversation.
Let’s not confuse the issue by calling abortion anything that it isn’t: it’s a medical procedure to terminate a pregnancy. It’s not something that should cause a shame spiral. I don’t have numbers on this, but I’d argue that the vast majority of women have gone on to think of their abortions like dental procedures – something they’d rather not do, but must, in order to continue to live a healthy life.
Even recent indie films have treated abortion in hushed tones, and lead characters only became heroes by rejecting the option to terminate, or not even thinking about it in the first place. Since the 1990s, movies about pregnancy have been a far cry from the legal, safe abortion depicted in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” “Knocked Up” and “Juno” gave us seemingly modern women who basically didn’t even consider the idea of abortion as a possibility. Finally, this year we were delivered the brilliant “Obvious Child,” a film that treats a woman’s abortion story as it should be treated.
Since 2010, 205 anti-abortion laws have been passed across the country. It’s time for those of us who are proudly pro-choice to stop chasing the conversation that the anti-choice zealots are leading. The situation is dire, especially with a brand new crop of anti-choicers in charge of both houses of Congress as of Tuesday.
Sixty-one percent of women that have abortions are already mothers. That’s why I love Pollitt’s “pro-choice, pro-mother ” mantra. Motherhood is fetishized in our culture, but it is not valued, certainly not by the people who would take away our legal right to abortion. Once a fetus is “protected,” they quickly move on to their next clump of cells, calling it a “life”. Helping women to actually raise the children that they’re forced to bear is not on their agenda.
When it comes to access to abortion, all politics is local. This week, in the bloodbath of the midterm elections, choice was protected in some small ways, but it was also dealt serious blows in races all over the country. Wendy Davis lost her race in Texas. A personhood referendum was defeated for the third time in Colorado, yet they elected a pro-personhood senator in the same state. North Dakota also defeated a personhood amendment. Yet in Tennessee, one of the last Southern states to retain some access to abortion, the news is very bad.
Let’s keep abortion safe, legal, and out in the open. I don’t care much about whether it’s rare – that’s not the issue. Tell your abortion stories without shame, and ask your sisters, mothers, cousins, and Facebook friends to tell theirs.
Here are some great organizations working hard to protect your reproductive rights. Send them money and volunteer for them.
Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality
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