I’ve been thinking about how we talk about abortion.
When I worked as a counselor doing abortion care, I would talk about it all day every day. Then at night, I’d always find some way to talk about it some more. I love this topic and it’s one that I am at times irritatingly passionate about. And yet, lately some of my talk has me concerned.
Often, when we speak about providing abortion care, we come up against resistance. A common way that we respond to this opposition is to proffer what we consider to be situations where only the most extreme fanatic could fail to recognize a woman’s need for this procedure. I’m no different. I will talk about a woman I met with a desperately wanted pregnancy, but whose doctor ejected her from her pre-natal program without so much as a referral when the heartbeat stopped at 28 weeks. I will talk about a woman caring for eight children in a homeless shelter with so many health problems that carrying a pregnancy to term would be a death sentence. Or sometimes I talk about a barely pubescent child, pregnant from repeated rapes by a trusted family member. Then there was the strongly pro-life woman whose baby would never take a breath of air due to anomalies so severe that most of the head would never form. I have hundreds of these stories, each as striking as the last. Women whose hands I’ve held as they’ve managed overwhelming tragedy and hardship.
These stories pack an emotional punch. They help unite us in the face of terrifying challenges to our reproductive rights and help illustrate the hypocrisy of those who choose to take those rights away in the name of ‘safety and morality.’ These are the stories I reach for when making a point about why access is so desperately needed.
But what kind of narrative am I supporting by doing this? When these types of stories are the only ones we tell, do we add to the sentiment that abortion is a thing that must be earned through suffering? That abortion must be the only perceived way out of an otherwise devastating situation? That it needs any justification besides ‘a woman is pregnant and needs not to be’?
Because there are other stories. Rarely do I talk about my patient whose abortion allowed her to be the first in her family to go to college. Or of a successful woman who had strong ideas about what kind of parent she wanted to be when the time felt right and knew this wasn’t it. Are these women somehow less deserving because they don’t fit a narrative that we’ve been pressured to use? These women deserve the same voice and access as any, and yet when we bend to the discomfort of society, and speak of abortion as a necessary evil, how are these cases impacted?
As I’ve said to many of the women I’ve counseled who were embarrassed by their tears, their laughter and frequently their nausea, there is no incorrect way to experience your abortion. We can feel loss and also relief. We can feel grief and also triumph. This should apply similarly to our dialogue. This is a procedure we can and should feel able to speak of proudly. Abortion can be tragic, and difficult and heart-wrenching. But it can also be freeing, a huge relief and even downright mundane. If we do not continuously include these stories in our advocacy than we bow to the same pressures of stigma that have limited abortion in the first place.