When I was in eighth grade, we were required in my class of 14 students at a private Montessori school to write a persuasive essay on an issue we cared about. Even at age 13, I felt a pull in the core of my identity to reproductive justice, so I wrote about abortion. I don’t remember the specifics of my essay, but I do remember one peer-reviewing session in which a conservative female classmate patronizingly suggested I change my use of “anti-choice” to “pro-life.” I politely declined.
In her suggestion that I change my language, my classmate implied, as all anti-choice people do in their rhetoric, that in supporting choice I’m against life. I’m not anti-life. No one who has had an abortion or supports abortion is anti-life or pro-death. When someone chooses to have an abortion, they are making a legitimate and personal health care decision that is right for them, and we shouldn’t judge them.
Women and their partners deserve, as a human right, access to abortion as part of “reproductive justice,” which Loretta Ross, National Coordinator for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective defines as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” Abortion is just one aspect of reproductive justice, but without access to it, we deny women basic control over their bodies and choice of whether or not to become mothers. The jargon and rhetoric mentioned above that anti-choice people and groups use seeks to stigmatize abortion and shame women. By painting themselves as “˜pro-life’ or “˜for life,’ they diminish the experiences of an immensely diverse group of women who have had abortions and and villainize pro-abortion women. I’m writing here, to a campus and community I love, to ask you to help deconstruct this stigma by taking part in a positive dialogue about abortion.
* * *
First, some statistics. One in three women will have had an abortion by the time they’re 45. This means that it is more than likely that someone you know or love has had an abortion and that this doesn’t define them or make them a bad person. Additionally, American women who have abortions are not limited to any ethnic group or age group, and women who are single and married choose to have abortions; in other words, women of all ages, ethnicities, and intersectional identities seek abortions and choose to have them. This is an issue relevant to all American women and their families.
Despite the fact that one third of women will have an abortion in their lifetimes, Texas has continually tried to, and succeeded in, limiting abortion access. In 2011, 93% of Texas counties had no abortion clinic. In cities like Austin and Fort Worth, wait time for an appointment at a clinic can be up to 23 days as a result of House Bill 2. If it’s this difficult to access abortion in the state’s capital, imagine the socioeconomic, transportation, and time barriers that women in rural areas like the Rio Grande Valley face. The following, from the Guttmacher Institute, are additional restrictions on abortion in Texas, effective as of July 1, 2015:
- A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
- The parent of a minor must consent and be notified before an abortion is provided.
- Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
- A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must show and describe the image to the woman. If the woman lives within 100 miles of an abortion provider she must obtain the ultrasound at least 24 hours before the abortion.
In our country and state, the fight for abortion rights is heavily politicized as well as stigmatized. Trinity University is a small campus with a small student body and one that many students perceive to be “liberal.” But despite how liberal you might perceive Trinity to be, as a school located in a state largely governed by the religious-right, it can be subject to the stigma””and these regulations”” that pertain to abortion. Laws and regulations like the ones above, though infuriating, can be hard to directly challenge as citizens. We can, however, challenge the stigma and change the culture.
In our daily lives, we rarely speak about abortion, let alone use the actual word abortion. My iPhone and the word processor I use refuse to autocorrect the word abortion or offer spelling suggestions for it. Even legislators and politicians dodge the word abortion when they’re talking precisely about legislating it because we have deemed it a “˜delicate’ subject. I disagree. We shouldn’t tiptoe around the subject or the word if we care about protecting its access; abortions are normal things that happen when normal people utilize the agency they have, just as people who choose to become parents are agents in determining their futures and their children’s futures.
Dialogue and sharing stories help change the culture of stigma. The best way to shift the propagandized and politicized conversation on abortion is to actually talk candidly about it and to share our stories. The Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a state-wide non-partisan, non-profit advocacy group based in Austin with a chapter at Trinity, recently launched a project called Illuminate Reproductive Justice, which uses all forms of art to share people’s reproductive justice stories and abortion experiecnes. Similarly, Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign collects stories submitted by women who have had abortions. Even more recently, Lindy West created the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion to create empowering dialogue about real women’s abortion stories.
Grassroots projects like Illuminate RJ, the 1 in 3 Campaign, and social media movements like #ShoutYourAbortion are examples of the humanizing power of sharing stories. When someone shares their story, and when someone truly hears it, this creates a connection based on empathy and compassion. These projects actively merge the power of narrative with social justice and community work to begin to change the stigma. In turn, when we speak up about these politicized issues through lived experiences””and when we vote””we can begin to lead our politicians in the right direction and politically protect the access that was guaranteed by Roe v. Wade more than forty years ago in 1973.
* * *
Let’s resist this stigmatization and encourage others to share their stories. If you’ve had an abortion, talk about it, and if you haven’t, listen to others’ stories with empathy and open ears. Additionally, join the Texas Freedom Network at Trinity University during our Week of Action for Illuminate RJ. The week of November 15th through the 22nd, we will be hosting a performance of Out of Silence, a series of vignettes based on women’s abortion stories that were submitted to the 1 in 3 campaign; we will also host a screening of Obvious Child, a depoliticizing movie not about abortion but about a woman who decides to have an abortion and whose life goes on. We will also be collecting Illuminate RJ birds now through tsend http://www.tfn.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8179 of the Week of Action to display our campus’ support of reproductive justice. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or attend our next meeting at 8:30pm on October 26th. We want to foster a campus culture that pairs dialogue with activism and political participation to fight for a more progressive Texas.
The truth is, abortion isn’t about politics and it isn’t about morals, it’s about people. I haven’t had an abortion. But if I were to get pregnant now, I know what choice I would make and it would be an easy decision for me””I wouldn’t regret having an abortion. If you personally wouldn’t have an abortion, there’s nothing wrong with that, but deciding against an abortion for yourself and standing in solidarity with choice for other women are not mutually exclusive. For other women, the decision to have an abortion may be harder to make, but in most situations, women feel like they can’t or shouldn’t talk about it. We shouldn’t make them feel ashamed, make them feel like they need to justify their choice, or make them feel like they should be sorry. The “untold story” of abortions is that they don’t define these women or stop their lives in their tracks. I somehow understood this when I wrote that persuasive essay when I was 13. This month, I turn 22, and this May, I’ll graduate from college. Hopefully, a legacy I’ll leave is the one I started with TFN””that we can have a community culture that is more than “liberal” or “conservative,” but one that seeks to provide its students with a safe place for this dialogue.