In 2013, I hit the road with four other women, stopping at colleges, churches and theaters across the United States to share my abortion story. We had no political agenda on this tour. We sought only to connect with the people we met.
“To what end?” asked a 50-year veteran of abortion rights activism, who was visibly bothered by our presentation.
A security guard had been hired to protect us against anti-abortion violence, but she wound up coming to our defense in a different way when she suggested that the activist “journal about her feelings” toward us.
To what end? Love. Growth. Cultural healing. Our most receptive audience was a group of young Jesuits, many of them clinic protesters. Anti-abortion protesters often showed more empathy for us — five women talking about our abortions without trying to change their minds — than abortion-rights activists.
These days, it no longer surprises me when an abortion-rights activist has trouble considering abortion outside a divisive political context. So it didn’t shock me when Al Jazeera America columnist Raina Lipsitz, a journalist and a former clinic escort, took issue with three writers — Monica Heisey, Molly Crabapple and me — for critiquing the pro-choice movement for not recognizing nuanced narratives about abortion, including recovery or grief.
Lipsitz argued that “there’s simply no evidence to support” the claim that abortion-rights advocates are “guilty of silencing women.” But she supplied the evidence herself: She trivialized our lived experiences with abortion. Some abortion-rights activists have inadvertently spread these subtle forms of stigma. This happens when we promote certain positive stories, giving them an aura of legitimacy, while omitting stories that might not serve our cause. When political narratives dominate, we adopt a battlefield mentality. But I believe it’s possible to move beyond the political realm. We must be open to a multiplicity of stories and deeper conversations about abortion.
If having abortions were a political decision, people who identify as anti-abortion would not have them. But they do. I know, because I used to be one of them. I was a single, white, 19-year-old Kentuckian who had just been fired from my minimum-wage job when I got pregnant and decided to have an abortion. I have had 11 years to reflect on my decision and to share my story with a wider audience. In 2011, when The New York Times published an essay about my abortion, readers hashtagged my story both #prochoice and #prolife — an example of why abortion should be both legal and illegal?It seemed to me that people on opposite sides of the debate could connect at the level of storytelling.
On tour, we created a space where people could share their stories. We traveled to Texas, where regulations were shutting down clinics across the state. We sat in a circle with a pastor, a counselor and a midwife. The midwife and her husband of 28 years had had an abortion long ago.
“We’ve never talked about how I feel about it,” she told us, kind of incredulously. “It affected me a lot more than I wanted to give it credit for.” In Austin — ground zero of the abortion war — we were hearing from a wife who wanted to share her feelings with her husband.
There’s a name for this apolitical movement we were spreading on the road. It’s called pro-voice, a philosophy and a practice coined by Aspen Baker, author of “Pro-Voice: How to Keep Listening When the World Wants a Fight,” and executive director of Exhale, the organization that sponsored the tour.
In the four years since I published the op-ed Lipsitz quoted, historically pro-choice organizations have embraced more inclusive language. In 2013, Planned Parenthood dropped its “pro-choice” tag since “these labels limit the conversation.” In 2014, a leader at NARAL Pro-Choice America told me its two most successful events of the year were the least political. The personal and the political are porous; the pro-voice philosophy has seeped into the political realm.
I believe the pro-choice movement is strong enough to withstand frank dialogue and is more complex than a crusade to secure abortion rights. We still have a long way to go when a former clinic escort like Lipsitz compares regretting abortion to regretting divorce and minimizes the experiences that real women report facing.
When people speak up about their lives before, during and after abortion, I’m going to ask myself, “What would it look like to stand with them?” And then I’m going to affirm them without pointing out that the political battle is more important than they are. As a woman who has had an abortion, I will keep adding my voice to the chorus with Ronak Davé Okoye, Kate Hindman, Mayah Frank and Natalia Koss-Vallejo — my tour mates — as well as Monica Heisey, Molly Crabapple, Aspen Baker, Angie Aker, Iman Ahmed, Toni Braxton, Chelsea Handler, Melissa Harris-Perry, Leslie Jamison, Carolyn Jones, Anne Lamott, Emily Letts, Gila Lyons, Melissa Madera, Nicki Minaj, Liza Monroy, Sharon Osbourne, Mira Ptacin, Susan Shapiro, Sherri Shepherd, Renee Bracey Sherman, Cheryl Strayed and Lizz Winstead. I will show people how to talk about abortion in personal and loving ways.
It’s relatively easy. When somebody tells me she had an abortion, I ask an open-ended question, such as “How are you doing?” I don’t contort my eyebrows in sympathy, because she might be doing very well. I don’t say, “I support your right to choose,” which prompts them to tell me the light version. I just get quiet. I let gaps of silence settle in the space between us so they can say more than they would if I rushed in with a reply.
This does nothing to diminish the importance of the political conversation; rather it creates a more inclusive space to have it. In this pro-voice space, we don’t have to pick a side. On tour, a Muslim student at a faith-based college said, “I am forever changed. I will now think of abortion as a human experience.” A student at a liberal arts college said, “I came in wearing my armor, but it turns out I didn’t need it.” I bet some of us put our armor back on when we left the room, but for one brief moment, in that new space, we were free.
Abortion has been one of the biggest controversies of all time. Many people believe it is immoral and even consider it to be murder. The definition of abortion is; “The termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to being capable of normal growth.” 1 These pro-life believers do not support the idea of induced abortion and believe it should be illegal. Many of these supporters do not know that if abortion were illegal they would still be performed, unfortunately by an uneducated staffs. Over 70 thousand maternal deaths occur every year because of unsafe abortions1. These women die, so the idea of supporting pro-life is contradictory, this is why the nation should be pro-choice.
Pro-choice believers support the right to privacy and the idea women should have the choice to do what she pleases with her own body. As an example; a woman is raped by a man and becomes pregnant with his child. She decides she doesn’t want to keep the baby; she has an abortion because the idea of raising a child of her rapist is too painful for her to cope with. Pro-choice defenders take sympathies to this woman while she then gets called a murderer by pro-life supporters. Abortions sometimes results in the woman being harassed because of the choice she has made about her own body. That’s what pro-life supports. Often time’s situations like this turns into harassment which can be considered to be part of anti-abortion violence1. These pro-life supporters stalk, threaten, and even sometimes kill women who have chosen to have an abortion and even the doctors that provide the procedures. Pro-life also supports the idea that every child has a right to live, even if the mother is not financially able to support the child and the child would struggle everyday along with their mother. These children would be underprivileged and could potentially die from the circumstances they’ve be forced to live in. Again this is what people that are considered to be “pro-life” defend.
Pro-choice supports the girl that is fifteen years old loses her virginity and becomes pregnant because she wasn’t fully aware of the consequences of her actions. The choice of her keeping the child would result in her getting kicked out of her home, she’d be finically unable to support the baby, and she would lose her education. With abortion she would not have to deal with these issues, though she would have to deal with the emotional aspect of deciding to terminate the fetus. Pro-choice supports the idea she would learn from her mistake and that ultimately it was her choice to do what she wished with her body. The results of the experience for this girl would be social maturity and evolution, rather than a state of repression.
Even though many people practice pro-life because of their religion, it may be surprising to learn that catholic women are 29% more likely to get an abortion than Protestant women, though they are as likely as all women to do so2. In Christianity abortion has been considered homicide since Pope Sixtus V declared it so, but the debate didn’t become heated until the 19th century1. So even these pro-life supporters sometimes find the circumstances where abortion is necessary. An example of a situation where you may see this is in a given situation where bearing a child and giving birth would kill the mother because of health issues or womb complications the fetus would have. It’s said that the risks of death associated with childbirth is 10 times higher than that of abortion2. This proves that life is too situational to say whether or not abortion should be illegal.
About 14,000 women get abortions fallowing incest or rape and it is estimated that 43% of women worldwide will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old2. It is also estimated that there are 43 million abortions a year2. Imagine that those abortions had not occurred with the current population issue in the world, there are over 7 billion people on the planet and we have limited resources which are depleting quickly. So in a strange way abortion is beneficial to the planet. Pro-life supporters do not see the situations, reasons, and benefits from abortions. They are ignorant to the reason why many women choose to make the decision they do. It is clear abortion should remain legal; even if it seems immoral it can often be the best situation for the people that have to make that tough decision. Pro-choice defends and protects the people, it is ultimately the woman’s life that would be affected and no one else’s, who would the government be to take that away from us the people? We live in a country based on freedoms, and women have and should continue to have the freedom to that choice.