A woman’s abortion experience [is] as unique as her fingerprint.
A few weeks back a woman identifying herself only as a US photographer called “Jane” took four clandestine photos of her abortion and posted them online.
“I chronicled and published my experience on thisismyabortion.com to show what a safe abortion looks like, and to counter the perverse use of dead foetus images used by the anti-abortion movement,” she later wrote in the Guardian.
It’s true what she says. The four photos, taken on her mobile phone, show a routine medical procedure taking place including what appears to be blood in the bottom of a flask.
Thisismyabortion.com certainly tapped a vein. Within 48 hours emails poured in from all over the world. Among the “tales of horrific self-inflicted abortions in countries where abortion remains illegal” were experiences prosaic and utterly familiar.
In a recent xo Jane story titled, Why I Choose to Talk About My No-Big-Deal Abortion, writer Melissa Petro recalls, “A couple years ago, on my commute to work, I was met by a poster featuring a glum-faced woman staring blankly at me, ‘I thought life would be like the way it was before,’ it read. Then: ‘Abortion changes you. No, it didn’t,’ I remember thinking at the time. ‘Speak for yourself.’”
Here was a sentiment many women—myself included—could identify with. A woman’s abortion experience was as unique as her fingerprint. And yet something didn’t feel quite right. Knowing what I knew; i.e. that the pics were reportedly of the termination of a six-week pregnancy, made me uneasy; more uneasy than I had cause to be.
It was shocking to think this way. I’d always aligned myself with the greater feminist cause. And proudly. From my mother’s gentle persuasion, I grew up fiercely pro-choice. I still am. But in those intervening years between 21 and 42, life had blurred the lines.
And it wasn’t the first time. I’d been haunted by similar ambivalence once before in 2004 when I came across UK film-maker Julia Black’s film My Foetus, in which were included images of 10-, 11- and 21-week-old aborted foetuses.
Like US photographer Jane, Black’s motivation was laudable. Her film attempted to tackle not only a taboo, but perhaps one of the most unpalatable of topics on the planet: “Could you still be pro-choice when confronted by the reality of abortion?”.
Black herself had a termination at 21, and never once questioned her pro-choice beliefs (her father had set up one of Britain’s largest abortion providers Marie Stopes International). And then she fell pregnant again.
“As my pregnancy progressed, I began to question my views on abortion,” she wrote in the Guardian in 2004. “At my first antenatal check-up I was asked if this was my first pregnancy. My answer was: ‘No, I’ve had an abortion.’ But the emotions and feelings surrounding my two pregnancies couldn’t have been more different.”
Black’s story resonated with me. Like her I, too, had terminated a pregnancy at 21.
By the time I was 34—the age Black was when she made the film and was pregnant with her daughter—I was already two years into my fertility journey (it would take me another three years, several IVF cycles and a river of tears to fall pregnant again) and motherhood had never seemed so far away.
For the first time in years I clearly remember rethinking my own abortion. Had I really initially considered keeping it? Yes, I had. But by the time I found myself at the abortion clinic I was wholly convinced (if scared shitless) that I was doing the right thing.
I’ve never since felt regret, but that’s not the same as saying there’s been no longing; no “what ifs?”. Also, while the procedure was safe and relatively uneventful, I was not prepared for the shock exit of those hormones or the staying power of my already heightened emotions. And despite my unwavering belief in my reasons at the time, there are important people in my life who still don’t…I mean, didn’t know.
Yes, separating feeling from fact, let alone from ‘photographic evidence’, is never easy.
Jane says that thisismyabortion.com was created as a “safe space for people to share, connect, and support one another on the matter of abortion”. This, in itself, is a fine and worthy aim. In the US every year some 1.2 million American women have abortions—most of them in silence. Stories have a way of shaking up society’s psyche and taking cover in our souls; they secure us to the chord of human experience.
Ready access to a safe abortion is the right of every woman. And I applaud those who speak up, whatever their drive. But the ambush isn’t confined to pro-life militants. Equally we must be wary of ‘good-intentioned’ guerilla tactics that can open a Pandora’s Box—no, make that a bell jar—of repressed memories.
It’s disingenuous to assume that blood consists only of cells and liquid when it clearly carries with it plenty of emotion, too.