The narrative that all abortions are traumatic, agonising decisions is false. Some are, of course. But not all. Photo: Stocksy
In yet another attack on the reproductive health care rights of women and people with wombs, the US House of Representatives voted over the weekend in favour of defunding the national health organisation, Planned Parenthood. Although the Bill will ultimately fail in the Senate or by presidential veto, the move has still justifiably outraged women's advocates and health care providers while prompting the must read Twitter hashtag #shoutyourabortion.
The rhetoric of fear mongering associated with anti-choice legislators is nothing new, but the rising tide of women's unapologetic voices heralds a new wave in reproductive health care activism. Until recently, it was seen as de rigeuer for women to speak about abortions in hushed whispers or trembling voices, if indeed they spoke about them at all. The prevailing archetype was of the tortured woman who wrestled with her choice every day, while the in fact more common scenario - that of the woman who experienced nothing but relief, and proceeded to devote little to no time to pondering the decision in the months and years following it - was shielded from view. As Rebecca Traister outlines in her excellent essay in the New Republic, while abortion more commonly ends pregnancies than do miscarriages, women are more likely to reveal an experience of the latter than they are the former.
Following the vote to defund Planned Parenthood, feminist activist Amelia Bonow posted a public status on her Facebook page detailing the "nearly inexpressible feeling of gratitude" she had after having an abortion last year. After outlining the exceptional care received that day, she wrote, "I am telling you this today because the narrative of those working to defund Planned Parenthood relies on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about." What Bonow felt instead lay in stark contrast to this expectation of shame - she felt happy. She told me, "Exercising the right to control my own fertility, surrounded by strangers who felt like people I knew, made me feel like one of the luckiest women in the world. I am. It shouldn't be that way."
Bonow's timing happened to coincide with similar thinking from her friend, the feminist writer and activist Lindy West. West shared Bonow's status on Twitter and accompanied it with the hashtag #shoutyourabortion. West had an abortion in 2010 (she describes it as being "completely mundane, non-traumatic [and] personally necessary") but only realised recently that she never talked about it. "Why?" she wondered, telling me, "I'm not ashamed of it. I'm extremely open and forthcoming about everything else in my life, so why not this? It almost felt like a habit. People don't talk about it, so I didn't talk about it."
Abortion is simply a medical procedure, and deserves no more scrutiny or moralising than would the extraction of a cyst or tooth. The apparent coldness of this view is a challenge to some, so successful has been the mythology that depicts developing 7 week old fetusus as fully formed babies who need to be defended from the selfish independence of women. As Traister writes, "What rose up instead was a new character, less threatening than the empowered woman: the baby, who, by virtue of not actually existing as a formed human being, could be invested with all the qualities—purity, defenselessness, dependence—that women used to embody, before they became free and disruptive."
Working on an upcoming collaboration with Kimberly Morrison and the theologist Lesley Hazleton, Bonow and West hope to rewrite this view. As West says, "Reproductive health care is health care. An abortion is just a medical procedure. The narrative that all abortions are traumatic, agonising decisions is false. Some are, of course, and I honour those experiences. But personally, no cell in my body regrets my abortion. I didn't just get to choose what does and doesn't grow inside of my body, I got to choose the course of my life."
Since its launch, #ShoutYourAbortion has been flooded with responses from unapologetic, defiant people. I have shared my own experience of abortion on there although this is unsurprising, as I am possibly one of the lucky few who's never seemed to feel responsible for keeping quiet about them. I have also never felt inclined to explain the circumstances behind them to anyone, because the choice of a person to have an abortion shouldn't be measured on a sliding scale of morality.
I am proud of the life I live and the work that I do, and both of those things were made possible because I was able to twice access a necessary medical procedure that is the business of nobody else but me and my health care provider. I'm not ashamed of rejecting the popular narrative that positions women as the grateful sources of sacrificial love. My life - the lives of all people who have wombs - are more important than the potential lives legislators would see us forced to carry in them and then care for.
As West says, "I know from my work online how inspiring and fortifying it can be to feel like you're part of an army. My hope is that looking through this hashtag will help people know that they're not alone." Bonow concurs. "I believe the continuing pervasive silence about abortion indicates that women have been brainwashed to believe that the absence of negative emotions around having an abortion is the mark of an emotionally bankrupt person. It's not. I have a good heart and my abortion made me happy. It's perfectly reasonable to feel happy that you were not forced to become a mother. #ShoutYourAbortion is about vocally owning your choice as a way to take back the conversation."
You can #ShoutYourAbortion on Twitter or at Facebook. You should #ShoutYourAbortion to your state representatives. You might consider donating to Planned Parenthood, or to your local health care provider for anyone outside of the US. Abortion access is the right of every single person who has the capacity to be forced to bear children against their will, and it is one of the cornerstones of women's liberation.
If you've had an abortion, you have nothing to apologise for. But just in case anyone tries to make you feel like you do, know this: you have an army of people behind you, and we're not whispering anymore.