I have spent nearly 20 years of my life in the reproductive rights movement, working to help ensure that women and teens have unrestricted access to abortion care. I spent years of my career raising money for a large women’s health care provider. I have escorted at clinics, putting myself between women and those who would hurt them, shame them or prevent them from accessing abortions. I have volunteered in a health center, holding hands and listening to stories. I donate money and time to pro-choice organizations to help them stay funded and continue this important work. I vote for pro-choice candidates and advocate to protect reproductive rights on a local, state and federal level. On social media and in my community, I do my part to change hearts and minds and to be a rational, but firm, voice in this debate.
For me, this fight is about freedom, bodily autonomy, human rights and improving the status, health and lives of women and children in our country. You can read more about my views here, here, and here (I seem to write about abortion a lot).
I have spent a lot of time inside the movement and have the privilege of having many friends, both local to me and online, who share my views. As a result, I have found that I tend to be casual about abortion. I can recall a recent conversation where I stated that I wanted to see a world where accessing abortion care was as easy as getting your teeth cleaned…or at least getting a root canal. After all, it is a legal medical service. Why shouldn’t it be?
I have told my fair share of fetus jokes and even thrown a few abortion showers (like a baby shower, but with alcohol, fetus cookies and presents for the woman who is making the right choice for herself, her family and her future).
Lately, it has occurred to me that when you spend a lot of time in a choir, you can sometimes lose sight of the fact that the world is not an internet forum or a group of likeminded friends. And since 3 out of 10 American women will have an abortion by age 45, one can assume that the majority of women seeking abortion care are not a part of the choir. They may not know how they feel about abortion or maybe even were opposed to abortion before an unplanned pregnancy or adverse event led them to make that choice. They have probably never told or laughed at a fetus joke.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked for help online. She wanted more information about accessing abortion care. She is a mom (and a damn good one) and knew that she couldn’t afford to have another baby when she faced an unplanned pregnancy. She was scared. She was alone. She needed support and reassurance and information about the process. She was able to access care (after a bullshit 24 hour waiting period and mandatory counseling session) and only faced one protester on her way out of the clinic. This was a hard experience for her and not one she took lightly or made light of. She did have a few choice words for that protester, but they were in her own defense, which had to be way more intense than the types of interactions you have with protesters as an advocate.
For her this was the right choice, but not one she is likely to joke about. For her, it was not a trip to the dentist.
This may be a result of the increasing negative stigma about the procedure in our culture, extensive media coverage around the growing number of laws that have been introduced to ban or restrict the procedure and extreme cases, like that of Kermit Gosnell, that really have nothing to do with abortion access or the typical high standard of care provided by most doctors.
And this is definitely a complex issue about which people have complex opinions. According to the most recent Gallup poll on the subject, roughly half of Americans think that abortion should be legal in some circumstances. Consider that this means they also think it should be illegal in some circumstances. Additionally, 21% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. This issue is becoming more polarized, with the number of moderate voices decreasing. At the same time, this health care is getting more and more difficult to access.
I was delighted to learn that a new film – Obvious Child – which opens today in Los Angeles and New York, addresses this issue in a romantic comedy format. It’s about time. When films like Knocked Up and Juno have already addressed other more socially acceptable choices – adoption and keeping an unplanned pregnancy – in a light-hearted, happy-ending way – it’s time for abortion to be acknowledged as the right choice for some women and teens and to present that choice in a way that reduces stigma. Some may say that it’s not a laughing matter, but like it or not, abortion is a part of the human experience, which is often funny. And sometimes laughter is good medicine.
So, what can we do?
If you have had an abortion:
- Know that you have the right to feel whatever emotions you have about the procedure or your experience.
- Know that you are not alone. Roughly one third of American women under 45 have had or will have an abortion.
- Know that the majority of women don’t regret their decision. In a recent study, 90% of women who were able to obtain an abortion felt relief. Even when women felt primarily negative emotions, like regret and sadness, more than 80 percent still said that it was the right choice.
- Consider talking about it. If every woman who obtains an abortion tells someone and shares their story, we can work to put a face on this issue. One that looks like our sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmas…and not like a stereotype. If you don’t have a friend with whom you can share your story, message me through this site.
- And if an advocate makes a joke that makes you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to call them out. Tell them about your experience. Help them understand your perspective.
- And if you feel like laughing or cracking a joke about your abortion, please do! And tell me. I can use a good laugh.
If you are an advocate:
- Consider your audience before you crack a joke.
- Consider volunteering as a clinic escort or patient advocate. Hold a woman’s hand. Help protect her from shame and harm. Tell her that you are there for her.
- Go see the film Obvious Child and support art and media that attempts to de-stigmatize abortion and paint a more realistic picture of this common and necessary health care.
- Keep fighting! In the above referenced study, researchers suggested that women who have a more difficult time getting an abortion, were required to seek counseling or undergo an ultrasound or who are prevented from accessing care feel more negative emotions about the experience. Advocating against these laws can make abortion more accessible and reduce stigma.
- Keep talking. Let’s do our part to reduce shame, stigma and fear around this procedure.