When s.e.smith posted the It Happened to Us: Abortion story the response was immediate and varied. And prolonged -- comments continue to drizzle in. I don't think the fervor surprised anyone who has talked about abortion (in person but especially on the Internet) before; abortion seems to trump religion and politics (maybe because it often combines both) as a Topic To Set People Off.
I've read every single one of the over 800 comments.
I’ve also read Helena’s excellent piece on the lies girls tell each other when it comes to having abortions.
They are very different posts, of course, because s.e. and Helena are very different people. But both posts feel quite important to me because I believe the destigmatization of abortion is vital. Not just politically -- I believe destigmatizing abortion is vital for the mental health of people who are faced with making that choice. The more shame and secrecy that surrounds abortion, the more abortion is the hidden monster in the closet, the ultimate punishment for having sex (whether we wanted to have sex or not).
Pregnancy and a resulting baby is the only appropriate punishment for that, right?
Perhaps that seems flip -- it’s intended to be. Both posts I linked to are now littered with the inevitable anti-choice rhetoric that comes after any post about abortion (no matter what the thrust of it) has been available for a little while. I can only take that sort of thing seriously for so long before I begin to suffer some serious despair.
Maybe this is one reason it’s so hard to have a nuanced discussion about abortion with a large group of people. It becomes only half about the discussion -- the other half of the time and energy (no matter what your position, actually) spent is about fortifying yourself to have the discussion in the first damn place. Whistling in the dark, as it were.
But the primary discussion in s.e.’s post was about about tone. Specifically, people seemed offended that anyone would be so glib about something we’re told is serious -- the very definition of srs bsns, in fact.
There are really two discussions to have here:
The Personal: Some people really DO struggle with the reality of their abortion and/or abortion as a thing that exists.
The Political: Some people feel appearing “insensitive” will damage the appeal of being pro-choice.
I want to talk about the political first because it’s actually the one about which I care the least. Seriously. You cannot run a radical movement -- and any movement based around bodily autonomy for people who have uteruses is radical these days -- and base your platform on the opinions of your opposition. I’m not going to repurpose the words of any particular civil rights leaders -- I’m wary of that sort of reapplication.
But time and again it seems to be the radicals, rather than the moderates, who get the change bus the gas it needs to pull away from the curb. This is not a dig against moderates -- I think every flavor of political activism serves a vital role in our process.
But the opposition does not get to dictate how I feel about an issue -- I’m not going to fake existential angst and torment just so the feelings of people who want to take choice away from people are assuaged and maybe maybe maybe they will see reason. I don't actually tailor my personal responses in order to make them palatable to people who hate what I stand for.
More importantly, there must be room for a range of reactions and those reactions, especially when it comes to something so individual as abortion. The whole range of reactions is valid, regardless of politics. None of those reactions deserve to be silenced.
Which leads me to talk about the personal. Because this is the part that I think is actually most important.
First and foremost, there is no such thing as a universal human experience. The thing that is so awesome about people is that every single one of us is different from the other in some way. That’s not about being a special snowflake -- it’s about the sum of our lived experiences combined with the biologicals; it’s nature and nurture.
That said, it does not surprise me when people talk about their abortions being hugely difficult. I do not think they are doing abortion wrong. And I’m glad that pretty much every pro-choice caregiver I’ve ever met, ESPECIALLY abortion providers themselves, is sensitive to the potential of abortion to be a very big deal for a person.
Even so, I’m actually pretty numb to the “I wouldn’t have an abortion myself but I support the right to choose” argument because I’ve heard it so often. In some ways, it feels to me like the pro-choice movement has decided to illustrate that one can be personally anti-abortion without being anti-choice -- without ever talking about the implications of that. I can respect that from an individual but I have problems with it being the singular face of the pro-choice movement.
Because when we cast abortion as a necessary evil, we really do perpetuate the shame of it. Someone, a lot of someones, is having all these abortions -- but no one wants to talk about it because there is so much cultural fear and shame associated with it. It makes people -- even and perhaps especially people who haven’t had an abortion -- uncomfortable. And goodness forbid any of us should be uncomfortable.
But here’s the thing -- just as I validate and respect the experiences of people who have had a difficult time with their abortion, I validate and respect the experiences of those people who did not. There are very much people who love abortion, no matter how glib that sounds, because it saved their lives -- whether literal or metaphorical. There are people who are going to treat it with humor -- for any number of reasons, including everything from laughing in the face of trauma to not finding it traumatic at all.
I know that is a hard thing to hear for a person who thinks of abortion as a necessary evil. But for many people, it is an open and honest reaction -- and it needs to be heard, too. Cramming that experience back into a dark corner smacks of shame -- shame that a lot of people in the pro-choice movement seem to feel toward people who don’t take abortion “seriously” enough.
I love life-saving medical procedures. I love that they exist and that they are available to people. I do not identify a fertilized egg as a “tiny baby” -- and that is absolutely my right.
It’s also totally OK if you do identify that fertilized egg as a tiny baby. I’m not going to try to talk you out of your personal definition. It’s a fundamental and personal difference in worldview.
I’ll respect your worldview -- but I’m also not going to silence my own just so no one has to deal with the idea that, yes, there are lots of people who do not feel guilt or horror at the thought of abortion.
And sometimes, those people are going to be glib.
I often revisit this article written by an anonymous person who experienced both an abortion and giving a baby up for adoption. As an adoptee, I have frequently been asked how I can be pro-choice. But I am pro-choice because your body is your own. Body autonomy means I don't have to agree with your choices to defend your right to make that choice. And I do not believe that forcing someone to carry a child is anything other than removing a person's body autonomy.
For some, abortion really is going to be on par with any other medical procedure of similar invasiveness. For others, who believe some kind of moral line must be drawn (which I do respect), it's going to be quite different.
Which is why I get that this is super uncomfortable for some people -- but I think there MUST be room for the glib reaction, just as much room as there is for the idea of abortion as a necessary evil.
We need to spend more time talking about our abortions and less time having what is essentially the Tone Argument. In fact, I think that refusing to approach abortion as a terrible and serious thing actually does more to destigmatize it and open up the conversation than all the hushed tones in the world. That doesn't mean the quiet and serious conversations need to go away -- but it means we need some space and time to yell.
We are currently assembling a reader gallery for all of you to talk honestly about your experience with abortion. If you've had an abortion (or if you simply value your right to choose), we invite you to send us a photo with your own handmade sign (and some further notes about the experience if you'd like) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!