When I went for my abortion, they were there: anti-abortion protesters with their misleading imagery of bloody, late-term baby-looking fetuses, re-enforcing their belief that I was killing my unborn child.
I was as convinced then as I am now that a woman opting out of pregnancy is not the same thing as taking the life of another human being. The truth, I understood, looked a lot different than the way those protestors saw it, and the proof -- for me -- is in the pictures, pictures that some people are reluctant to see.
This is my abortion, a campaign created anonymously by a woman who took pictures of a pregnancy she terminated at six weeks, shows a very different reality to abortion than those images that assaulted me as I walked into my appointment. Four Instagram-looking images of some medical looking devices, including a jar with an inch or so of red frothy stuff at the bottom, demonstrate that your garden variety abortion is “basically like getting your period all at once,” describes one feminist blogger, Amanda Marcotte.
“My hope is this project will help dispel the fear, lies and hysteria around abortion, and empower women to make educated decisions for their bodies,” explains the site’s creator.
This is my abortion is a pro-choice campaign in the same spirit as the Internet site I had an abortion and Jennifer Baumgardner’s “I Had an Abortion” project of 2004. The purpose of such work is to demystify and de-stigmatize an experience that no less than one in three U.S. women will have at some point in their lives. Similar to its predecessors, the website This is my abortion includes a comments section, which its creator describes as a “safe space for people to share, connect, and support one another on the matter of abortion.”
Some argue that people’s personal lives are just that -- personal -- and they ought to stay that way, political benefits aside. Whereas I agree that no one is beholden to “come out” and identify themselves in a stigmatizing way -- certainly not when doing so may threaten that individual’s personal well being -- I disagree with people who go so far as to say that such campaigns do more harm than good.
“I don't want to talk about my abortion in polite company, or impolite company, or any company at all, really,” says an anonymous author at Jezebel in a piece called Why I Won’t Talk About My Abortion, “just as I don't want to talk about having hemorrhoids or the consistency of my menstrual flow.” And yet, ironically, this woman IS talking about having an abortion, albeit anonymously -- just as the woman behind This is my abortion has also chosen to withhold her name. We talk publicly about having had an abortion, anonymously or not, because -- unlike hemorrhoids or periods -- abortions are a hotly contested political issue. Hemorrhoids aren’t caused by a lack of access to affordable contraception nor can the criminalization or stigmatization of people who have hemorrhoids compel a woman to carry a hemorrhoid for nine months, watch that hemorrhoid turn into a child, and be forced to make the now-difficult decision whether to keep that child or surrender it to adoption... OK, my metaphor has long since broken down but, well, she started it.
Personal experiences shape and inform our political views. Whether they are our own stories or the stories of others with whom we come into contact, first person testimony breathes human life into otherwise abstract statistics, better understanding that follows us into the ballot booth. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, for example, people who know someone who's gay are 20 points more likely than others to support gay marriage. This is the reason that women who’ve had abortions speak up: in support of others who can’t, and to protect all of our right to have the choice.
As we all know, there are plenty of people speaking from the opposition, and what they say is sometimes simply not true.
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.
For some women-- possibly even many or most women, it’s hard to know when we don’t talk about it -- having an abortion is a difficult decision, one that causes them profound grief. For me, having an abortion wasn’t a serious experience, and there’s enough messaging in this world that tells me that it should have been that I think the world can withstand 1,200 or so words describing the experience in an opposite way.
Whereas I may have had strong negative feelings about getting pregnant -- guilt, mostly, because I was cheating on my boyfriend at the time, and my whole life was a mess -- I had no negative feelings whatsoever about having an abortion. Hell, of all the decisions I made at 22, it was probably one of the best of the lot. When it was happening, all I felt -- other than 30 seconds of sharp, bright pain -- was relief. Terminating my unintended pregnancy was the right thing to do, and I was as absolutely certain of this then as I am today.
The truth is that my abortion was no big deal -- and apparently I’m not alone in feeling this way -- and so long as there are people clamoring to tell me differently -- and lawmakers vying to take away my right to this choice -- I won’t stop sharing this experience, and encouraging other women to share theirs.
[Speaking of which, you can still participate in xoJane's abortion rights gallery. If you’ve had an abortion, or just want to protect the right to access abortion, send your your photo holding a sign about your experience to firstname.lastname@example.org. Examples here.]