Wow. Almost exactly three years ago I was in this exact position, about to talk about the same thing. Of course I’m a little bit older, and I absolutely feel a lot wiser.
I’m at Hampshire College for the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference (CLPP) which is all about reproductive freedom, social justice, and sexual rights.
Tonight I went to my second Speak Out, a forum that honors the first documented Speak Out, where women who had experienced abortion gathered together and shared their personal stories outside while a panel of “experts,” including 14 men and a nun discussed the legality of abortion. Essentially, two facilitators explained the history of the event, and then opened the forum for anyone who had had an abortion to share their personal story.
I swear I’m not being lazy, but the sentiments Jessi from three years ago wrote sum up precisely what I’m feeling now:
“… A woman shouldn’t have to justify why she wants this procedure. These decisions are very personal. Obviously the issue is incredibly politically charged, but at the heart of the matter, each abortion was a very personal decision that a woman had to make. We are whole, self-governing human beings. We have the right to make these decisions for ourselves.”
In the last three years I have heard incredibly horrible things be said about women and abortions and women and rape and how that relates to abortions. I’ve seen horrible, fiction based legislation put forth in various states working to erode a woman’s right to choose. I totally had a “pro-life” man approach me at a counter-protest for Planned Parenthood while I held my “Don’t Take Away My Cancer Screenings” sign, call me a whore, and warn me to be very careful on my way home.
What I continue to never hear from the mainstream conversation about abortion are the voices of people who have HAD abortions. This of course is in part due to the massive stigmatization of women who’ve had this experience. And yet, MANY women at some point in their lives need this very safe, sometimes necessary procedure. How many women? The statistics say one in three. These voices are relevant!
Whether you are reading this and you consider yourself pro-choice or anti-choice (“pro-life”) I want you to just think about one thing. Do you have an opinion about abortion? Have you ever spoken to someone who has had an abortion? As people, we all bring our personal life experiences to issues, before even being able to politicize them.
This is an issue that is so deeply galvanizing, and used so much in the political sphere to polarize people. It is an issue I feel very, very deeply about, and the importance is renewed after hearing from women who’s lives were helped from this medical procedure. If you also feel strongly about this, one way or the other, I think it’s imperative to hear these voices.
I heard a lot of women speak tonight. Some stories were traumatic due to bad support systems, some were very empowering. I cried from the heartbreaking stories, of course. I also cried from happiness when I witnessed these AMAZING moments where I saw women, who for the FIRST time in their lives could share their personal story in a supportive environment, free of the shame and judgement that is culturally inflicted. For some people it was as if a physical weight had seriously been lifted off of them.
One woman who had an abortion over 30 years ago came up and summed up her story very simply. “Over thirty years ago I was pregnant, and I didn’t want to be, so I had an abortion. That is my story.” She also added “There are many reasons to become a parent and have a child. Simply being pregnant isn’t one of them.” While other stories were absolutely emotionally charged, hers was more succinct and to the point. I got the idea that she feels the same way about this activism work as my mom; “I fought for this 40 years ago. Why the fuck are YOU still fighting for this?” I appreciated her bluntness.
This is a multifaceted issue, rooted in injustice in regards to both class, gender and other intersectionalities. While the rest of the weekend will be focused on activism and mobilization, I’m very happy that I got to hear from the true heart of the issue tonight, and after all, the personal IS political.