It says something about our culture’s handling of “controversial” issues that at honest take on people’s common lived experience ends up feeling so refreshing. That’s one reason why the film Obvious Child has received such a rapturous response from many viewers, especially women (it’s also because it’s hilarious and Jenny Slate is wonderful- check it out).
An abortion story isn’t the same for every woman, but it is fundamentally a common experience in this country. Nearly three in 10 women will have an abortion by the age of 45; if people think they don’t know a woman who’s had an abortion, they probably just don’t realize it, largely thanks to the stigma attached. American viewers are used to seeing movies and TV shows where women who have abortions, or just think about having them, die at a much higher rate than in real life, or characters faced with unintended pregnancies ignore an option that many adult women would consider.
This dynamic is what got me very intrigued when I learned about Lucy Flores, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Nevada, from Amanda Marcotte in Slate:
Midterm elections are heating up, and the race for lieutenant governor in Nevada is shaping up to be one of the more interesting statewide battles of the year. It’s not just because there’s a slight chance that the winner of the race could become governor if the current one (Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, set for an easy re-election) manages to successfully challenge Sen. Harry Reid for his seat in 2016, but also because the Democratic nominee, a state representative in Nevada, bucks a stunning array of expectations that people have for politicians: Lucy Flores grew up poor, dropped out of high school, has done time in prison, and has a regrettable ankle tattoo. Oh yeah, and she’s open about having had an abortion.
For politicians or candidates to admit to having had an abortion is more or less unheard of. Rep. Jackie Speier of California made news a few years ago when she bravely discussed her abortion during a floor debate about Planned Parenthood funding. As significant as that was, Marcotte notes that her story of a pained decision about a wanted baby who would not survive is viewed as a much more sympathetic narrative. Flores’ story adds another dimension to this debate by admitting that she had an abortion for the reason many, many women do: she didn’t want to have a baby at that time:
In 2013, she testified in support of a bill expanding school health programs. As she explained from the witness table, her school’s failure to teach sex education had a direct impact on her family.
“I had six other sisters … all of them became pregnant in their teens – all of them,” Flores said. “One of them was 14 years old when she got pregnant with twins.”
Then, with a nervous laugh, Flores told her colleagues something she had never admitted to anyone.
“Since I’m sharing so much this session, I might as well keep going,” she said. “I always said that I was the only one who didn’t have kids in their teenage years. That’s because at 16, I got an abortion.”
Her eyes welled up and her voice caught as she described how she had convinced her father to pay the $200 cost for the procedure. She didn’t want to end up like her sisters, Flores told him.
“I don’t regret it,” she said. “I don’t regret it because I am here making a difference, at least in my mind, for many other young ladies and letting them know that there are options and they can do things to not be in the situation I was in, but to prevent.”
It shouldn’t be so revolutionary for Flores to share a fairly common story in this country, but given the state of the reproductive rights conversation, it is. The debate about contraception and abortion in this country, as evidence by much of the reaction to the Hobby Lobby ruling, has an undercurrent of distress at the idea of women having control over their bodies and engaging in recreational sex. A woman who displays no regret or shame about an abortion is likely to set off the anti-choice constituency (as evidenced by angry messages and death threats Flores received), but Marcotte explains that even Republicans realize that going after her appealing personal story is counterproductive.
Flores’ embrace of a pro-choice agenda would be enough to endear her to me and many voters, but on top of that she has used her personal experience with everything from serving time in youth prison to domestic violence to inform policy debates and ground them in real-life impact (I recommend Benjy Sarlin’s MSNBC profile of Flores for more on her background and advocacy). Whatever happens with her election, her refreshing honesty and compassionate views on policy will hopefully teach some lessons to candidates about what is not only possible but what will energize and excite voters.