Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is in the news again for sharing her abortion story in her recently released memoir. She shares the heart wrenching tale of ending two wanted pregnancies. It’s brave of Davis to share these personal stories, surely anticipating the ridiculous pushback and prying questions she would face. As many people have pointed out, while it’s very important for people to share these stories to end the stigma around abortion in this country, it’s no woman’s responsibility to carry that burden.
“Good” abortions are the types of procedures that are more palatable to the American public because they don’t involve situations in which critics could paint a woman as being selfish. They’re abortions that are typically compelled by reasons that most Americans see as non-negotiable: in cases when women’s health is at risk, in cases when the fetus has fatal abnormalities, and in cases when the woman became pregnant as a result of rape or incest. They always require some type of justification, some “proof” that the abortion was truly the right moral choice.
“Abortion stigma is the shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. The fact that there is dichotomy between ‘acceptable’ reasons for having an abortion and more ‘unacceptable’ reasons is because of abortion stigma, plain and simple,” Steph Herold, the deputy director of an organization called Sea Change, which works to combat abortion stigma, told ThinkProgress via email.
It’s groundbreaking for politicians to share any kind of abortion story (as Jackie Speier and Lucy Flores have), but we still have far to go before women will feel comfortable discussing far more typical abortion stories without stigma. Merritt Tierce shares such stories in a New York Times piece responding to Wendy Davis’s revelations:
I had an abortion because we were poor and I was depressed and I didn’t know who the father was. I had been having an affair. My kids were 2 and 3, and the debilitating morning sickness, which I experienced early in each of my pregnancies, made it difficult to work or care for two toddlers. I got pregnant again soon after, but miscarried. A few years later I had another abortion because the man I was seeing was emotionally abusive. I had no control in that relationship, so I sabotaged my birth control to get some back. The whole situation was a complete abscess. In spite of my awareness of our miserable present and inevitably doomed future, I didn’t really want to have an abortion. I wanted the man to love me or at least be forced to publicly acknowledge our relationship existed. But he didn’t want to have a baby with me, and I knew that having that baby would have been a terrible thing for my children. And for me.
This is how it really is, abortion: You do things you regret or don’t understand and then you make other choices because life keeps going forward. Or you do something out of love and then, through biology or accident, it goes inexplicably wrong, and you do what you can to cope. Or you do whatever you do, however you do it, for whatever reason, because that’s your experience.
While revealing so-called “good abortion” stories is an important step forward and helps personalize the issue and remind people that women who have abortion are human beings with feelings (sadly, yes, people need to be reminded of that), it doesn’t necessarily make things easier for most women who have abortions. A prime example of this is the way anti-choice people have seized on the story of a young woman who tried to use GoFundMe to pay for an abortion she couldn’t afford.
The woman stated her need for an abortion, saying she is “currently unemployed, completely broke, in debt, and in no position to hold down a job due to severe symptoms of a rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.” Opponents of abortion rights quickly seized on elements of her page with the clear intent of implying that she doesn’t deserve access to the procedure, and that many women seeking abortions are reckless and irresponsible. She just wanted the abortion so she could “continue to party.” The hubbub around the page caused GoFundMe, a website that has allowed fundraising pages for the police officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, to change its policy to prohibit fundraising for abortion.
This is an important reminder that when we fight for abortion access, we’re not just fighting for sympathetic people who are well off, have families, and are devastated at losing a wanted pregnancy. We’re fighting to keep politicians out of their decisions, but we’re also fighting for people who decide they just can’t have a child at the moment for whatever reason. As Culp-Ressler points out, it’s understandable that the very sympathetic stories are put forward as political strategy. It brings to mind Claudette Colvin, who few people remember because Rosa Parks was a more suitable spokesperson for the cause of civil rights. It may not happen today, but we need to shift our culture to the point that abortion is seen as a legitimate, private decision and women can access for it without having to justify themselves.