Recently a colleague announced the following at a press conference. This portion of her speech addressed the stigma of abortion.
In the United States since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 there have been over 45 million women who have chosen to have safe, legal abortions. In fact, 37% of American women, over 1 in 3 women, will have an abortion by the age of 45.
Abortion IS mainstream medicine.
Abortion IS a normal part of women’s health care.
So, why is stigma so successful? Why does the shame persist and silence pervade in our culture when so many people share the abortion experience?
Most of the time these 45 million women are silent.
Most of the time the loved ones who helped them with their abortion don’t talk about it either.
In fact, the pro-choice majority is silent.
Most of the people talking about abortion in our society are anti-abortion.
We abortion providers often feel and are looked at as the “radical fringe of the pro-choice movement”
However the reality is that without
us there is no choice. We ARE the Common Ground. We give the choice.
Without providers, the right to abortion is just an idea – it is just
something on paper that means nothing to women in actuality.
What does it take to keep 45 million women and their loved ones silent? You have to spend millions of dollars to shame them – to tell them they are murderers over and over until they believe it themselves. And you must threaten and intimidate and ultimately murder those who provide them this care. For over 35 years abortion providers have been the buffer between the anti-abortion movement and the women who have abortions. We have tried to protect women and shield them from the hostility of the antis. We need these women to speak up. There are not enough of us providers to protect this freedom for women.
To me, irradicating stigma is the single most important thing we can do for abortion rights in this country. Even now, in this room, at this moment each of YOU is looking at me – the abortion provider from Texas – through your own lens of stigma about abortion. Maybe I am “less than” or “more than” you thought “an abortion provider would be like”.
When I talk about my work people are often pretty quiet. Eventually, when they feel comfortable enough with me I am often asked, “so, why abortion care?” or “how can you do this work?” Even by supporters, by pro-choice people I see this question on their face or experience the silence or separation when I talk about providing abortions.
I EXPEREINCE stigma all the time in my work; the hospital will not give privileges to our physicians, we can’t secure local back up doctors, we can’t get anyone to provide us with bottled water or replace our tile floors or replace our roof or resurface our parking lot.
I HEAR stigma everywhere:
“Abortion should be rare”
“Abortion is a tragedy” (and these are our friends!)
“I am pro-choice but I’d never have an abortion”
“I am not like those other women”
“I don’t believe in abortion as birth control”
You may have heard these statements
You may have said these words yourselves
You may have thought these thoughts
It is my life’s work to end the stigma around abortion. To that end, let me take my final moments with you to answer that ultimate question – Why abortion? Why do you do this work? I invite you, in turn, to speak out about abortion. Tell your own personal abortion story, or talk about how access to abortion changed the life of a woman you know and love.
For me, abortion care is a calling.
Abortion involves all the big things
in life – sex, death, religion, family. Providing abortion gives me
the opportunity to have heart-to-heart conversations about these things
– about what really matters – every single day. I get to sit with
a woman as she examines what she believes – as she looks at what matters
most to her. What are her intentions? What are her dreams? Abortion
is a kind of right of passage for many women – it is often one of
the first times where women take a look at the values that they have
inherited from family/church/culture/
Making an abortion decision is a time when a woman acts with intention. When she chooses a path for her life and the direction she will travel. I want to NOTICE that moment of acting with intention and hold it up high for the woman to notice and to feel and own as hers. I invite her to experience her life as though she were in charge of it. There are many times in a woman’s life where “life happens to them” and abortion stands out as a time when I can support a woman to be the actor in her own life – the chooser – not a victim but an intentional, deliberate and ethical person choosing what is best for them.
Sitting with a woman as she examines her abortion decision provides ME with an opportunity to plant seeds that will change the world. I can invite a woman to look at her life differently than she may have before she came to my clinic. I have a moment to affirm that she is good, to affirm that she is moral and kind, and to affirm that she is not selfish. I can witness her dreams and her desires and affirm that she is put on this Earth to see them out and to act on her own gifts, not just to receive the lot that has been dealt to her. I have an opportunity to shine some light on her situation and turn on a light bulb or two in her thinking – especially about what is possible, what she is capable of, etc.
The opportunity to invite women to
accept themselves and to live out their dreams is a byproduct of abortion
care to some people, but to me it IS abortion care. I can make a contribution
that matters - I can truly change the world one woman at a time, simply
by sitting next to a woman, listening to her story, witnessing her experience
and gently nudging her to be all that she can be.
This changes the world.
For the better.
And this is why I provide abortions.