Despite the deep political entrenchment of the abortion debate in American politics, we never seem to talk about the fact that abortion is a common experience among American women. According to 2008 research from the Guttmacher Institute, one in three women* will have an abortion in her lifetime. Yet we don’t talk about abortion: We legislate it, regulate it, define what it is and isn’t and what it should and shouldn’t mean.

Rather than being looked at as an individual experience, abortion is too often examined and dissected through a framework of politics and cultural standards that trap women who have had abortions in a double bind. When a woman feels relieved after having an abortion, she is vilified as an individual, then treated as the representative for all women who have had abortion, accused as being heartless or accused of repressing her “true feelings.” On the other hand, if a woman experiences even the slightest regret of her abortion, anti-choice activists will use her narrative as a tool to advance restrictive policies that police women’s access to abortion care. In the midst of this political trivialization and cultural classification of a person’s lived experience, individuals’ abortion stories are effectively silenced.

Stigma exists on all levels: individual, community, institutional, legal and in the media. This stigma is pervasive, as we can identify it at all of these levels. For example, myths of the danger of abortion circulate and women who have had abortions experience shame, guilt, marginalization and are labeled either victims or promiscuous. Likewise, abortion providers are stigmatized. Research conducted at this very university has linked consciousness clauses — which permit doctors to opt out of performing abortions — to the stigmatization of abortion providers who are often stereotyped as incompetent physicians. Providers may also fear for their physical safety as a result of the stigma: Since 1993, eight clinic workers have been murdered.

As you can see, this stigma affects people’s lives. These people are women in our University community. One in three isn’t just a statistic; it’s a representation of all the women in your life who have had abortions but have not been given the opportunity to talk about them. Every time an anti-abortion law is proposed and every time a group of anti-abortion activists stands in front of a clinic entrance with signs that shame individuals who have abortions, we’re shaming one-third of our nation’s women for a choice that they made about their lives. This shaming effectively tells women who have had abortions — and women who are going to have abortions — that their experience is invalid, and that the choice they made about their pregnancy is shameful.

It’s our duty as young people who care about the safety and well-being of our community to amplify the voices of individuals who have had abortions by creating a space for them to share their stories free of the shame and stigma that currently surrounds abortion. We’re reclaiming our voices and telling our stories so that women around the nation can tell theirs, too. Not only do we hope that the sharing of personal abortion stories finally puts an end to the stigmatization of abortion, but we hope that it mobilizes abortion supporters to advocate for safe, legal and affordable abortion care.

This Thursday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. in the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union, Students for Choice will be holding its third annual Abortion Speak Out. The Abortion Speak Out is an opportunity for members of our campus community who have had an abortion(s) to share their experience in a safe, supportive and judgment-free space. Afterward, the Speak Out will be open for anyone to share their personal abortion story. While we encourage all University community members to join us in listening to the stories of friends and peers, only individuals who have had an abortion will have the opportunity to speak.

It’s time to come together to end the stigma and shame around abortion.

*We recognize that not all people who have abortions identify as women; transgender men and gender-nonconforming individuals also opt to terminate pregnancies. However, available statistical data only measures the prevalence of abortion among cisgender women.

Written by LSA junior Meg Rattanni on behalf of Students for Choice.

 

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