Talking About Abortions: Necessary Short-Term Discomfort For Long-Term Healthcare and Social Justice Gains
Disclaimer: reproductive justice is a multi-level issue that requires multi-level action. This includes (but is not limited to): inclusive and practical sexual education (moving past traditionalist, abstinent, heteronormative approaches); accessible and affordable contraception and sexual health counseling; access to ethical (nonjudgmental) abortion care; inclusive maternal (parental) care, resources, and supports.
Abortion is a highly politicized, institutionalized, oppressive problem that affects us all. Much like how gender equality is not only a women’s issue, reproductive justice is also a human issue. It’s not limited to reproductive-aged, cisgendered women. When undue strain is placed on a subset of the population, it has a social ripple effect that cannot be contained nor ignored. Social justice issues should not be shouldered by those who are already experiencing disenfranchisement. The responsibility to care is on all of us – progress is collective.
Talking about abortion is important - I realized this after having had my first one. I was actively miscarrying (Misoprostol-induced) when I invited a friend over to keep me company and distract me from the pain. After telling her about my day, she thanked me for my candor, catalyzing a conversation about how people either don’t talk about abortions, or they catastrophize them. I’m not surprised most of us who seek the procedure are afraid. It’s a natural reaction to be afraid of the unknown. That’s one reason to talk about abortion: fear.
Stigma and fear have a complicated relationship within which stigma imposes silence and lends itself to fearing the unknown (because nobody is talking about it) while fear propagates silence and gives stigma more clout to produce fear in others. They are the most pervasive deterrents of abortion, from individual to system levels. They are the enemy of social justice.
In January 2017, I launched “so, I had an abortion…” a multi-media storytelling platform dedicated to the destigmatization of abortion, in an effort to motivate more people to talk about abortions freely, without fear or stigma. Storytelling is a powerful vehicle for change. It’s the foundation of civilization. We’ve always been storytellers, sharing knowledge with one another for the advancement of humankind. Exposure opens minds and fosters understanding. This is why talking about abortions is important - to contribute to the demystification of the experience and to challenge indoctrinated notions of a moral order that grants some privilege while subjugating others**. It’s necessary short-term discomfort for long-term social justice and health equity gains (reproductive justice). Progress is communicative.
“So, I had an abortion…” was born out of disillusionment, but is built on a foundation of hope. I am still disappointed with our society - that it would make those of us who have chosen to defer parenthood feel harmfully toward ourselves (e.g. shame). I recognize the privilege in my Canadian abortion experience. Decriminalized in 1988, abortions are considered medically necessary procedures at the federal level (as recognized by the Canada Health Act) and progress continues with two out of our thirteen provinces and territories (New Brunswick and Alberta) providing the new abortion pill Mifegymiso free of charge, making abortions more accessible, especially for rural and remote populations as well as those who may be struggling financially and/or do not have private coverage for such pharmaceuticals. 31% of reproductive-aged Canadian women have accessed this highly sought after procedure during their lifespan. That’s almost 1/3! Doesn’t that make you wonder how many of your family/friends (regardless of their gender identity and/or sexual orientation) have had abortions? Why haven’t they told you about it?
Whenever I disclose my experience(s) to people, they seem to grapple with some discomfort. Some struggle with how to react, whether to express thanks for the disclosure or concern for my experience. Whether to ask questions or be quiet. I welcome questions. We have to unpack the discomfort. Where does it come from? It comes from not knowing how to react because nobody talks about this taboo. “So, I had an abortion…” provides the space for us to collectively lift the shroud of stigma and dispel fear. It provides the space for people to shamelessly claim their stories, combat silence, and disrupt discourse toward social change.
I invite those of you who have had, tried to have, or supported a loved one in having an abortion to confidentially tell your story through whichever medium best represents your truths. All submissions are vetted by me and comment features are disabled on the platform to keep the space free of hateful messaging. Privacy and confidentiality are guaranteed by asking storytellers to: remove all identifying information from their stories; submit stories to a ProtonMail secure server email; sign an Informed Consent Form.
Reproductive justice is a timely issue with everything that is happening in the world, like in the United States (Trump), Ireland (the 8th amendment), Chile (revisions to abortion bill) and other countries where abortion is criminalized. It is time to talk about abortions. We all have our reasons to have deferred parenthood, and no one is more legitimate than another. Collectively communicating the multitude of abortion narratives that exist empowers us and provides others with a deep well of solace, reconciliation, and healing, all the while fostering understanding and compassion. Let’s move together toward a world where abortion is no longer associated with fear, shame, or privilege – a world where abortion is seen for what it truly is: a medical procedure and most importantly, a human right.
**Access to abortion is contingent on geography, culture, and socio-economic status (SES), where people in rural areas, low SES, or minority populations are most vulnerable