Q: NARAL asks, “Given the anti-choice gains in the states and Congress, are you concerned about choice in 2011?”
A: I think that on the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we ought to consider why it is exactly that abortion rights are being eeked away at.
The reason for the shifting winds of sentiment to change over abortion has to do with communication. For much of the time since Roe vs. Wade was decided, Americans have been divided almost 50/50 on whether or not abortion should be legal. The right to abortion has exposed a significant moral schism in American politics. Lately the people who are willing to talk publicly (or privately answer pollster’s questions) about the right to choose abortion as an option for ending an unintended pregnancy are becoming a rare breed indeed.
As a community, what we don’t talk about, what we do not debate, what we do not address in a meaningful way becomes subversive. To talk about abortion has become not just subversive, but a dangerous act.
The Guttmacher Institute reports that while the number of women terminating their pregnancies swelled during the 1980’s, those numbers have slowly leveled out for the last 15 years. Despite the overwhelming violence toward abortion providers, the social stigma about abortion, and the waining availability of birth control, “at least half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and, at current rates, about one-third will have had an abortion.“
So while the numbers of abortions has remained fairly stable, the safety to talk about having had an abortion has become more limited. Therefore, anti-choice rhetoric and violence as reported by NAF does not really prevent abortions from occurring- it just impacts the safe social climate to talk about the continuing need to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And since half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are not planned, there is a lot of whispering, private talk that does not find its way into the social realm of public policy-making.
So I think the only meaningful way to challenge the anti-choice gains in the states and with Congress is to talk about our experiences. Not only are we obligated to communicate our experiences and feelings – we have to vote with the reality of our healthcare concerns. Because even if you personally do not want an abortion and would never choose to undergo the procedure yourself, you know someone who might need that painful and difficult option.
And the truth is, coming to a decision to have an abortion is not an easy choice.
I have a lot of experience working in reproductive rights. Over the years I have come under fire from my colleagues about my increasingly nuanced perspective about abortion and the moral controversy. I remain deeply committed to abortion provision and reproductive rights for all women. However, I have gained an understanding for why some people cannot fathom the thought of terminating a pregnancy, ending the potentiality of life – separate from themselves – growing inside them.
In having my very much wanted-children, I learned the significance of the growing heartbeat and the cell formation that develops from the germination, embryonic to fetal stages of prenatal babyness. So when I say that abortion is not an easy choice, I mean just that; it is a choice that is not an easy one to make in the reality of an unwanted pregnancy.
After an abortion, there are natural hormonal changes that can really mess with one’s head. Yet overall, “many women report being satisfied with their decision and feeling relief after abortion.“ And post-abortion depression is more generally associated, not with the abortion per se, but with the overall stress of being pregnant at a time in one’s life when the real option to have a child is not a responsible or available option.
So those of us who work in this field or who have undergone an abortion procedure, or who utilize the miracle of birth control have to start getting honest and brave and vocal about how the threats and bullying and murdering of our healthcare providers is unacceptable. We have to tell people who don’t want an abortion to put their energies to work toward real and positive change in birth control provision and sex education. We have to demand that our lawmakers strive to make all birth control options safe and affordable. We need to push our researchers for new methods and strategies for birth control options. And finally, we need to insist that the public discourse about our choices remain respectful of our humanity.