You know what I've been talking about a lot lately? Abortion.
Women I have never seen before have stopped me on the street, at restaurants, and at shows to tell me about their abortions. Women I’m deeply connected to or related to by blood have told me about abortions that neither of us could believe we had never discussed before.
I spoke to a woman who recently became pregnant after being drugged and raped. I spoke to a woman who had a late term D & C because her twins were dying. I spoke to a gorgeous 70-year-old Persian woman who has had four abortions; she calls her one daughter her “middle child” because she had an abortion before and another after her daughter's birth. Goosebumps all day.
I had a transcendent conversation with my conservative 93 year-old grandparents last Friday when #shoutyourabortion was on the cover of the New York Times. Mimi and Bernie were the only people I was nervous to talk to about what was going on and I didn’t even know until I was speaking to them that they had read my Salon piece. I was afraid that Mimi would think the sass that she partially encoded in my DNA had morphed into strident vileness. Mimi and Bernie listen to people like Rush Limbaugh. People like Rush Limbaugh think I am a dangerously flippant monster who is deliberately, fiendishly poisoning the well.
I cried and I told my grandparents that I didn’t want them to feel ashamed or upset with me. They asked about what they felt were some of the more confusing aspects of SYA. We talked about abortion, we talked about what was motivating me to speak about something so personal so publicly, and we talked about Planned Parenthood. We all agreed that abortion has become politicized in a way that is detrimental to society.
Mimi told me that the previous day, she had spoken to a female friend, also in her nineties, about what I had been getting up to. Mimi’s friend responded by speaking about having had an abortion many, many years before, and what that experience was like. She had never spoken about this to anyone. Mimi said she knew her friend had shared this because of their discussion about SYA. This anecdote alone makes me feel that the world has changed.
At this point, I asked Mimi and Bernie if they were upset with me. And you know what? They told me they were proud of me, that they supported me, and that they loved me exactly as much as they had before. They even told me that they believed in me. I’m so lucky. I think that dialogue and love can rearrange the universe.
Talking to so many women about abortion over the last few weeks has affirmed for me that every single abortion story is different, both circumstantially and emotionally. SYA is a sea of voices, each expressing different things in a conversation where simply speaking openly is revolutionary. Our collective din is shattering the norm of silence.
It should not require a cultural revolution to normalize a common medical procedure. But somehow, normalizing abortion is only just now really beginning to happen. And stigma naturally falls away from things that society recognizes as being normal—it’s a numbers thing. After a certain point, you just can’t get away with saying that one in three women are bad people and expect to be re-elected to political office.
Women feeling supported enough to vocally own their past experiences is only the beginning. Hopefully, the conversation shifting in this way will help women who have not yet had abortions feel less alone and more supported in their choices in the future. Maybe in a few years, a woman facing down an unwanted pregnancy will feel as though she can choose abortion if abortion feels like the right choice for her without having her own sense of agency and self-knowledge scrambled by mainstream America’s warped ideals about women.
Conservatives have had women on the defensive forever. We are so used to tiptoeing around our use of language and adjusting our tone in order to try to act like the right kind of women—the kind of women who these people will be forced to respect. But they are never going to respect us, because they hate us. And they hate us more the louder we get, because they are rightfully terrified of our power.
SYA is about women refusing to bend our voices in order to placate those working to control female bodies and by extension, female lives. This is also why liberals and feminists have to do better than “safe, legal and rare.” We have to stop playing into the efforts to inject morality into a conversation about healthcare because we are afraid of the opposition calling us immoral.
Lastly: defining an emotional experience is secondary to having access to the experience in the first place. SYA doesn’t mean shit in states like Mississippi or Alabama, where the procedure is so inaccessible that it might as well be illegal. This conversation has got to expand and address the issue of access.
Now that we are actually talking about abortion, perhaps we will find that it doesn’t necessarily mean what we had to act like we thought it meant, and perhaps we will begin to see women’s health in more pragmatic terms. Supporting reproductive freedom is supporting women and supporting women is supporting the greater good.
Who can argue with that?
Amelia Bonow is, among other things, the co-founder of the #shoutyourabortion campaign.