Last summer — just days before the video that falsely claimed that Planned Parenthood was dedicated to performing abortions in order to sell “baby parts” surfaced on the internet — I took an afternoon off from work. I drove forty minutes to a Planned Parenthood clinic outside Denver and sat staring blankly at the blurry words of a book for two hours in a cold waiting room, until a nurse called my name.
There, by myself, I quietly experienced one of the most difficult and mentally taxing days of my entire life.
I was in a rough place last summer. When I found out I was pregnant, it was the cherry on top of a shit sundae that was piling higher by the second.
And just to be clear, not once — from the second I wondered where my period was, to this very minute as I write these words — have I regretted my decision to terminate that pregnancy. There was never a question in my mind whether I was making the right choice for me, and I will forever stand by that. I have no reason or desire to defend my decision to anyone.
So why have I been so afraid to talk about it?
I don’t regret my abortion, but I do regret that I, a woman who usually has no trouble speaking her mind, and certainly no trouble publicly defending the pro-choice movement, am so afraid to speak of my own experience. I regret that I have allowed society and the hatefulness of the anti-abortion agenda to dictate my actions and hinder my ability to write, to share, to speak my story. And I won’t do it anymore.
I’ve struggled in the months since with how to deal with this as a writer and as a feminist. Almost immediately after my abortion, more and more women began sharing their stories, as Planned Parenthood and women’s health took a front seat in the news. I felt a responsibility to share my own story, and I wrote draft after draft, hundreds and thousands of words about my experience. I wrote about the kindness of the people who worked at Planned Parenthood. I wrote about the sudden and strange realization that, even as a staunch and outspoken pro-choice feminist, I somehow went into my own abortion completely blind as to what I was about to experience. I wrote about my emotional state before, during, and after, and the physical effects the abortion had on my body. I wrote about the failure of my birth control, and my choice not to share my decision to abort with the man who had gotten me pregnant. I wrote so much, for so long, about so many things.
But when it came to trying to polish a piece for publication — to put forth something that could provoke real questions and thought, something that would serve as a relevant and timely addition to a national debate, something that could potentially help so many other people in situations just like mine — I was frozen.
Speaking publicly about my abortion meant putting it out there into the world with my name attached.
It would mean allowing anyone — friends, prospective employers, family members, random Tinder dates, old high school classmates doing the occasional bit of online stalking — to see it with just a quick Google search of my name.
Publishing a piece about my abortion meant I would have to tell my mom.
Three out of 10 women will have had an abortion by age 45. That's nearly one in three. Most women who have terminated a pregnancy are reluctant to openly talk about it for many reasons, among them the fact that abortions are still considered so socially taboo that many of us fear backlash from friends and family (even those friends who might think of themselves as pro-choice). And to risk receiving cruel — and often violent — comments from strangers by speaking out publicly? No, thank you.
In the days, weeks, and months following my abortion, I was lost. My Facebook feed was flooded with stories surrounding the Planned Parenthood “controversy,” and I read a lot of truly hateful words written by people I had once respected or considered friends. And the entire time, I wanted to speak out. I had a story to tell and I desperately wanted to add my voice to the mix.
But I was already hurting. I was in physical pain and under extreme mental duress, as well as broke from the cost of my visit to Planned Parenthood. Doing something that would invite nasty messages and possibly even threats from strangers to my doorstep wouldn’t be the straw that broke the camel’s back; it would be a brick, and it would have shattered the delicate window that was my mental health at the time.
I felt unsafe in my own private world, and I felt that speaking out would incite a barrage of judgment, even in my personal community of liberal, forward-thinking women. Because it’s not just anti-choice proponents who stigmatize abortion; I believe that one of the biggest problems with the pro-choice movement is not in its support of a woman's right to choose, but in its lack of support for the women who do choose to terminate a pregnancy.
How many times have you heard someone say, "I'm pro-choice, but I'd never choose to have an abortion myself"? People are free to make any choice they want, but disclaiming our own personal choices in this way can imply a lack of support for those who choose otherwise; and as someone who used to use that line, I can tell you it's much easier said than done.
The fear caused by this — that my friends and family would look down on me and judge me — was paralyzing, and the mental hold it had upon me is one I am still trying to shake. Ultimately, I ended up telling a few close friends shortly after my abortion, and the responses from each and every one of them boiled down to expressions of support, and a sincere wish that they’d known so they could have been there for me.
Abortion stigma is designed to make us feel isolated, but we are not. I was so surprised — in the best way — by the outpouring of support from the people in my life, people who love me and trust me and support me and my decision. We don’t have to be alone if we don’t want to be.
The amazing people with whom I have surrounded myself were all incredibly supportive of me and my decision, which went a long way in helping me recover mentally. But I was — and honestly, still am — terrified of sharing my story, even in support of other women in my position, even knowing how important it is to speak out.
I am so ashamed of this fear.
I don’t regret my abortion, but I do regret that I, a woman who usually has no trouble speaking her mind, and certainly no trouble publicly defending the pro-choice movement, am so afraid to speak of my own experience. I regret that I have allowed society and the hatefulness of the anti-choice agenda to dictate my actions and hinder my ability to write, to share, to speak my story.
And I won’t do it anymore.
I won’t allow hatred and fear to stop me from writing, and I won’t allow this stigma to affect me and my voice. I am done sitting on the sidelines of this fight, and I am finally jumping in to do my part in making sure that safe abortion is not only legal, but socially acceptable.
I am done referring to my experience last summer in euphemisms. I’m slowly teaching myself to use the word "abortion" without lowering my voice or looking over my shoulder to see who heard me.
I am done allowing myself to get upset about ignorant posts and comments on social media.
I am done being made to feel like I should be ashamed. I am absolutely not ashamed of my decision, and I never will be.
In other words, I am finally done shutting up about my abortion.
Having an abortion made me feel so alone, so afraid. But finally telling my friends made me realize I didn’t have to be. Abortion stigma is designed to make us feel isolated, but we are not. I was so surprised — in the best way — by the outpouring of support from the people in my life, people who love me and trust me and support me and my decision. We don’t have to be alone if we don’t want to be.
My abortion was the right decision for me, and I shouldn’t have to defend that decision to anyone. I shouldn’t have to talk about it — my reasons, my situation, any of it — if I don’t want to, but I also should not be made to feel afraid of the consequences of speaking out.
Since my abortion last summer, my life has taken a sharp turn into the sunlight. I left an unfulfilling office job, and began planning and saving for the extended traveling I've always wanted to do. I met a man who loves me and appreciates me for the person that I am, and I am using a lot more of my energy and efforts to focus on the things that are important to me. I feel happier, I feel more secure, and I feel more like myself again than I have in years.
I stand by my abortion because it has allowed me to become the person I am today, and I am extremely proud of that person.
The anti-abortion movement would call this reasoning selfish. They call themselves "pro-life," which implies that anyone pro-choice has an inherent disregard for it. But I call bullshit — because I absolutely do value life, and I am done sitting back and letting anyone shame me for valuing my own.