Nevada Politician Lucy Flores' Brave Abortion Story Is Another Reason To Root For Her
Yes, there are a ton of women politicians on both sides of the political aisle who defend reproductive rights, but when was the last time you heard a politician publicly discuss her own abortion? There's a great lack of this type of personal narrative in the media, and when someone like Nevada Rep. Lucy Flores opens up about her own procedure, it's a conscious-raising moment for the general public: Yup, public figures do have abortions.
In a recent MSNBC profile titled "Is Lucy Flores the Latina star Democrats have been waiting for?" writer Benjy Sarlin dives into Flores's atypical political history, including her story of having an abortion at 16. According to Sarlin, Flores told this story while testifying on a Nevada sex-education bill in 2013.
Flores grew up in an impoverished family of 13 children and was raised primarily by her father after her mother abandoned the family while she was in grade school. All of her sisters became teen mothers.
In Flores's own words:
I had six other sisters … all of them became pregnant in their teens – all of them. One of them was 14 years old when she got pregnant with twins. ... I always said that I was the only one who didn’t have kids in their teenage years. That’s because at 16, I got an abortion. ... I don’t regret it because I am here making a difference, at least in my mind, for many other young ladies and letting them know that there are options and they can do things to not be in the situation I was in, but to prevent.
Flores added that when she became pregnant at 16, she didn't have an understanding of what birth control was, let alone access to it. "I didn't even understand that my worth did not come from men or sex with men," she said.
When Flores first told this story, it didn't go over well with anti-abortion activists. As Sarlin notes in his profile, Flores received death threats from abortion opponents. They called her, texted her, and emailed her constantly. LifeNews ran articles with headlines like: "Democratic Legislator: I Don't Regret Killing My Baby In Abortion."
Flores told MSNBC that the harassment made her think twice about sharing her story. "Perhaps, the sharing has just gone too far," Flores said.
No one can, or should, blame Flores for feeling that way. The threat of harassment and cyber-bullying of publicly sharing an abortion story is so great — even in 2014 — that it keeps many women from discussing their own procedures. As a result, the stigma around abortion survives. Reproductive rights activists have tried to counter the stigma by encouraging women to "come out" with their stories, but the bottom line is many women — especially public figures — still don't feel safe doing so.
Flores isn't the only female politician to talk about her experience, but she is one of only a handful. The only other politician in recent years who discussed her procedure is Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). In 2011, Speier told her fellow representatives — who were trying to place more restrictions on abortion and defund Planned Parenthood — that she had a late-term abortion years earlier.
"For you to stand on this floor and suggest that you have, that somehow this a procedure that is either welcome or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous," Speier said then.
Although Speier received some antagonizing from anti-abortion groups, the backlash wasn't as widespread. As Amanda Marcotte points out in Slate, it could be because Speier's procedure was medically necessary:
[Speier's] termination was done out of medical necessity, which is traditionally assumed to be a more sympathetic reason to abort. Flores admitted to the most controversial kind of abortion, the kind done simply because a woman does not want to have a baby at that time.
Marcotte is right that Flores's abortion may seem more "controversial" to the average American, but it may not hurt her political future after all. Flores is currently in the running for Nevada Lieutenant Governor, and a recent poll says she has a good chance of winning. In fact, her story may have made her more likable to Nevada voters.
According to Ralston Reports, a pollster found that 59 percent of voters said they would vote for Flores because of the details of her life story; only 17 percent said her life story made her "less favorable."
"I do think it’s interesting that some people on the Republican side think it will be great to use Lucy Flores’ background, ‘Oh she was in a gang, she committed crimes, she had an abortion,’” Jon Ralston told MSNBC. “If they tried to do [that] this race will boomerang on them so fast."
While many right-wing politicians have no problem talking about abortion in the abstract, having lawmakers like Flores disclose their personal experiences humanizes the issue. Speier certainly quieted the House floor when she shared her powerful testimony; maybe Flores and other rising pro-choice politicians can now do the same.
Image: Facebook/Lucy Flores