For abortion activists and people who have had abortions, it often feels like we are continually taking a defensive position in responding to discussions around abortion. We are well versed in the rights-based arguments for abortion and post-abortion services, the devastating health impacts of illegal or unsafe abortion, and the need and evidence for decriminalization. Some of us go even deeper. We share intersectional analyses of access to abortion for marginalized women; reflections on poverty disparity in accessing these services; or the interlinkages between the criminalization of abortion and racial, social and economic justice. We share our own abortion stories or share the stories of other women; of unsafe abortion and mortality where abortion is criminalized, illegal, or inaccessible; of the lack of access, stigma, discrimination, and violence faced by young women and adolescent girls; stories of hard decisions, and fear.
It is true that these are the realities for many women across the world, and these stories are at the heart of our calls to action, and our fight for abortion rights. But have we done justice to the stories of positive experiences of abortion? The joyful experiences? Or even the mundane? Are we sharing these stories in the same way?
Sharing of such stories does not undermine those who have had to make hard, and in some cases heartbreaking decisions. Or undermine the stories of women who don’t even have the opportunity to make a hard or easy decision, and have to risk their life and health for the abortion they need and want. And yes, it is easy for me to talk about finding joy in abortion stories, as a white woman, based in the UK, with the means to access what are available (albeit not perfect) abortion services.
But the positive stories are valid and a reality for many women. In the past few years we have started to see narratives coming from women, abortion rights organizations and movements in the Global South and the Global North, of women’s positive experiences of abortion. Stories such as one shared in the New York Times recently, of a young woman, who’s abortion was, in her words, ‘inconsequential’. The author recognises that the choice that she was able to make, is a choice that many women cannot make. However, this refreshing, honest, and matter-of-fact account is something that seems to often be missing from our discussions and messaging. Stories that include relief or joy, or where there are no strong feelings before or after, or no hard decisions to be made. Stories of women that don’t include the ‘scale’ of guilt that is so often expected of women who have had late term abortions, compared with those who have had early term abortions. Stories of women who have had multiple abortions, and who are ok, who are healthy and happy, who have gone on to have children, or go on to choose not to have children. Stories of women who had all the children they wanted to have, and who continue to be happy with their decision. Stories of women who have forgotten about their abortion, or who look back on their abortion with happiness and thankfulness for the ability to exercise their right to choose. These stories are just as important, valid, and as common as the other stories.
‘Glib’, is what the author suggests she may be, in describing ‘the truth’ of her decision that was ‘not tortured’. But would we ever say that we are being ‘glib’ in describing our feelings around another medical procedure that has gone well and been a positive experience? No we wouldn’t. And it is because the abortion debate has been so heavily manipulated by right-wing and anti-choice groups to be a centrally emotive issue, as opposed to the human rights and health issue that it is, that we sometimes even find ourselves explaining away lack of guilt or negative feelings – with words such as glib.
Are we reaching the age of joy in abortion stories? Positive stories have the power to fight stigma, to address mistruths and myths, to centre abortion in discussion about the right to health and the right to life, away from discussions around ‘morality’ and religion. Let’s continue to shift from narratives of victimhood and guilt, to narratives of power and choice.