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An Abortion Story Both Radical and Ordinary

1:52 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Cynthia R. Greenlee for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Groom & Bride Wedding Decorations

An abortion on the road to wedded bliss.

For more than 20 years, the New York Times’ Vows column has shared newly hitched couples’ idiosyncratic paths to marriage. Vows has followed Wall Street wunderkinds down the aisle as well as a flame-throwing bride, a couple who admitted they fell in love while meeting at their children’s pre-K class (and while married to other people), and countless stories about partners whose first meetings did not foreshadow connubial bliss.

In a September 1 Vows column titled “Taking Their Very Sweet Time,” the paper profiled a couple who talked openly about their shared abortion experience. It’s an atypical abortion mention for the Times, where coverage is more likely to focus on state-level efforts to restrict the procedure. And, indeed, it would be rare in most newspapers, where formulaic wedding announcements often contain little more than references to wedding fashion and family trees.

At first glance, the wedding announcement of 32-year-old stay-at-home mom Faith Rein and 33-year-old Miami Heat basketball player Udonis Haslem fits the mold of many Vows columns: a meeting in college, stumbling blocks, and an extended courtship. Athletics helped them bond despite the differences in her suburban upbringing and Haslem’s hardscrabble Miami childhood; she ran track at the University of Florida, while Haslem was a Gators basketball standout.

But in the column written by Linda Marx, Rein and Haslem described the unplanned pregnancy that threatened to derail her junior year, his NBA draft plans, and their educations. Haslem was already a father and said that while “I am not a huge fan of abortion,” they had sports careers to think about and very little money to start a family together. Haslem’s support of Rein solidified their bond. Rein said, “I saw another side of him during that difficult time and fell deeply in love. He had a big heart and was the whole package.”

The announcement’s matter-of-fact tone and the couple’s understanding of their abortion as just one important event in their relationship makes the article remarkable, says Tracy Weitz, a public health professor and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) research group and think tank.

“From my perspective, what is amazing about this story is that the abortion is not the beginning or end of the story—the way we usually tell abortion stories,” she said.

The usual abortion story often unfolds in this way, according to Weitz: “Here’s a woman in crisis. She doesn’t get the abortion or she does. Either way, her whole life trajectory is determined by this one event. Maybe she’s 21 weeks’ [pregnant] and there’s a fetal anomaly, and it’s a terrible situation. The story isn’t actually about the woman, it’s about the abortion.” The Vows article, by contrast “was really about the couple. Part of their story was about the abortion, part was about professional athletics, and part of it was about their class differences.” It reflected the totality of their lives and not just a single moment.

As extraordinary as the inclusion of abortion in a wedding announcement is, the Times article is just one of many abortion stories to be publicized. For example, the Oakland, California-based group Exhale addresses the emotional well-being of men and women after abortion and sponsors abortion “storyteller” tours. Films like I Had an Abortion to initiatives such as the Abortion Conversation Project have all tried to open a broader, more constructive conversation about abortion in small, intimate groups or larger public venues.

The New York Times itself has weighed in on the public sharing abortion of stories. In June, its Room for Debate series offered different perspectives—from, among others, an artist who integrates her abortion experience into her performances and an Anglicans for Life representative—about whether or how women should share their abortion stories.

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One in Three: Silenced Stories of Survivors of Sexual Assault and Women Who Have Abortions

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lindsay Rosenthal for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Valentine’s Day is a day when we are supposed to remind those we care about that we love them. But it is also V-Day, a day where people around the world share stories of physical and sexual violence against women in order to remind the world that we care about women and will not tolerate rape, battery, and abuse. This year marks the 15th Anniversary of V-day and the 40th Anniversary of Roe V. Wade. So I thought it would be appropriate to draw a connection between the silenced stories of the 1 in 3 women worldwide who have experienced physical and sexual violence and the silenced stories of 1 in 3 women in the United States who will have an abortion in their lifetime.

As a survivor of rape and a woman who has exercised my right to choose abortion, 1 in 3 is much more than a statistic. In my view, the social stigmatization that blames women and tells women they should remain quiet and be ashamed of having been assaulted is rooted in the same view of women as second-class citizens that says abortion should remain unnamed and unspoken about in public. Gender-based violence takes many forms and our concept of gender-based violence should be broad enough to include the structural violence inherent in a society that seeks to control and regulate women’s bodies and denies them the ability to exercise their reproductive rights in the absence of stigma, shame, harassment, and a slew of unnecessary legal and financial barriers to reproductive health care.

Today, I offer my abortion story as a means of complicating the assumption that a legal abortion is necessarily a safe abortion in a social and political context that denies women’s reproductive autonomy and moral worth as citizens. I want to challenge society, policymakers in particular, to see that it’s not enough to keep abortion legal, as difficult as that fight has been. I want to offer my story to a collection of stories that make the case for positive and unrestricted abortion rights and hopefully challenge people outside the movement to view my choice in the context of my humanity.

I have dedicated both my personal life and my professional life to the advancement of women’s health and rights. Throughout college I defended women’s access to abortion and right to reproductive autonomy both through academic engagement and activism — I’ve done everything from screening on abortion hotlines for women in distress to serving as a clinic defender, protecting women from the harassment of protesters as they entered the clinic for abortion services. As a young professional, I advocate for women’s health and rights every day, nine to five and beyond.

My decision to pursue a career in the reproductive justice movement was based on my own experiences coming of age with a uterus, but it was also deeply influenced by experiences as an advocate in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, watching as pregnant young women were bounced around from foster home to incarceration without so much as a single conversation about the circumstances of their pregnancy or whether they wanted to be pregnant, and without receiving even an approximation of adequate representation in court as they endeavored to keep custody of their baby if they wanted to be a parent. I knew one young girl who desperately tried to self-induce an abortion from a prison bathroom and another young woman in the throws of despair as her new baby was removed from her custody without cause.

All of these formative experiences taught me how vital it is for women to be in control of their bodies. I had no idea that I would eventually need to exercise my own right to choose abortion. But I understood that it is fundamental to women’s freedom and liberty as human beings that we have the right to choose when, whether, and how to become parents and that we be fully empowered legally, politically, and socially to safely make our reproductive choices.

Women have countless reasons for choosing abortion. For some women, abortion is needed as a result of sexual violence. For some women, their abortion will be the means of escaping the violence of an abusive partner. For some women, having an abortion will be a means of keeping the children they already have in the context of a society that makes it difficult for poor families to provide for their children’s basic needs and that punishes poor parents by removing their children from their custody and placing them in foster care. And for some women, having an abortion will simply be about making the affirmative decision that they do not want to be a parent or have another child.

For me, pregnancy was like this: My body had been implanted with a foreign entity that made me violently ill from the time I got up in the morning until I got home from work at night. Worse, it was threatening to grow larger and larger until my whole life was subservient to its needs and desires, and others’ expectations of what I should be. I wanted and desperately needed one thing and one thing only: not to be pregnant. My choice to have an abortion was not one marked by moral ambiguity or internal conflict; not one rife with grief over the potential life that some would tell me I should feel an innate sense of duty to bring into existence. Not to be pregnant — it was a need that I can only describe as primal.

From the clichéd bathroom scene moment when I learned the result of the pregnancy test until after I had the procedure, I was overcome with a feeling of absolute desperation. The instant that second pink line appeared on the positive pregnancy test, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that had always been an abstract reassurance, suddenly became an offering of grace and a tangible pathway to safety and security and the freedom to determine my future in one of the most vulnerable moments of my life.

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The New Public Face of Abortion: Connecting the Dots Between Abortion Stories

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Steph Herold for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Editor’s Note: See also A Texas Abortion for a recent abortion story on MyFDL. -Kit

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Over the last few months, there’s been an electric energy around the sharing of abortion stories. We’ve seen two stories in the New York Times, a Jewish abortion story on Kveller, a continuation of an abortion story on Thought Catalog, an early abortion story on Boing Boing, and a piece by a woman reflecting on the consequences of telling her abortion story in the Texas Observer. One woman even documented her abortion in photos. And that’s just recently.

What’s going on here? Why are so many people “coming out” now? There are no simple answers to this question. Are women responding to the onslaught of anti-choice legislation? Has the uptick in media reporting on abortion policies eased some of the stigma around speaking about abortion? Are the calls to come out about abortion from pro-choice activists, politicians, and advocacy organizations actually working?

Without asking every person who’s shared her story, we won’t know the answers to these questions. By looking at what they’ve decided to publish, we can consider more basic issues: what are women saying when they come out? What kinds of experiences are represented? Who is coming out about their abortion experience, and who is silent?

To map the patterns and gaps in these published narratives, I created a tumblr to collect these stories: ihadanabortion.org. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

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