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.