Rebecca Halff, Erin Matson, Anise Simon
A Personal Story as a Political Act
My Story Has Nuances
I have struggled to talk about my own abortion story publicly for fear of criticism about how I should have “known better.” The National Network of Abortion Fund’s abortion storytelling leadership program, We Testify, has made space for me to tell my story and all of its nuances as a woman of color, as a first generation American, as a Southerner, and as a Jew:
When I was in my early 20s, I was in a relationship with a very charismatic man. I was a visible feminist in my community, so when the relationship became abusive, I was afraid of how it would affect me personally and professionally if other people found out. And I was scared to call the police on a Black man in America. During the course of this relationship, I became pregnant and had an abortion. My mother sent me flowers. My best friend took me to the abortion clinic down the street and I was lucky enough to have insurance that covered the cost of my procedure.…Even though I knew I wanted to get out of my relationship the moment I made the appointment with the clinic, it took me another five months to leave for good, because it’s rarely that easy to leave.
I bottled all of my emotions up. It wasn’t until a 2015 trip to the mikveh on the American Jewish University campus that I shared my story with the mikveh attendant. It’s poetic that this space that offered me the most healing from the memory of the abusive relationship and the abortion I had within it, was mayim hayim, living water, a representation of the womb itself. Over a year later, I’m still working to make abortion access a reality for everyone by opening more womb-like spaces for storytelling. Sometimes we create mayim hayim by telling our own stories, quiet or loud, but always brave. And sometimes we find space in the silence of memories and in the strength of purpose given to us by those who came before us — my grandfather, my mother, and other faith leaders who have upheld abortion access as part of our moral existence.
Anise Simon on the Lilith Blog
My Story on My Terms
Google “abortion stories.” See that? They’re everywhere. You can read 173 of them on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website alone. “Sharing your story is a powerful way to speak out for choice,” NARAL tells women.
Women who want to share their abortion experiences with the world — for whatever reason at all — should be able to do so without fear of being shamed and stigmatized. But please, media outlets. Stop asking for my abortion story. My medical history and reproductive health are none of your business.
Abortion stories are being coaxed out of — and sometimes demanded from — women. The 1 in 3 Campaign (referring to the one of every three U.S. women who will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute) takes one of the more appropriate approaches in asking for such personal and private information by suggesting — rather than demanding — that women participate in “a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion — telling our stories, on our own terms,” the website explains. Other campaigns, like #ShoutYourAbortion, are neither as diplomatic nor as respectful of a women’s right to choose — in this case, our right to choose not to share our medical history with the general public. Their verb of choice is actually in the imperative.
Commanded by well-intentioned political/consciousness-raising campaigns and publications to “share my story,” I am invariably offended. I grew up learning from my OB/GYN mother and a vintage copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves that my body is mine and mine alone. I owe no explanation to anyone for what I choose to do with it. Can we really imagine men being asked about their own medical histories in the brazen and entitled manner in which women are routinely asked?
How ironic, too, that while the legal underpinning of this country’s landmark reproductive rights cases, including Roe v. Wade, is the constitutional right to privacy, the rallying cry for abortion rights is now “Go public!”
Rebecca Halff on the Lilith Blog
I Am Not “Pro-Voice”
Renee Bracey Sherman, author of Saying Abortion Aloud: Research and Recommendations for Public Abortion Storytellers and Organizations, has shared her abortion story many times over the past four years. She received targeted online harassment and death threats.
Bracey Sherman first shared her story in September 2011 on a blog by Exhale, an organization that uses an apolitical “pro-voice” approach to address the emotional health and wellbeing of men and women following abortion.
…Two years later, she published commentary titled “Why I Share My Abortion Story, But Am Not Pro-Voice” in which she detailed how she had come to feel compelled to share her abortion story within explicitly political contexts: “I don’t believe in order to share your abortion authentically, you have to move to the sidelines and become apolitical. And if that is what some people want to do, that’s great. That’s their choice. But it’s unethical for them to tell me how I should share my story. Because it’s just that: mine.”
Erin Matson in “Feminist Over-Sharing in the Wake of the Ray Rice Scandal” in Scandal in a Digital Age, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.