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Archive for July, 2009

After crying my eyes out watching the season finale of 16 and Pregnant I have been wondering when someone was going to bring up the question about teens who have had abortions. And frankly, I was a bit nervous. I was thrilled to read the thoughtful piece by Amy Benfer on Salon, “16 and Aborting.”

In particular, I appreciated this:

Is there any safe, responsible way to film interviews with teenage girls who had abortions, then broadcast them on national television? The question alone almost answers itself. As someone who has written and edited first-person essays by women for 10 years, I can tell you that pretty much every pro-choice editor wishes like hell that we could get women to go on record, under their own damn bylines, writing about their own abortions. (Salon editor Sarah Hepola and I spent one night dreaming about some hypothetical column called “My Abortion Story.” But we have yet to do it.) Some do. But most won’t, and for good reason. What happens if your story gets Googled by your boss? Your mother-in-law? Your pro-life next-door neighbor? Or, even more dramatically, some right-wing dude compiling a hit list? It’s absurd, but also true: This is the kind of thing that gets a few unlucky people harassed, and even shot and killed.

But frankly, abortion stories are better suited to print than film anyway. Unless there’s some sort of crazy complications, there’s not a whole lot of action (and nothing that compares to the drama of birth). It’s more a question of how one feels about it all. And honestly, it makes me downright squeamish to think of putting a teenage girl in a position to be judged by others about a procedure that even adult women can’t talk about without having their decision subject to debate: One can imagine a girl who expresses nothing but relief at being able to get the hell on with her SAT practice test being branded as selfish. (What, she had to go to an Ivy League school? The local college wasn’t good enough for her?) On the other hand, the kind of girl who expresses grief or regret might be branded a traitor. (Doesn’t she know she’s ruining it for all of us?) The consequences of not portraying the full range of abortion experiences leaves us afraid that anyone who does express ambivalence may jeopardize every woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion. That situation alone should make those of us who are pro-choice mighty pissed off.

Amy couldn’t have done a better job of laying out the social landscape around women’s abortion stories.

Here is my response:

This is such a thoughtful piece, Amy, and I am so glad you wrote it. I too have watched the show and been awed by the young women and men. I cried my eyes out on the season finale. Those young parents placed their child for adoption against the wishes of their own parents. I admired their guts. I also appreciated how much the show showed the full scope of emotional responses to pregnancy, birthing, parenting and adoption. It was very human.

And, as you correctly point out, we don’t often get a chance to see abortion stories with the same level of depth, honesty, and emotion that we saw portrayed with these young parents.

I have told my story countless times and in countless ways, including on video because my own experience led me to found Exhale: a talkline for people to call after abortion for nonjudgmental emotional support. Over the years, Exhale has listened to thousands of women and men share their stories and experiences with abortion. Their stories and needs run the gamut, and yet they all have something in common: the need to be heard. This is something we can all relate to. Being seen and heard for who we are matters.

Many of our callers have another need, and that is the chance to form connection and community with other women like themselves, women who have had abortions. Because of all the reasons you laid out for why most women don’t speak publicly, it is cruel to try to push or prod women to do it for our own ends. In fact, Melissa Harris-Lacewell points out that this can in fact cause women more harm. Instead, Exhale advocates that listening to women and men who have had abortions must be our goal. We are pro-voice.

For pro-choice people, and others who care about the issue of abortion and who care about women who have had them, 16 or otherwise, you can be a part of changing the social climate by recognizing and validating this need. Recognizing the need for connection and community will go a long way to changing the conversation and the debate so that there are more opportunities for women to be heard without fear of stigma and shame.

Nice to see a thoughtful (& not snarky) piece on Salon about abortion.

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*first published on Huffington Post

Ten years ago, I had an abortion.

Once I found out I was pregnant, it took me quite awhile to even consider abortion, and then a lot of contemplation to finally decide to have one — and most important, go through with one. It wasn’t easy and it was definitely emotional. Ten years later, I’m still reflecting on the meaning of that abortion in my life and what it means for my own morality. It’s a rich part of my abortion experience.

It’s a shame, then, that so many pro-choice people want to shut down any conversation about abortion’s morality, or ethics, because when they do, they shut down women.

In her recent article on Salon, longtime pro-choice leader Frances Kissling asked, “Can we ever say a woman can’t choose?” She brought up “whether it makes sense for the pro-choice movement to deal publicly with the ethical issues as well as the legal issues surrounding abortion.” You can imagine the result. Some of the loudest voices were pro-choice people who demanded that Frances get her “ethical high horse out of my uterus” or to “mind her own business.” They proclaimed that “I, and I alone” should determine what to do.

Alone. They got one thing right. That’s how I felt after my abortion. Alone. Being left alone so that others could mind their own business was the exact opposite of what I wanted. What I wanted was for someone to care, to listen, and to support me.

This is what many women want after an abortion. I am, in fact, not alone.

I know now that after an abortion, many women want somewhere to turn, a place they can talk and be heard. Since 2002, the organization I founded and now lead, Exhale, has provided women and men with a nonjudgmental place to call for emotional support after an abortion: our national, multilingual, talkline. People call us to share their stories and feelings. They call with hope. Hope that they will find comfort by talking to someone who cares, and by being seen and heard for who they are. Many reflect on their own morality. We always affirm their personal capacity to be well and feel whole.

The pro-choice commentators on Salon were right about this: Women do make their own ethical decisions about abortion. The problem is, no one will know how or why, or what the lasting significance is in a woman’s life, if conversations are shut down instead of fostered. If the “my way or the highway” base successfully imposes its litmus test on pro-choice leaders, and if there are no new voices like Frances Kissling willing to lead these conversations publicly, then the pro-choice movement has ceased to lead. Shouting down the moral, ethical, emotional, and experiential questions that people have around abortion — including those held by the women who have had them — will not make them go away.

Exhale understands this. Over the past seven years, our work has grown from its focus on one-on-one direct emotional support to women and men after an abortion to a broader vision for growing a public discussion around abortion that is based in real, lived experiences. Exhale believes that abortion, like every issue where human dignity is at stake, requires us to listen to the voices, needs, and experiences of those who have lived through this issue in order to find new solutions. We want to hear more about what people have to say. We are always listening.

We are pro-voice. Ours is not a legal position on abortion, but a human stand alongside every woman who has had one. We live in the gray area of human experience. While a woman’s right to have an abortion can be important to her story, we know it is not the full story, nor her only need. Most important, we know that it is our job to open up new conversations and create more opportunities for women and men to tell us about their lives, including their morals and their ethics. We will not shut them down and force them into isolation until they are invisible. They matter. Their well-being is all of our business.

That is the moral of my abortion story.

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Special Agent Emily Prentiss is contacted by a childhood friend and told that another childhood friend recently died. It smells of foulplay. Prentiss gets leeway to explore the case and eventually brings the rest of the team along. It turns out that when she was 15 she got pregnant and this childhood friend (the one that is now dead) had helped her access an abortion. He, and the rest of his family, also happened to be incredibly religious. Her abortion caused him to start questioning his faith, to the disapproval of his parents and community. From the way they tell the story, it basically sounds like his role in her abortion caused him to go down the wrong path, where he turns into a drug addict with all kinds of problems…eventually leading to his death through EXORCISM! That’s right. A priest kills him, using exorcism, and goes on to kill – or attempt to kill – 3 more of this guys friends. I still don’t understand why. But, it certainly seemed like everyone in the family all blamed his problems and his eventual death on his role with helping a 15-year old Prentiss get an abortion. And because he told her to hold her head high and not be ashamed.

Her fault:

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Thanks to Laura at Fully Engaged Feminism for interviewing me about Exhale on her podcast. She writes:

In the shouting match around the legislating and moralizing of abortion the first silenced are often women who have experienced it. Where can women go to tell their story with out it becoming ammunition for either side of the reproductive rights war>

In this show I interview Aspen Baker from Exhale an after-abortion talkline. Our conversation goes past the details of the hotline covering the nature of women’s truths and the challenges that feminists face today.

Listen here.

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Thank you Faith Aloud!

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