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.