*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.