I had the pleasure of speaking at the Western Regional Conference for Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) at UCLA on Sunday, January 31st.
I started my presentation by doing something I never do, which is to outline what it was I would *not* be talking about. I’m not a lawyer or a policy advocate so I let them know I wouldn’t be speaking about rights or the law. Instead, I talked about the growing pro-voice movement and the importance of building a cultural climate that supports and respects each individuals unique experience with abortion. I talked about the role of stories, comforting those who have been stigmatized and the need to build community. I talked about the danger of a single story, shame and advocacy.
When a woman’s story with abortion is only seen as a tool to be used to further political goals, we erode the strength of our own social movement. Pro-Voice is a public stand with each and every woman who has had an abortion, no matter how much her story makes us uncomfortable. We are for all the stories.
Lauren Mendonsa, a Law Student and Member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was present and wrote a blog post in response to the question I posed to the group:
“What do you think is the role of law students and the legal community in creating a more supportive and respectful social climate around abortion?”
I don’t have a good answer to Aspen’s question, but it has prompted self-reflection and criticism of my profession, which teaches its members to speak on behalf of our clients, emphasizing the “good” facts, minimizing the “bad,” and discarding the irrelevant. A supportive environment around abortion requires listening to women’s stories without an ear toward the legal hook, and refraining from ascribing our own values to the details. I need to work on this, and I’m going to encourage my peers and colleagues to do the same. As the decades since Roe v. Wade have shown, a legal right to abortion does little to engender support for women who choose to have one.
I look forward to a pro-voice future where reproductive justice lawyers like Ms. Mendonsa take an active role in creating a social climate that is able and willing to listen and learn from all abortion stories.