* This was first published in the New York Times, “Room for Debate,” on June 30, 2013, amongst other opinions on the impact of women sharing their abortion stories.*
When I had an abortion it was safe, legal and covered by health insurance. I had no horror story to tell of a scary back-alley procedure, and I had no heartfelt regrets.
But the facts didn’t begin to describe my experience of having an abortion. My story was one of challenge and triumph, heartache and loss, friendship and family, and so much more. I wished I could have talked about it, without my story being used to promote abortion rights or to help dismantle them. Instead, I wanted to join with others to create a conversation rooted in the diverse, complicated lives of the women and men who’d experienced abortion.
It’s crucial that a range of experiences — from remorse to hope — are heard and understood in all nuances, no matter the political outcome.
That conversation is starting to happen. More women, and some men, are sharing their intimate experiences in private and public ways. One result is that the myths and stereotypes of who has abortions are beginning to crumble in the face of true stories. Another result is that women and men who’ve experienced abortion are now able to find and connect with each other. Feeling supported and comforted after an abortion, instead of isolated and alone, goes a long way toward healing and well-being.
But, sharing abortion stories isn’t all warm and fuzzy. There are real risks for the woman and for this emerging conversation about abortion in our lives.
A woman who shares about an abortion experience with family or friends can put her relationships in jeopardy. And, while social media can connect people by spreading stories quickly, a woman can lose control of her story – and her message – as it moves across the Internet. These risks can be mitigated with community support, but it’s hard to build community without first taking a risk.
My worst fear is that our personal stories will become commodities in the political marketplace, casualties in the conflict over abortion that get repackaged to benefit one side or other of the debate.
That’s why it’s so crucial that the full range of personal experiences women and men have with abortion — from remorse to hope — are able to be heard and understood in all their layers and nuances no matter the political outcome.