Our VoiceNews & Politics

Talking Truthfully About Abortion

Jill Garvey • Oct 16, 2008

After the debate last night a friend asked me what I thought about abortion. I immediately felt a sense of dread, not wanting to get pulled into a chat that might rile me up when I should be winding down for the evening. You see, I’m passionate about women’s rights, and discussions about women’s issues with men make me nervous. After a long day, I was liable to blow a fuse that would alienate my friend and keep me up tossing and turning for the rest of the night.

“What do you mean?” I asked, “I’m pro-choice, of course”.

“Yeah, but how do you feel about it?” he asked. This is where I started to get prickly. There’s a habit of defensiveness I’ve gotten into when it comes to the issue of abortion. A holding pattern developed in response to questions meant to entrap me in my own morality.

“I feel that if you aren’t working to improve women’s access to contraceptives and sex education then you don’t deserve an opinion”, I finally told him.

Undeterred by my answer my friend told me about his childhood in a place where women had as many children as they were able and he was taught that abortion was a bad thing. I realized he was trying to give me a better picture of his internal conflict, and I began to regret my statement (after all was I doing much to improve access for women?). So I cooled myself down a bit and started to listen. What I heard was someone who cared about women and wanted them to have better access, but who wasn’t sure how to communicate that without disenfranchising himself from his culture.

He told me, “The Latina women I know, like the women in my family, don’t agree with abortion.” My irritation rose again. Of course they don’t say they agree with abortion! Nobody agrees with abortion! I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. Because how would he know? How would he know the shame or the humiliation of a woman without control over her own body; over her own life really? Instead I told him the truth. Women may not agree with abortion, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have one. I’ve never met a woman who wanted to have an abortion, but I’ve met many who have had them and for most it was the most difficult decision of their lives. In many cases a woman who has an abortion won’t tell anyone except her closest friend. When we live in a society where women are able to make informed decisions, afford birth control, and demand that their partners use condoms, they have less abortions. In fact, women have more abortions in countries where it is outlawed. This is one of the main reasons I passionately advocate for abortions to be legal, because I care about life.

But hearing words like “pro-abortion” thrown around in presidential debates make it difficult to let my guard down. When I separate my moral compass from my convictions on abortion I’m not doing my feelings on the subject justice, and I’m preventing myself from speaking candidly with my friend who obviously wants and needs to have honest conversations about abortion with women. Through my work I’ve learned of poor immigrant women who’ve had abortions induced by health providers without their consent or knowledge, presumably because these health providers felt they knew what was best for these women. The outrage I felt after hearing these stories made me realize I have the same amount of passion and concern for women in the opposite position – women who choose to have a child and are either forced or pressured into giving it up. This is why the label “pro-abortion” bothers me so much. At the core it isn’t about abortion, it is only about the freedom to choose, and that is not a position I should feel I have to defend.

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