What a Christian minister, a Latina artist, a mother of three and the co-creator of The daily show all have in common? Like nearly 3 in 10 American women, they all had an abortion at age 45.
For six hours yesterday, dozens of women shared their personal abortion experiences on a livestream organized by the 1 in 3 Campaign, a project of the nonprofit Advocates for Youth. “Despite the fact that abortion is so common, we rarely talk about our decision to end a pregnancy,” said Julia Reticker-Flynn, director of youth organizing and mobilization for Advocates for Youth, at the start of the online event. The 1 in 3 Abortion Speakout campaign, now in its second year, follows Amelia Bonow’s #ShoutYourAbortion campaign, which encouraged women to respond to last year’s legislative action against Planned Parenthood with personal stories .
Today, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the most important abortion case since 1992 – and to decide whether or not most abortion clinics in Texas remain open – human rights advocates abortion are redoubling their efforts to take a new approach: making public experiences that are rarely shared and often shrouded in stigma.
“Shunning abortion and not talking about it and acting like there’s something wrong with abortion does a disservice to everyone who’s had one and a disservice to those who offer it. “, Daily show Co-creator Lizz Winstead told The Daily Beast about her participation in this year’s Speakout. “And I, for my part, refuse to participate in the conversation and the dialogue, the language, the sound bites and the rhetoric that have been set up and designed to take control out of the hands of the people who need it. “
Winstead, a comedian and founder of advocacy group Lady Parts Justice, appeared on Speakout on Tuesday afternoon to talk about her own abortion experience at age 16 after falling pregnant the first time she had sex .
“I was a person who did what a lot of people do: explore my own sexuality without the information I needed to not get pregnant,” she said via Skype, sitting in front of a life-size cutout of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. .
As a misinformed teenager, Winstead was tricked by advertising into visiting a crisis pregnancy center rather than an abortion clinic. But eventually, she found her way to Planned Parenthood and terminated the pregnancy.
In addition to Winstead, the Speakout hosted a gallery of notable abortion rights advocates, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, and abortion veteran Dr. Willie Parker. But the most captivating voices to come out of the Speakout were the fellow callers — and Skypers — who called in to share their personal abortion stories. Favianna Rodriguez, a Latina artist and daughter of immigrants, said after telling her lover she was pregnant, he was “on a plane to Chicago” within days, leaving her alone to deal with the pregnancy.
“I had my abortion and I had no regrets,” she said live. “I actually had a sense of relief.”
In 2012, Rodriguez decided to go public with her abortion experience amid her artistic success, describing it as something of a “coming out.”
“I realized that silence was costing us political power,” she explained.
Like Rodriguez, many callers stressed that they had no qualms about making their decision. According to a study in PLOS ONE researchers from UC San Francisco, 95% of women who have an abortion do not regret it.
“I don’t regret my abortion. I’m thrilled,” said writer and activist Renee Bracey Sherman. “It was the best decision of my life. And 10 years later, I would do it again.
“I never felt like a freak and I never regretted it,” said an anonymous caller.
But aside from this one commonality, the stories covered a wide range of situations, circumstances, and ages. A caller named Mellie said when she was 21 she woke up to find her boyfriend having unprotected sex with her in her sleep without her consent. A few days later, she felt ill and realized what must have happened.
“I knew without hesitation that I had to have an abortion,” she said.
According to a 1996 study, 50% of women who become pregnant as a result of rape make the same choice as Mellie.
Some callers, like Dana, were already mothers when they chose to have an abortion. Sixty percent of American women who have abortions already have at least one child, and more than half of these women have two or more children. Seven and a half months into Dana’s second pregnancy, an MRI revealed severe fetal brain abnormalities. She and her husband had to save money and fly to Colorado to terminate the pregnancy. Today, they have a family of three children.
“We have a strong family base that wouldn’t exist if we were forced to make a choice that we didn’t want to make,” she told the livestream.
Elizabeth, now a Christian minister, fell pregnant while living with a convent of Catholic nuns in Guatemala and dating a local man. She called abortion “one of the most mature things I’ve ever done”, saying it helped her become a minister. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 7 in 10 American women who have abortions report a religious affiliation and a quarter attend services each month.
One of the oldest callers, Anne Hopkins, described her experience of seeking an abortion in 1965, during a pre-Roe vs. Wade a time when unsafe abortions were much more common. Hopkins and her boyfriend went to a bar in Tijuana with $2,200 in cash, adjusted for inflation. Once at the bar, she was taken to a secret location but her boyfriend was asked to stay there during the procedure.
“I’m here alone in Mexico with two strange men and no one who cares about me knows where I am,” she told the young livestream hosts.
When that was done, she was taken back to her boyfriend at the bar. Fortunately, she had no complications from the unauthorized medical procedure.
Other callers preferred to remain completely anonymous. “I’m probably one of those women you might consider [as being] in the shadows here,” an unidentified caller said in a Texas drawl.
She chose to have an abortion at age 16 in Houston and, like Winstead, visited a crisis pregnancy center before terminating her pregnancy. Now she has a 10-year-old daughter and a college degree. Her voice failing, she said she had to remain anonymous even 20 years later to protect her family’s reputation.
Winstead told The Daily Beast that until all women who have had abortions can feel comfortable coming forward without repercussions, those in positions like hers should open up if they can. .
“Until that day comes,” she said, “those of us who feel we have the strength, the privilege to tell our stories…give [abortion] a context that makes sense, that normalizes it, [and] it takes away the shame.