People shouldn’t feel pressured to share their abortion stories

We were told that people need stories to connect to complex issues. Stories that spark a shared humanity. Literature tells stories to motivate, activate, generate compassion and connect people. I like fiction as a tool to tell big truths.

But we as advocates often ask people to tell their stories to move public opinion or influence policy. We use these stories to humanize “the other”. To persuade or convince an oppressor or a politician that we are somebody.

With the overthrow of Roe v. Wade on June 24, we hear stories. Stories of dramas where abortion is the last hope of a person in danger of death or of a long-desired pregnancy. Stories of child victims of sexual assault who didn’t even make it to college. Stories of loss, pain and broken hearts. And they are true.

Yet why do we need to hear these stories to care?

Currently, the United States is in the process of denying nearly 35 million people the right to write their own history. A small group of people seeking to use their religious version of pregnancy and abortion are demanding that we humanize ourselves. That we share deeply personal stories just to prove that we are worth full citizenship and the right to our own self-determination. And I say no.

I shared my story. I didn’t have to, but I felt at the time that to de-stigmatize abortion, I had to share. I shouldn’t feel like I have to hide it. That if people saw me as a whole person worthy of kindness and understanding — defined by my whole life and not just a medical decision — I could help depoliticize my healthcare.

I was wrong. Nothing has changed. I lost some privacy. I traded my whole story for just a few pages. Fanatics who only believe in their definitions of biology and reproduction never cared.

The drive to abolish all abortion – taking us all back to a time when our choices were limited, our lives were “less than” and those who chose abortion were criminals – is stronger than our stories. For our stories to reach people, they need to care about the storyteller. They don’t.

We must fight for people living in places where their “book” means more than individual stories. We must fight on the basis of the inherent value of each person. Based on the web of connections we all have with each other and the importance each has in the lives of our families, our chosen families and our community. Driving people back to dark alleys and taking scared car rides to distant states can’t be the story of half our country.

If telling your story helps, strengthens or connects you, I celebrate it. Friends sharing stories, strangers finding connections they didn’t know they had perhaps the best use of our stories. Being called upon to justify oneself should never be the case. Now, with anti-abortion bigotry at its peak, sharing stories to bring about change is not only unlikely, it can also be dangerous. Physically, financially and possibly legally in some states. Abortion stories are hard/easy/sad/challenging/lonely/connected/caring and sometimes tragic. And they are ours to share whenever we want.

What needs to be said is that nearly one in four people likely to get pregnant will seek an abortion in their lifetime. We need to know that these people are capable of making decisions for themselves and their families, and that they can include whoever they want in this process. Religion only has a place in the decision to carry a pregnancy or not when the pregnant person is religious. We must demand that the rights of all people be protected, regardless of the state in which they live, regardless of where they were born or the color of their skin. Not because they tell us a story, but because they matter.

Chelly Hegan of Troy is President and CEO of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood.

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