There’s power in sharing abortion stories, say advocates

As the Supreme Court prepares to potentially hear several cases involving abortion, attorneys are relying on the personal anecdotes of people who have undergone the procedure. In the southern states where these battles are fought, especially, that means relying on low-income women and women of color to share their stories.

Supreme Court justices weighed on Tuesday whether to allow Kentucky’s attorney general to defend the state’s restrictive abortion law. Abortion providers in Texas have asked the court to reconsider its decision to allow the state’s near-total ban on abortion to take effect.

And in December, the court will hear arguments in the highly anticipated Mississippi abortion case, which stems from a state law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks and could challenge Roe v. Wade.

“In Mississippi, we have one of the highest African American populations,” said Shannon Brewer, clinic director for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic and clinic at the center of the Supreme Court case. “A lot of these African American women live in poverty or below. Black women not even being able to pay for or access health care for themselves as pregnant women is a failure in itself.

People who have had abortions have increasingly come to share their experiences with the procedure when anti-abortion legislation and lawsuits take center stage. Proponents say it not only de-stigmatizes the procedure, but could spur lawmakers to pass pro-abortion rights legislation.

States have enacted 106 abortion restrictions so far in 2021, the most enacted in a single year since Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute. At least 19 states have passed the restrictions, including 12 policies that severely limit when a person can have an abortion, with five states proposing the most new provisions: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Montana and South Dakota, according to the institute. Meanwhile, a recent NBC News poll showed that 54% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Wula Dawson of SisterSong, an organization dedicated to reproductive justice for women of color, said she hasn’t been shy about sharing her abortion story over the years. But she hasn’t always been so open about her experience. Dawson, a black woman now in her 40s, was 16 when she had an abortion, she said. Although she had a lot going for her — a positive religious community, financial security, and a caring partner — Dawson recalled that she still felt “shame” about her decision.

“I think most of it has to do with the discomfort of being a sexually active black teenager. I was dating as someone who was having sex, and adults weren’t necessarily comfortable or adept at handling that with me,” Dawson said, noting that she first told her friends. friends, to his brothers and sisters and finally to his mother before sharing it more widely.

“My mother was neither receptive nor supportive,” she said. “When I told him my story, it took him a while to get there. We discussed it for a few months, even years. My dad, we didn’t really talk about it, but he was emotionally supportive. But it was so important to me, especially in those early years, to share my story. I had to, so I taught people how to stick together.

Dawson pointed out that the power of abortion stories is not just in an individual’s experience, but in how close people are to someone else who has had the procedure.

“Being a person away from abortion is a really valuable story,” Dawson said. “Many of us have an abortion story to tell even if it’s not our personal story.”

Social media campaigns like #YouKnowMe have encouraged conversation about the procedure to break the stigma around it and counter anti-abortion attacks. Last month, Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo. ; Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. ; and Barbara Lee, D-California, shared their personal abortion stories with a House panel.

“The absence of stories from this conversation, I think, allowed opponents of abortion to dehumanize people who have abortions to make it look like we’re bad, like we’re murderers,” he said. Amelia Bonow, co-founder of Shout Your Abortion, an organization working to normalize abortion through art, media and community events. “We shouldn’t have to speak up, but the more of us that do, the more we create a safer world for future generations, and that will lead to greater access.”

“I had an abortion. It wasn’t traumatic at all,” Bonow said. “I was very grateful to receive the care I received. I felt really sure of my decision. And, for me, talking about it was empowering.

Sharing abortion stories has been hailed as a way to encourage policy and attitude change. But some advocates have acknowledged that society does not allow black people to be so transparent.

Black reproductive justice advocates have long complained that issues of race and class have been largely excluded from the conversation about abortion access. But, in recent years, advocacy groups have begun to discuss how black people are disproportionately affected by anti-abortion legislation.

Anti-abortion sentiment in black communities — though softening in recent years, according to a 2020 Gallup poll — often shames people into discussing their experiences with abortion, Brewer said. But this is not the only approach of black communities in conversations about abortion.

Many, like Brewer, understand that the abortion debate is race-bound and call on people to recognize the social, economic, and even political disparities that affect black people and, therefore, their parenting decisions and outcomes. In 1989, 16 black women made history by issuing the first collective statement advocating equal access to abortion for black women, “We Remember: African American Women Are for Reproductive Freedom”.

“Black women have learned that abortion is something to be ashamed of and not to talk about,” Brewer said. “It affects black women, all because of what they have been led to believe by these so-called Christians.”

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