Women share their abortion stories and stand up for their rights

Look around your table tonight. Look at the family photos of the women you love: your mother, your grandmother, your sister, your daughter, your wife. Maybe one is a nurse or a teacher. Or an office worker, minister, veteran, Republican. It is likely that at least one had an abortion, but never said.

Do you think she’s a criminal?

Should she be “punished,” as candidate Trump once proposed?

A generation ago, when many gay men and lesbians came out, everyone suddenly knew someone who was gay. It has become difficult to demonize someone you like or love.

Many women who have had abortions have also shared their stories, including comedians Chelsea Handler and Margaret Cho. Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California spoke in the House in 2011, after Rep. Mike Pence proposed cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and gave an impassioned speech about his own abortion. The room became silent.

The 1 of 3 and Shout Your Abortion websites also share abortion stories, but mostly anonymously. In 1991, “The Choices We Made” featured abortion stories with names, by famous women like Whoopi Goldberg. She performed her own abortion, with a coat hanger, when she was 14.

Last month, former Glamor magazine editor Cindi Leive detailed her abortion in The New York Times and encouraged other women to do the same. Again, it’s hard to demonize someone you love or love.

But names attached to abortion stories remain rare, largely due to online attacks and political efforts to shame and degrade women. “Shout Your Abortion” co-founder Amelia Bonow has received so many death threats that she has left her own home.

Emma O’Brien understands this perfectly. The 28-year-old doula, who helps women give birth, also volunteers to help poor women who live far from Boston go to clinics here to get abortions. She picks them up from bus stations, babysits, and gives them blankets, crackers, and sodas for the long drive home.

“A lot of it don’t tell anybody,” O’Brien said. “Some contact friends and families and are told they are ‘a bad person’. It’s just a denial.”

O’Brien also understands, if Roe is overthrown, it’s the poor women who will suffer the most. Blue states like Massachusetts will protect the right to abortion. But in large swathes of America, women would have to travel hundreds of miles over several days to get to a clinic, in addition to paying for the abortion. Or they could stay put and risk an illegal abortion, like desperate girls I knew in pre-Roe days, who would skip school and sneak to a so-called “doctor,” petrified of what would happen there. -down, and also petrified from getting caught. Until 1972, a year before Roe took effect, 130,000 American women sought illegal or self-induced abortions. Thirty-nine of them died.

Since Kavanaugh’s appointment, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called Ginsburg rule. He refers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, when she refused to predict how she would decide certain cases. Yet she elaborated on abortion, calling women’s freedom of choice “essential to a woman’s equality” and “essential to a woman’s life, to her dignity.” It’s a decision she has to make for herself.

And by itself, most certainly without the government.

As an equal rights crusader, Ginsburg also once said that she “asks no favors for my gender. I just ask that they take their feet off our necks.

It’s a depressing, but appropriate picture all these years later, with five conservative judges – all men – set to hold back millions of women.


Margery Eagan is co-host of WGBH’s Boston Public Radio.

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