I had an abortion (or two)

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Abortion is a tough topic for some of us, but sweeping it under the rug makes it even harder. The alternative is being honest about it.

Like many of you, I get a lot of email. This one was different. A local organization wanted women to send in their Roe v. Wade stories for publication on a website celebrating the 35th anniversary of the landmark ruling. Oh, good idea, I thought, until I read the email’s promise that no names would be used when the stories were reprinted.

That promise made me uneasy. Why was it necessary? I had two objections to volunteering that anonymity. Most important, I felt it implied that women who have had what is today a safe and legal medical procedure feel some measure of shame or embarrassment about having had an abortion.

I think that rationale buys into the anti-choice movement’s argument that abortion is wrong, murder, killing, versus the pro-choice stance that the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy is a woman’s decision. But if you believe that abortion is wrong, of course you’d be ashamed to admit you’d had one.

For my second objection, my thoughts went further afield. I wondered if this innocent offer of anonymity was a manifestation of our society’s discomfort with women as sexual beings. Why is it, I thought (perhaps irrelevantly, perhaps not), that it’s OK for men who experience erectile dysfunction to go on TV and use their real names (e.g., Bob Dole) to sell drugs that solve their problem, but women are encouraged to deny that they are sexual beings?

I had an abortion. No, make that two. It is not something I shout from the rooftops, but neither do I brag about having had my gallbladder removed. Medical procedures, all of them. It’s that simple, really. Ashamed? No. I was totally shocked when I became pregnant while faithfully taking birth control pills; I was a little disgusted with myself the second time, when my unplanned pregnancy was the result of foolish post-adolescent risk-taking. But ashamed? No.

I know that my matter-of-fact decision to terminate two pregnancies would not be an easy one for all women, even those who are pro-choice. Some women have a truly difficult time with the decision to end a pregnancy, especially when the pregnancy is a longed-for one.

It’s a tough topic for some of us, but sweeping it under the rug makes it even harder. The alternative is being honest about it. To put our names on lists, like the ones published by Ms. Magazine, that have the heading, “I had an abortion.” Or to buy and wear T-shirts like the ones Planned Parenthood used to sell, the ones with the same sentence across the chest.

I’m not denying that many of us are conflicted. I remember being absolutely shocked when I was going through infertility treatment and a friend who has impeccable pro-choice credentials-she’s marched for choice and been a clinic escort-asked me if I regretted having had abortions 20 years earlier. “Why would I?” I asked. “My life was so different then. Having an abortion back then has nothing to do with being infertile today.”

We talked more, and it turned out that she was the one with the regret. That she had had an abortion, and though she absolutely believed in choice, she’d never come to terms with it. I held her while she cried. She had never told anyone.

My friend told me later that she felt better for having talked about it. She talked about it more in a post-abortion support group. And her name later appeared on Ms.’ list.

She is more religious than I, but I quoted the Bible that day. I looked at her tear-streaked face and said, “The truth shall set you free.” And I believe it really did.

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