The Stigma of Abortion and Being a Feminist
Tori: I asked Marcy if she ever had a problem with identifying as pro-choice. She said, “No, that was just the way to be if you were a feminist.” My. Mind. Was. Blown.
Rallying behind the term “Feminist” was hard for me. I do not have any memories in High School of people talking about feminism. I actually remember myself saying that, “I’m not a feminist because I believe in equality, not in women being better than men.” I know. I was young! I was foolish! I clearly needed to be having lunch with Marcy Bloom ten years ago. It also took me awhile to really embrace abortion as part of my feminist word. For most of my life abortion was something that I thought should only be used in cases of rape or incest.
There is a lot of stigma and shame surrounding abortion even for activists in the reproductive rights movement. The most common occurrence for this is whenever family planning or Planned Parenthood is attacked. All too often we have to bring up that federal dollars are not used for abortions. Instead we talk about birth control and cancer screenings as things that are under attack. I know we are probably trying to find common ground with some people who are against abortion. But in attempting to find common ground we are making abortion seem like it is wrong, that it is somehow ok for the government to not recognize it as a part of comprehensive care. Marcy responded to this with:“The whole framework of ‘Keep abortion, safe, legal, and rare’ is harmful. Why should abortion be rare? There is nothing wrong with it. There should be exactly the number of abortions being performed as there needs to be. What should be rare are unintended pregnancies.”
Sara: I know! She talked a lot about the current dialogue and rhetoric of abortion in the media, and how damaging it is to women and their control over their bodies. Instead of abortion being a private decision between a woman and her doctor, many people claim to believe in abortion bans and exceptions, which has resulted in a stigmatization of this common and safe medical procedure.
“Allowing” exceptions for instances of rape and incest creates a binary of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” abortions. For example: if a woman was raped, she is seen as a virginal good girl, and should have access to an abortion—because the pregnancy was not her fault. All too often, even pro-choice advocates, pundits, politicians, etc. will offer up these scenarios of women who were assaulted (and while these are real reasons why women seek abortions), they make it seem as if the reason she became pregnant was out of her hands, therefore painting her as some innocent child who can’t-be-held-responsible for her decisions or actions. This creates the “acceptable” abortion, where a woman’s reason for wanting to terminate her pregnancy falls into society’s made up—but omnipresent—patriarchal moral code.
However, if a woman consciously chooses to have sex, enjoys it, and becomes pregnant as a result, then she is a harlot and must shoulder the consequence of birthing and raising a child, whether she wants it or not. Effectively this is a punishment for choosing to experience sexuality, because having sex for reasons other than procreation is “unacceptable” in this society. It’s so immoral, in fact, that many politicians and Americans believe that the blastocyst/embryo/fetus is more sacred than that woman’s life, and would prefer her to die in a complication than risk the unborn pregnancy’s life.
So think to yourself: I had sex. It was great! But my birth control failed and I do NOT want to have a child right now. Are you less worthy of having an abortion than someone who was raped and doesn’t want to birth the product of a sexual assault? That’s exactly what these exceptions are declaring. And it’s hurting women everywhere. It’s modern day slut-shaming.
(And let’s also mention here that this consequence of pregnancy is physically felt solely by a woman. While a man can have a strong and connected relationship with his unborn child, he will not have to suffer any physical manifestations of carrying and birthing a child–a child she may not even want.)
Something I CANNOT believe is when Marcy told us that in the 1960s and 70s in New York, where she lived, being pro-choice was not stigmatized. She would even go to the airport in a red smock to pick up women flying into NYC to get abortions. She was working at a clinic in Manhattan, and no one even picketed it! Did you hear that Seattle Clinic Defense?
Tori: At the clinic where she volunteered, women would go to group counseling to talk about themselves and why they wanted to have an abortion. Though sites like 1 in 3 and I had an Abortion are creating a place for women to talk about having an abortion, I can’t imagine a group counseling situation like the one Marcy mentioned.
I only recently let go of my personal hang-ups with abortion when a friend in college told me she had an abortion. She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t depressed. In fact, that is when it really dawned on me that if she had not had an abortion she probably would not be in college right now.
My friend’s abortion would probably fall into the category of “Unacceptable” since her reason for having it was that she did not want to be pregnant. That’s when I really realized that all these regulations surround abortions are hurting women. We need to trust women to decide what is best for them. We need to trust women in their decision to choose abortion.
Sara: Agreed! The issue of abortion is especially prevalent right now because of the upcoming elections. Marcy talked about how recent comments (like “legitimate rape” and that a pregnancy resulting from a sexual assault is a “gift from God”) really show how many people currently in leadership positions and those aspiring for them do not understand the reality of women’s lives, gender disparities, or equality.
Marcy encouraged us to think about the fact that approximately 47,000—that’s correct 47,000 women per year die from unsafe abortions in developing countries. This is not a statistic that is relegated only to developing countries—if women in developed countries (i.e. the US) continue to be denied even more health care coverage, our rates of women dying from unsafe abortions are bound to increase! Current political dialogue focused on taking away women’s health care coverage for abortion services and contraceptives is even more surprising, even in light of the Gates’ Foundation recent $1 BILLION campaign to increase access to family planning in developing countries.
And, what’s more, as Marcy pointed out, “abortion is the most regulated and politicized procedure in this country and possibly the world”, it’s ridiculous the hoops that a woman has to go through today to receive one of the most common procedures in the US. And, Limited Service Pregnancy Centers (also know as Crisis Pregnancy Centers) are only making that more difficult! Marcy helped me to understand, that from her perspective, the stigma regarding abortion started around the time that LSPCs popped up (maybe 15 -20 years ago). She said they were a manifestation of the anti-choice movement, once they became part of the Republican party. And then, they figured out to go after the providers, and that’s when the stigma started.
Marcy’s view is that Right-winged politicians and talking heads have created an image in the general public that abortion facilities are dirty, providers are murderers, and clinics are only trying to get rich off the procedure. Not to mention the fact that many LSPCs lie to visitors by telling them that abortion will lead to breast cancer and infertility. This is incredibly problematic because unlicensed volunteers are handing out inaccurate medical advice–and shame. LSPCs are incredibly damaging to women in vulnerable situations.
Tori: I feel like one of the most important things I took away from this interview is that for a movement to be relevant, powerful, and reach out to the most people, it has to be willing to evolve. Marcy has moved into a reproductive justice framework. Her language and view of reproductive rights had changed to reach beyond race, gender, socioeconomic class, and sexual orientation. I want to keep this interview in mind as I grow as an activist in the reproductive justice community. There are amazing things that we are doing now and we should take pride in. Just like the powerful force second wave feminists were–everyone involved in that movement should feel incredibly proud! But nothing in our movement is so sacred that we can’t or shouldn’t question our actions to make sure we are really fighting for everyone.
Sara: Well said, Tori. And many thanks to Marcy for her inspiring interview and sharing her personal experiences with us.