Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Gray Area

Earlier this week, Salon ran a letter in their advice column, from a self-described pro-choice woman who regretted having an abortion. It’s a moving and honest letter, and it got me thinking about whether there is space in the pro-choice movement for stories that occupy a gray area: women who appreciate the right to choose, but without hesitation admit that their choice was not the right one.

Anti-choice websites are full of lurid tales of women who regret their abortions. They all follow a narrative of despair and weakness, culminating in the woman declaring her remorse and sending a message that any woman who has an abortion will find herself in the same hopeless situation, so it’s better to not have the abortion in the first place. In recent years pro-choicers have responded with websites and organizations that value all the disparate emotions that can result from a termination, and make it their mission to help women explore those emotions in a safe and non-judgmental manner.

This is a good step, and a needed one. The pro-choice movement can not expect to survive if it does not allow every kind of story to be told, even the ones that cause others to examine their own values and biases. Part of my training when I was in direct service was discussing the assumptions and stereotypes people hold about who gets an abortion. How do we feel when a woman regrets her abortion? Do we think that her story is important and valuable because it speaks to the very necessity of personal choice, or is it dangerous because it could give weight to the anti-choice belief that abortion is a regrettable decision?

But these stories need to be shared just as frequently as any other abortion story, because a huge part of making abortion more acceptable to society at large is having the freedom to talk about this gray area. The anti-choice side would like to pretend that every woman that has an abortion is a victim, and that therefore no one should be allowed to make that choice. But you can be grateful to have the right to choose an abortion and hope that you don’t have to make that choice, or regret that you did. By embracing the full range of emotions and experiences around this essential choice, we can help break down the stigma and shame that so many people associate with abortion, and make sure that every woman’s voice is heard.

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