A few weeks ago, when Rush Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke for talking about birth control, he reminded me of many things – first and foremost of which is that I really dislike Rush Limbaugh. After I got past the incoherent rage though, it made me think a lot about the fact that we don’t hear from many Sandra Flukes when we’re talking about reproductive health. And we hardly ever hear people’s personal stories about abortion unless it’s a pretty intimate conversation.
Politically, we talk about abortion a lot as a society. Whether a candidate supports choice is one of the main campaign issues that comes up in elections, and access to abortion services is a perennial topic in DC and in state capitals across the country. But it’s still rare to hear personal perspectives on abortion – last year, when Rep. Jackie Speier spoke about her abortion as she fought to stop the Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, her remarks were a watershed moment. No other female politician had ever spoken about her abortion so publicly.
Since 1 in 3 women in the US will have an abortion by the time we’re 45, there are a lot of stories out there that aren’t getting told. Rep. Speier isn’t the only female politician who’s had an abortion, but she remains the only one who’s talked about it so openly. Part of this is because not everyone wants to talk – deciding to end a pregnancy is a very personal decision, and even if there were no debate around abortion, some people would choose to only discuss it with a small circle of friends.
But there are some people who want to talk about their experiences, and this volatile political environment makes it much, much harder to find a place to discuss it.
In the past few years, a lot of different projects have emerged that address this – some are focused on creating a platform for women to share their stories in an apolitical space (Exhale, Backline, The 1 in 3 Campaign, The Abortion Conversation), while others create a connection between personal stories and political support for choice. (I’mNotSorry.net, the #Ihadanabortion hashtag on Twitter). But all of them highlight the multitude of stories that come from women who have had abortions.
This overall movement is often called pro-voice – all of these projects exist to create a place where people can speak about their experiences. Their reasons for speaking out vary widely and everyone’s story is unique. This variety isn’t well-suited to the often narrow structures of political debate, but reality is complex – pretending otherwise doesn’t help any of us. However, making sure that we’re listening to each other and creating ways for people to talk about their experiences openly will help us all.
FYI: I’ve worked with Exhale for a number of years as a freelancer and volunteer.