Abortion — without apology
Why clarifying my thinking feels scary but so friggin' good
I love(?!) how writing this newsletter about being brave forces me to confront the places in my life where I’m not being brave.
Case in point: my last issue of Be Your Own Hero: It’s okay to grieve, it’s okay to feel joy. I wanted to write something about abortion because I was having a Lot Of Feelings about what happened with the Supreme Court in June.
But I managed to do that without using the word “abortion” once. I said “the fall of Roe v. Wade,” and “the right of bodily autonomy.” But I didn’t come right out and say the word: abortion.
I didn’t say it because although I have long been pro-choice, and marched and protested when I was in college, I’d never taken the time to clarify my thinking. My support then was largely based on whether I personally might have wanted access to an abortion.
In my thirties when I became a mother and then struggled with secondary infertility, it was harder for me to separate the wider rights issue from what I wanted in this different phase of life. I felt conflicted—even apologetic—about how vocal I’d been in my younger years.
Abortion seemed like a necessary evil, not something I should fervently support. Because nobody is pro-abortion, right?
Except lately I realized maybe I am.
I came to this realization by finally reading a book I’ve had on my radar for seven years, Katha Pollitt’s PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
I read an interview with Pollitt in The Sun Magazine in 2015, shortly after PRO came out. Her language was so clear and her statements so direct they shocked me, in a good way.
The conversation about abortion has put the pro-choice movement on the defensive for too long. We always seem to be reacting to the claims of the anti-choice movement … We need to make a positive case for abortion. We need to flip the conversation so instead of saying, “What about rape victims? or, “What about fetal abnormalities?” we are talking about the much more typical situation of a pregnant woman who, for one reason or another, does not want to have a baby. — Katha Pollitt
I’d never heard anyone talk like that.
She went on to quote statistics such as that 61 percent of people who have abortions are already mothers, and address why the “rare” part of the Clinton-era message that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare,” is misguided. Because there is no ideal (low) number of abortions. The ideal number is whatever number lets women take control of their reproductive lives.
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I immediately put the book on my To Read list. But then … I never read it. That old squishy unease came back. Do I really need to read a book about abortion rights?
It felt distasteful, somehow. And I was past the age where it would affect me personally. Maybe it was better to focus on other things.
Then a year ago Texas passed a law essentially banning abortion after six weeks. And in June the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade. Once again, I marched.
But marching and posting on social media felt different than writing here in Be Your Own Hero. The bold statements I’d read in The Sun felt true all those years ago, but I’d never taken the time to revisit them and clarify what I really thought.
So when a copy of PRO stared at me from eye level at one of our favorite indie bookstores in Boulder on a trip to visit our daughter, it felt like a sign. I bought it and started reading immediately in a chair on the sidewalk outside while my husband and daughter finished browsing.
Pollitt’s clear language and cogent arguments were as powerful as I remembered. PRO takes each anti-choice argument to its logical conclusion, exposing the inherent contradictions and double standards. In the process, she reveals the intent not to truly protect life, but rather to control the bodies of women who have sex.
At the same time, Pollitt makes the case for abortion access as a positive social good that offers women self-determination and independence through active decision-making—“bedrock American values for men”—that somehow don’t apply if you have a uterus.
Reading the parts of PRO that speculate what might happen if the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade was a bitter pill in 2022. But instead of feeling dated, the book felt more relevant than ever. It helped me be brave enough to claim what I really think, without apology:
A woman has the right to make her own reproductive decisions. She should be able to access safe, legal, affordable abortion care the same as she should be able to access safe, legal, affordable pregnancy and birth care.
A woman does not need any reason for an abortion other than she does not want to carry the pregnancy to term. She does not need to justify it to anyone else, the same as for any other healthcare or quality of life decision.
Some women will make reproductive decisions others judge as “bad,” but this judgment is irrelevant to the woman’s right. (See point 1)
A fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, or fetus is not a separate person with the rights of a separate person until it is born. It is a potential person that can feel like anything from an unwanted parasite to a precious child to the person whose uterus it resides in.
Even if it were legally a separate person (which opens up all kinds of thorny issues from census numbers to the nearly half million frozen embryos stored at fertility clinics), if two people reside in the same body, the rights of the already-existing, undisputed person with an actual life—the woman— take precedence.
I regret not examining my thinking earlier, and internalizing for a couple decades the narrative that women should feel ashamed about using abortion as an option to control their reproductive lives. To be honest, I was afraid I’d find something that would change my mind. But I’ve changed my mind about other things in my life, so that should have been okay as long as I knew why.
But it’s never too late to be brave, and it feels so friggin’ good to have clarity.
What I’m reading (and watching) online
Instead of a book recommendation this time, since the above was basically one long book rec (please definitely do read PRO), I’m linking two other related items from online.
One is the article by, Stories > Opinions, from her Substack newsletter The Corners. She talks about her own abortion, what the Bible says, and the power of sharing the stories of real women. It also contains this truth bomb:
Speaking of stories, I was floored by this one from San Diegan Jordan Coburn about her experience with two abortions. It’s raw, vulnerable, unapologetic, even funny at times. Definitely NSFW (not safe for work), but take fifteen minutes for this story—you won’t soon forget it. From the May 2022 So Say We All VAMP storytelling show. (The audio of this performance is also available in Episode 5 of the VAMP Storytelling Podcast.)
There you have it, my friends. I hope this issue of Be Your Own Hero gave you something to think about. How does it feel to get clear on an issue you’ve been avoiding? Have you, like me, had conflicting thoughts about abortion? I’d love to hear about it in the comments, just keep it civil. All respectful discussion is welcome.
Did you appreciate this issue of Be Your Own Hero? Share it with someone else who would!
Or that’s what I thought. But the more stories I hear from women who had to abort pregnancies due to medical problems, such as this one on LinkedIn (of all places), the more I realize abortion access isn’t only for unwanted pregnancies.
I’ll mostly use the terms “women” and “she” going forward as a shortcut for anyone with a uterus regardless of gender identity, and realize this is not inclusive. But abortion access so overwhelmingly affects women that I think it’s important to call it out as a women’s issue. Reproductive rights for trans and nonbinary folks are just as important, however. Check out The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood for one transmasculine experience.