The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

May 26, 2016 by

Why This Abortion Rights Tactic Is Actually Sexist

giphyTake a minute and Google “abortion stories.” See that? They’re everywhere. You can read 173 of them on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website alone. “Sharing your story is a powerful way to speak out for choice,” NARAL tells women. “It can inspire another person to speak out, and it could even help pass a pro-choice bill.” This is typical of how the sharing of abortion “stories” is usually framed: as a pro-choice, pro-reproductive rights political action. Sometimes, these testimonies do serve an explicitly political purpose—as when, in February of this year, women told the Supreme Court about their abortions in an effort to convince the court to protect women’s reproductive rights. Other times, the mission of those sharing their stories is less specific, albeit just as politically and culturally important: women are aiming to achieve the destigmatization and normalization of abortion, a shift in cultural attitudes that has the potential to change policy and lives. Our Bodies, Ourselves views the sharing of abortion stories as a caring act in the spirit of women’s solidarity. “Hearing women’s stories of having an abortion can help us know what to expect and reassure us that our experiences are not unique,” OBOS’s website explains.

Women who want to share their abortion experiences with the world—for whatever reason at all—should be able to do so without fear of being shamed and stigmatized. But please, media outlets. Stop asking for my abortion story. My medical history and reproductive health are none of your business.

All over the Internet, abortion stories are being coaxed out of—and sometimes demanded from—women. The 1 in 3 Campaign (referring to the one in three U.S. women who will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute) takes one of the more appropriate approaches to asking for such personal and private information by suggesting rather than demanding that women participate in the project. “The [campaign] is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion—telling our stories, on our own terms,” the website explains. Other campaigns, like #ShoutYourAbortion, are neither as diplomatic nor as respectful of a women’s right to choose—in this case, our right to choose not to share our medical history with the general public. Their verb of choice is actually in the imperative.

When I am commanded by well-intentioned political/consciousness-raising campaigns and publications to “share my story,” I am invariably offended. I grew up learning from my OB/GYN mother and a vintage copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves that my body is mine and mine alone. I owe no explanation to anyone for what I choose to do with it. I alone have (and can give whomever I choose) the right to touch my body and talk about it. Should somebody—whether an acquaintance, stranger on the street, or employer—ask me what my sex life is like, or whether I have lumps in my breasts, or if my periods are particularly heavy, or if I’ve ever contracted an STI, it would be a clearly aggressive and inappropriate transgression of my right to privacy when it comes to my body and my health. So why doesn’t it alarm us and offend our feminist sensibilities when organizations and publications ask us to share our abortion stories? 

And also: While it’s not too difficult to imagine men being asked about their partners’, sisters’, or mothers’ abortion stories, can we really imagine men being asked about their own medical histories in the brazen and entitled manner in which women are asked routinely?

U.S. women (in most states) have, after centuries of being legal property, finally achieved full ownership of ourselves. We do not belong to our fathers/parents, or to our romantic partners, or to the state, or to any movement for social change. Our decisions about our bodies—including, of course, our decisions about our pregnancies—are joyously, radically ours. No woman should be made to feel that her responsibility to work for abortion rights by adding to the tremendous number of abortion narratives already floating around the Internet outweighs her responsibility to herself and her right to medical privacy.

How ironic, too, that while the legal underpinning of this country’s landmark reproductive rights cases, including Roe v. Wade, is the constitutional right to privacy, the rallying cry for abortion rights is now “Go public!”