It feels hard and strange to write about anything after what happened in Boston on Monday. In a piece for Colorlines, Riku Sen wrote, “I’m so exhausted from the cycle of sorrow, panic, defense and more sorrow that every incident of mass violence evokes in our national consciousness.” That’s more or less how I feel. I lived in Boston for a year after I graduated college, my friends live there, I know the place by heart, but I had to turn off the Twitter feed an hour after finding out about the explosions. That’s how quickly it became too much.
I’m afraid that writing about abortion right now is callous, that paying attention to anything that’s not a CNN news loop of the explosion and the injuries is wrong. The thing I know to be true is that, in spite of the fact that everyone is scared and shocked and desperate for information, most of us just went back to living our lives, because we had to. Abortion is part of people’s lives. The desire to pretend that it’s not, or that it’s not “appropriate” to talk about stems from abortion stigma- the negative things we’re told about abortion and foist upon those who provide and receive them. (It’s not just cis gendered women who can get pregnant.)
Some examples of abortion stigma include the idea that all folks who have abortions are immoral, that the decision to have an abortion is made capriciously, that it’s used as birth control. This is my favorite, because abortion IS birth control (in that it literally stops you from giving birth), and also because 87% of counties in the United States have no abortion provider. (insert source) This means that if the town you live in in Kentucky has no provider, you have to travel to the town where the provider is located, or perhaps to Ohio, West Virginia, or another state where there is a provider. Of course, this all depends on how much money you have to pay for things like transportation and/or childcare, if you can get the day off from work, or if you can get out of town without telling your parents.
Abortion stigma is also about controlling how people who have had abortions feel about their decision. Needless to say, it’s different for everyone, but the point of any stigma is to ignore that tiny detail. Recently, I attended the CLPP conference, From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom, held every year at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. In a workshop about early abortion, the provider (who asked that her name not be shared) told us, “People wake up from their abortions and say, “Oh my Gd, you just gave me my life back,” as well as about folks who change their minds before the procedure begins. “The language people use when they come in indicates how they’re feeling about the abortion.” For some folks, this means talking about babies and death, for others, feelings of joy and relief, and everything in between.
April is Abortion Well Being Month, based on the not-so-crazy notion that if you have an abortion, you deserve to be supported, regardless of, well, everything. If you’re having emotional hiccups after reading that sentence, If you’re thinking “But what if it was a later abortion? What if it’s this person’s second (or third, or…) abortion?,” you have probably absorbed some abortion stigma. It’s okay. You have it because you’re alive in the world, the same way we all carry around racist, sexist, classist notions that we’re not even aware of. But that’s not an excuse. We still need to take care of each other.