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In the Abortion Debate, the Common Ground We Need is Each Other

In the Abortion Debate, the Common Ground We Need is Each Other

This is not your typical common-ground discussion. There are no tables to sit around, no opponents to fear, no issues to sacrifice. And no one has to stop advocating for their cause.

I write today with a call to action to every woman who, like me, has had an abortion. I invite each and every one of you to join me in growing a movement that spreads support and respect for one another. The action I invite you to take with me is to listen to each other – to listen to all women who have had abortions.

Listening to women who have had abortions can contribute to peace in the Abortion Wars, according to Eyal Rabinovitch, an expert on conflict transformation. Conflict transformation, as he describes in a paper published today by my organization, works best when the process gives voice to those the conflict has hidden and neglected. And transforming conflict requires that we “cultivate authentic and meaningful relationships” with others who hold a stake in its outcome.  

We – women who have had abortions – are the ones who must lead the way. We must lead with empathy, understanding, and acceptance. We lead by practicing our values and treating each other as we would like to be treated.

We must lead because we know all too well how it feels to be judged. We know what it’s like to hope for respect and understanding and get condemnation or suspicion instead. We have wondered when we will ever see a story like ours in the media or meet another woman whose story we can relate to. We are tired of so many people talking about us and getting it wrong, getting us wrong, every time. This feeling – of not being seen and heard for our unique experience – is what we have in common.

Too often, we blame each other for this problem. But blaming each other perpetuates the conflict and adds to the stigma. And the divisive impact of the conflict and stigma is all around us.

It shows up when an anonymous woman writes in Salon after her abortion:

“I woke up feeling damaged, empty, scared, guilty and in pain. The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ were emanating from the TV screen. They sounded reductive, glaringly inadequate. The word ‘abortion,’ fraught with shame and accusation, was being bandied about for pieces of political theater. The words ‘baby killer’ were omnipresent, too. Although I didn’t feel like a baby killer, like I’d killed my baby, I did feel partially dead.”

….and another woman, Serai1, who has also had an abortion, responds in the comments:

“Are we ever – and I mean EVER – going to see an article written by a woman for whom abortion was NOT ‘the hardest decision of my life’? Because I can assure you, there are thousands of women for whom this is not a hard decision, not at all. I was one of them … In fact, in all my life, I’ve never known any woman who had an abortion who wrung her hands or agonized about it. They all considered their options and decided for abortion in a calm, reasonable manner.”

It’s revealed when Angie Jackson tweets her abortion and gets this response from Nelle-Yecats, a woman who has had an abortion, too:

“I cannot agree w/Angie & her sharing on-line w/the world about her decision to abort. I do not talk about my abortion & miscarriages much to anyone. It is painful. I carry it all close to my soul.”

We perpetuate our own separation as women who have had abortions when some of us make websites like I’mNotSorry and establish it as an exclusive site only for women to share “their positive experiences with abortion,” while others of us launch Silent No More as a private club only for those who regret their abortions.

As women who have had abortions, we add to the conflict when we pick and choose the elements we believe should make up an abortion story. When the group Abortion Changes You, founded by a woman who has had abortions, decided to highlight some of the negative changes that can result from abortion and ignore the rest, others protested her efforts, pointing out that the site forgets women who don’t experience negative results — but in turn, those protestors had nothing to say about the woman who regrets her abortion. She, too, was forgotten.   

Instead of fighting each other, and perpetuating the abortion wars, we must listen to each other and stand together. We do this when we strive for connection amongst the polarizing force of conflict. We challenge the status quo when we are nonjudgmental despite the climate of shame. We practice nonviolence when we listen to one another and cultivate our relationships.

We are the ones we need, and we must lead as role models.

It should not be a surprise that women with personal experiences of abortion have had to find a way to fit their story into the existing political frames. We are all faced with the same choice after abortion: invisibility or validation. For good reason, most of us prefer validation.

It “can be hard,” @abortioneers tweeted to me on April 22, to “hear someone describe an experience you think of as ‘yours’ in a not-yours way.” She continued, “After so long thinking yours was the ONLY story (or only one available), finding others and their stories is both a blessing and a challenge!” (I expanded the 140-character tweet limit to make it more readable.)

She is right. And we must do our part to open the door to more stories, more listening, more voices, more women, and men.  

Our charge – our call to action – as women who have had abortions is to seek to listen and serve as a witness to one another. Together, we can grow a movement that spreads support and respect for all of us, all women who have had abortions.

We can all be visible and validated.

Aspen Baker is the founder and executive director of Exhale, an award-winning pro-voice organization.  Exhale’s mission is to create a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected and free from stigma.  Their national, multilingual talkline provides nonjudgmental emotional support to women, and their loved ones, after abortion.

 

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from Exhale
By Aspen Baker, Founder and Executive Director, Exhale

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34 comments

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12:58AM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

In the end it is wemon who have to make the hard choices. What ever the reason you feel you need an abortion it is only your choice.- No one has ever wanted an abortion, that was not pregnant- author unknown

12:52PM PST on Dec 7, 2010

I just wanted anyone’s opinion on if I was in the wrong here, and what any of you guys would have done in this situation. So my wife is quite liberal and I’m more on the conservative side, and she’s about 3 months pregnant. She can’t work right now, so I’ve been forced to support her as of late. The thing is that about a week ago she started asking me if she could borrow $400, and being pretty secretive about the reason why. I soon found out that $400 was the average cost of a back alley abortion, which is ridiculous considering that she knows how vehemently pro-life I am. After refusing to give her the money and the countless hours of arguing that ensued, I ended up making a comment about how if she wanted to do something liberal with $400, she should take advantage of Obummer’s “ satellite internet recovery act,” so that “instead of murdering our kid, he can have satellite internet at a smashing price!” (I linked it so you can actually see it’s about $400 in taxpayer money that our President chose to waste on this crap, aren’t I so funny hah). The messed up part is that she went and told her dad, who happens to be just as liberal as her, and who also happens to own the house that we’re renting. To make a long story short, my tenancy has been “suspended” from his house (I’m now staying at my

11:22PM PDT on May 6, 2010

Not every child born, should be; not every child aborted needs to be.

It's the same with ALL choices in life.

Not all MEDICAL PROCEDURES committed against us and with our unschooled varied education permissions, in life,are good for us or necessary. It's just a matter of fact.

All we can do is educate ourselves better than our grandparents and our parents could do, and make the best choices for ourselves.

And NO ONE - not the Church, and not our government - has the Right to tell us we cannot do this. We MUST keep it this way.

8:58AM PDT on May 6, 2010

While carefully using contraceptives, I found myself pregnant and abortion was the only option. Luckily, I was able to do it safely, quickly and then get on with my life.

Abortion might not be "right" for you---but it WAS "right" for me and I'll fight to the death to maintain that option for women who need it.

Nobody else gets to make the decision for me and nobody else has the right to tell me when "life" begins! The problem is religion, and, as several of us have pointed out--there IS a separation of church/state in this country. If you think I'm a "sinner" because I aborted a first trimester fetus, I guess I'll just have to deal with it on my own.

Keep your religious beliefs out of my reproductive life and we'll all get along just fine.

10:20PM PDT on May 5, 2010

Abortion is simply a harsh necessity that must be accepted. In Europe they are discreet and well-educated enough to realize this; they sympathize with those who are have their backs to the wall financially and don't kill doctors or harass women who have them.

11:56AM PDT on May 5, 2010

Thanks for the post!

11:07AM PDT on May 5, 2010

Thanks for sharing.

3:23PM PDT on May 4, 2010

I have had an abortion but would never do it again and not because it was a bad experience or because it had a negative impact on me. My abortion was many years ago and since then I have done research and educated myself about exactly what an abortion is and I have come to realize that it is murder. It actually appalls me that it is even legal. I am now very anti-abortion and I believe that instead of having to make the decision weather or not to have an abortion a woman should USE BIRTH CONTROL. I find it completely ridiculous that women are careless and take no precautions and them when they end up pregnant they have an abortion. And then I read about how awful these women feel afterward and about how it had a negative effect on them. It is very simple- If you do not want a baby, use birth control. Besides a pregnancy that results from rape, or a pregnancy that threatens the mother's health, there is no moral reason for abortions.

7:02AM PDT on May 4, 2010

I had an abortion many years ago, and I still have mixed feelings about it. I think that we should change our focus to creating fool-proof birth control and sex ed. for young people based on reality. It is only when this repressed society begins to accept the fact that having sex is not a crime, but a natural thing for young people to engage in, whether they are married or not, that we will be able to deal with teen-age pregnancies. (Even those babies that are the result of rape can be adopted, if we engage the situation with love and compassion.) We can then create communities where young people can have their babies and be given the support and guidance that they need to either raise them or allow them to be adopted. This also, will take away one of the Republicans' most important weapons against us, and it will bring more people to the progressive side. This will take a lot of work to accomplish, but if we want to have a progressive country where the common good comes first, we must devote our time and resources to bringing that about.

2:50AM PDT on May 4, 2010

thanks noted.

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