Today an abortion provider opened her practice across the street from my office. I could see the protesters from the window. Luckily, they all went home for lunch and didn’t bother coming back. Too cold for politics, I guess, or maybe one of the most liberal and Jewish areas in Boston isn’t the best audience for “Jesus loves your baby” signs. The hubub may have been anti-climactic, but today felt very significant for me. I have been an abortion rights activist for years and years, but today the issue came home, or, er, moved in across the street.
I have interacted with the abortion debate in a number of ways. I have participated in activism. I have donated to Pro-Choice organizations and abortion funds. I have voted for Pro-Choice candidates. I have volunteered at Pro-Choice organizations. Hell, I used to dance around my college campus handing out condoms dressed as the “Condom Fairy” (the Tooth Fairy’s second cousin). But what has shaped my conception more than anything is the fact that I have studied the abortion debate in school as a subject of inquiry. As theory.
I have surveyed American attitudes towards abortion from the Colonial period to the Civil War period to the 20th century. I have studied the history of the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life social and political movements. I understand the strategy used by both sides to gain political ground. I know the Roe v. Wade trial inside and out and my dissertation featured Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe herself, as a case study. Not having had an abortion myself,* this all made sense. [*Because I was privileged enough to have the resources to obtain birth control and the education to know how to use it properly. Yes, I know I am damn lucky.]
Today surprised me because today abortion became real. The abortion debate is not a philosophical question of personhood. The abortion debate is not a morality contest. The abortion debate is not a political football, nor is it a case study. The abortion debate is a real, tangible thing and it’s happening outside my window.
I recently found out about a new project called 45 Million Voices. This website will be a safe haven for anyone to share their abortion story — no comments (or judgment) allowed. “The goal is to provide a safe space to listen women into voice. A space where stigma is eradicated, silence is broken, and honesty prevails through the power of love and support.” I am excited and hopeful about the power of this project. I believe in the power of telling stories and I believe that change can happen when the silenced are given a voice.
Women who have had abortions are silenced by the very nature of the political tug-of-war over abortion that has left us too timid to even speak the “a” word. Not even Focus on the Family, a die-hard player in this battle, could say the word. Even if a woman is Pro-Choice and sure of her decision, she is still shamed into silence. And if she does choose to speak, we are only prepared to hear her story if it fits the familiar and acceptable trope of shame, regret, and penance.
I don’t believe there is anything wrong with studying abortion from an academic perspective. On the contrary, there is much to gain from the approach, especially when one comes to really understand the position of those with whom they disagree. Still, there is something lost when someone is divorced from the physical reality of abortion. An abortion clinic shouldn’t have to open up next door for the issue to hit home. I hope that 45 Million Voices will accomplish for the masses what I felt today. The abortion debate is real, and we will finally be able to connect with that reality through the words of the women who are living it.