The anti-choice folks have been genius at the fine art of shaming. I have to hand it to them. It’s impressive how the shame of having gotten an illegal abortion has morphed into shame of getting a legal abortion, the distinction seemingly lost on folks. It doesn’t matter if it’s legal, if you get an abortion, you have something to be ashamed of. It’s not something to discuss, to claim, to share, to educate, to support, to empower. It’s to be a secret. A shameful secret.
That’s why when the topic of reproductive freedom and the right to choose an abortion comes up, the argument proceeds with one side holding up the half-true pictures of dead fetuses and the other side hugging the Constitution. Abortion rights has no face right now because all of us who have had abortions are wearing burqas.
The 1 in 3 Campaign maintains that one in three women have had an abortion. But I’m betting that if I took a bullhorn to downtown Milwaukee and asked women to line up on Wisconsin Avenue and asked those who have had abortions to please take two steps forward that no more than four or five would step forward. The shame machine has been that powerful.
My sense is that women are silent because they are afraid of being judged. They think that the reason for their abortion won’t be accepted and that they’ll be disparaged for being selfish or callous. No one these days seems to have a good enough reason to have an abortion. Raped? Serious birth defects? Fatal risk to the mother? No one’s reason is good enough. That’s what the shame machine has brought us.
The really tricky thing about shaming and what makes it so elegant as a political strategy is that you just have to flip the switch and women do the rest themselves. In other words, women who have had abortions are so vulnerable to the second-guessing and moralizing of others who were not in their shoes and will probably never be in their shoes, that they clamp their own hands over their own mouths. They do it to themselves. It doesn’t even have to be done to them.
Now that is a true shame.
The secret becomes silence. The silence becomes shame. The shame becomes oppression.
That’s where we are right now. Being silent, being ashamed, and being oppressed.
The truth shall make you free. That’s where we are now as a nation of women. It’s our faces that need to be representing reproductive freedom and our stories that form the reality of choice in this country.
I told my story last year in an essay called The Wire that was read by thousands of people across the country yet my own still thick layer of shame kept me from sharing it widely in my own home town.
I urge other women – when the time is right and your story will have power – tell your story. Put your face on reproductive freedom. Burn the burqa and be strong. I’ll be right there with you.