By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, January 16, 2009 0:47 EDT
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I’m pretty excited to announce that my first article ever to be translated into Spanish is out. It’s published in the latest issue of “Our Truths – Nuestras Verdades”, a magazine published by Exhale. You can get a PDF of it here.* Exhale is a pretty nifty organization. They’re there simply to support women who’ve had abortions, regardless of how those women feel about it. This is a big deal, because the nation is cluttered with anti-choice organizations that claim to offer support, but they’re just trying to get you to a place where you claim that all your problems in life are the result of abortion, as if it let a demon in or something. (Many literally believe this.) But many women are also uneasy asking for support from the pro-choice community, feeling guilty if they have mixed feelings about it. Aspen Baker, the director, has a video explaining how her own abortion inspired her to seek this third path.

Our Reality: Aspen’s Experience with Abortion from RH Reality Check on Vimeo.

She’s got an article up at RH Reality Check to accompany this video, explaining how forefronting women’s experiences—good, bad, indifferent, grieving—is the way to make the conversation a productive one.

I couldn’t believe the debate had sounded the same for so long, despite how much the world had changed and how many of us women, and our loved ones, have had their own experiences with abortion. Our rights, values, lives and needs are really what this debate is all about. How could the debate not respond to us and better reflect our experiences?

It must. Not only to be more supportive of women who have had abortions but because a more honest, reflective, responsive dialogue has the potential to overcome the years of damage the divisive debate has had on the health and well-being of our nation.

Needless to say, I agree with her. Well, maybe not needless. There are some people out there who are happy to misrepresent my views in order to demagogue about reproductive rights. I recently saw a very disappointing example—a supposed rational skeptic type in the comments at Science-Based Medicine, when responding to the idea that pro-choicers think of abortion as a lesser of two evils, said:

Actually, there are some who view abortion as a moral good. Personally, I consider this argument to be unconvincing. At the very best, abortion is a morally neutral medical procedure. At the very best. Personally, I tend to consider it to be the lesser of two evils in many cases, but still not an absolute good by any stretch of the imagination.

Wildly dishonest, an attempt to exploit people’s typical unwillingness to actually read the post instead of just the title. A skeptic and a rationalist should realize that something can be both the lesser of two evils and a moral good. Is heart surgery a moral good? Yes, of course. Saving lives is a moral good. I it the lesser of two evils? Absolutely. It would be nice if we didn’t have heart disease in the first place. But because we have heart disease—and unplanned pregnancy—it’s a moral good that we have ways to fix these problems.

Anyway, I bring this up because I want to agree with Aspen that forefronting women’s experiences will clarify policy discussions, will appeal to the mushy middle, and will help pro-choicers really sharpen their beliefs and arguments. What it won’t do is move the crazed anti-choicers into a space where they can have a productive conversation with anyone. The anti-choice movement has been based on lying, cheap shots, grand-standing but empty rhetoric, and exploiting people’s vulnerabilities and problems (that often have nothing to do with abortion, though very often have to do with sexual and romantic failures and disappointments) for so long, there’s no recovery there. In fact, I’d argue that they’re based in a fundamental deceit about their motivations with regards to gender roles and returning women to the kitchen, and when the foundation is deceit, everything you build on it is corrupt. The comments under Aspen’s post bear this out. The hardliners lie about having sympathy for her and then railroad right into trying to convince Aspen that she’s a depressed, broken person because of her abortion, completely ignoring what she did say about it. (That she was sad, that she blamed herself for getting pregnant, that her relationship woes complicated the problem, that it made her feel like she didn’t know where she was going, and so it was the impetus that drove her to therapy to figure it out.) I’m sure they didn’t even watch the video.

But I don’t think Aspen’s pro-voice idea is wrong or doomed to failure. All this proves is that the loud minority of Americans that constitute the majority of “pro-life” energy are unsalvageable, but they’re not that many people at the end of the day. Far larger are the numbers of people who feel guilted into being anti-choice, but if who were presented with the reality of people’s lives might soften up quite a bit. And then there’s the mushy middle, who are kind of sort of pro-choice, but want restrictions, and again, would perhaps see why most of these restrictions are a bad idea when given a more nuanced view of women’s actual lives. (For instance, parental notification is appealing to a lot of people, until they’re told that the only people really affected by it tend to be neglected or abused teenage girls.) As for pro-choicers, I think this strategy gives us a way to stop being afraid of saying things that give the wingnuts a chance to say “gotcha”. We know the anti-choice movement will pounce on any use of the word “baby” or any expression of any feeling short of relief or glee at abortion as “evidence” that women don’t really know what they need, and should be forced to bear children, which is the right thing for every woman to be doing at any point in time. Well, we have to stop being afraid of them, because, as I said before, they aren’t changing.

Ideally, I’d like to see a situation where abortion is regarded in the same way people regard divorce—unpleasant for most, but with varying degrees of relief and anxiety, depending on the particulars of your situation. And something that you should have a right to, because while divorce is unpleasant, it’s the solution to an even worse problem. Most people have the maturity to realize that because your divorce depressed you and sent you to therapy to reevaluate your life doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Most people get that if you regret your divorce, that doesn’t mean your right to divorce should be snatched from you. Most people understand that some of people will, the day they sign their divorce papers, be so glad that it’s finally over that they’ll want nothing more than to go out and celebrate, and this doesn’t make them bad people or mean they didn’t want their marriage to work out. We have it in us, as a nation, to be respectful and understanding of the various ways that people can react to abortion without thinking this should have implications for reducing women’s rights. And telling stories is the only way to get there.

*It’s the humor issue. One of the missions of Exhale is to honor the many emotions people go through when getting an abortion, and let’s face it, some people get through anything by joking. Jokes are valid reactions if they are there to express that you really don’t think abortion is a big deal, or to cope if you do. I was eager to write for this issue, because I think that humor is a coping mechanism that women are guilt-tripped out of using. If it makes someone feel better to read some funny stuff in Exhale while waiting in the doctor’s office for an abortion, I feel like I’ve made the world a slightly better place.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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