Have you noticed an increase in abortion anecdotes throughout the online community? An anonymous writer at Jezebel notes an uptick in cases of women “coming out” about their abortions. In fact, she believes this trend is owing, in part, to public pressure from various pro-choice/women’s rights advocacy groups:

Public pressure to reveal extremely private information, especially if advocates think that information could promote a social good, comes from a well-intentioned place. Just as pro-gay rights folks who nudged [Anderson] Cooper out of the closet thought they were doing a good thing (even though it might not have seemed as fantastic from Cooper’s perspective), so too are women’s health advocates who aggressively promote “coming out” about abortion think they’re increasing visibility and acceptance of the procedure, when they’re really placing the onus on women to sacrifice themselves, their careers, their families, or their safety on the altar of ideology, especially if the woman is the wrong kind of woman or having an abortion for the wrong sort of reasons.

The writer points to initiatives, like the recently launched I Had an Abortion and its accompanying film, as being potentially problematic. The organization seeks to provide support and encouragement for those who feel pressured into silence or those who feel a sense of shame about the procedure, but the hard push for openness about deeply personal experiences can make those who would rather remain silent feel guilty about their need to maintain their privacy.

As with any disclosure about one’s identity that has the possible outcome of changing others’ perceptions, either to positive or negative effect, the decision to “go public” with one’s abortion is a complex and individuated one. Everyone’s goal in discussing her decision is different.

Consider “Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta” cast member Joseline Hernandez’s decision to televise her abortion. Some viewers considered the choice courageous, while others attacked her for using the situation to jump-start a career. In a memoir co-written with her mother and released earlier this year, actress/singer Vanessa Williams wrote about terminating a teen pregnancy and how the decision affected her life; though it was just one of many deeply personal experiences recounted, it was one of the only two that almost always made it to press kits about the book (the other was about being molested as a child). Though the public’s responses to each of these instances differed according to their opinion of the personality making the admission, both provide an example of how quickly “coming out” is co-opted or criticized.

Women’s public discussions about sex and pregnancy often generate immediate and polarizing reactions. In the cases of abortion stories, public response can be as supportive as it is ostracizing. While many consider the anecdotes to be inspiring and to be invaluable as related to de-stigmatizing abortion, others use the anecdotes to directly attack the teller, especially if they believe abortion should be stigmatized. This was certainly true for Hernandez, who was attacked by a viewer following her abortion episode’s airing.

Another prominent example is the discussions that followed Olympian Lolo Jones’ “going public” with her virginity and Meagan Good’s pre-marital celibacy interviews. Those who value abstinence as a moral imperative immediately praised the women for being such public examples of “doing the right thing.” Others wondered whether the announcements were matters that should’ve been kept private or that the women were using their sexual decisions as publicity stunts.

Not everyone feels or should feel a sense of obligation to attach their personal experiences to a larger cause. It can certainly be courageous and useful to do so, but as the anonymous Jezebel writer states, the exercise is not without considerable risk — to relationships, professional growth, and safety. For some, however, those risks are minimal compared to the pressures of prolonged secrecy or of absorbing the shame of a judgmental or unsupportive community alone.

Do you believe abortion “coming out” stories are essential to reshaping ideas about abortion and debunking myths about “the type of people” who have them? Have you ever felt pressure to be secretive about or to come out with your own story? Has an abortion story had a positive or encouraging effect on you?

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  • just a thought

    uum um.. actually it is. you need look no further than the south to see that abstinence only education rules the day and that access to women’s reproductive health facilities is being reduced as laws are being proposed to have standards of the facilities upgraded or face closure. access to affordable birth control for the poor and uninsured is becoming harder and harder to come by. i am currently pregnant and never in a billion, cajillion years would i dream of terminating the life that my husband and i created but to say that a legal medical procedure and access to measures that prevent having to undergo that legal medical procedure is not under attack is wrong. you only need to do a little reading to figure that out. huffington post or druge report, pick your poison and receive different viewpoints but the base information is the same and there are many currently of the mindset that women should not be able to control their reproductive rights, including abortion. it is a procedure that i personally don’t condone and while i have dipped my toes into the pro-life pool, i could never force my values on another woman. who the hell am i to read into someone else’s circumstances and tell them what to do especially since i’m not taking on the responsibility of caring for their unwanted child.

    • Socially Maladjusted

      hmm!

      ever tried tellin em that they can avoid the pregnancies you say they don’t want by using one of the many reliable methods of contraception?

      How about good ole fashioned “keep em crossed”.

      And why should some values not be treated as so desirable for the common good that we should enforce them?

      We force our values on people on people by law and by custom in a plethora of areas -e.g. compulsory education.

      We think education is a good thing for children so we force them to attend school everyday.

      Sorry, but the “values” argument is not even moot..

  • To a certain extent, I agree with some comments above who say there’s too much stuff out there, but as someone reading books about memoir as I write one, I have to note this sharing about oneself has been around since Virginia Woolf. The only difference is that nowadays, the whole world has 24-hr access to any info anyone wants to share. We don’t have to pay out the nose to have a book printed and distributed overseas; we can just tweet about it, so we do.

    I think the liberating or limiting question points to larger issues about women’s stories, their representation and their agency in telling the truth about their own lives. While the “pressure” isn’t right, the need for women to share is still very much present, and I don’t want us to keep silent. We’ve done that long enough. Publishing an extended comment to this momentarily …

  • Unless you were s*xually assaulted, abandoned inside of a marriage, or the doctor had to choose between you or the baby, (or any other tragic story of victimhood), then ab*rtion is understandable…

    Anything less means that you were a stone cold, irresponsible m*urderer.

    Women want to sleep with deadbeats & then be able to legally k*ll their child… It’s a sick Ace In The Hole…..

  • Lit

    Abortion is a private thing and it should remain exactly that. No one has a right to encourage you to have an abortion or to stop you, for that matter. It is therefore not necessary to tell people about your private actions. By going public you polarize an already polarized society.

    Do what you think is right for you and leave it at that. You never showed people when you were sleeping with your partner, why should you tell us about your abortion? Abortion and sex are private activities.