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?