by Megan Burbank
Ever since the leaked Roe v. Wade decision, I’ve been hearing people talk about abortion with a new sense of openness. In my work, I speak with people who think deeply about abortion access all the time — activists and abortion fund volunteers, providers and reproductive rights attorneys, all of whom predicted Roe’s fall earlier this year — so this isn’t new for me. But the scale of it is. Now, I find myself talking about Washington State’s extremely specific legal protections for abortion access with casual acquaintances, people I only know from workout classes, and friends and family members across generations, who remember what life was like before Roe with a vivid stoicism I thought my generation would never have to fully understand.
“I wish we didn’t have to share our stories,” said one of them. “I wish people had the option to keep it private.”
I knew what she meant.
But sometimes it feels like our stories are all we have.
Abortion is one of those things that’s both incredibly common and deeply stigmatized, and efforts to talk about it without shame — from Ms. magazine’s “We Have Had Abortions” petition in 1972 to its contemporary counterpart Shout Your Abortion — can do real work to combat that stigma and make it clear that if you’ve had an abortion, you’re not alone.
In fact, you’re in excellent company. The 1972 letter was signed by social agitators and iconic feminist thinkers like Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Anaïs Nin, and Susan Sontag, and it’s a powerful reminder that people who have abortions have been going public about it for decades.
In my line of work, it’s easy to reflect on this history and feel cynical about where we are now in relation to 1972, especially when the scale of the problem is clear — and nothing less than a public health crisis. We know that abortion access materially improves people’s lives. We have excellent data on the dangers of being denied abortion care. We already know that access barriers disproportionately impact low-income people, young people, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
And this is to say nothing of the twisted reality of parenting in America, where in one month alone, the Roe decision leaked the same week as Mother’s Day, a baby formula shortage forced parents to turn to social media and the kindness of strangers to feed their infants, and 19 children were killed at their elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, while police officers waited 78 minutes to intervene. I cannot fathom the cruelty of forcing someone to become a parent under these circumstances, and it is a fantasy to think doing so is even possible, because when someone doesn’t want to be pregnant, they typically will try to find a way to not be pregnant.
In Seattle, we saw this back in September, when patients began traveling to the city from Texas in greater numbers due to the implementation of Senate Bill 8. This is what happens when abortion is banned, and providers and activists have been preparing for it to worsen with the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
They saw it coming. I expected it too. I first began to suspect Roe was on its way out when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court after the then-president declared he’d nominate justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh’s record on abortion was clear enough, but I didn’t watch the proceedings because of him. I watched because as soon as Christine Blasey Ford began her testimony before the Senate, disclosing her allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, I couldn’t turn away. I watched Blasey Ford’s testimony from my desk in a newsroom where it was broadcast on monitors throughout the open-plan office. I was struck by Blasey Ford’s analysis, her ability to unpack her own experience with the clarity of a scientist. I believed her.
Kavanaugh was confirmed anyway, and Blasey Ford faced a major backlash after coming forward. But she provided a much-needed counternarrative to the GOP’s efforts to pass off Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior as normal or acceptable. Blasey Ford’s bravery in bringing her story to light also made room for others to tell theirs: During the hearings, calls to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) rose by 201%, according to reporting from NBC. Sometimes hearing someone else’s story gives us permission to interrogate our own.
I’ve been thinking about the Kavanaugh hearings a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how sometimes, it feels like telling our stories isn’t enough. It feels like nothing will change. We can open ourselves up to abuse and external judgment, and it can end up feeling like it didn’t make a difference. Then I think about the draft opinion’s stark, cold, politicized language that describes doctors who perform abortions as “abortionists” and frames abortion as an inherently controversial issue, when it wasn’t always, and most Americans don’t want it to be banned. And I remember that the truth is important.
Years after the Kavanaugh hearings, Blasey Ford has said she doesn’t regret her choice to come forward. On a podcast with Anita Hill released in 2021, Blasey Ford explained that she was “absolutely sure” that she would do it over again, given the choice. “I think that there’s a difference between the hypothetical of, ‘Would you speak up?’ versus the reality of holding that information, keeping it to yourself and the discomfort around that,” she said. “That’s not a comfortable way to live your life either — to not say anything.”
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Megan Burbank is a writer and editor based in Seattle. Before going full-time freelance, she worked as an editor and reporter at the Portland Mercury and The Seattle Times. She specializes in enterprise reporting on reproductive health policy, and stories at the nexus of gender, politics, and culture.
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