I have now done abortions for over 20 years. Day after day the women I see are surprised to learn how common abortions are. Over one-third of women in the United States will have at least one abortion by the time they are 45 years old! So why does each woman think she is in this by herself? Because no one talks about their abortion experience. Because very few people can say the word abortion aloud. Because, in spite of the fact that so many girls and women will have abortions, we have allowed those who are against abortion to dictate the conversation and make most women feel like it is something shameful. I truly believe that if we all talked more openly about abortion, both personally and in the abstract, it would become less shameful, like it ought to be.
The Feminists for Choice website recently posted “How to be Pro-Choice in 8 (and a half) Simple Steps.” This article shares ways of beginning the conversation in several different situations. Here is my Washington State edition of their list:
1. Ask your family physician, gynecologist or primary care provider if she or he performs abortions. You want your regular provider to believe that women have the same rights in which you believe. If they don’t perform abortions, ask them why? Even if you don’t currently have an unplanned pregnancy, you want to know how that person would respond if you came to them with one. If they wouldn’t respond appropriately you might want to change your provider to one who would.
2. Look beyond Planned Parenthood. Many cities also are home to independent family planning clinics, like Aurora Medical Services. If you have had a good abortion experience or family planning experience at an independent provider, please tell your friends about us, like you would if you loved your primary care physician.
3. Vote! How you vote in every election is very important. Always “vote your conscience.” Even people running for offices that seemingly have nothing to do with abortion rights may go on from there to higher office and have lots of control over access to abortion. It is particularly important to vote your conscience in the Presidential elections since the President chooses Supreme Court Justices.
4. Have the conversation. Talking with your partner before having sex with him/her about STDs is something we all know is important. It is also important to talk to your partner about how they would respond to an unplanned pregnancy. This is information you should want to know, whether you are the one who can get pregnant or not. Either way, your future depends on it. (Also know that how one feels in the abstract about how they would handle an unplanned pregnancy may not be how they feel when and if it actually happens.)
5. Know your rights. Since abortion laws vary greatly from state to state it is important to know the laws in your area. In Washington State we have no waiting period and no parental notification laws. In addition, abortion is legal until viability. In Washington State this means until the fetus has a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival outside the uterus without extraordinary medical measures.
6. Know your health insurance. Your health insurance plan may cover an abortion and it may not. At AMS we can help you sort out your insurance coverage, which is sadly not often as clear-cut as we would like or expect it to be.
7. Support local abortion funds. Local abortion funds help women without insurance or money to pay for their needed abortion, because no one should become a mother simply because she cannot afford an abortion. These funds always need money. And they can usually use volunteers as well. In Washington State, the CAIR project is our local abortion fund. http://www.cairproject.org/
8. Talk about it. Part of why abortion is so stigmatized in the United States is because no one talks about it. Yet because it is stigmatized it is difficult to talk about. So let’s start talking about it. And that means being able to say the word abortion without lowering your voice or your eyes. Try it.
8 ½. And if you’re going to talk about it … pass this list on to your friends so they can talk about it as well!
Deborah Oyer, with great thanks to Sarah at Feminists for Choice