The stigma of abortion
Posted by Nic Heath on March 4, 2010
I first heard of Angie Jackson over at Mamamia - [From Mamamia, which Mia found at The Frisky]:
“If I can’t talk about my first trimester abortion, which was legal and in my case life-saving, then who the hell can talk about her abortion? Or his abortion story, from the women he was with?…”
Angie has gained web notoriety for making her medical abortion public – on YouTube and Twitter. Aside from the issues that accompany such a public exposure of one’s private life, that sort of honesty takes immense courage, and like Angie says could help negate the stigma that surrounds pregnancy termination. I recently discovered a piece by Adelaide Advertiser columnist Clementine Ford written in 2008 defending her “pro-choice” views (although she calls it pro-life – focusing on the woman’s position in an unwanted pregnancy), and in it Ford writes freely about her own experience with abortion.
My current views on talking about terminations in the public domain crystallised after reading Clementine’s column – and particularly this:
“I truly believe that women who have abortions are forced to feel shame over a decision that is both a) legal and b) so completely unconnected with the business of anyone else other than the woman and man involved.”
What else in our society is a legal act (in some states) and yet remains shrouded in shame? Public admissions of abortion are effectively taboo, and yet each year thousands of Australian women end unwanted pregnancy through termination. I don’t recommend that women live-tweet their termination, but neither should they have to hide their decision under layers of guilt.
The abortion debate continues to incite extreme reactions from those against the practice, and it is inevitable that frank accounts like Angie Jackson’s further fan the flames of opposition. Tory Shepherd, for the The Punch, writes of a political party campaigning on an anti-abortion platform for the upcoming South Australian election, illustrating how controversial the issue remains in some quarters. In her piece Shepherd identifies one of the most frustrating elements of the abortion debate, which is that:
“…the debate has not moved on in decades. The pro-lifers refuse to accept reality, and keep sparking these hate-waves, which in turn forces pro-choicers to reject their accusations, and so the vicious whirlpool goes.”
In 1971 French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir composed a declaration signed by 343 women (Manifestio of the 343) in response to laws in France prohibiting abortion, in which the signatories attested to having had a termination. Are personal admissions to having had an abortion, made in the public realm, like this and Angie Jackson’s, necessary to reduce the social stigma surrounding it? Are they ultimately helpful? I acknowledge that for some women the decision to end an unwanted pregnancy is a traumatic one that they will never want to disclose publicly, but how do we stop women who are comfortable with their choice fearing public shame?