social movements + innovation lab


All Abortion, All the Time

Lately, at work, it’s “all abortion, all the time.” In meetings, discussions, debates, documentaries, conferences, brown bags and presentations, the venue may change but the topic is stubbornly stable. In these settings, people narrate tales of other women’s abortions – as if abortion, and not a woman’s self-discovery and self-determination were the take home point.

​​Yet colleagues sitting beside me in these same rooms insist that we don’t talk about abortion enough. They maintain we’re avoiding the “a” word. Counting each time abortion is mentioned by leaders in public could pass for a parlor game in my professional circles.

Many advocates I know are on a mission to promote open dialogue about abortion, whenever possible. Some even strongly recommend that women “come out” about our abortions. They want to hear my abortion story, your abortion story, and retell their own. The premise seems to be that through narration alone, stigma will vanish and we shall all be set free.

In the midst of all this talk about abortion, I find myself feeling angry, unhappy and trapped. An inexplicable reaction since I care about abortion in far more than the abstract. I had an abortion at nineteen and have dedicated my life to ensuring that other women can do the same when and if they should need. I wanted to figure out why I was feeling so surly and suffocated.

So, I re-read Dorothy Robert’s Killing the Black Body. Roberts’ three main arguments are roughly as follows: Historic and ongoing attempts to control Black women’s reproduction are central to racial oppression in the US. Two, dominant notions of reproductive liberty in America are shaped by racist assumptions about Black procreation. And thus, the relationship between reproductive liberty and racism is inseparable; we must understand this in order to make gains on the former for all women while dismantling the latter for women of color.

To quote Roberts:

The dominant notion of reproductive liberty is flawed in several ways. It is limited by the liberal ideals of individual autonomy and freedom from government interference; it is primarily concerned with the interests of white, middle-class women; and it is focused on the right to abortion. The full extent of many Americans’ conception of reproductive freedom is the Constitution’s protection against laws that ban abortion.

​Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice, not individual choice.

While it makes me deeply uncomfortable to fully embrace her analysis (mostly because of the hard questions I would have to ask about my own work), her writings give me another way to understand my despair at a focus on abortion. Fixating only on a moment in a woman’s life when she decides on an abortion is incomplete. Every decision about whether or not to continue a pregnancy is shaped by lived experience, and that includes every woman’s life informed by her race, class, disability, immigration status, geography, age, and sexuality. My purpose and passion is all women, all the time (myself included). Ensuring a woman can take action when she wants to prevent or discontinue a pregnancy is of little consequence if she’s not sheltered, fed, free from violence and discrimination. Abortion isn’t sufficient to pursing anyone’s happiness. Whether any one woman, or I for that matter, continue a pregnancy or not shouldn’t actually matter to anybody else.

The sometimes suggested and at others spoken directive that I foreground abortion corrals me into focusing on something I care about marginally, and away from what matters much more. So, with no small irony, I’m borrowing a page from my colleagues “coming out” playbook and announcing out loud abortion isn’t where my interest or emphasis rests. I want all people to have the love, sex, family and community they deserve and desire. Abortion is one small crumb in that pie; that’s merely enough to keep everyone ravenous.