Why the “Abortion is Great” Rhetoric Hits Me Wrong

(Image: Kara Rodriguez)

I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a panel hosted by The Chicago Abortion Fund, which largely centered the #BeBoldEndHyde campaign. It was an honor to be in a space that centered marginalized voices — Black and Brown people, sex workers and others traditionally left out of conversations about what reproductive justice looks like. But as we make this kind of progress, with groups like Lifted Voices joining forces with groups like the Chicago Abortion Fund to not only demand an end to Hyde, but to broaden our notions of what reproductive justice encompasses, I have an ask for some of my allies.

Being that I have a lot of reproductive rights activists on my Facebook friends list, I’ve been seeing a lot of people (mostly white allies and accomplices) promote messaging that either amounts to, or is as straightforwardly simple as, “Abortion is great!”

I get it.

Abortion has traditionally been portrayed as a nightmarish, potentially deadly procedure, that’s consequences match its alleged moral depravity, when in reality, it is a reliably safe medical procedure, that allows many people with uteruses to maintain control of their lives — rather than forcing them to endure the violence of forced birth. Resisting what author Katha Pollitt has framed as the “awfulization” of abortion, is necessary work, as negative characterizations — and pointless moralization — certainly fuel an opposition bent on controlling our destinies by holding our reproductive systems hostage.

But can we own something else?

Not everyone gets an abortion because they want one. Some people get abortions, when they would otherwise consider carrying a child to term, because this world, such as it is, simply doesn’t welcome their children. Amid poverty, state violence, and environmental destruction, what does it really mean to have a choice?

I am pro-choice, but to me, that means so much more than supporting abortion access. Of course I know once-pregnant individuals, whose procedures were not traumatic, who feel nothing but positive about their decision, but I have also known people whose hearts broke when they were forced to abort, and I say “forced” because true consent involves an availability of options. My friends who mourned choosing to abort were up against racism, ageism, toxic environments and a culture that sustained their abuse. They faced inadequate healthcare, criminalization, and a host of other harms that compromised their agency.

For them, abortion was harm reduction. It was part of the larger tragedy of their oppressions. And it was not awesome.

It was simply better than the alternative.

So can we acknowledge that no life changing decision is universally great? And that choice itself is a complex idea?

As an Indigenous woman, I need my allies’ understanding of reproductive justice to include an awareness that 40% of our people, with the capacity to bear children, were forcibly sterilized by the United States Government in the 1970s. I need those who would fight alongside me to understand that while some people were securing their right to escape the violence of forced birth, my people were being deprived of any choice about our reproductive destinies, en masse.

We have acculturated ourselves to associate the word “choice” with our ability to make one very specific decision, but historically, some people have been denied a great many options. We need to remember and honor all of those histories when we use the word “choice.” Because we cannot speak to reproductive justice without discussing poverty, state violence and environmental racism. These issues don’t simply intersect. They are deeply entangled. And while the idea that one person’s act of self-determination might be the stuff of another’s oppression might be difficult to reconcile, it’s real.

I support abortion on demand and without apology. I always will. But I am fighting for a world where no one feels they have to abort a pregnancy, simply because the world is no country for their child. I want us to be able to declare that, all things being equal, and all resources being equitable, a person carrying a child should have the right to decide that they simply don’t want to — and for all of us to lock arms in the name of that whole equity piece, while respecting one another’s lived experiences.

We’re not there yet, but if we’re going to do this work at the intersections of our oppressions, we need to figure it out.