All this talk of abortion lately makes me want to say something, and it’s this.
Two years ago, I had an abortion. It wasn’t a tragic event in my life. The procedure didn’t leave me damaged or depressed. I feel no regret or shame.
Almost certainly, my lowest point during the whole decision-making process came one day when I was in the car with my mum. As someone who hates making decisions at the best of times, I was frustrated and upset, as well as hormonal. I was sick of hearing, ‘It’s your choice’, and tired of endlessly thinking about my situation. That particular day, I lost it, shouting at my mum that she was crap because she wouldn’t help me make the hardest decision of my life. I wanted someone else to choose for me (which made me wonder: if I couldn’t make a choice for myself, how the hell would I know what’s best for another human being for 18 years?).
I looked over at my mum and apologised. She paused, then said, in her casual way, that it doesn’t end after 18 years: motherhood is for the rest of your life. Her own mother still regularly checked if everything was alright, if she was okay for money. ‘So, how old are you again?’ she asked, making the point that I was 30, and still craving her advice.
I had just returned from a two-year working holiday in England, leaving the father in his home country, with no practical way of continuing the relationship. In the UK, I had worked a string of jobs, taking whatever I could find in order to save money, sometimes juggling two or three at a time. I had arrived home broke, and was living in a caravan on my parents’ property. I didn’t know where to begin to make my situation more child-friendly.
But there were moments I oscillated over my decision. There were even a few weeks where I seriously considered having a baby, and went to all the doctor’s appointments, had my blood tested, saw the scan. I weighed up every aspect of the decision and the effect it would have on those around me, especially the child I was not in a financial or emotional position to support. My decision wasn’t so much about what I would have to sacrifice to raise a child, but more that a child shouldn’t have to grow up watching me struggle to keep us both alive.
I made the right choice for myself at that time in my life. But lately I’ve been wondering why I’ve felt the need to keep it a secret. Why can’t I talk about it and share my experience with others who may be walking the same path, or those who have been there and feel all alone? A few weeks ago, journalist Tracey Spicer was prompted to share her story on The Hoopla, in response to comments made by a Melbourne doctor under investigation for admitting to breaking the law by not referring patients who seek an abortion because of a ‘conscientious objection’. In Victoria, abortion comes under the Health Act rather than the criminal code, which generally provides doctors with a clearer understanding of their role in terminating pregnancies.
Abortion has been relatively safe and arguably legal in Australia since the early 1970s, but the law still rests within the criminal code or Crimes Act for all states and territories except the ACT, Victoria – and as of 22 November 2013 – Tasmania.
The situation in Tasmania used to be quite different. I had to see two different medical practitioners for my abortion to be ‘legally justified’. Luckily, two doctors – one from family planning, the other the gynaecologist who performed the procedure – decided that the pregnancy ‘would pose greater risk to [my] physical or mental health’ than termination.
In an act of solidarity with Tracey Spicer, author Jane Caro also shared her own abortion story. Around the same time, in another country and with regard to another issue, New York Magazine published 26 accounts of abortion from women of different ages, backgrounds and demographics. This appears to be a growing trend among US blogs, online magazines and grassroots groups (such as the ‘pro-voice’ Exhale and 1 in 3) of encouraging women to end abortion shame and stigma by speaking openly about their experiences of abortion.
It’s possible that in telling my story, I open myself up for judgement and criticism, but I want to help break the cycle of shame and fear that surrounds ending a pregnancy. Allowing moral judgements to enter the discussion is to continue to perpetuate the ignorance and silence of abortion. I don’t think anyone should be made to feel disgraced and worthless for such a personal choice. The conversation can’t continue to be about who considers what to be right or wrong – there are too many grey areas for that.
So what does sharing an abortion story achieve? First off, hearing women’s stories reinforces and acknowledges the importance of choice. In doing so, we respect women as capable decision-makers and recognise that they have a choice over when they conceive and how many children they have. Besides, each story is unique, every circumstance a factor; relating these stories adds another dimension to the discourse surrounding reproductive rights. Being more open about all aspects of the abortion experience can help dispel misconceptions promoted by those against it.
Statistics show that one in three women in Australia will have an abortion before age 45. And crucially, the majority of Australians accept a women’s right to choose. They understand that each woman makes her choice based on her own circumstances, beliefs and values, and that every abortion story is different. By telling our stories, we add a personal dimension to the question of abortion rights. These stories mean the issue can’t simply be demonised for political points, and they make it harder for male politicians and religious leaders to speak on our behalf.