There’s a good chance that you support abortion rights if you clicked on this story. You may already suspect that the title of the article is purposely attention-getting and even mildly tongue-in-cheek. You understand that there is no perfect reason to have an abortion; or, rather, that every reason is the perfect reason — as long as the person making the choice was able to decide for themselves, and follow through on that decision without unwanted interference.
And yet, even within communities that ostensibly support the right to abortion, there exist pervasive and damaging stigmas against certain “types” of abortion. “We’ve found that when people share their abortion stories, they often hear: ‘Well I’m pro-choice, but — I think you waited too long.’ ‘I think you had too many.’ ‘You didn’t use birth control’,” says Renee Bracey Sherman, a reproductive justice activist, author of Saying Abortion Aloud, and executive director of We Testify.
These stigmas, which categorize abortions as acceptable or unacceptable, allow anti-abortion harassment to thrive and restrictive legislation to be enacted, Bracey Sherman says. They’re why the conversation about abortion rights in 2020 must center around access and not choice.
We have choice in Canada (although access is another story). In the U.S., abortion is still legal (for now), and yet, it’s incredibly difficult for many people to actually obtain one. Some may not have the ability to pay for one, thanks to legislation like the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid from covering it. Some may not have the ability to easily get to a safe medical facility, as is the case in states like Missouri, which as of 2019 had just one abortion centre for its population of over 6 million. Others may not trust the medical institutions that do provide the abortion care, in part due to centuries of well-documented institutionalized racism that is still evident today in many states’ anti-abortion legislation.
Sex-selection abortion bans, for instance, are founded on a racist idea that Asian-American people prefer sons to daughters, explains Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum. Currently, 10 states have passed what’s called a Prenatal Nondiscrimination (PRENDA) Act, the Guttmacher Institute reports. The bans promote racism disguised as feminism. People who uphold the acts do so under the guise of “protecting” girl babies, but they’re based on a myth: In a study conducted with the University of Chicago, the NAPAWF found that Chinese-, Korean-, and Indian-American women are more likely to have girls than their white counterparts. And the bans limit abortion access for Asian and Asian-American people in a serious way. “If a person lives outside of a metropolitan area, they may be afraid to go to a hospital to seek an abortion,” Choimorrow explains. They might be racially profiled and denied care from a provider that risks being penalized for giving the abortion.
One way to break down the myths and stigmas that lead to this kind of damaging legislation is by diversifying abortion stories, Bracey Sherman says. “When I started doing this work a decade ago, a lot of the stories were focused on white women and people who are able to get abortions without dealing with barriers, We want to make sure abortion stories are as diverse as the people who have them,” Bracey Sherman says. Elevating a certain kind of abortion story over others feeds into the notion that there are acceptable and unacceptable abortions, she says.
That’s one reason we decided to kick off our Access For All package by asking 21 people to explain, in their own words, why they chose to have an abortion. A diversity of abortion stories can help disprove the damaging myths that lead to abortion restrictions, and provide support to people who are seeking abortions, who may feel isolated, Bracey Sherman says.
But, she adds, she wishes people didn’t have to divulge the details of an intimate personal decision for people “to think that we’re worthy of autonomy and access to healthcare.” As Bracey Sherman puts it: “Abortion stigma impacts all of us. Some more than others.”
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length. Some names have been changed (indicated by *).