Lena Dunham has long been an outspoken advocate for women's reproduction rights, not to mention a guilty-as-charged (over)sharer about her own lady stuff struggles, including endometriosis and ambivalence about pregnancy. But this week she tackled a subject in her podcast, "Women of the Hour," that is almost always controversial these days: abortion. Dunham brought up the experience of, several years back, visiting a Planned Parenthood in Texas, when a young woman asked her to join in a project where women shared their abortion stories. The Girls creator says she was quick to correct the record: At that point, she had never actually had an abortion. (As of this week: still hasn't.) "I sort of jumped," she recalled on-air. "I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion."
There are things that only women who have had abortions know.
But it was her next comment that inspired ire from both near and far-flung corners of the internet: "Now I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had." The rage about that remark was swift and real — and I completely recognise where it's coming from. It's difficult to fathom why anyone would desire to have had an abortion, and thinking wistfully about a missed opportunity comes across as thoughtless, considering the struggle many women go through to exercise their reproductive rights out of necessity. So why would you want to have had an abortion? Anyone might wonder, and be well within their rights to do so, maybe angrily, or at least with understandable annoyance. Dunham has since apologised for her comments, acknowledging that her remarks "didn't translate," and adding that she would never "intentionally trivialise the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy" and that her "only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma." (She put her money where her mouth was, too, making a substantial donation to abortion funds in New York, Texas, and Ohio.) But while I won't deny that what she said on her podcast was tone deaf, I also understood what she meant. Having had an abortion in America puts you in a club with all the other women who have been through it: the ones who had a hard time, the ones who didn't struggle at all, the ones who regret the choice they made, the ones who never gave it another thought. It's a community that comes with a shared understanding of what it's like to have had an abortion, and, for better or worse, there's no other way to obtain that particular knowledge set.
Having had an abortion in America puts you in a club with all the other women who have been through it.
I'm speaking from experience here — though I should mention that just because you haven't had an abortion doesn't mean you can't empathise with the struggle or the difficulty or the pure as fuck fury over how hard women have to fight to retain control over their own bodies and futures. You can. Of course you can. Saying someone doesn't "get" abortion unless you've had one is like saying you can't recognise racism until you've been its object: That's not how it works, and it's dangerous to believe otherwise. Nevertheless: One of the many (many) reasons I don't regret electing to have an abortion is because it gave me a greater understanding of what that choice means, and also bound me to the community of womanhood in a way that only happens when you're a participant, not a bystander. I am only speaking for myself here, but there's a sort of bizarre pride that comes along with exercising your right to what Roe vs. Wade promises; it feels a little like going to the voting booth and casting your ballot, not because it's a civic duty but because it is what you are entitled to as a citizen. I suspect that's what Lena Dunham was getting at when she said that she regrets not having an abortion, once upon a time: that not having been through it by now, she probably never will, and that means that she'll miss out on the lesson that an estimated one in three women learn during their reproductive years. Maybe that still sounds minimising to you, or like it's putting abortion on a pedestal. But I'm telling you: That's not the point. The point is that there are things that only women — specifically the one in three who will have an abortion during their reproductive years — really know. I believe that's what Dunham meant to say, despite how bungled it came out: that she wanted to understand for herself. Perhaps if everyone (including male lawmakers in favour of laws restricting reproductive freedoms) sought this same understanding, then a woman's right to choose wouldn't be always hanging in the balance.