just three doors down from the Richmond Medical Center
for Women in Richmond, VA, which has been a target of the 40 Days
for Life campaign. This basically consisted of clinic protesters gathering
daily for the past month or so to form prayer circles, display the typical "women
deserve better" and "abortion is murder" signs, with the occasional shouting through
the likely bullet-proof windows to those women who did not heed their advice before
entering the clinic. This Saturday was my first chance to sleep-in in about a
month, so aside from the fact that I was jarred out of sleep by their not too
distant voices through my window at 9am (thinking for a second that I was in
just another one of those "every pro-choice grassroots organizer’s nightmare" deals),
I have some more nuanced bones to pick with this campaign…
Driving home last week, a woman
with a sign reading "I regret my abortion" was standing quietly on the corner
outside the clinic. The message was one
that both those of us in the trenches of abortion access work, as well as
anyone who can Google the word "abortion" had all undoubtedly heard or seen
before in one iteration or another, if not so explicitly as it was in this
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My first thought was "wow, what
an intensely personal thing to be sharing with the 6 o’clock rush hour on
Boulevard." What was underlying my discomfort with this message was not that it
was just another sign in the window of the anti-choice movement, but that in no
other area of our lives are women so freely permitted or expected or encouraged to express regret, much less put it on display in the public forum. I then began thinking about what is different
or special about abortion as a choice.
My impetus for thinking about
what makes abortion "different" or "special" comes from a talk I recently
attended by a long-time abortion provider who challenged her audience (many of
whom were medical students and identified as potential abortion providers) to
think about what makes abortion a medical decision that sets it apart from
others, and why she was asked to come talk as "an abortion provider" instead of
as a doctor who gives women health care? (A different blog for a different
But what really gets me is that
this message of an individual women regretting her individual choice is that it
presupposes that the women who are coming to the clinic to seek abortion care
(or even the women driving by who have or will consider abortion) have not
considered regret among the ways that they might experience this choice. It assumes that women don’t think about
choices and outcomes before they engage in behaviors or activities. It assumes
that women have little to no capacity to think for themselves about their lives
and their choices and their bodies. I wholly reject this notion because I trust
If I were to stand outside of
McDonald’s for a month straight strategically standing between the drive thru
and the building entrance bearing a sandwich board (no-pun intended) reading: "I
regret that second Big Mac and chocolate shake" I am fairly certain that I
would see a lawsuit coming my way (think Oprah and the meat industry circa 1996).
I would also be remiss to think that the patrons of McDonald’s were not
educated enough to know that among the many possibilities of feelings that could
follow a meal at McDonald’s (elation, sugar-high, discomfort, bloating, satisfaction, to
name a few), regret might be one of them. Who am I to educate people about how I
felt after eating fast food? It’s insulting.
It’s insulting just like it is to
feel compelled to let women know how YOU experienced YOUR abortion.
The solution is not for me to
stand out there right next to Regretful Rebecca with a sign reading "I felt relief
after my abortion" because I know that women who choose abortion (by their own
volition and timing) are smart enough to consider that this is one feeling they
might experience. I would consider this action equally as insulting.
The solution is to ensure that
women can make informed choices based on the best medical evidence, and that
these choices are supported by friends and family because it is what she – and no
one else – wants.
I am proud to work for an
organization that will deny abortion care to a woman if there is any hint that
that she has not had the freedom to make her choice without coercions from a
partner or parent. If only the crisis pregnancy centers would follow suit and turn
away those who made a decision to carry a pregnancy based on coercive