Shortly after I had my abortion, I was talking to my friend about silence and stigma and the enormous pressure to conform to a single cultural script when it comes to speaking publicly about abortion (something Chloe at Feministing wrote about very eloquently just recently). Like many women, whose stories are largely absent from the public discourse, my decision to get an abortion was easy and unemotional. And yet for some women it is a difficult, painful choice.
As we talked–about pregnancy, miscarriage, motherhood, abortion and the different ways women experience these things–we came to an epiphany. What if a woman is pregnant when she feels like she is? What if the woman decides when a fetus becomes a baby, when a pregnancy is granted emotional significance?
It seemed like a revolutionary idea at the time, but, of course, it isn’t. It’s the same sentiment behind Dr. Tiller’s motto "Trust Women." And it should be painfully obvious. But the more I think about it, the more this simple idea seems to embody why sexual and reproductive freedom is important to me.
First, trusting women means trusting them with information and education. Trust that teaching young women about their sexuality will make them healthier and more empowered. Trust that giving young women accurate information about contraception will make them more responsible, not less. Trust that women–and men–are capable of making their own decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive lives.
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Trusting women means trusting them to take seriously the responsibility of bringing a new human being into the world. Trust women to decide what’s best for themselves and their families. Trust women to know when they simply can’t be parents yet or again (no matter how"empowered" they are, Sarah Palin).
And trust women to make that decision like adults. Without paternalistic requirements like mandatory waiting periods and coercive "informed consent" laws. Without being forced to see ultrasounds and listen to moralistic lectures. (Yes, even before painting that nursery.) Trust that no one–not a doctor, not the government, not other women–has more invested in the decision than the individual woman making it. Trust that no one understands what abortion means more than the woman getting one.
And, furthermore, trusting women means accepting that it’s up to each woman to decide what it means to her. Trust that women’s experiences can be varied, nuanced, and equally valid. To me, trusting women means working for a world in which not only a woman’s decision about whether to continue a pregnancy but also the meaning she ascribes to that choice are entirely hers alone–free of barriers and judgment.