Commentary Human Rights

Where Are the Portman Women? Anti-Choicers and the Women They Love

Peg Johnston

Rob Portman recently changed his mind about same-sex marriage after his son came out to him. Despite the stigma surrounding abortion, it's time for the Portman women to speak out about any abortion stories they may have.

Cross-posted with permission from the Abortion Conversation Project.

Conservative Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) recently changed his mind about same-sex marriage after his son came out as gay to him. So the stand that he, and many right-wingers, have taken against civil rights for LGBTQ individuals became personal.

Let’s take this a step further. How many of the women in the Portman family have had an abortion? Or helped a friend when she unintentionally became pregnant? Gay and lesbian individuals comprise less than 10 percent of the population, according to most respected research on the topic, but about one-in-three reproductive-age women will have an abortion. Surely some disclosures are possible at the next family gathering.

Many abortion rights activists advocate a “coming out” strategy for individuals who have had an abortion, just as the LGBTQ movement did, designating October 11—the anniversary of the first large LGBTQ rights march on Washington, in 1988—as National Coming Out Day. That strategy has paid off, as more and more Americans personally know “out” gays and lesbians and support the desire for their unions to be recognized by society. According to a recent poll, about half of Americans—and 70 percent of Millennials—now support same-sex marriage; about a third of respondents who have changed their mind on the issue said they did so because they know someone who is homosexual.

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Last year I attended a conference on stigma where it was suggested that approaches that have worked to de-stigmatize homosexuality and HIV status might be used to lessen the stigma of abortion. There are some important differences though. Women who have had an abortion can usually hide it; it’s not generally part of their identity in the way sexuality is for many gay and lesbian individuals and in the way a chronic infection is for HIV-positive folks.

But the idea is a good one. If you feel people would think less of you (which is the definition of stigma) for having had an abortion, then you are not going to be eager to tell those people. But if you were able to tell some folks, it would lessen your sense of stigma, isolation, and shame. And, importantly, it would change the people who heard your story.

The Rob Portmans of the world need to hear from women close to them who have considered or chosen an abortion. If right-wing individuals hear from women and men who have been part of an abortion experience, will they be so quick to pass every ridiculous law that’s a barrier to abortion access? If Rob Portman’s son’s coming out is an indication, the answer is yes.

So, Portman women, we know it can be hard to speak up, but we’re counting on you. It’s time for an abortion conversation in your—and every—family!

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