an After abortion

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nerve published a special reproductive rights issue yesterday. It includes an article attacking Feminists for Life and an article by a pro-choice woman who is ashamed because she has qualms about second-trimester abortions.

It also includes Trouble in Numbers: On the Stigma of the Second Abortion by Jennifer Baumgardner.

Jennifer Baumgardner thought up the idea for the "I Had An Abortion" t-shirts and is the producer of the film Speak Out: I Had An Abortion, which features eleven women who have had abortions.

One of those women, Marion, actually had two abortions, although in "Speak Out" she only talks about the first.

In Trouble in Numbers, we read:

Dauntless radical though she is, there is a part of her abortion story she rarely tells. A year after her 1971 procedure, Marion got pregnant again. This time she didn't have to worry about the money. Her new boyfriend pulled out his checkbook and put her on the next flight — and she knew it was the right decision. "But it was a much harder [abortion] for me personally. I felt I shouldn't let myself get pregnant," says Marion, now fifty-two. "Even to this day, I have shame about it. An accomplished, consciousness-raised feminist like me!"
In the article, Baumgardner tries to analyze why even "dauntless radicals" and pro-choice feminists can (and do) feel shame and discomfort about having more than one abortion.

One theory suggested is that the shame is not related to the abortion, but to the fact of having multiple, unwanted pregnancies--this can make a woman feel that she is incompetent or out-of-control.

A second theory is that the shame comes about because the woman internalizes the voices of condemnation she hears from demonstrators as she enters the clinic.

The article goes on to report:

In the clinic world, repeat visitors are called, not unkindly, "frequent flyers." The reason that casual term is not an insult is simply due to how common multiple abortions are.
That's like saying:

In pediatrician's offices, overweight children are referred to, not unkindly, as "the little fatsos." The reason that casual term is not an insult is simply due to how common childhood obesity is.
Referring to women who have multiple abortions as "frequent flyers" is stigmatizing. The fact that abortion clinics even have a special term indicates that abortion clinic workers are emotionally distancing themselves from these clients, in a way that suggests discomfort and judgment.

Baumgardner interviewed a man who is multiply post-abortive:

He says, bluntly, that the abortion last year felt "more like murder," and that he was disgusted at himself for being the reason his girl was at Planned Parenthood, confronting scary toothless protesters and enduring this awful procedure. The circumstances had changed — Matt did have a future with the woman he got pregnant with the second time, although having a baby just then, a few months into their relationship, wasn't a good idea at all. Mostly, though, it felt unseemly and immature to be there. "I sat at the clinic with all of these younger guys and I thought, 'I am too old to be here, man,'" says Matt, now thirty-eight. "When do I stop giving myself the out — that is what abortion feels like — a free pass. But it's not totally free. There are emotional consequences, and as you get older the sense of taking responsibility for your actions grows."
Matt--keep thinking. You're on the right path.

Returning to the idea that people who experience strong discomfort around multiple abortions have merely internalized the condemnatory voices of those who are anti-abortion: This theory is riddled with problems.

It's inconsistent with the idea that women are well able to stand on our own two feet, think our own thoughts, and live autonomous, authentic lives. By what nefarious mechanism do our minds absorb the condemnation of "scary toothless protestors", allowing those shouted judgments to enter into our brain cells, so that our own brain manufactures an endless cycle of self-condemnation?

Why would our minds absorb messages of shame and condemnation, instead of absorbing the idea that we're doing the right thing and that the fetus is just a blob of tissue?

Frequent flyers unite: the Christian abortion recovery movement is full of women (and men) who have had more than one abortion, and who have successfully been able to work through their shame, guilt and pain.

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