In Defense of Abortion On Demand and Without Apology


This post is by Sunsara Taylor, and is part of Tsk Tsk: Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with RH Reality Check in partnership with Ipas.

Several years ago, I was approached by a young woman after giving a talk examining how patriarchy is at the core of the world’s dominant religions and calling out the Christian fascist movement to criminalize abortion. As she told me of her abortion, her demeanor suggested she was rather settled about it. But then suddenly she stopped talking, her face flashed with emotion, and she burst into tears.

I tell this story precisely because this young woman was a confident and articulate atheist. She had been raised pro-choice and still was. Her boyfriend was supportive. She received great medical care.  Extremely important: she made clear she had never felt guilty.

So, why was she sobbing?

She explained, “Until today, I have never in my life heard anyone say that it is okay to have an abortion and even feel good about it. For two years I have gone around feeling like there must be something wrong with me because I never felt any remorse.”

Stop for a moment and think about that. She didn’t feel bad about her abortion. She felt bad about not feeling bad!

I responded very firmly that there is nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with a woman terminating her pregnancy at any point and for whatever reason she chooses.  Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.

There is, however, something profoundly wrong with a society in which millions of young people have grown up never having heard abortion spoken of as something  positive and liberating. There is something deeply wrong not only with the movement which has viciously and relentlessly fought to criminalize, terrorize, and demonize those who seek – or provide – abortions, but also with the mainstream of a “pro-choice movement” which has repeatedly conciliated and compromised with this madness.

Lets be clear, the notion that women are full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men is historically an extremely new idea. It is also under extreme, and increasing, fire. The fight to not only defend, but to expand and to destigmatize abortion and birth control, must be seen as a central battle in the fight to make good on the full liberation of women.

What’s the big deal about abortion, anyway? Together with birth control, abortion enables women to not be enslaved by their biology. It enables women to delay, restrict, or forgo altogether the decision to make babies. It enables women to explore their sexuality free of the fear that an unintended pregnancy will foreclose their lives and their dreams. It opens up the possibility for women to enter fully and equally into every realm of public life and human endeavor together with men.

Of course, the possibility of full equality for women doesn’t exist merely because of the technological, or even the legal, existence of birth control and abortion. These reproductive rights would not have been won — and wouldn’t have had the earth-shaking repercussions they’ve had – without the tremendous struggles of women demanding their liberation.  Despite popular misconceptions, it was this righteous struggle, together with the broader revolt of the 1960s and 70s – not some sudden flash of enlightenment on the Court –that most influenced the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Further, the liberation of women requires more than reproductive rights and a radical shift in the culture. The need for an all-the-way revolution that goes beyond even the best of the revolutionary experience of the last century – including as pertains to challenging traditional gender and other chains that bind women – is a key element of Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of revolution and communism. Explicating this more fully goes beyond the scope of this article, but interested readers can learn more by reading A Declaration for Womens Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.

But even the specter of women’s liberation — and the important advances that were made — were too much for those who rule this country. The backlash really coalesced and gained initiative under Reagan. The reassertion of the “traditional family” became an indispensable part of not only reasserting patriarchy but also stitching back together the reactionary fabric of society that had been significantly frayed. Christian fascists — people fighting for the laws and culture to conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including its insistence that women bear children and obey their husbands (1 Timothy 2:11-15) – were given powerful backing by ruling class forces and unleashed to hound and harass women who sought abortions. They bombed clinics. They killed doctors. They pushed the shame and ignorance of abstinence-only education into the schools and went to war on the scientific fact of evolution.

Through this period, the most mainstream elements of the women’s movement came to be identified broadly as the only outlet for those concerned about the oppressed status of women, even as this bourgeois feminism more and more subordinated itself to the ruling class, and the Democratic Party in particular.

To quote from the above-mentioned Declaration, “This absorption of the ‘official women’s movement’ into the Democratic Party, and its utter subordination to the confines of electoral politics, has done incalculable damage. For over two decades now this ‘feminist movement’ has encouraged and influenced progressive people to accommodate to a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s ‘compromise position’ and tomorrow’s limit of what can be imagined. The defensiveness and cravenness of this ‘movement’ in the face of the Christian fascists in particular — its refusal to really battle them on the morality of abortion, to take one concentrated example — has contributed to the disorientation of two generations of young women, and men as well.”

What has this looked like? It looked like Hillary Clinton implying there was something wrong with abortion by insisting it be “safe, legal, and rare” and then these becoming the watchwords of a “pro-choice movement” that even removed “abortion” from its name. It looked like spokespeople for NARAL and Planned Parenthood repeatedly insisting they are the ones, not the Christian Right, who prevent the most abortions, even as women scramble nationwide to access the dwindling abortion services. It looked like a strategy focusing almost entirely on the most extreme cases — endangerment to a woman or fetus’s life, rape or incest — rather than standing up for the right of all women to abortion.

It looked like the 2006 congressional elections where the Democrats insisted that to beat the Bush-led Republicans they had to run hardline anti-abortion candidates like Bob Casey. And while many registered complaints, not a single major national pro-choice “leader” called for mass mobilizations of protest in the streets. It looked like broad “feminist” celebration of President Obama even as he, too, insisted on reducing abortions and finding “common ground” with fascists and religious fanatics. Now he has now presided over the greatest onslaught of abortion restrictions introduced at the state level since Roe v. Wade.

All this is why a new generation has, almost without exception, never heard anyone speak positively about abortion. This has led to thousands of women feeling guilty or ashamed of a procedure which is necessary for women to live full and independent lives. This has led to a situation where activists fight piecemeal at the edges of each new major assault while losing ground overall.

If we do not seize the moral high by boldly proclaiming the positive morality of abortion, if we don’t begin now to change hearts and minds among this new generation in particular, if we do not refuse to be confined by what is deemed “electable,” then not only will we fail in fighting back the restrictions, we will compound this legal defeat with an ideological and political defeat as well.

Millions and millions of women feel absolutely no remorse about their abortions; it is time for all of us to speak out boldly in support of this attitude. It’s also time we stop bending over backward to validate the feelings of guilt or shame that some women feel over their abortions. Millions of women feel guilty and ashamed after being raped, but while we acknowledge their emotions, we also struggle for them — and everyone else — to recognize they have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s time we do the same around the stigma that surrounds abortion.

It’s absolutely a great thing for women to have — and to exercise freely — their right to abortion. The doctors who provide these services should be celebrated! There is nothing “moral” about forcing women to bear children against their will, but there is something tremendously moral about enabling women to determine the course of their own lives. This is good for women and it is good for humanity as a whole.

It is time to declare boldly: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!

Sunsara Taylor is a writer for RevolutionNewspaper, a host of WBAI’s EqualTimeforFreethought, and sits on the Advisory Board of WorldCantWait. For nearly two decades she has been on the front lines of the battle against Christian fascism – from abortion clinics under siege in North Dakota to Terri Schiavo’s hospice in Florida,  from Rick Warren’s bigoted anti-gay sermons to militarized Christian youth stadium rallies.  She has written on the rise of theocracy, wars and repression in the U.S., led in building resistance to these crimes, and contributed to the movement for revolution to put an end to all this. She takes as her foundation the new synthesis on revolution and communism developed by Bob Avakian. 


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  • hausen

    I agree with the article and how I wish it was that simple to ‘not feel bad’. I’ve had an abortion and I don’t feel guilty or ashamed (anymore). I am sure it was the right decision at the time. However, I also have two children and while I don’t feel guilty or shame I did and still do feel a tremendous amount of sadness. I do feel like I lost a child because I gave it up and there is grief associated with that. When I look at my kids I wonder what that aborted child might have turn out like… (fair enough, that I might have miscarried or the pregnancy might not have progressed for other reasons, I’m just sayin’)

    How do we reconcile those emotions?

  • jennifer-starr

    I wish I had an answer, Hausen–unfortunately there is no one answer to fit all situations. All I can say the fact tha you know it was the right decision for you doesn’t necessarily mean that it was an easy choice to make. Things like that rarely are. 

  • seymourglass

    Hausen, I’m sorry that sadness about your decision still bothers you.  As Jen said, there is no easy answer since everyone’s situation is so completely different.  Decision making is not always easy, not always joyous, and not always clear.  But I firmly believe that choosing abortion can be as personally validating and life-fulfilling as is our cultural mantra in giving birth.  There is absolutely no way for anyone to peer into the future to help them make the best decision for today.

    I think what you’re experiencing is a normal, healthy part of human pscyhology.  We all look on our pasts and wonder how our lives would have been different if we had done B instead of A, or if we would have been in the car crash instead of our friend, etc just as you are wondering what a kid would have looked like, or what would have happened if you miscarried, or the fetus quit developing and you had a D&C. 

    It’s always easier in retrospect to see what we percieve as “the obvious answer” but we have to remember that retrospective thinking is a sort of indulgence we allow ourselves, and in the scope of things, has little to do with the reality of our lives as we live them.  I don’t think we can live a life without the “haunting” of past decisions but I think we are able to refigure, through time, the way we experience and feel about our retrospective thinking.  

     

  • datasnake

    My view is that abortion SHOULD be rare, not for any “moral” reason, but for the same reasons I think all medical procedures, from root canals to open-heart surgery, should be rare:
    1. They only happen when something goes wrong, like an unplanned pregnancy or fetal defects.
    2. They cost money the people who need them may not have.
    3. They aren’t pleasant. Even a relatively non-invasive early-term procedure is still well outside most people’s comfort zones, let alone a late-term D&E. And of course there are the issues of finding a clinic, getting there, and getting past the protestors.
    All in all, I don’t think there’s any moral issue with abortion, but you don’t have to think tumors are people to hope your friends never need chemo.

  • ripuree

    I have had abortions, and never felt shame. While, only rarely, and definitely only fleetingly have I wondered what those children would be like.

    And this is from one who used to be a constantly anxious, depressed, shame-filled human. Most of it from fearing that I might be one of those to be beaten down into a hot hell, while being pummeled by hot brimstone. I was forever ashamed and felt less, from the years of sexual abuse I endured as a child and young woman. I blamed myself for not screaming, or telling someone. Yet, never for the actual abortions. Eventually I learned new ways of looking at life; and, depression, shame from sexual abuse, and even feelings of suicide no longer hamper my life.

    I can’t explain the idea of energy. But today I believe that at our core we’re energy. We’re the result of energy. And if reduced to the lest possible component we’re energy. That energy has universal intelligence/consciousness. That energy can only be transformed, and is alive in many forms at all times. And cannot be destroyed. So now I believe like Eleanore Roosevelt is said to have said something to the effect that “its not more preposterous to reincarnate, than the fact that she was alive in the first place”.

    If our core is eternal energy; then death, must only be a transformation of that energy. And as eternally reincarnating beings, might it not have been a mutual decision on some level of consciousness (not accessible to the conscious mind); by us and those children to not go through with the connection this time? Nowadays, I really feel more confident that another time around, I will be better prepared to nurture another’s life. I am now confident that the new understandings I have gained about life, will result in a better lifeform (hopefully still as human) in any future lifetime, and in any world I show up. And although I can’t prove that (no more than I could prove or disprove God) this way gives me exponentially more peace of mind, in every area of my life. With Law Of Attraction on my side, I feel more control in creating the life I envision, by staying focused in what I want, more than worrying about what is, or any bad that may come.

    For years I felt sorry that my two children had me for a mother, even though they turned out all right, and now have their own families. That is still the one regret that pops up sometimes, thought greatly diminished, and growing less everyday. Prolonged childhood sexual abuse made me into a You Oriented person, instead of Me Oriented. Where even now I struggle to put my own needs foremost and first at all times. I must still work on myself to more easily and automatically Love From Inside Out; instead of Outside In. Wherein, my children came second to last, then myeslf last. Those are the regrets and shames that bothered me most. Not the actual abortion.

    And in conclusion I believe that religions that love war the most, by default, must hate abortions. They couldn’t care less about the quality of life of mother and the child she’s nurturing under daily undue stress of poverty. Matter of fact; it benefits them more if more humans grow up in poverty. So that young men will see war as an opportunity to do something worthwhile with their lives; and will question not, what they’re being asked to do.

  • hausen

    Thanks for the supportive words folks…

  • leah-taylor

    Sunsara Taylor, encouraging and empowering, as usual. 

    Check out myabortionmylife.org for a positive campaign to end the silence and shame surrounding abortion. We are 1 in 3, and it’s time everyone hears from us.