The only thing that most Americans can agree on is that we are tired of the rancor, the partisanship, and the ugly rhetoric that has marked policy discussions and debates during the past election cycle. In the days following the election it seems there has been a slight shift in tone and a renewed commitment to talk about old issues in new ways. One area this change in tone is critically needed is on the topic of abortion.
The abortion debate in decades past has been one of stigma and shame. The anti-abortion movement promotes increasing regulation while voicing harsh rhetoric, and even attacking exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother under attack. Elected male officials are primarily leading this charge while the voices of women who have had abortions have been largely absent or marginalized. This silencing of women’s voices is especially notable because the Guttmacher Institute reports that one in three American women will undergo an abortion in her lifetime. Since 1973 when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, approximately 53 million women have undergone the procedure.
It is understandable why most women who have had abortions are reluctant to speak out when the issue and their decisions are so stigmatized and politicized. However, it is time to turn the tide and start speaking about the topic of abortion and the women who have them in very different ways. Fortunately, we have some remarkable women who are leading the conversation.
Two of these women are Charlotte Taft, director of the Abortion Care Network, a coalition of independent abortion providers, and Shelley Oram of Imagine! Counseling. After working with thousands of women coming in for abortions they have observed that good women, the majority of them women of faith, have abortions. They say to women, “You are a good woman. It may be hard for you to believe that right now, but deep in your heart you know you are making your decision out of a place of goodness. This pregnancy and whatever choice you make about it doesn’t change that. For some women abortion is a clear, certain decision. For others is can be really hard. For most women, it is somewhere in between.”
They encourage women to honor themselves and work to eschew the judgements of others. They remind women that the anti-abortion protesters don’t know them and what is in their heads and hearts. They also ask:
“Can it be that women know something very deep inside, even deeper than fear and shame? Can it be that women know it is their responsibility to decide when to bring new life into this world? Women are not the enemies of our children- even those we decide not to bring into the world.”
Another wonderful woman is Rev. Rebecca Turner, executive director of the counseling center Faith Aloud and a minister in United Church of Christ. She says we must shift the abortion discussion away from the shaming perspective based on the belief that God is a judge, and on the view that there are specific rules to follow, punishment for those who don’t follow them, including hell, based in the view of women as creators of sin who must be chaste. Her alternative, and much more compassionate, view is that God is a friend, there is freedom and grace for all, nothing can separate one from the love of God, and the belief that women are moral and sexual beings.
If these ideas for framing the abortion question are adopted, policy decisions would look radically different. This is the hope and change American women desperately want in the policy debate on women’s reproductive health. This election women spoke. The only question is, will policy makers listen?