Bringing Women’s Voices Back into the Abortion Debate

In 2014, the Missouri legislature passed a law requiring women to wait 72 hours before terminating a pregnancy. After this happened, a team of filmmakers began collecting the stories of women who, over several months, had crossed the Mississippi river to go to clinics in Illinois where the laws governing access to abortion were slightly more relaxed. “At the time we were really, really poor…and my husband was very verbally and physically abusive,” said one patient, whose name is Monique. “It was very, very lonely. Because I had nobody to tell.” The voices of women like Monique, and thousands – if not millions – of other women are having their voices sidelined and ignored in the debate around abortion access and rights.
Planned Parenthood Rally, NYC, 2011. Credit: Charlotte Cooper
But there’s more. As Michelle Oberman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, discovered, the high cost of motherhood might encourage abortion for women who might have otherwise kept their pregnancies – but we’re not really talking about that. In fact, as Oberman finds, the reality is, it is always going to be cheaper for a woman to have an abortion than it will be for her to raise a child. The woman that Oberman taught her “how little choice is involved in the abortion decisions made by some of the poorest Americans.”Many might be wondering – where do we go from here? To begin, the general underrepresentation of women in politics hinders the policies that could be put forward by female or female-identifying politicians which could impact women’s lives for the better. Additionally, incorporating the voices of the most marginalized women in the conversations and debates around abortions could result in more targeted and immediate action that directly impacts women’s lives. At the end of the day – this isn’t just a political issue – it’s an issue that can either help or hurt women’s lives and they deserve to be at the core of that conversation.
Renee Bracey Sherman of Chicago celebrates at the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 27, 2016, after the court struck down Texas’ widely replicated regulation of abortion clinics. The justices voted 5-3 in favor of Texas clinics that had argued the regulations were a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder for women to get an abortion in the nation’s second-most populous state. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In 1973, a US Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, granted all American women the right to have an abortion. Between 2011 and 2015, states enacted 231 restrictions. The issue around the legality of abortion remains one of the most divisive debates in the United States. Often, when discussing whether or not abortion should remain a protected constitutional right that all women in the United States can equally access, we get bogged down in debates about laws and policies, fighting against the campaigners done by anti-choice advocates and dealing with government backlash that we forget the women who are affected by it all.The documentary Abortion: Stories Women Tell seeks to follow the staff servicing women having abortions at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City. Tracy Droz Tragos, the film’s director, said, “The thing that really came home for me in the making of this film is how personal this is, and how impossible it is to legislate for every circumstance a woman is going to face, and how it’s also impossible to judge.” She continued, “It’s a damned position where people have a lot of opinions about what you should do with your life,” Tragos said. “Women do not get pregnant on their own, yet it is really women who are left with a pregnancy and the decision about how it’s going to affect their lives and their families and their futures.” Tragos brings to our attention to isolating nature of abortion – but also how our discourse can fail to recognize just how personal this is for each individual women, reminding us yet again why their voices are so crucial.When we don’t listen to stories when it comes to abortion, we don’t understand how multifaceted each of the woman’s stories and experiences are – and it makes it that much harder to fight for the laws and policies that will best support them. At Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, many women shared that they were too young and wanted to graduate high school, or they had other children at home and couldn’t afford to support another child. One couple wanted a baby, but then they found out early in the pregnancy that the fetus’ skull did not form – which is a fatal condition. One woman choose to place her child for adoption. The variance here dispels the myth that the women having abortions are women that are socially irresponsible teenagers who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, the plurality of their stories reminds us that abortion affects so many of us.