The most fundamental way we can fight for our reproductive rights
By Amelia Bonow
In early December 2016, Ohio lawmakers stealthily pushed two abortion bans through their legislative session. One, dubbed “The Heartbeat Bill,” would’ve banned abortion at six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant, with no exception for rape or incest. If not vetoed by Ohio governor John Kasich, it would’ve been the most extreme restriction in the country. Instead, Kasich approved a law that bans abortion at 20 weeks, regardless of fetal viability. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ohio Representative Jim Buchy was asked the most innocuous gotcha question of all time: “What do you think makes a woman want to have an abortion?” Buchy paused. “I don’t know,” he answered. “It’s a question I’ve never even thought about.”
The most basic level of culture change occurs in conversations—online, on the subway, at your book club, in a bar.
Unwanted pregnancies happen—a lot—to every kind of woman: rich, poor, Democrat, Republican, devout, secular. And one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, for all sorts of reasons. Lawmakers are making decisions so fundamentally out of touch with the needs, values, and actual lives of their constituents in part because many anti-choice crusaders like Buchy have never thought about why women have abortions. Just as the concept of rape culture would seem outrageous to someone who doesn’t think they know anyone who has been raped, banning abortion might seem fine to a person who doesn’t think they know anyone who has had one. Banning abortion at 20 weeks probably seems reasonable if you’ve never had a conversation with someone who was forced to deliver a fetus with catastrophic abnormalities. Culture cannot see policies as inhumane if their human casualties are kept a secret.
Politically, we are locked into a rough ride for four, maybe eight years. In addition to fighting to cling to the legal protections of Roe v. Wade, it’s time to double down on addressing the toxic cultural conditions that have landed us at the precipice of eradicating abortion rights. It’s time to make our communities, our workplaces, and our families places where women can discuss their abortions and, in doing so, help those around them develop a more complex sense of compassion.
Making incremental changes in the way we discuss abortion is going to look different for everyone. It might simply mean telling your family members that you are pro-choice. It might mean that when abortion comes up with your co-workers, you take things out of the abstract by describing the ways that you’ve seen abortion help women live their best lives. It might mean you decide to talk about your own abortion in ways that have traditionally been deemed inappropriate, which is pretty much all of them.
With legal abortion on the chopping block for the first time in a generation, these suggestions might seem trivial and they certainly won’t be sufficient. But the most basic level of culture change occurs in conversations—online, on the subway, at your book club, in a bar. And as a society, it seems that we only decide to grant full human rights to disenfranchised groups once we realize that people like them are simply the people that we know. It shouldn’t be our job to teach people to listen, and framing disclosure as political imperative is problematic as hell. But finding ways to have a real conversation is the most reasonable place to start.
Amelia Bonow is the founder of Shout Your Abortion, a decentralized network of individuals talking about abortion and creating space for others to do the same.
Top photo: Twitter/Shout Your Abortion
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