Courtney Kocak
January 22, 2019 8:00 am
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On January 22nd, 1973, landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally. Today, we still fight to keep abortion legal, and the common procedure is already effectively banned in various states. On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a contributor “shouts her abortion” for the first time.

I got an abortion when I was 23. That was over a decade ago—and feels more like a millennium ago—yet this is the first time I’m stating it publicly. Terminating that pregnancy is unequivocally the best decision I’ve made to date. It’s a decision that I’ve never once regretted. I’m a writer who uses all forms of navel-gazing, however embarrassing, as fodder for my work. So why has it taken so long for me—a progressive, pro-choice feminist—to publicly acknowledge my abortion?

The book Shout Your Abortion, spawn of the #ShoutYourAbortion social media hashtag made popular by Lindy West and Amelia Bonow, was published in early November. Bonow edited the PM Press anthology along with writer-musician Emily Nokes, and its pages are filled with essays, interviews, photos, and other art inspired by the movement.

Two weeks after the book’s release, the Ohio House of Representatives passed an uber-restrictive “fetal heartbeat” bill banning abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. (I had my abortion at seven and a half weeks—postponed because Minnesota’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period put me too close to a work trip.) As the squeeze of anti-abortion legislation tightens, the urge to shout my abortion bubbles up inside of me.

In the foreword to Shout Your Abortion, West writes, “Abortion is something you can say out loud.” I wish I would have believed that sooner. I want to help others believe that now.

The cold, hard fact is that one in four American women have at least one abortion in their lifetime. The book puts this statistic into a less polarizing perspective:

I grew up in rural Minnesota, sheltered but curious. My family went to church every Sunday, and my parents preached no sex until marriage. They were well-intentioned parents and always said I could tell them anything. But it felt safer not to do things that I couldn’t tell them—and never tell them if I did.

When I found out I was pregnant, I knew right away that I couldn’t have the baby. What made it possible for me to exercise my right to choose were the aunts and other women I respected who had gotten abortions before me. Hearing the hushed, second-hand stories of what they’d done and seeing how their lives successfully played out afterward was impactful enough. They don’t know it, but they normalized abortion for me. Each of us had our own circumstances that influenced our choices, but I’ve come to understand that the details don’t matter. Terminating a pregnancy is a valid choice for many different reasons.

For two years post-abortion, I didn’t utter a word of it to anyone. No one outside of the St. Paul-Vandalia Planned Parenthood staff knew my secret. Not even the person who got me pregnant. I took mifepristone in front of a physician’s assistant, then went home to undergo the rest of the process completely alone. I promised myself I would take it to the grave.

Secrets can gnaw at you, though. And worse, they can allow people around you to live in another reality—one where only “bad” women get abortions.

Bonow explains in SYA’s preface, “When we don’t talk about the things we’ve been through, our lives don’t necessarily make sense, to ourselves or to other people. When nobody talks about these things, our perception as a culture becomes warped. Without real human touchstones, situations that we haven’t experienced ourselves become unimaginable. People do not find empathy in a theoretical exercise.”

Once I became a clandestine abortress, I found myself in casual conversations that illustrated how dangerous it is to hide the real, more nuanced narrative. It felt disingenuous to engage in fiery debates on the topic yet only talk about my experience in the third-person. It felt even worse to say nothing. As Bonow writes in SYA, “If we do not tell our own stories, we give other people the power to define us.” I barely endured a coworker with a political view based entirely on his wayward sister—“having a kid cleaned up her life!”—before realizing that if I wanted to change the taboo, I needed to start with myself.

During my upbringing and throughout the two and a half years spent harboring my secret, I had internalized so much shame that was dissonant with how I actually felt about my abortion—which was unbridled relief. I didn’t judge other people who’d made the same decision. Why was I judging myself?

I distinctly remember driving home against a soft pink Southern California sunset, whispering my abortion to my boyfriend at the time, and feeling so light I could float up into the cotton candy sky. Shortly after that, I told a close friend, and then my mom. Each time I said it, my alignment shifted. Speaking my truth set me free. Now I’ll tell anyone when the topic arises. “I had an abortion,” I say matter-of-factly, at full volume. I’d be comfortable mentioning it at a work meeting; I’m not precious about it anymore.

Still, I co-host a sex and love podcast, we’ve released over 100 episodes, and I’ve never once mentioned my abortion on-air. The show is interview-based, and the subject of abortion has rarely been relevant. Then again, it’s my show—I could make it relevant. I recall two instances when we were recording and I felt compelled to bring it up before deciding it wasn’t the right time, or I didn’t have the right words.

This summer, I read journalist Cindi Leive’s words in The New York Times—how she felt cowardly for staying silent about her own abortion and not defending then-Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards on Twitter after they’d appeared on TV together. I felt similarly spineless for not sharing my story.

Around that time, my friend got pregnant in a place currently inhospitable to a woman’s right to choose. She had to drive to another state and take someone (not her partner, who’d recently punched her in the face) along to make sure she got home safely after the procedure. She had to take off work during peak season and pay out of pocket. Where she lives, abortion is already inaccessible to the poor.

Now, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is upon us again.

Sadly, January 22nd has become more of a distressed plea to maintain the landmark decision than a triumphant celebration. I can’t imagine living in a world where coat hanger abortions are more than a sick joke, or where (more likely) terminating an unwanted pregnancy could land you in jail. However, with Ohio’s ruling and the recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, that seems to be where we’re headed.

This is the right time to talk about my abortion. These words are a fine start. I just hope it’s not too late.

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