The Soapbox: The Problem With Wendy Davis’ Abortion Story
First, let me say that I’m a fan of Wendy Davis. I look forward to reading her recently debuted memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid, and I admire her amazing energy, her dedication to public service, and her impeccable choice in footwear while filibustering for 11 hours in the Texas Senate last year. I’m way thrilled that she’s running a tough race to become the first Democratic governor of Texas in two decades.
No, my problem isn’t with Davis at all — or even with the way she candidly detailed her abortion experiences in her book.
But we have come to the point where, like rape, and domestic violence, and so many other “women’s stories, there’s the ‘good” story—the acceptable one, the defensible one, the OK to discuss one — and the others. Women still have to justify their choices about their bodies, their sex partners, and who they allow (or don’t) to punch them in the face.
Echoing almost exactly the moral calculus that many states use to determine which women “deserve” abortions, and codifying them by allowing terminations only in cases of rape, incest, or physical necessity, we are slippery-sloping back to the time where women are not allowed to make their own decisions. In such cases, reproductive decisions are based on a woman’s parsed actions by a third party, instead, simply, of being her choices. And this is the case because of the way media and society treat stories like Davis’.
Wendy Davis’ pregnancy termination stories fall solidly on the side of the “good” abortion: she wanted a baby, she was excited for a baby, and then … medical disaster struck. Completely outside her control and maternal desires, Davis’ pregnancies were compromised, and she was the smart, responsible woman who made the hard, painful choice as much for her fetus (more!) as for herself.
This is the “good” abortion narrative. And I’m happy Davis shared it, because even that was a risk. But this kind of story is not the most common when it comes to terminating a pregnancy.
One-third of the women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45. Most women end a pregnancy not because it is medically necessary or because their fetus is unwell — that’s only about seven percent of terminations, according to Guttmacher [PDF] — and not because they’ve been raped or are victims of incest (that’s only about one percent of abortions) — but because they don’t want to have a baby.
Some women, sometimes, don’t want babies.
This idea makes some people uncomfortable in a society where womanhood is still defined by motherhood and pregnancy revered. But as Jessica Valenti wrote at The Nation:
“If we want to battle the stigma around abortion, we cannot separate it out from women’s general healthcare—or suggest, even implicitly, that some people are more deserving of abortion care than others.”
What about the millions of women like me? I’ve had two abortions. Unlike Wendy Davis, mine had nothing to do with medical necessity, nor were they harrowing decisions. I just don’t want kids. Not when I had those abortions, and not now. Not ever. If I ran for public office today, my abortion stories would be covered up, I would be encouraged not to talk about them, and counseled not to reveal them in my biography.
They were not a difficult decisions. I’m not ashamed about them and I suffer no guilt or second thoughts. I don’t feel any guilt doubt and certainly no depression; if anything I’m regularly thankful I’m not the parent to almost-teenagers now. Ending my pregnancies have been actually one of the few decisions I’ve made in my life that I was 100 percent certain about. (And I’m not the only one: Check out the incredible Not Alone project for more women who made the right choice—for themselves.)
I have always known that I didn’t want children and so when I was 25 and then again at 26 — yes, two different forms of birth control BOTH failed with the same long-term partner — I had medical abortions at just five weeks and six weeks respectively. I used RU-486 and had my miscarriage at home. No complications, physically or otherwise — if anything, I was elated after I was pregnancy-free.
Every woman’s abortion story is different: Mine happens to be simple. Some women’s stories are complicated. None of us should be shamed for making a legal choice about our own bodies and minds.
But the consequence of a world of “good” and “bad” abortions is the same as one in which there are “reasons” a woman is raped, or “stuff she shouldn’t have said” to her abusive husband or partner that get her smacked. It’s a world where legal women’s actions — unlike men’s — have to be explained. Parsed. Judged. Needing a reason why a woman had an abortion is ultimately about undermining her autonomy, and taking their power away. And I won’t be a part of that. I’m not ashamed of my abortions or the reasons I had them. And I’m glad both Wendy Davis and I live in a country where those choices are possible.
[Image via Getty]