After over 40 years of abortion being a legal medical procedure, Americans still have difficulty with conversations about abortion. When women try to talk about their experiences with abortion — if discussions are had at all — many conversations are either exceedingly personal or solely addressed within legal parameters. On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court ruled against a Texas law that would have closed several of the state’s abortion clinics. Debates about the role of state and federal government in terms of access to abortion are prevalent.
When abortion is discussed on a personal level, however, the conversation takes a hateful turn. In the case of Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, the personal and the political intertwined when she filibustered a restrictive abortion law in June 2013 — the same law the Supreme Court just overturned. Her political opponents ridiculed her as “Abortion Barbie.” When she shared that she had two abortions after an ectopic pregnancy and fetal birth defect, her announcement was met with hostility.
Evidently, the decision to have an abortion comes with the weight of societal judgement. Negating conversations about abortion allows a stigma to form around it — a legal and safe procedure induces as much stigma as a back alley operation. Last May, a woman named Emily Letts did something similar when she publicly shared her abortion. Letts posted a YouTube video in which she explained her choice and showed herself having the procedure. In her explanation, Letts states — much like Slate’s character — that she is unprepared for motherhood. Letts’ video was received with a great deal of criticism and scorn.
In other cases, the topic of abortion is rarely or never discussed. Many characters in movies about unexpected pregnancies, such as “Knocked Up,” hardly discuss or flatly reject the alternative. The 2014 film “Obvious Child” takes a different approach. There is a scene where Jenny Slate’s character, a stand-up comic named Donna Stern, tells the crowd during her set that she plans to have an abortion. Stern explains to the audience, both honestly and humorously, that she has no qualms about her decision because the pregnancy was a mistake and she feels she is too immature to be a mother. The audience in the film is respectful of Stern’s decision.
“Obvious Child” speaks to the need for an open dialogue. It is one of the few films that explores having an abortion in-depth — and from an angle where the abortion does not bring disaster, death or otherwise, upon the woman. While the scene where Slate’s character discusses her abortion with her audience is a product of Hollywood, it does not mean the message of the scene should not be internalized.
Far too many women in the United States undergo abortions every year for it to be a topic that is either only discussed in courtrooms and political arenas or downplayed in popular culture. One in three women, will have had an abortion before the time they turn 45. Half of American women’s pregnancies are unintended and two out of five of those pregnancies end in abortion. Since 1973, there have been over 53 million abortions legally carried out in the United States.
Ultimately, U.S. culture must accept the inconvenient truths. Abortion existed long before Roe v. Wade. Women will continue to have abortions for years to come. Among other reasons, some pregnancies will be terminated because women feel they are not ready have a child. The silence surrounding their decision must be disrupted. Abortion is a personal and complicated choice that women have the right to make. Dialogues about abortion should reflect this.
Email Lena Rawley at [email protected]