Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sisterhood of the traveling mesh underpants*

"Tell your abortion story!" we implore you. "Erase the stigma!" "I'm here to listen." In nearly every counseling session with a client, I slip in the statistic that one in three American women will have a least one abortion in her lifetime. I sometimes add that it's a huge sisterhood, but one that no one talks about.

Most women don't end up walking around proudly with an I had an abortion T-shirt, but as clinic staff, I have been fortunate enough to encounter more than a couple of women who are OK with telling their truths.

I've seen clients months post-abortion at pro-choice activist events. I don't say anything to them other than "Hi" if they catch my eye, because anything more would be a HIPAA violation. But later on, I send them a psychic thank you. While working in the recovery room at the clinic, I've witnessed patients exchanging phone numbers and making plans to get together. I've watched plenty of acquaintances spy each other in the waiting room and then hide behind magazines in a panic, but I've also seen acquaintances connect and old friends reconnect after seeing a familiar face in a frightening place. After learning where I work, people in my life confide about their abortion experiences or their friends' tales, maybe intuiting that I'm a walking safe space, maybe desperate to share something that shouldn't be a secret. You, readers, have trusted us and mentioned your own abortions in our comments section.

Women talk, and women have rich stories to tell. Our job, as pro-choice warriors, is to listen, listen, listen, and believe me, we are all ears. I have seen it.

*At my clinic, we give out little disposable mesh underpants to clients to use if there's a bleeding on the underwear situation.


  1. How ironic that you post about erasing the stigma today because I posted a piece as well on my blog ( I'm offering it here as well.

    Reproductive health clinics affiliated with professional organizations like National Abortion Federation and Abortion Care Network work diligently and compassionately to provide supportive care for the whole woman–emotional, physical and spiritual. Their work is doubly hard because of the stigma associated with abortion, despite being legal and one of the safest and most common reproductive procedures. These brave men and women embrace the wholeness and uniqueness of each woman and trust her decision about what is right for her and for her family.

    Meanwhile, the anti-abortion protesters:
    -fantasize about the life of the fetus
    -choose to be party to the degradation and symbolic annihilation of women
    -use creative interpretations of religious principles and pseudoscientific ideas
    -sensationalize post abortion trauma and perpetual regret despite scientific knowledge to the contrary
    -invoke shame and damnation toward women and their companions
    -demand religion as the ultimate standard
    -invoke anti-intellectual rhetoric
    -use pornographic, homophobic, anti-semetic language

    It’s time to drop the stigma. Normalization has happened elsewhere. Divorce is finally de-stigmatized. Out of wedlock pregnancies are accepted in most circles without raising an eyebrow. Gays are out and proud. It’s time to accept abortion as part of normal comprehensive reproductive health care.

  2. I've had this happen to me too. But my favorite story was running into a woman (intl student at our university, from Africa, & her hugging me & then introducing me around as her abortion counselor.

    Love this title, too.

  3. What we need of course, is a celebrity to help eliminate the stigma.

    The consensus is that Drew Barrymore has had an abortion (or two).

    And Don Henley said that he helped Stevie Nicks get an abortion in the 70s after they had an accident. But that will never be confirmed.

  4. Insofar as celebrities have their pull, sure I guess. However, instead of rumoring about women who apparently don't want it talked about in the press, it'd be easier to think of celebrities who have actually talked about their abortions: Margaret Cho, Ani Difranco, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Najimy, Amy Brenneman, Marcia from the Brady Bunch...who else?


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