"[U]ntil the 'bad' abortion stories are just as acceptable, pro-choice advocates have a long way to go." That's how the Daily Beast's Emily Shire concluded her September 10 post, "Wendy Davis and the 'Good Abortion' Myth," which was mildly critical of the Democratic nominee for Texas governor as pertains to how she has discussed her medically-necessary abortion in her memoir -- and by extension in interviews on the campaign trail.
Shire contrasted Davis with other women, both real persons and fictional characters, who have had elective abortions and seem to hold no regrets nor make any apologies for them (emphasis mine):
Davis makes it abundantly clear she wanted to carry this baby to term. It is deeply moving, so much so that you have to be pretty heartless not to be touched by this wrenching account. Even staunch pro-lifers may find something sympathetic in Davis' abortion account because she shows that she thinks of her baby not merely as a fetus but as a child to be remembered and loved forever. Davis goes out of her way to stress how incredibly difficult it was her to choose to abort a pregnancy for a child she desperately wanted. It is framed, rightly so, as a painful act done in the service of being as humane and respectful as possible.
When female politicians like Davis describe their abortions, they generally fit this narrative: a tortured, loving mother acting out of almost pure medical necessity. After Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) revealed on the House floor that she’d had an abortion, she made it abundantly clear that it was due to the fact the fetus “could not survive.” Her candor was a purposeful rebuke to Republican accusations that abortion is “a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly, or done without any thought,” she said. Her speech was powerful—and it also conveyed the attitude that abortion wasn't a real choice for her. In fact, following her speech, Speier released a press statement to dispel any accusations that she wanted to have an abortion: “Today some news reports are implying that I wanted my pregnancy to end, but that is simply not true. I lost my baby.”
It is this kind of abortion narrative that is easiest for people to digest, and there are many cases like this. They are as emotionally-wrought and heartbreaking as Davis describes. But there are also many reasons for having abortions that generate far more judgment and stigma.
In her 2011 book, How to be a Woman, author Caitlin Moran writes about “good” abortions vs. “bad” abortions. “Good”abortions are the ones for a “raped teenager” or “a mother whose life is endangered,” and “these women get away with barely any stigmatization.” Then, there are “bad” abortions, the “worst” being “repeated abortions, late-term abortions, abortions after IVF, and—worst of all—mothers who have abortions.”
In the recent film Obvious Child, the protagonist schedules her abortion without wavering for a second. She neither feels guilty about the procedure, nor for the drunken unprotected sex that caused the pregnancy. This summer, when she was running for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, State Rep. Lucy Flores described having an abortion at age 16 because she simply wasn’t ready to be a mother. (In Flores’s case, her age, poverty and many siblings may have added a level of general “acceptability” to her abortion narrative.) And fiilmmaker Emily Letts not only documented her abortion, she actively chose to receive only local anesthesia, as opposed to being completely sedated, because she said that is the option women fear most. She wanted to use her abortion to combat the anxiety and stigma surrounding the procedure. “I could have taken the pill, but I wanted to do the one that women were most afraid of,” she told Cosmo. “I wanted to show it wasn't scary—and that there is such a thing as a positive abortion story.”
Nearly 30 percent of American women will have an abortion by age 45. And for many of them, medical reasons will have nothing to do with their decision. For a woman to reveal she has had an abortion because she wanted one, because she couldn't emotionally sacrifice for another child, because she was remiss in her use of contraception, and, further, to declare she has only felt happiness towards her decision is truly groundbreaking. Davis' abortion narrative has helped diminish the social stigma surrounding abortion. But until the “bad” abortion stories are just as acceptable, pro-choice advocates have a long way to go.