Abortion Testimonies

There was a lovely Opinion piece in the New York Times this week entitled “My Mother’s Abortion” : http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/08/opinion/my-mothers-abortion.html?src=ISMR_AP_LO_MST_FB

It comes amidst the degrading furor around the legislation of abortion rights in the state of Texas, where governor Rick Perry (amongst other old, male jerks) is hoping to make acquiring an abortion near impossible in his state. Christian rhetoric and sappy appeals to the fetus’s right to life run rampant. His state is unfortunately not alone. This debate is so chilling because to me it sounds unbelievably archaic. We’ve been having it for decades and decades! On top of which, the United States likes to figure itself as a pioneer of sorts in women’s rights. In comparison to “Third World Women,” American feminists and non-feminists alike tend to maintain a rather paternalistic perspective about how much “better” it is to be a woman of the global north. This perspective conveniently forgets that American policy – like our lovely abortion debate – does not respect or care about women. While living in the west has its benefits, it does not make one an expert on feminism or women’s rights.

The likes of Rick Perry and the stooges get off on their particular brand of American exceptionalism, in which the States are held up as a bastion of democratic values, while still passing legislation that harms not just women, but people of color, immigrants, and the working poor. To tie this back to the abortion kerfuffle, anti-abortion politicians (a large swath of white men) would like to see babies born (women babies, poor babies, non-white babies, etc) so that they can later ignore them. How can you respect a fetus’s right to life, when you can’t respect a woman’s right to live?

The article posted above was very moving as it uses real testimony to highlight the impact of abortion on a real woman’s life. It is very clear that the author’s mother – and countless other women who have made this decision – make their choice with a heavy heart. No one ever says that it is easy. These women do not have their abortions and forget about the whole ordeal as they would after an operation for an in-grown toenail.

The author encourages women to tell their stories, to find out from women in their family about their own reproductive histories. Women in the comments section even began sharing. The woman who seeks an abortion is not some abstract body, she is a woman that you know and who you love.

Although I often find such comparisons grotesque, I will draw a parallel to the Eichmann trials in 1961, when, for pretty much the first time, Holocaust survivors began telling their story. This momentous event unleashed a new culture of oral history, in which it was okay to give voice to your trauma and pain. The possibility of hearing these stories completely changed the world’s understanding of the Holocaust. These testimonies are precious. Hearing the stories of women who have received an abortion is also tremendously powerful. [I do not want to give the impression that I equate the experience of a women receiving an abortion with that of a Holocaust survivor] Giving space for testimony, sharing and saving these words is historic. Despite the outcome of whatever bullshit legislation is being passed (I am not optimistic), these testimonies should be remembered and archived. They represent women with diverse backgrounds, of different generations, with different roles, each one of whom has made a difficult and important decision that impacted her life in all sorts of ways – but which ultimately allowed her to take control of her life, to live it as she needed.

Oral history has become a popular tool in history studies. It was poo-pooed for a very long time as many historians did not think personal experiences were of historical merit. The possibility that something could be mis-remembered was considered too risky. (This of course disregards the historian’s power rewrite history to his or her liking – and rewrite they have!) But in the past couple of decades (having much to do with the power of Holocaust testimony), oral history – communicative memory – has earned more and more respect. I want to thank all the women who have come forward to share their abortion testimony – it is not easy for anyone. Shaming women into silence is not to be tolerated. Their stories shape the abortion debate, reminding us why we need to fight for women.


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