A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez is an award-winning writer, speaker and activist working to amplify Black women's voices in the mainstream dialogue, especially within conversations on health and parenting. She is also the founder of the #FreeBlackmotherhood movement.
Let’s be clear: there’s no “right way” to feel after having an abortion. I should know. I tried to force myself to oversimplify the complex mixture of emotions I felt as “regret” for years.
A termination represents vastly different things to different people - as it should, considering that each termination is unique to the person who has it. There’s not even consensus on the moral perspectives of the individuals that have them. Roughly one in five individuals who had an abortion agreed that they felt it was morally wrong but still best for their circumstances, according to the Turnaway Study, one of the most comprehensive abortion studies to date.
The study suggests also suggests that many are processing their own moral dissonance in the noise surrounding this issue. Abortion is being discussed - and often downright attacked - across the world right now. I don’t doubt that there are many individuals who have had abortions and feel totally overwhelmed as friends and foes alike discuss the topic in abstract, divorced from the human component that’s only possible when they center our experiences. I’ve been there.
Nearly one in four women* (abortion stats haven’t caught up with gender-inclusive language reflecting another issue with how we discuss abortion) have an abortion in their lifetime; if no one in your circle has told you, it might be because they don’t feel safe doing so. That discomfort is likely because instead of checking in with us and striving for compassionate abortion coverage that considers the complex set of life circumstances that influence one’s feelings in the aftermath of an abortion those in power try to force people into “pro-life/pro-choice” binaries based on sensationalized hypotheticals.
We can’t anchor them in tropes of irresponsibility and shame. Likewise, we deserve abortion coverage that moves beyond portrayals of tragedy and trauma. Of course, there are folks who would describe themselves in these ways but that’s for the individual to decide. The way we discuss abortion matters. It influences the way those of us who have had terminations see ourselves, often manifesting as pressure to process the experience in silence unless we speak from a place of regret.
It’s comforting to pretend that abortion restrictions are developed out of concern and compassion for women and individuals with the capacity for pregnancy. However, we know this isn't true. Anti-choice rhetoric cloaked in pseudo-compassion doesn't care for the lives of anyone including the unborn. Overwhelmingly the folks at the center of the conversation haven’t had an abortion. These result in a dialogue are riddled with expectations of respectability, sensationalized images, and patriarchal perceptions about the purpose of women in the family and society at large.
The “pro-life/anti-choice” argument struggles with glaring inconsistencies in the way it prioritizes potential lives over those actually alive. Mainstream pro-choice positions do not fully encompass the challenge they want to address. Abortion should be safe and legal, but it’s never been rare. Indeed, abortion is common. Abortion is one important element in a toolkit to preserve reproductive agency. If the conversation around abortion isn’t situated in an intersectional analysis that explores how white supremacy as expressed through neoliberalism, gendered, and often racialized violence and capitalism, it’s inadequate, because it erases forced sterilization, forced birth and family separation.
The language on both sides is almost exclusively in a cis-heteronormative context which erases or denies nonbinary and trans experiences with abortion. This makes it impossible to address the nuanced set of circumstances and stressors we’ve normalized for our non-cis siblings.
Even those of us with a dynamic understanding of reproductive oppression that considers unique experiences across income, racial, and gender diversity miss that Western critiques overlooking the Global South are lacking.
Reproductive oppression is a global phenomenon. In the US and Ireland, fighting back might look like securing legal abortion rights. In Chile, which only recently allowed abortion under rape and incest, it means seeing what the hell went wrong for at least 170 pregnancies to occur in the wake of mass distribution of faulty birth control. It can’t be achieved without awareness of how the West provides stimulations on international aid, like the Helms Amendment which decides access to life-saving health care services. In summary – we need to understand abortion as complex, and the “pro-life/pro-choice” debate isn’t helping.
What would it look like to discuss abortion in a way that fewer of us struggle through the news cycle and more us share the expertise in our stories?
Start with understanding there’s no right way for a person who has had an abortion to feel - one persons negative (or even positive) experience doesn’t speak for all of us. Know we’re grateful, regretful, and uncertain. Understand we’re all races and genders and our identities and life stressors shape the choices we made. We’re in the West and the Global South, in your workplaces, in your schools and in your homes. Accept that some of us have had more than one and we don’t need your grace because we haven’t done anything wrong. Understand that there’s no such thing as “objective truth” and terminating a pregnancy means different things to different cultures at different times.
And remember that we see and hear the things you say about “people like us” because in the words of The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), “everyone loves someone who has had an abortion”.