I stand by what I said in “Bad Pro-Choicer,” published in 2019 by Anomaly, but as the legal landscape regarding abortion rights has dramatically changed since last Friday, I felt I needed to clarify and reinforce what I stated when it comes to personal designations regarding pregnancy and around feelings of shame, especially in our current climate, even as we continue to fight for abortion rights.
As I wrote in a revised draft since it was revealed in a May 2020 documentary that Norma McCorvey, the infamous Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, always supported abortion:
As of the May 2020 release of Nick Sweeney’s documentary, AKA Jane Roe, the film shockingly brought to light how McCorvey had in fact always supported a woman’s choice, but converted to pro-life activism in exchange for money she received from clergy leaders. As she clearly and memorably stated on camera in an ailing condition how this was her deathbed confession: “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”
If there was anything to learn, McCorvey’s deathbed confession in no way should overshadow the compassion felt toward women and birthing folks who do feel remorse following their abortion, and in the case specifically for McCorvey, compassion continues to be felt for many other areas in her life, in what the film revealed as complicated and exploited from both sides of the abortion debate.
Even if McCorvey’s admission of feeling ashamed about her participation in the groundbreaking case that legalized abortion had been a lie, the subject of shame regarding the abortion experience is still something we pro-choicers need to address rather than shy away from. To shy away from it only seems to fuel pro-life activists, particularly those who have had abortions, into believing that our emotional response is a one-sided narrative of relief, and that we are liars denying that grief and trauma aren’t significant, when some women and birthing folks attest to feeling these very emotions and nothing else.
Now that Roe has been overturned, I think shame will remain even more so. Even when abortion was still a constitutionally protected right across the country for nearly 50 years, the issue of shame remained. I completely understand that there shouldn’t be shame or stigma as abortion is a common medical procedure that is necessary for women and birthing folks to operate successfully and healthily in this society. I also know it’s a very hard thing to ask people to just throw away their feeling of shame especially when some have been living with it for so long, which may be shaped by their religion, their family, and/or their culture.
Abortion remains a deeply personal decision where I understand if some women and birthing folks will never feel brave to step forward with their abortion stories, especially in states where criminalization is now a reality.
Despite certain corporations that have recently expressed their support to cover out-of-state transportation costs for employees who need an abortion if it is criminalized in their state, abortion should remain absolutely no one’s business and should remain a private matter. While these corporations mean well, it is simply not enough. Informing a boss for one’s need for an abortion can be disempowering and humiliating, just as appearing before a judge to ask for permission for an abortion. A friend, @bcrica, pointed out: “What if you don’t trust your boss and then you have to choose between abortion access and revealing something so personal that you may be judged and penalized for later?” Also, imagine the whole office finding out you have to get an abortion as rumors are known to swirl around. Let’s not be naïve about office culture.
I feel so many of our stories additionally face the threat of being further driven into secrecy and silence if certain stories don’t seem to fit within a paradigm of what is “acceptable pro-abortion language” with regards to describing our own pregnancies. As someone who has experienced two abortion procedures: one elective and a second to save my life from a miscarriage, I want to be clear that I did see and continue to see those two pregnancies as “my babies.” I know the language that I choose to describe both of my pregnancies is highly problematic among some abortion rights activists today, but I think we also have to keep in mind of what-can-be a highly emotional experience where some women and birthing folks may attach their own personal designation to their pregnancies, and I feel that all of those designations should be respected. It is no one’s business on why we choose abortion. And it is also no one’s business on what we choose to personally name our pregnancies, even when we choose to terminate them.
I truly respect everyone’s personal designation of what they call their pregnancy: whether they use terms like “baby,” “unborn,” “fetus,” “a clump of cells,” and “embryo.” I’m not about to minimize or undermine anyone’s abortion experience whether they saw theirs as a tragedy, a celebration, or just a normal everyday procedure. It could be any one of those things, and all are acceptable. I cannot stress enough how deeply minimizing it feels when I choose to intimately share with someone about having lost a baby when that someone—especially someone who has never gone through a pregnancy or abortion—feels the need to correct me and call it “a bunch of cells.” I don’t ever need to be told by a fellow abortion rights activist that I shouldn’t feel bad as they start debating when human life first begins, and then tell me mine doesn’t count. Yes, this has happened to me too.
Despite all of the essays and stories that I’ve published about my abortion experience, I always operated with a sense of shame for various reasons (many of them already listed in “Bad Pro-Choicer”). In these times, I feel I can’t afford to be ashamed anymore. Since Roe has been overturned, I’ve decided to throw shame and fear out the window. I don’t expect other women and birthing folks to follow suit. We’re currently living in a country where abortion is banned in half the states, or under serious threat. You do you, for your own safety and well-being, under whatever means possible.
Also, since I mentioned in “Bad Pro-Choicer” how my mother and I haven’t spoken about my abortion for probably almost a decade now, she was actually the very first person I called when I learned Roe had been overturned that early morning of June 24, 2022 at 8 AM. If ever there was a person whom I needed to sob to when I heard that Roe was overturned, it was my mother—my Brown Ilocana immigrant 77-year-old mother—who listened and equally expressed her outrage and disappointment in the governing powers of our country. Both my mother and myself have gone through an abortion procedure to save our lives from a miscarriage.
To us, we lost our babies. Let me be clear. My mother and I both experienced miscarriages. They were safely and successfully completed by the same abortion procedure, a procedure that is otherwise not constitutionally protected in the Philippines and the United States. Both were seen as necessary. Otherwise, both of us might’ve hemorrhaged to death. We are both women of means. We are both women who had caring and licensed doctors to perform these procedures in the eyes of the law, when that law, unfortunately, is arbitrary and never guaranteed.
If my mother died without that life-saving procedure, I certainly wouldn’t be here today as the procedure was performed in the mid ’70s before I was born, and to be clear, it was performed in our Motherland where abortion has never been legal, with no constitutional exception to save the life of the woman. See 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article II, Section 12; before 1987, abortion was criminalized through the Penal Code of 1870 under Spanish colonial rule, and the criminal provisions were incorporated into the Revised Penal Code passed in 1930 under US colonial rule.
Regardless of what the Philippine Constitution says, safe and unsafe abortion procedures continue to exist in the Philippines, miscarriages continue to exist in the Philippines, and all of it has existed since women and birthing folks came into existence. If there’s anything for the US to learn from Philippine abortion ban laws, which they themselves incorporated in 1930, is that it doesn’t stop approximately 800,000 illegal abortions from occurring annually. See the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Guttmacher Institute.
When it comes to abortion bans, is the US influencing the Philippines, or the Philippines influencing the US? Considering that the Philippines was a former colony of the US for 44 years (1902-1946)*, and the country of the US was a colony itself on indigenous land, KD Chavez, Development Director of We Are UltraViolet, says so succinctly: “Abortion existed before colonization did.”
But I digress.
There will always be stories where abortion does not simply end at the procedure. For some women and birthing folks, there will be those who are going to emotionally attach to their pregnancies, especially for those pregnancies that were very much wanted but could not be carried to full-term for whatever reason.
In the eyes of medical procedures, whatever a pregnancy complication is ultimately called—ectopic, molar, anembryonic, intrauterine growth restriction, partial placenta abruption, etc., etc., etc.—a licensed physician will determine the best and necessary abortion procedure. I imagine for some women and birthing folks who’ve gone through a miscarriage and the word “abortion” is used, it can make us feel as if our pregnancies were never wanted, never loved, when they very much were.
For many of us fighting for abortion rights, abortion is not simply a procedure but a multi-faceted issue of bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, and dignity. If it were simply like heart surgery or dental surgery, no one would be fighting so madly for or against it right now. Everyone would just see it as plain ol’ regular health care. Sadly, that is not the case.
Even as I push forward, I feel like I’m not supposed to be sharing these stories, but from my experience of sharing these stories for over 15 years, I know someone out there really needs to hear this, and someone is praying hard, hoping stories like theirs exist. The reality is that some of us will go our entire lives not telling one single person. With Roe overturned, that may be the case even more so.
For those of us who have had an abortion, and in the very rare and off chance we have chosen to confide in you, let us speak our truth. We chose you for good reason. Please, listen.
*If you’re wondering why I set the period of US colonization at 1902-1946 and not a start date of 1898 or 1899, it’s because the Philippines rightly defeated Spain and won their independence in 1898, but due to the Treaty of Paris where the US paid Spain $20 million to hand over the Philippines when Spain lost the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War thus erupted. If the Philippines already belonged to the US in 1898, there would have been no need for war to wrench the archipelago from our ancestors. From 1899 to 1902 while the Philippine-American War waged, we did not belong to the US just yet. Those few years may not make a difference, but as we’ve seen as we lost our constitutional right to abortion a week ago, we can safely say, What a difference a week makes.