Column

Abortion Is Normal, and It’s Time to Treat It That Way

A new study says 99% of women don’t regret their abortions. So why is the procedure still stigmatized?

Abortion-rights protesters picket outside the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images

II wear a button on my winter jacket that reads “Abortion is normal.” It’s in big black letters set against a white background — pretty hard to miss. I got it last year at an event put on by Shout Your Abortion, a movement created to reduce stigma around the procedure and get people talking more openly about their abortion experiences.

Since I’ve started wearing the button, I’ve had more than a dozen women come up to me to talk about their abortions or tell me how much they love the sentiment. A woman who walked by me while I was on vacation gave me a thumbs up; the cashier at the bodega on my block told me in a hushed voice that she wished more people would talk about their abortions. “Why would they want us to have babies we don’t want?” she wondered aloud.

The truth is that abortion is an incredibly common experience—1 in 4 American women will have one. While media coverage might give the impression that the country is evenly split on abortion, the truth is that the percent of Americans who want the procedure to remain legal is at a record high. New research released this week provides even more evidence that abortion is safe and valued: The study shows that women who do have abortions overwhelmingly don’t regret their decision.

The study, published in Social Science & Medicine, shows that over a five-year period, 95% of women reported that they felt their abortion was the right decision, an already-whopping number that increased to 99% by the end of the five years.

In short, nearly all women who end their pregnancies look back and are glad they did it. The few negative emotions women did have were directly connected to the stigma around abortion in their communities. They felt bad if the people around them said that they should.

That said, we don’t often talk about abortion as a decision that can have resoundingly positive ripple effects even though it undoubtedly does. Because of abortion, women are able to continue on with school, take better care of the children they already have, get out of abusive relationships, and live the lives they want to have.

We don’t often talk about abortion as a decision that can have resoundingly positive ripple effects even though it undoubtedly does.

When I had an abortion in my late twenties, for example, I was able to finish my first book and get out of a relationship that wasn’t working. Three months later, I met the man I’d marry: We’ve been together 13 years and have a nine-year-old daughter. The life I have right now, the life that I love, exists in large part because I had an abortion.

In fact, when women don’t have access to an abortion they want, it can set their life off-track in severe and debilitating ways. In 2015, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that women who were denied the ability to have abortions suffered negatively across different areas of their life. Women who couldn’t get the abortions they wanted were four times more likely to live below the federal poverty line, three times more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to lack money for basic things like food and housing. They were also more likely to stay in contact with abusive partners.

Still, unpopular anti-abortion legislation is on the rise, as is clinic violence. The current president of the United States even lies regularly about women have “post-birth” abortions, falsely claiming that doctors execute newborn babies. That kind of overblown and false claim is the reality of life in a country where the rights of a fetus often trump the rights of a woman thanks to the power and passion of people who represent a minority that’s opposed to all legal abortions.

Given that so many men in elected office continue to limit reproductive rights, it may be hard to imagine a future where abortion is normalized in America. But if we want to stop the rollbacks of abortion rights and be proactive about women’s rights more broadly, decreasing stigma has to be a priority.

For many activists, it already is. Organizations like Shout Your Abortion and the Abortion Access Front as well as artists and abortion storytellers are changing the way that we talk about reproductive justice — moving from a defensive crouch to unapologetic candidness. It’s exactly what we need.

The other piece that will help, though, is if we can start making abortions easier to get. In the same way that emergency contraception is now available over the counter, so should birth control pills and medication abortion, aka abortion pills. (Experts have shown abortion pills to be safe and effective for women to take on their own.)

None of this will be easy, but it’s way past time. How many studies do we need showing that abortion is safe and necessary for women’s well-being? How many women need to share their most intimate stories before the men who are mostly in charge start to see them as fully human? Given that so many Americans already see and experience abortion as a normal part of life — one they are happy to have access to and have almost zero regrets over — the culture and politics need to catch up.

Abortion is normal, and it always has been. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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