Why It's Harmful to Only Acknowledge the Most Dire Reasons For Abortion
Content warning: The following story contains mentions of sexual assault.
All reasons for abortion are valid. Full stop. Whether someone wants an abortion due to financial difficulties, fetal anomalies, birth control failure, or a desire to no longer be pregnant, they deserve that right, no explanation necessary.
Yet, following the Supreme Court's recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, even those who are pro-choice have fallen into the trap of using the most extreme and traumatic reasons a person might seek an abortion — such as cases of rape or incest — as justification for why abortion must be legal. While it's essential to acknowledge these experiences, the reality is that one percent of abortions are due to rape, and fewer than half a percent are due to incest, according to a 2005 study from the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health research organization. These figures may not be totally accurate (we know, for instance, that sexual assault often goes unreported). But other research has shown that most people who have an abortion do so for other reasons — other reasons that we don't always hear about.
The Guttmacher study, for example, surveyed 1,209 abortion patients who shared why they ended their pregnancies, with some sharing multiple reasons. Seventy-four percent said that having a baby would drastically change their life by interfering with education, a job, or something similar; 73 percent cited the inability to afford a baby; 48 percent mentioned relationship-related concerns; and 38 percent were done with childbearing. Other reasons included not being ready for a child (32 percent), pressure from a partner to get an abortion (14 percent), possible complications affecting the health of the fetus (13 percent), and issues with their own physical health (12 percent). Other research similarly shows the the wide range of reasons people have for getting abortions.
So why, when a multitude of legitimate reasons for terminating a pregnancy exist, are the most drastic commonly touted as the ones worth accepting? It's due to stigma, says We Testify founder and executive director Renee Bracey Sherman.
"I think the general public is uncomfortable talking about abortion, but not just abortion — about reproductive health in general: sex, sexuality, and pregnancy," Bracey Sherman tells POPSUGAR. "We don't normalize these conversations, so people are uncomfortable talking about it." This discomfort can be compounded by the antiabortion movement, which brings morality into the picture, she adds. "[People are] trying to navigate and mitigate the stigma, so they're trying to say, 'Well, I'm still a moral person. I'm still a thoughtful person.'"
"We shouldn't have to trot out all of our reasons or any of our reasons when it comes to talking about why we need abortions."
Despite good intentions, citing dire cases in justifying the need for abortion access only adds to this stigma. "They don't necessarily understand that they're unintentionally creating stigma toward the majority of people who don't have those experiences," Bracey Sherman says. "It's OK if someone just doesn't want to be pregnant; that's an OK reason, too. We shouldn't have to trot out all of our reasons or any of our reasons when it comes to talking about why we need abortions."
Arguing that cases of sexual assault or incest are the most justifiable grounds for abortion also perpetuates the idea that someone with a uterus only has autonomy over their body when they've experienced some sort of trauma, or when someone else has violated it first. But there is no hierarchy to bodily autonomy. It's not something to be earned; it's an inherent human right.
In her mission to normalize all abortion experiences, Bracey Sherman created We Testify in 2016 as a platform for people to share their abortion stories. "All I'm asking is that we have the narratives out there in a proportion for which people are actually choosing abortions," she says. "That way, every single one of us gets to hear a story that looks like ours and gets to see our experiences represented."
She advises anyone interested in sharing their abortion story to only do so when they feel "safe and ready" and with the proper mindset. "When we share our stories, it's not with the sole intent of changing anyone's mind or changing politics; it's to let other people who have abortions know that they're not alone," Bracey Sherman says. "I wish more people understood that the goal isn't to change the law, it isn't to appease people who won't see our humanity — it's to know that we're not alone."
"Abortion anytime, anywhere, for any reason."