September 28, 2023 -
This post is excerpted from the remarks of Dallas Schubert, guest speaker at Shabbat worship on Friday, January 25, 2013 at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. Her presentation about the “My Abortion, My Life” campaign (http://myabortionmylife.org) is part of a month-long series of activities at temple honoring the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, legalizing abortion on January 22, 1973. We hope you will make comments, share this link, and let others know about this valuable work of our synagogue.
My name is Dallas Schubert and I am here as a representative of Preterm’s My Abortion My Life Campaign.
Tonight Cantor Sager has helped us draw the connection between the celebration of self determination, liberty, and dignity that the Roe v Wade decision represents, and the heroism of Shifra and Puah, who had the courage and moral vision to put themselves at risk in order to uphold what they knew to be right and just.
In the 40 years since Roe V Wade was decided, well more than 50 million women have had legal abortions in the United States. But the story of abortion didn’t start in 1973, nor did it begin with the immediately preceeding period of dangerous back alley abortions that put women in emergency rooms and took their lives, and which outraged the American public helping prompt the Roe decision. Abortion is a story as old as humanity. Since the earliest times women have sought to determine and control when and if they become pregnant and bring children into the world. Some methods have been more dangerous or effective than others. Sometimes it has been in back alleys or stranger’s kitchens, sometimes in state-of-the-art medical facilities. Sometimes it has involved traditional healers and the use of medicinal herbs, sometimes modern medicine. Legal or illegal, accessible or inaccessible, accepted or condemned, the one thing that has not changed is a woman’s drive to decide whether or not to bear a child.
Women who have abortions are our mothers, friends, sisters and daughters. They are seeking to shape the direction of their lives, and realize their hopes and dreams. They are figuring out how to best to care for themselves, their families, and their communities. Most are already mothers at the time of their abortions, and are concerned for the wellbeing of the children they already have. All share a deep understanding of the power and responsibility that comes with the ability to bear a child. The moral certainty that comes with that understanding is what has driven women, often against incredible odds, to choose abortion, when they know the time is not right for them to bring new life into the world.
As we celebrate the Roe decision this week, we also recognize that women continue to face enormous obstacles to have an abortion. In order to do what they know is right, every day women seeking abortions must stand up to tyranny and oppression by those who do not recognize their autonomy and moral sovereignty. They must overcome the restrictions and laws that make access increasingly difficult. And They must also confront the shame and stigma that has come to surround the abortion experience in this country.
1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime. These are women from every walk of life, women like you and women like me. They are 1 in 3 of your friends and family members, 1 in 3 of the moms at the PTA meeting, your co-workers, and the members of this congregation. Yet most likely you don’t know that these women in your life have even had abortions, much less the details of their experience. The shame and stigma surrounding abortion in this country means that very few women ever share their experiences, even with those they are closest to.
So why has this happened? How have we gotten to the point that there is such silence about such a common and shared experience? Is abortion simply something that we naturally don’t want to talk about, something naturally either private or shameful? But stigma and silence don’t exist in all places and haven’t at all times, so why do they here and now? It’s not that we don’t talk about abortion! We certainly heard plenty about it from politicians and pundits during this last election season! The truth is that the heated political rhetoric on abortion, with which we are all so familiar, leaves little room for women’s real lives and experiences. Any one woman’s abortion story is likely to be complex and nuanced, the circumstances under which her pregnancy occurred and the factors that went into her choice all dependent many other aspects of her life. The decision may be simple or difficult, her emotions straightforward or complicated. But most likely her experience doesn’t fit into the box defined by either side of the political debate. It most likely wasn’t a political act of empowerment, or a traumatic tragedy. The prevailing public discourse leaves little room for the complexities of real life. Real women’s voices, and real women’s lives have been effectively shut out of the conversation.
Does it matter, this stigma and silence? Stigma has many effects. It makes women facing abortion choices feel alone and isolated. It makes women question the validity of their reactions and emotions. The silence created by stigma leaves us with a void of the kind of cultural story telling that informs and guides each of us as we move through our lives, leaving girls and women without experience and knowledge to draw upon as they make their own life choices. Stigma also isolates abortion providers and puts them at increased risk of violence and harassment. In a world where very few speak up about our own abortion experiences, or our support for other women’s choices, providers stick out like a sore thumb.
The same stigma that silences women who have had abortions tends to silence those who are supportive of women’s choices as well. It can be easier not to talk about it than to face potential conflict or awkward silences. But everytime we choose not to speak up about our support for abortion that silence can have the effect of shutting off conversations with the women we know and love about their choices and experiences, and makes it easier for politicians and extremists to further roll back women’s reproductive freedoms.
What would change those voices weren’t silenced? If we knew the abortion stories of those 1 in 3 women in our lives, would we, as a society, continue to talk about the “tragedy” of abortion, to make assumptions about the “kind of woman” who has an abortion, or to allow abortion providers to be exposed to constant threat?
My Abortion, My Life is a public awareness campaign that aims to reduce the stigmatization of abortion by opening the door to a new kind of conversation, one that acknowledges, honors and respects the reality of the abortion experience and shifts the conversation from the rhetorical to the experiential. By starting this conversation we hope to help women who have had abortions to not feel so alone, to begin to end the shame and secrecy, to help people see that abortion is a normal part of women’s reproductive lives, and to create a culture of support and shared knowledge that we can all draw upon as we navigate our reproductive and life choices. What would the world be like if a woman faced pregnancy decisions feeling supported and respected? If she had the stories and knowledge of her community to draw upon? If she were treated with diginity? Could we stop judging women for the choices they make, and perhaps reach a place where we celebrate the strength, courage and moral vision of women exercising responsible, thoughtful choices about their reproductive lives, much as we celebrate Shifra and Pua?
Tonight Cantor Sager shone a different light on the story of Shifra and Pua. The My Abortion My Life Campaign works to shine a different light of the story of abortion. Honest conversation about abortion isn’t always easy. It requires listening, suspension of judgement and an embracing of the gray areas that resist categorization. This campaign encourages women to share their stories, but also encourages those without abortion stories of their own to be open and supportive listeners, and to start abortion conversations with people in their lives to make room for others to share. We ask, what can we all do to make safe, supportive spaces in our relationships for talking openly, honestly and with respect about abortion?
I am here tonight with Toni Thayer, Preterm’s director of Development and Commmuication, and we will be here after services to talk to you about how you can engage as individuals with My Abortion My life.
We also are looking for local organizations, associations , churches and synagogues to find new ways to foster this dialogue across broader communities. I applaud this congregation for it’s willingness to open it’s doors to our campaign and taking steps to make this place of worship and community a safe and supportive space for conversation about abortion. My Abortion My Life would like to be continue to encourage and be a resource for this work. If you have any interest or ideas please feel free to share them with Cantor Sager or Rabbi Nosanchuk.