Reigniting a Reproductive Justice Movement with “Choice Words”

Choice Words is the grounding center our movement lacks. It give us words to fill the silence created by decades of anti-choice rhetoric, violence and abortion stigma,” writes Jordan. (Lorie Shaull / CC BY-SA 2.0)

I did not allow myself the “choice” to have an abortion, but I wish I would have. 

I was in college, and completely obsessed with getting into law school. I was an “A” student, and a pleasing, perfectionist young woman. I was in every way a “good girl”—not the kind of girl who wound up pregnant by mistake.

That fate—I mistakenly believed—was reserved for sexually promiscuous and irresponsible people, or was a painful consequence of sexual violence. That would never be me. I took my birth control pills religiously at the same time every day, and as habitually as I brushed my teeth and applied deodorant. 

It never occurred to me that antibiotics I was prescribed for strep throat could cause any side effects—let alone birth control inefficacy and unplanned pregnancy.

Yet suddenly, I found myself in the position I never thought I would be in: I was a young woman whose future felt contingent on the result displayed by a dollar store pregnancy test.

A pregnancy would have meant abandoning my law school dreams, and being permanently tied to the man who impregnated me. Sure, we were in a monogamous, committed relationship, but it was also one that was volatile, immature and unstable. I wasn’t sure what choice I would make if I turned out to be pregnant; but in hindsight, I believe I probably would have martyred myself to continue a pregnancy I didn’t plan with a man who was wrong for me. 

Even though I would have made the wrong choice for me and my future, my reproductive choices were mine to make.

Pregnancy scares aside, the “question of choice” is not one that me and most of my fellow millennials ever gave much thought to. We have only known a post-Roe v. Wade America where the right to safe, legal abortion is ours—even as legislative barriers make the right inaccessible to the poorest, most marginalized among us.

But Trump-era legislation and policies force us to confront the real possibility that choices and freedoms we take for granted might soon be taken from us. “Choice” is ours to lose, and now we may be only one Supreme Court case away from losing it.     

Realizing I could no longer afford to be passively and quietly feminist, I became a women’s rights activist shortly after the 2016 presidential election.

Since then, I struggled to find my footing in a feminist movement that sometimes feels fractured and unfocused. I searched for solutions to stop the unraveling of my reproductive rights.

I never expected the answer I was looking for to come in the form of a chance email from feminist author and poet Annie Finch: 

Dear Ashley,

I read a column of yours about being a feminist in the midwest and loved it.  Good for you! I am hoping to talk with you about your ideas for connecting women around a book that I’ve edited of writing about abortion entitled Choice Words.

Thanks and warm wishes,


I want to say I received this email and immediately squealed with delight over the fact that an acclaimed feminist literary genius like Annie Finch was in my email inbox.

But at risk of disappointing Annie and revealing that I am a “bad feminist,” I will be honest about the fact that I had no idea who she was. Despite my initial ignorance, it did not take me long to figure it out, and discover that the savior uteruses like mine have been looking for might finally be found in her Choice Words.  

Choice Words is a powerful collection of timely pieces on the struggle to defend reproductive rights. “This book provides not only words wisdom, and insights from some of the most brilliant feminist writers and thinkers of all time,” writes Jordan, “but a common language for collective modern resistance.”

Choice Words is not just a book about reproductive rights; it’s an abortion bible.

As the first comprehensive abortion anthology, Choice Words is the literary mechanism we desperately need to unite the feminist movement in the fight for reproductive justice. A union between literature and activism has the capacity to reinvigorate and re-inspire reproductive justice proponents by helping us find the words and focus to reclaim our liberty.

This book provides not only words wisdom, and insights from some of the most brilliant feminist writers and thinkers of all time—but a common language for collective modern resistance. 

The answers feminists like me have been struggling to find were available to us all along. We couldn’t see them because we never had them collected and united in one comprehensive literary work. This seems a fitting metaphor for a feminist movement that must collect and unite itself around comprehensive, coordinated action if it’s going to save itself and each other from political and legislative assaults on rights already won.

But if we succeed, perhaps it will be because the words of the women who won them for us empowered us to do so. 

It’s hard to think of a time in our nation’s history when American society was more divided. Words spoken in hasty, heated political debates among candidates and citizens alike separate us into political factions.

We no longer see each other as belonging to the same country, but rather as a country divided into a map of red and blue. We not only harbor different ideological points of view, but hate for one another.

Sadly, we have become less a hopeful nation, than a hate-filled and resentful one. 

To survive in this contentious modern cultural climate, we hold out hope for a hero. We wonder who, if anyone, can stop us from denigrating each other and destroying any potential for a cooperative national future. It’s time we stop looking to others for this answer, and start looking to literature. Literature is a lens that allows us to see and feel not just our own humanity, but also our neighbor’s.

I am not pretending literature will ever make anti-choice proponents agree with me—it won’t. The magic of literature lies not in its power to persuade, but to affirm and assure those who persist in the struggle for justice. 

It reminds us that the situation we find ourselves in today is nothing new; at its core, it’s the same struggle for reproductive agency and autonomy that Mary Wollstonecraft endured. Being reminded that we are fighting the age-old battles of our foremothers can be disheartening, but it can also be will-and-spirit-fortifying. Knowing that even those who existed in societies far more patriarchal and oppressive than ours, asserted their personhood over pregnancy, and claimed their humanity over biology, makes clear that we are human beings whose reproductive choices are human choices. 

As long as the world we inhabit remains patriarchal, the “right to choose” will always be hard fought.

Nevertheless, Choice Words solidifies the fact that it is, and if necessary, will be once again—hard won.

This landmark abortion anthology is not merely words on a page, but a literary rallying cry to feminist leaders and activists like me. It’s not just a book, but a siren song calling us forward to renewed action and connecting us to each other. 

If we are going to preserve “choice” for those who follow in our footsteps, and ensure that no pregnancy is compulsory, we cannot keep organizing behind an abstract cause or far-away movement. We must organize around something.

Choice Words is the grounding center our movement lacks. It give us words to fill the silence created by decades of anti-choice rhetoric, violence and abortion stigma.

May we use it to speak truth to power, to give new life to the feminist fight for reproductive liberty, and to give new voice to “choice” for generations to come.


Ashley Jordan is a feminist writer, activist and organizer and a licensed attorney and former prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence cases. She has taught Gender and Women’s Studies courses at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois and researched and written extensively on issues of feminism and gender equality. She is the founder of Women Activists, a women’s rights activism group in Wisconsin, and the feminist blog You can find her @feministforward.