Our Abortions Are Our Business—No Explanation Required

What is often missing in discourse about reproductive rights are the “average” abortion stories—those in which people tell of their choices to exercise reproductive rights simply because right now was not the right time.

A rally for reproductive rights in Ambler, Pa., in May 2019. (Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr)

Two weeks ago, Texas passed a law banning access to abortion, with the Supreme Court’s failure to block the legislation signaling a dark future for Roe v Wade.

On social media, people were quick to respond with outrage and dismay. The hashtags #TexasAbortionLaw, #WomensRightsAreHumanRights and #AbortionIsHealthcare were all trending on Twitter in the hours and days following the legislation.

One viral thread, retweeted over 29K times at the time this article was written, gave a number of powerful examples of people (presumably patients of the original poster’s) who had sought abortions.  The thread also explained their justifications for doing so:

“Tonight I’m thinking about Jill, whose partner removed condoms during sex, flushed her birth control pills down the toilet, and yanked out her IUD. Eight and a half weeks.

“Tonight I’m thinking about Chelsea, impregnated by an abusive husband she managed to escape from only days ago. Fifteen weeks.

“Tonight I’m thinking about Kate, who was raped in her group home.  Eleven weeks.”

The thread goes on to tell still more stories of pregnant people who sought abortions: a Hmong woman who had never heard of birth control or seen a doctor before she was eight weeks pregnant. A trans man whose pregnancy was causing overwhelming feelings of gender dysphoria. A woman who had been trying to get pregnant for over a decade only to conceive five fetuses at once, making hers an extraordinarily high-risk pregnancy. 

These are all moving, compelling stories. I myself retweeted this thread, because it demonstrates quite powerfully that abortion is healthcare and a human right, one which must be accessible to all people regardless of socioeconomic status, race, location or any other factor. 

Yet, what is missing in the examples I shared above, and what is all too often missing in discourse about reproductive rights in general, are the more “average” abortion stories, those in which women tell of their choices to exercise reproductive rights not because their own life or the life of their fetus was in grave danger; not because they were raped or impregnated against their will; not because they had been consistently denied access to birth control; but simply because right now was not the right time.  

By placing emphasis on the most dire circumstances causing women to seek abortions—rape, incest, high-risk pregnancies, abusive partners—we quite effectively highlight the violence and abuse that so many women encounter in this country. But we also risk diminishing a simpler truth: Women do not need to find themselves in violent or threatening circumstances such as these in order to exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy. 

Perhaps more importantly, there is no need for people to share their reasons for making this personal healthcare decision at all. When we provide abortion opponents with justifications or explanations for why women seek abortions, we reinforce the stigmatization of having an abortion and of speaking publicly about it—both of which can further limit people’s ability to access reproductive rights in turn.

Women do not need to find themselves in violent or threatening circumstances in order to exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy. 

It is undeniable, and frightening, and infuriating that an enormous number of women seek abortions because they were raped, many while they were underage, many by men in their own families. It is also undeniable that many seek abortions because they lack access to birth control, prenatal care and healthcare more generally. Still more women seek abortions because they fear the alarmingly high maternity and infant mortality rates in this country, which are among the most abysmal in the developed world, and are disproportionately higher among women of color. But although traumatic and unjust circumstances like rape, abuse, or a higher likelihood of maternal mortality are certainly powerful examples of why one might get an abortion, these are not the only reasons to exercise that right. 

It has been well-documented that, overall, women continue to bear more of the burden of having and raising children and maintaining households than do men. There is arguably no such thing as an equal partnership in parenting, starting with the simple fact that a cis man has no role in gestation, which consumes a woman’s body entirely for nine months, and changes it permanently thereafter. Evidence has also shown that mothers do more of the “invisible labor” of childrearing than do fathers, and sacrifice more professionally, even in the most seemingly equal of partnerships. 

Women need reproductive rights because we are raped, and sexually assaulted and because men do things to us without our consent.  We need reproductive rights because things can and do go terribly wrong during sex and pregnancies.

But we also need reproductive rights because we still do not live in a world with gender equality, and birthing and raising children continues to be a huge contributing factor to this inequity. For these reasons alone, everyone deserves the right to choose if a pregnancy is not right for her right now. 

Everyone also deserves to exercise her right to abortion with privacy and dignity, free from stigmatization. This starts with recognizing that one needn’t ever offer an explanation or justification for seeking an abortion: What a woman does with her body is always solely her business.

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Melissa Dennihy is an associate professor of English at the City University of New York. Her work focuses on gender, sexuality, language and race, among other topics.