Why More Than 100 Women Lawyers Went Public About Their Abortions by the Forward

Why More Than 100 Women Lawyers Went Public About Their Abortions

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In 1972, a year before the Roe v. Wade decision, Ms. Magazine ran its inaugural issue with the cover story “We Have Had Abortions,” with the signatures of 53 prominent women, including Billie Jean King, Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Anaïs Nin, and Gloria Steinem. Four and half decades later, going public about your (now legal) abortion can still be regarded as a radical act. In an unprecedented step, 113 female attorneys have submitted an to the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole. The case, which will be heard in early March, is a challenge to a provision of Texas’s restrictive HB2 law, famously filibustered by then-State Senator Wendy Davis in 2013. If it goes into effect, the challenged provision of the law is predicted to close over 75 percent of the state’s remaining clinics.

The brief begins, “To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and to myself, I am an attorney who had an abortion.” From this powerful start comes a unique document: not only the collected stories of women who have had abortions, but women whose ability to make a choice has enabled their careers in the law.

To read the brief is to glimpse crucial moments in the lives of strangers: For some of the women, abortion allowed them to “break a recurring family cycle of teenage pregnancy.” As one amicus writes, “I have seen the effects of teenage motherhood for women in my family, my friends, and loved ones. I have seen all the dreams deferred, the plans derailed, the poverty endured.”

Other amici were desperate to escape abuse at home or in a relationship: “College was a means of escape from a family plagued with violence and alcohol and drug addiction…I am convinced that it is only education that allowed me to break the horrific cycle of generational dysfunction…Abortion access was critical in allowing me to determine my life path, gain freedom from an abusive household, become a lawyer and fight for the right of others to make the same reproductive choice I did.” An amicus whose partner was abusive writes, “Being able to choose the father of my children and knowing how important a safe and loving home is to children, I chose to have an abortion.”

In a heartbreaking story, one amicus describes the wrenching decision to terminate a much-wanted second pregnancy after the fetus is diagnosed with a fatal heart defect. Her doctors recommend abortion, and she recognizes that they “had seen a degree of suffering in their tiny patients and their patients’ families that I could not comprehend.” One year after undergoing a late-term abortion, she has a son. She writes, “As a woman, a mother, and a lawyer, I know I did the right thing. I have shared my story with my children, and hope that should my daughter ever find herself in a position similar to mine, she will enjoy the same rights that were available to me.”

This brief, and the bracing, heartbreaking honesty of it stories, is a signal of a larger shift. The stigma that surrounds abortion has long deterred women from being open about their experiences, and has created a culture of shame that silences women and perpetuates damaging myths. The less we talk about elective abortion — as a decision that over a million women make each year in the United States, as healthcare — the more space pernicious myths are given to skew our public discourse, our laws, and our lives. This lack of perspective is not just theoretical; it has a real impact. Supreme Court justices have cited “abortion regret” as a reason for upholding restrictions on access, even while noting that no data exists to verify the supposed phenomenon of women regretting their abortions and suffering extreme emotional consequences. In fact, a three-year academic study of over six hundred women found that 95 percent did not regret their decision — even though over half said it was a difficult choice to make at the time.

But change is upon us. Organic movements like #ShoutYourAbortion hearken back to that revolutionary list of names in 1972, encouraging women to own their choices without shame or apology. Lindy West, who co-created the campaign in 2015, later wrote, “I am not sorry, and I will not whisper…Abortion is common. Abortion is happening. Abortion needs to be legal, safe and accessible to everyone. Abortion is a thing you can say out loud.” And women are ready to speak up – the hashtag went viral, with thousands of people sharing their stories and explaining what access to safe and legal abortion meant to them.

For the women who contributed their stories to the amicus brief, it has meant everything: safety, stability, ambition, education, career, family. As a female attorney, I am keenly aware that I stand on the shoulders of the brave and determined women who came before me. Women in law have made enormous strides in the past several decades, and so much of this progress has come with access to safe, legal reproductive healthcare that allows us to determine our own paths and plan our families. As one of the women in the brief says, “My ability to have access to a low-cost abortion fundamentally altered the course of my life, and my ability to fully participate not only in society, but in my life.”

Ilana Flemming is the Manager of Advocacy Initiatives at JWI, the leading Jewish organization empowering women and girls.

Why More Than 100 Women Lawyers Went Public About Their Abortions

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