Survivors of rape once kept quiet, afraid of sharing their stories, but some are speaking out. Now, so are women who’ve had abortions.
More than 100 women and allies will tell about their experiences Thursday from 1 to 9 p.m. in the first-ever Abortion Speakout, a project of Advocates for Youth’s 1 in 3 Campaign. Well-known participants include “Daily Show” co-creator Lizz Winstead, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood and columnist Jessica Valenti. The event will be livestreamed, and college students on 20 campuses, including in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Michigan, are hosting watch parties.
“For too long…stigma and shame have been used to silence people who’ve had abortions,” said Julia Reticker-Flynn, associate director of youth organizing and mobilization at Advocates for Youth. “One of the reasons for silence around abortion is that people are afraid of being judged.”
No kidding. I could name just one friend who’d had an abortion, but a request on Facebook revealed some surprising truths when a half-dozen women, some of whom I’d known for decades, told me their stories. As one wrote, “Why would anyone talk about it? It’s just too emotional of an issue and nobody feels good about it even when they’ve chosen it as the best option. Plus we live in such an awful conservative, male-driven society.”
Women will talk about their abortions Thursday, and I spoke with two of them. Here are their stories:
When Marycruz Figueroa told friends and family members about her abortion, she said one person lashed out to her. “You never should have told me this or told anyone, this is something you carry to your grave.”
Figueroa wants people to understand why she made her decision. “I knew when I saw the plus sign [on the home pregnancy test], I knew I was not going to have the baby,” said the 24-year-old who lives in South Carolina and works as a producer and project manager for an independent production company.
She was not ready to become a mother, either emotionally or financially, she said, and her partner was still in college.
Figueroa had discontinued taking the pill because of side effects and admits having sex without birth control was “an irresponsible decision.” But she tried to fix that mistake by making “the most responsible decision for all parties involved.”
She lives where there’s nearby access to abortion services, but she had to walk past protesters in front of the building. It was “upsetting,” she said, and one kept yelling, “You don’t have to do this!”
Yet her mind was made up before she walked through the door. She did keep a photo from the ultrasound, but at six weeks and three days, the fetus “looked like a speck,” she said.
After the procedure, Figueroa felt a sense of relief along with “some sadness,” but “the sadness I felt is not the same thing as regret,” she said. “I have no doubts, no regrets.”
Her other point, she emphasized, is that her decision does not make her a selfish person: “My well-being does matter.” She worried about the risks to her mental health by carrying a child and giving it up for adoption. She wanted to wait until she was ready to be a mother, which would benefit both her and her child.
“I am not my abortion,” she said. “I have wants and needs, fears and hurts…when we shame, when we stigmatize the woman who has an abortion, we’re just adding to the hurt.”
Figueroa will tell her story around 5:50 p.m. Eastern Thursday during the Speakout.
“There’s a lot of gray in what seems like a black-and-white issue,” Julie Bindeman, a psychologist in Rockville, Md., said about her experiences. She tells her story at 1:10 p.m. eastern during the Speakout.
She and her husband wanted to have another child when their son was a year and a half old. She got pregnant easily, but miscarried at eight weeks. It was “pretty terrible,” she said, so during the next pregnancy, she worried through the first trimester but all the routine screenings were normal.
Until the 20-week ultrasound, when she and her husband would learn if they were having a daughter or another son.
“It was the Friday before Thanksgiving,” she recalled. They were told it was a boy, but to go to the OB’s office.
“The first words from the doctor were ‘I’m so sorry,'” Bindeman said. She thought the doctor was talking about the sex of the baby, as Bindeman had hoped for a girl.
No, the fetus had a severe brain abnormality called ventriculomegaly involving overgrown ventricles that caused cerebrospinal fluid to back up, leaving no room for normal brain development. A flurry of appointments with specialists and additional testing, including a fetal MRI, followed.
Her options? Terminate the pregnancy or carry it to term and either have a stillbirth or a child who would have the developmental quality of life of a two-month-old. Going through with the pregnancy would mean a C-section, which carries risks to the mother, and Bindeman pointed out she had a child already who needed her.
“It was a pretty bleak picture,” Bindeman said. Based on the expected quality of life — if the child even survived — she and her husband decided to end the pregnancy.
But it was 2009 and Dr. George Tiller, who had specialized in late-term abortions, had been shot and killed at his Wichita, Kan. church. The only Maryland doctor who provided late-term abortions had stopped practicing after his murder.
“I couldn’t get a surgical abortion in my state,” she said, and so at almost 22 weeks, she went through induced labor and delivery.
Bindeman was assured that the severe deformity was “a total fluke” so she and her husband tried again after five months.
“It was a very anxious pregnancy,” she said, and a routine scan at 17 weeks showed the same brain abnormality occurring.
“Once again we had to make a heart-breaking decision,” Bindeman said. “And this was our daughter, so it was an additional layer of grief.”
She was able to obtain an abortion at 18 weeks.
More tests. More doctors’ appointments. They reached the conclusion that a recessive gene combination had caused the defects, and each pregnancy carried a 25 percent chance of it happening again, but Bindeman wanted more children.
Her story has a happy ending. In July 2011 she gave birth to “a healthy daughter” and in June 2013 had another son.
She’s changed her psychology practice to one that specializes in reproductive loss and trauma. “I’m very fortunate to have the outcome we were hoping for with healthy, living children,” Bindeman, now 36, said.
In the interest of accuracy, I argue with the “one in three” number, which refers to data indicating one women in three will have an abortion during her childbearing years.
That was correct in the early 2000s, explained Megan Kavanaugh, a senior research associate at Guttmacher Institute. She’s the co-author of a study, based on 2008 data and published in 2011, that found “nearly one in three” or, more accurately, one in three and one-third, or three out of 10, women will have an abortion.
But those phrases don’t have the same punch as one in three.
With the decline in abortions, that number may be closer to one in four.
But maybe it doesn’t really matter, whether it’s one in three, or one in four. The women who’ve made that decision want the world to realize it’s their decision to make. By sharing their stories, they’re hoping to be seen as individuals, and not just statistics.