Citation
Abortion storytelling

Material Information

Title:
Abortion storytelling
Creator:
Yedinak, Mallory ( author )
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
1 electronic file (87 pages) : ;

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of social science)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Social sciences
Committee Chair:
Swartz, Otto
Committee Members:
Silverman, Gillian
Reich, Jennifer A.

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Pro-choice movement ( lcsh )
Pro-choice movement ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Abstract:
The concept of reproductive justice is centered on the human right to have children, not have children, and to parent in safe and sustainable communities. In many cases abortion is an integral part of this process. Based on data provided by the Guttmacher Institute, about 1 out of every 3 women in the United States will have an abortion before age 45, yet this statistic continues to shock many individuals despite an increase in open discussions about the prevalence of abortion in women's lives. By analyzing a collection of personal abortion narratives, this thesis seeks to understand how emphasizing "pro-choice" language in abortion storytelling may unintentionally promote patriarchal concepts and beliefs about women while also suggesting that a focus on reproductive justice will better serve the reproductive rights movement by considering the ways in which marginalized women are often left out of the mainstream abortion conversation. In abortion storytelling literature, scholars make the case that publicly sharing abortion experiences may contribute to a decrease in social stigma as well as positively contributing to reproductive rights legal policy. This thesis will analyze abortion stories collected through both a feminist and reproductive justice lens, paying particular attention to language patterns in order to explore how patriarchy is reflected and how the emphasis on "choice" serves as an insufficient tool for strengthening the reproductive rights of women in the United States.</DISS_para>
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references.
System Details:
System requirements: Adobe Reader.
Restriction:
Embargo ended 06/07/2018
General Note:
n3p
Statement of Responsibility:
by Mallory Yedinak.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
on10153 ( NOTIS )
1015317677 ( OCLC )
on1015317677
Classification:
LD1193.L65 2017m Y44 ( lcc )

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Full Text
ABORTION STORYTELLING
by
MALLORY YEDINAK BA. University of Colorado Denver, 2012
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Science Social Sciences Program
2017


ii
This thesis for the Masters of Social Science degree by Mallory Yedinak has been approved for the Social Sciences Program by
Omar Swartz, Chair Gillian Silverman Jennifer Reich
Date: 13 May 2017


Yedinak, Mallory (M.S.S. Master of Social Sciences Program) Abortion Storytelling
Thesis directed by associate professor Omar Swartz
m
ABSTRACT
The concept of reproductive justice is centered on the human right to have children, not have children, and to parent in safe and sustainable communities. In many cases abortion is an integral part of this process. Based on data provided by the Guttmacher Institute, about 1 out of every 3 women in the United States will have an abortion before age 45, yet this statistic continues to shock many individuals despite an increase in open discussions about the prevalence of abortion in women’s lives. By analyzing a collection of personal abortion narratives, this thesis seeks to understand how emphasizing “pro-choice” language in abortion storytelling may unintentionally promote patriarchal concepts and beliefs about women while also suggesting that a focus on reproductive justice will better serve the reproductive rights movement by considering the ways in which marginalized women are often left out of the mainstream abortion conversation. In abortion storytelling literature, scholars make the case that publicly sharing abortion experiences may contribute to a decrease in social stigma as well as positively contributing to reproductive rights legal policy. This thesis will analyze abortion stories collected through both a feminist and reproductive justice lens, paying particular attention to language patterns in order to explore how patriarchy is reflected and how the emphasis on “choice” serves as an insufficient tool for strengthening the reproductive rights of women in the United States.


IV
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: Omar Swartz


V
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Title Introduction
Preface................................................................1
A Note on Language.....................................................4
Relevance..............................................................5
Choice Rhetoric vs. Reproductive Justice...............................7
Organization...........................................................8
II. Literature Review and Methodology
The Importance of Abortion Discourse..................................15
Erasing W omen........................................................18
Why Speak Out?........................................................22
The Ethics Behind The Rights..........................................32
Questioning Motherhood................................................34
Useful Tools..........................................................37
Pro-Choice Oversight..................................................40
Methodology...........................................................41
Sample/Sampling.......................................................42
Data Collection.......................................................45
Methodological Choices................................................50
Strengths/W eaknesses.................................................50
III. Aanalysis
Onset.................................................................52
Motherhood
53


VI
Success................................................................56
Regret.................................................................59
Choice/Less-ness.......................................................64
Trusting All Women.....................................................65
A More Suitable Framework..............................................68
IV. Conclusions
Questions For Further Research.........................................70
Reflections............................................................74
Final Thoughts.........................................................75
Bibliography..................................................................77


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LIST OF TABLES
1. References to thematic elements of Motherhood, Success and Regret as per latent coding from pro-choice websites................................49


1
CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION
Preface
I have never had an abortion, but I have met many women who have. It is hard describe the kind of fear that can linger over a person when they desperately do not want to become pregnant, a kind of paranoia that can last more than half of a women’s life span. I do not want to be faced with a situation where I need to make the decision to have an abortion, though there is a chance that I will while of reproductive age. For the last 12 years I have had a lengthy battle with finding and maintaining the right birth control method. To my knowledge I have never been pregnant, yet the quest to find the best way to continue preventing it has often been demoralizing. This battle became more depressing when I learned that even with all of the different methods I might try, and the range of horrible side effects I may risk, there is still a reasonable chance that I will find myself pregnant and seeking an abortion at some point in my life. It feels so unfair, all of the hurdles to finding and accessing the correct contraceptive methods, and yet so many women end up with an unwanted pregnancy at least once. If the realities of taking control of one’s reproductive health had struck up a sense of anger and injustice in me, I could only imagine how other women, many of whom are considerably less privileged than myself, must feel when seeking out an abortion at some point in their lives. I began to get a sense of this as I started working as a medical assistant for a Planned Parenthood clinic that routinely performs abortions.
One aspect of my job is reviewing the consent process with patients seeking an abortion, an arduous task that can take up to several hours. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are right or wrong answers to the questions I am required to ask, because even the most


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miniscule amount of doubt in a one’s firmness of decision can cause the entire process to come to a screeching halt. Following this is even more time wasted with what could be seen as tedious and often insulting protocols to ensure that patients are not being coerced into making certain decisions about their reproductive health. I have experienced a range of different emotions from patients, some angry, some sad; many patients appear to be completely neutral. Occasionally, people change their minds altogether and leave, which is fine. One of the requirements of my job is that I ask patients what options they considered when they found out they were pregnant and how they came to make the decision to have an abortion. This is generally where people open up the most about what they think happened, what actually happened or what is going on in their lives that led them to make this decision. It’s fascinating to me how so many people who never have or never will have an abortion can chastise and blanket a situation that has such a wide range of scenarios one could never actually imagine them up on their own. Though contrary to what society tells us, almost none of the patients I have worked with are grief-stricken about their decision, and things usually go very smoothly. In fact, the most difficult part of my job is rarely about the abortion itself, but more about the life of the person seeking one, and what is happening to make them want to terminate their pregnancy. The worst feeling is when patients talk as if they deserve the kind of judgment they know others are casting on them. “I was an idiot,” and “I feel so stupid” are some of the most common phrases I hear during these appointments. But I think if these women could listen to all of the stories that I hear on a regular basis, they would not only have a better understanding of the unfairness of their circumstances as I described before, but they would also come to see that just because something is often talked about in a


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one-dimensional or negative way, does not mean that it cannot be a normal or even positive part of women’s lives.
Even if we will never have an abortion it is still a part of all women’s lives because our right to access abortion is central to our ability to fully participate in society. Even more importantly, when abortion is talked about, it is often talked about incorrectly, or in negative ways that reinforce various types of systematic female oppression. Abortion storytelling is not a new phenomenon. Yet if it is to continue being a useful tool for the reproductive rights movement, abortion storytelling must evolve in order to find better ways to respond to an ever-increasing anti-abortion political climate. We need to share abortion stories in order to demonstrate the range of situations that women experience when becoming pregnant, and continue asking difficult questions such as “what if your loved-one needed an abortion?” Yet, in sharing these stories, will we continue to cater to the anti-abortion rhetoric of shame surrounding a procedure that many women will have at some point in their lives? Will we keep offering reasons and justifications for something of which we do not owe any explanation? Will we continue to oppress female sexuality and unknowingly feed the internal narratives that these women often carry around with them, that having an abortion means they were “stupid,” “careless,” or somehow less than concerned about their reproductive health, even when evidence suggests this is not the case? When negative self-talk comes up in our discussions I will usually stop the patient and firmly state to them “you are not stupid.” How could someone who has taken the time to carefully consider how well they could parent another human given their current circumstances be stupid? As our conversation continues I try to invoke a sense in them the idea that they are actually part of an extremely high number of women who have had, and will continue having abortions, and that their decision is “just a


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part of life.” Then we move forward and life goes on. This thesis is for and about these women.
A Note on Language
I have made a conscious decision to utilize as well as avoid certain terms throughout this thesis. Pollitt’s book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights has informed a substantial amount of my language, thus I have decided to follow her direction and refrain from use of the terms “pro-life” and “pro-lifer.” Even though it would seem polite to call people what they identify as and/or wish to be called, I must agree with Pollitt that these terms are encoded with too much propaganda about fertilized eggs as “living” beings, and often implies that these eggs have more value than already living women. In addition to the fact these terms suggest abortion is a threat to “life” rather than the reality that it can often be life saving, I concur with Pollitt that these terms suggest that anyone who is not opposed to abortion is pro-death, and that this concept, as Pollitt argues, is quite absurd. I will be using the terms “antiabortion,” “anti-choice,” and “abortion opponents” instead to describe those individuals that are opposed to abortion. I have also avoided the use of the word “fetus” as a blanketed statement to describe all stages of gestation, because as Pollitt suggests, this term inaccurately implies late terminations as a norm when discussing abortion. Given that “two-thirds of abortions take place at eight weeks or earlier,” I use the terms “embryo” and “zygote” when describing products of conception. Finally, I will refer to abortion rights supporters as “pro-choicers” and “reproductive rights advocates.” Even though I remain critical of an over-emphasis on the word “choice” when so many do not have equal choices, I have made the decision to use these terms particularly for their ability to engage in politically


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framing the movement’s philosophies in the best possible light, while attempting to fairly portray the “anti-choice” alternative viewpoint. Although it is suggested by NARAL Pro-Choice America’s media review to capitalize the term as “Pro-Choice,” I have decided to follow the direction of The Association of College & Research Libraries’ publishing unit and it’s instruction to leave the term “pro-choice” in lower case. I believe this demonstrates a sense of ethics and consistency, given that the movement, as part of its name, has not specifically adopted a capitalization of the word.
Relevance
Abortion has always been a part of women’s lives, yet it remains a taboo subject. When it is talked about, it is often done so in a way that misinterprets, leaves out crucial aspects, or is false, making the reality of abortion in women’s lives unspoken. Indeed, if language has the ability to shape our reality, then abortion, according to oppositional rhetoric, remains a dark and mysterious aspect of the human experience filled up with regret, shame, and patriarchal ideologies about women and motherhood. Even when we are presented with seemingly positive stories of abortion, many people feel a need to inspect closely every aspect of women’s lives and behavior to justify their decision. The dissection of even the most minor details of each story makes certain whether or not an abortion is allowed to be a positive experience (i.e., medically “life saving”) or disproves that a woman had a good enough reason to have one at all (“she should not have gotten pregnant”). After all nobody feels good about the fact that they needed to have an abortion.. .right? In fact, sharing personal accounts of abortion has the ability to shift negative language from being an unfortunate event happening to someone, to a positive situation for which to be thankful,


6
such as feeling happy that abortion was an available option during a particular time in one’s life. Despite what social and political rhetoric tells us, it is not so much the abortion itself that is “unfortunate” but rather the set of circumstances surrounding the abortion that contribute to the experience being negative.
One tool that has gained increased popularity for the reproductive rights movement is the concept of public abortion story sharing. In theory, this practice is meant for establishing a sense of normalcy about the abortion experience, which in part means discussing it in a positive way. It is also important to discuss the ways in which obtaining the abortion was difficult, meaning the social, political, or financial barriers that women often face when they decide they want one. Many websites and blogs created with the overall intention of normalizing the experience are flooded with stories of tragic experiences and women struggling to cope with their decisions. If abortion is a positive experience for so many women, why do so many individuals continue to view it in such sad light? For many women the only negative aspect of the experience is everything but the abortion itself (i.e., mandatory wait times and ultrasounds, cost, travel, ect.). Yet many individuals who are against abortion take these details and reinterpret them to mean that because these unfortunate circumstances happened, the abortion specifically was a terrible experience. If the reproductive rights movement is hoping to gain sympathy from anti-abortion readers by keeping a apologetic tone to abortion stories, surely we must know this is a poor strategy, as anti-abortion groups have increasingly adopted the language of “protecting women” from the “horrors” of abortion clinics. In fact some of the stories shared on self proclaimed pro-choice websites seem to be attempting to dissuade readers from making the decision to have an abortion altogether.


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What is the reason for ignoring positive details about the about abortion experience, a procedure that so many women in the United States will have at least once in their lives? Is it the history of pre-legalization secrecy that has carried over and caused it to remain in whispers? Is it intimidation from the extreme and often violent tactics of anti-abortion activists? Or is it the fear of confronting something that will logically lead to questioning our society’s issues with sexuality? Whatever the reasons, openly sharing and discussing one’s experience with having an abortion, regardless of the underlying messages, normalizes the experience to some degree. It shows how common of a procedure abortion really is for women, and that life does in fact go on after having one. However, one area where reproductive rights advocates, and thus, abortion storytelling forums, has gone wrong is by emphasizing the concept of “choice” rather than reproductive justice, and I feel that this has caused many abortion storytelling websites and blogs to become somewhat misguided in their cause.
Choice Rhetoric us. Reproductive Justice
In order to understand the reproductive justice framework, we must first understand what Price describes as the “individualist approach of the ‘choice’ paradigm” utilized by the mainstream reproductive rights movement in the U.S. and the frustration caused by the pro-choice schema for intersectional feminists.1 Price reveals how focus group research consistently demonstrates that low-income women and women of color “do not identify with
1 Kimala Price, “What is Reproductive Justice?: How Women of Color Activists Are Redefining the Pro-Choice Paradigm." A lendians 10, no. 2 (April 2010).


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the pro-choice message” thus rendering the rhetoric of the movement meaningless to anyone that does not identify as a white, cisgendered woman that is at least of middle class income.2 Started by a cohort of groups that promoted the rights of Native and women of color, the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective was created.3 Reproductive justice-focused groups such as these, position themselves separately from the pro-choice movement by using social justice and human rights as frameworks for “redefining choice.”4 The primary objective is to move away from what Price describes as the “singular focus on abortion” produced by the mainstream reproductive rights movement and link reproductive rights to other social justice issues (such as poverty, environmental justice, and violence).5 Price describes the movement’s three core values as: the right to have an abortion, the right to have children, and the right to parent those children, and that women must be able to freely exercise these rights without coercion.6 By acknowledging and analyzing oppression in this context, the goal is that women of color and other marginalized groups will become “more involved in the political movement for reproductive freedom ”7
Price distinguishes between reproductive justice and “choice” by analyzing the social, political, and cultural context from which it’s framework emerged.8 She explains how a consistent “lack of attention” to issues specifically affecting marginalized women has created
2 Ibid, 43.
3 SisterSong.net
4 Ibid, 42.
5 Ibid, 43.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.


9
“disillusionment” within the pro-choice movement.9 Furthermore, the rhetoric of “choice” is
problematic in that it is “based on a set of assumptions that applies only to a small group of
women who are privileged enough to have multiple choices.”10 Price continues:
Although the “choice” message tactic may have worked in the short run in response to the actions of the conservative anti-abortion countermovement, many reproductive rights activists, especially women of color, believe that choice should not be the longterm or sole goal of the reproductive rights movement.11
So what is the long-term goal? By recognizing that abortion is in many ways linked to other aspects of the human experience that can create barriers for certain individuals based on facets like race, gender, and financial stability, we can begin to see that abortion, in the context of reproductive justice, is less about “choice” as an abstract concept, and more about human rights. Zucker takes this a step further by arguing that reproductive justice is fundamentally about women’s reproductive health, meaning not only access to abortion, but also “compulsory parenthood measures and experiences of labor and delivery,” such as disparaging treatment experienced by women of color while pregnant. Access and experience are two concepts that are not only influenced by social, cultural, geographic and historical contexts, but also appear to be absent from the pro-choice discussion.12 Zucker continues by stating that the “current U.S. context is one in which health care is not viewed as a fundamental human right” and this is where the pro-choice movement has fallen short.13 By
9 Ibid, 46.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Alyssa N. Zucker, “Reproductive Justice: More Than Choice.". Inalyses of Social Issues and Public Policy,
14: 210-213.
13 Ibid.


10
keeping the concept of reproductive rights focused solely on accessing abortions rather than the larger issue of human rights violations, pro-choice rhetoric has not only left out an entire section of marginalized society, but has also overlooked an opportunity to influence the opposition by advocating for the lives of already existing women by using “pro-life” language. Abortion storytelling in the context of reproductive justice rather than the “choice” of an individual has a much better chance of impacting readers that may be anti-abortion, on the fence, or even indifferent because of their ability to better demonstrate the more significant issue of human rights that may ultimately lead to the abortion itself.
Similarly to the pro-choice movement, reproductive justice activists have utilized abortion storytelling as a tool attempting to normalize the abortion experience. However, these activists have taken abortion storytelling a step further by rhetorically creating a space for groups that have been historically marginalized by the mainstream reproductive rights movement.14 This includes women of color, women with disabilities, low-income women, and female-bodied transgender and agender individuals. The main difference between reproductive justice storytelling and mainstream pro-choice abortion storytelling, argues Price, is that reproductive justice activists have “consciously used storytelling as an organizing tool; that is, storytelling is used as a pedagogical tool for consciousness-raising within their respective communities.”15 We can see a distinct difference in the rhetoric of the narratives collected for this thesis from the lin3Campaign.org, ChoiceOutLoud.org, and ProjectVoice.org, because — despite varying details about the experiences of the narrators — their rhetoric is centered on the assumption that the individual’s choice is ever-present, and
14 Price, 44.
15 Ibid.


11
seems to ignore the fact that this is not true for everyone. Conversely, narratives told within a reproductive justice framework such as the Choice/Less podcast not only acknowledged choice as a sometimes separate deviation from the abortion experience altogether, but also makes a point to include stories where the individual’s choices was either gravely restricted or taken away altogether, particularly for marginalized women. In this way, reproductive justice narratives serve as a better overall tool for the reproductive rights movement, because in addition to attempting to normalize the fact that many women will decide abortion is their best option based on their unique set of circumstances, they also demonstrates the injustices that are taking place for many women in trying to obtain a legal abortion. They not only show the prevalence of abortion in the lives of women, but also shed light on existing flaws within a society where this right should be equally accessible to everyone, yet is not. Reproductive justice-specific narratives pull their rhetoric out of the realm of an individuals “choice” and establishes that these stories are grounded in the “collective stories of communities” as well as demonstrates more accurately the prevalence and importance of the need for abortions experienced by all communities.16 Furthermore, these stories reflect how this need is often insufficiently met due specifically to the marginalization of certain groups such as Native women, making abortion a larger human rights issue. Thomsen encourages feminists to rethink “assumptions regarding the political utility of personal narratives” in order to better understand “the relationship of reproductive justice to reproductive rights frameworks”17 Thomsen argues that, “scholars and activists alike often produce these positions as fundamentally different, but in practice, they often overlap in ways that suggest
16 Ibid.
17 Carly Thomsen, "The Politics of Narrative, Narrative as Politic: Rethinking Reproductive Justice Frameworks through the South Dakota Abortion Story." Feminist Formations 27, no. 2 (Summer, 2015): 1-26.


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their deep intertwinement.” 18 Our language shapes the reality of what abortion means, and as we move forward in a society that is often hostile toward abortion, the reproductive rights movement must learn to perfect it’s ability to recount women’s experiences with abortion, outside of a one-dimensional choice framework, so as not to perpetuate the sexist and oppressive beliefs that made abortion so difficult to obtain in the first place. This thesis seeks to aid in the process of making abortion storytelling a productive tool for the reproductive rights movement, rather than remaining a defensive rights-gaining strategy that caters to antiabortion pressures and leaves out the stories of marginalized groups.
Organization
This thesis is organized in the following way: this chapter discusses the difficulties that women may face when attempting to obtain an abortion including misrepresentations about the abortion experience. Here I have also discussed the phenomenon of abortion storytelling and the importance of its purpose in aiding the reproductive rights movement by attempting to normalize the abortion experience for many women. However, I argue that what has developed out of abortion storytelling is primarily within a framework of “choice” rhetoric that effectively leaves out some or all aspects of the abortion experience for marginalized individuals. I also argue that because “choice” is not ever-present or existing in one singular way, that utilizing a reproductive justice rhetorical framework for discussing the abortion experience is a more effective way for the reproductive rights movement to normalize abortion given that it is cognizant of a much wider range of circumstances and is more representative of what is being experienced by individuals seeking abortions throughout the United States.
18 Ibid, 2.


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Chapter II is a literature review that examines how scholars discuss the rhetoric of abortion. This includes ideas about strategically erasing women out of the abortion discussion, the creation of public speak-outs about abortion which have led to the rise in contemporary abortion storytelling on the internet, how abortion discourse has the ability to affect policy, the ethics that lay behind the right to access an abortion and why the antiabortion perspective relies on patriarchal concepts of unquestionable motherhood. In this chapter I provide an analysis of the ways in which certain aspects of the abortion discussion are utilized as tools for the reproductive rights movement, yet because they are often exercised in a defensive rather than offensive way and created within a “choice” framework, they cater to their own opposition and are thus more likely to be ineffective at normalizing the abortion experience. I also discuss how, out of these patterns, a hierarchy has developed within pro-choice language that allows the public to not only dissect the details of each person’s lives but also unfairly determine which situations are “acceptable” for choosing an abortion. This leaves room for complicating the pro-choice abortion discussion in a way that is not seen as often in the firm stance of anti-abortion rhetoric. I end this chapter with a section describing methodology and how the data was collected.
Chapter III consists of my analysis, where I discuss my intent to analyze 100 first-person abortion narratives collected from three websites, ChoiceOutLoud.org, ProjectVoice.org, and the lin3Campaign.org, all of which primarily utilize a “choice” framework. I do this by breaking up the narratives and coding them based on which ones fall into one of three themes: motherhood, success, and regret. I feel that these three themes in particular are the best and most identifiable reflections of patriarchal culture that are present in the abortion discussion, and I critique the ways in which these themes are represented in


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the personal accounts of the individuals experiencing abortion on these websites. Next, I suggest that abortion storytelling through forums utilizing a reproductive justice framework, such as the Choice/Less podcast, are more effective at normalizing the abortion experience because, unlike the “choice” narratives, they do not assume that everyone has the same choices and provide a larger perspective of what the abortion experience actually is.
This shift in language, I conclude in chapter IV, is a direct challenge to the way we talk about abortion, even within the reproductive rights community, and thus confronts patriarchal rhetoric of abortion because it fundamentally accepts new premises about women. I end my contribution to this thesis in chapter V by presenting some assumptions about what it would look like to utilize the reproductive justice rhetorical framework on a larger, more public scale when discussing abortion. I ask whether or not this would begin to mirror the discussions had by other countries with different overall perspectives on abortion, and whether or not changing our language could begin to look essentially “un-American” given that the attitudes represented in the abortion discussion are bom out of a patriarchal, capitalist society. Here I will also discuss overall thoughts on this project, and areas where improvement and future research could be done.


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CHAPTER II
LITERATURE REVIEW AND METHODS
Literature on abortion discourse often focuses on the benefits of public discussions and how this may positively affect legal policy. Yet many feminist authors and scholars also point out how the specific details and rhetorical choices from both the pro-choice and antiabortion arguments can have unique implications for both sides of the issue. Many point out the ways in which pro-choice language has become problematic for the reproductive rights movement. Although overall public opinion about abortion is continuously swayed based on changing cultural climates, it does not change the prevalence of abortion in women’s lives. Thus, first-person accounts of the abortion experience remain in a critical position of power by demonstrating the lived experiences of the women who have them, and thus these women’s stories are constantly affected by and affecting the abortion debate.
The Importance of Abortion Discourse
Reproductive rights activists as well as many feminist scholars recognize that the ability to obtain an abortion is often key when it comes to female self-determination.19 Condit writes that the “breadth and depth” of the impact that the legalization of abortion has had in this country is “not to be underestimated.”20 Indeed, the meaning and practice of abortion is “central to the reproduction of the human species, to our understandings of gender, and to our life ethics.”21 Given that the ability to determine if, when, and how one
19 Kathleen McDonnell, Not An Easy Choice: A Feminist Re-Examines Abortion (Boston, MA: South End
Press, 1984), ii.
20 Celeste Michelle Condit, Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: Communicating Social Change (New York, NY:
Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1989), 1.
21 Ibid.


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becomes a parent is central to maintaining women’s autonomy, these “life ethics” should, in theory, be a paramount argument for the reproductive rights movement. However, ethical reasoning is frequently left out of public discussions about abortions from the pro-choice community and the political left in general. The Democratic Party mantra in regards to abortion has been to keep it “safe, legal and rare,” the emphasis of course being on rare.22 Yet the reality is that abortion has never been rare, even before Roe. Pollitt reminds us that “at the beginning of the nineteenth century effective birth control barely existed and in the 1870’s it was criminalized, even mailing an informational pamphlet about contraceptives was against the law and remained so until 1936.”23 Yet the average number of births per woman declined from around 7 in 1800 to around 3.5 in 1900 to just over 2 in 1930.24 Pollitt asks us to consider: “how do you think that happened?”25
Pollitt makes the argument that in the recent decades since Roe v. Wade, the pro-choice community has failed to represent abortion as “an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child, indeed sometimes more moral.”26 Paris takes this a step further by claiming that an average of two hundred thousand women around the world (especially poor women) that die “as a result of clandestine abortions” is in fact a form of genocide sparked by the anti-abortion policy, pro-life groups and “murderous religions for women” like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.27 This number stands in contrast to a “very
22 Katha Pollitt, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (New York, NY: Picador, 2015), 29.
23 Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, “The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women’s Career and
Marriage Decisions,” Journal of Political Economy 110 (2002), 730-70
24 Pollitt, 16.
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 Ginette Paris, The Sacrament of Abortion (Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, 1992), 17.


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conservative report issued by the World Health Organization” and Paris wonders: “what world court will have the courage to denounce the murder of women as we denounce other human rights abuses.”28 Pollitt says that the reproductive rights movement in the U.S. has spent too much time verbally catering to the cries of abortion opponents by over-emphasizing the fact that “no one is ‘pro-abortion.’” Pollitt asks: “What is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by?” and “Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this world?”29 One of the reasons the ethical argument is so frequently left out of the discussion is that it has the ability to open the door for a range of issues that reflect systematized female oppression. For example, ethical reasoning that women should be able to have a choice about what they do with their bodies also leaves room for the argument of anti-abortion logic that a zygote also has this right, which in theory, is being taken away through the practice of abortion. Dworkin notes:
The scalding rhetoric of the “pro-life” movement seems to propose that the derivative claim that a fetus is from the moment of it’s conception a full moral person with rights and interests equal in importance to those of any other member of the moral community. But very few people, even those who belong to the most vehemently anti-abortion groups, actually believe that, whatever they say.30
Not only do many women who have abortions claim to be against it (as we will see examples of in my analysis of the narratives collected) but also many clinic workers report that they accept patients whom they know are involved with anti-abortion protests, often outside of their own clinic. In fact, part of Planned Parenthood’s employee orientation for clinic
28 Ibid.
29 Pollitt, 16
30 Ronald Dworkin, Life’s Dominion: An Arguememt About Abortion, Euthenasia, and Individual Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1994),13.


18
workers explicitly tells new health center assistants to not only expect this, but also to not acknowledge or discuss this contradiction in the actions of the patient, as this could compromise the level care that the individual receives or provide evidence of bad clinical practice (such as HIPAA violations) for the opposition to use against the organization. Thus, clinic workers must treat women as autonomous beings with full human rights, which falls in line with reproductive rights logic. The underlying issue is arguably not about a zygote having full human rights, but rather women having less than full human rights. This is part of the reason why, according to Pollitt, abortion opponents have been “so effective at shifting the focus of moral concern onto the contents of women’s wombs” and viewing women only as vessels for growing babies.31 Women are not seen as people, but rather, a place where activity occurs. Embryos are considered people that require this woman-place in order to develop into their full potential. Anti-abortion rhetoric has essentially taken women, as people, out of the center of the abortion argument, “stolen the language of morality, and used it to twist public opinion” argues Pollitt.32 “Who can be against ‘life’ after all?”33
Erasing Women
Without women at the center of their own issue, women are effectively viewed as secondary to that of a product of conception, reinforcing patriarchal values of family, motherhood, responsibility, and the idea that women are second-class citizens. This erasing of women out of the abortion discussion is effective for the anti-abortion mindset. In theory,
31Pollitt, 10.
32Ibid, 29.
33Ibid, 29.


19
the term “pro-life” would include the lives of women who become pregnant, as well as the lives of children who have already been born. But as Paris points out, “pro-life” groups have historically paid “scant attention to the misery of abandoned children, despite slogans and messages of love to the contrary, and they are prepared to sacrifice the lives of women” for their cause.34 Thus, the term “pro-life” now means “pro-life-of-the-fetus” only (or zygote, or blastocyst, etc.). It is not just abortion opponents who bolster these oppressive values, says Pollitt; “pro-choicers” are also guilty, particularly by their willingness to remain apathetic to the needs of women at the center of the abortion argument.35 Pollit points out that many people who claim to be “pro-choice” spout blanketed statements about how they think women should only be allowed to have an abortion if they fall into a specific category, such as “only if it’s early enough”, the pregnancy is not viable, her birth control has failed or she cannot afford another child. Within this mindset, abortion is not permissible to women who have lots of sex or who simply do not ever want to become mothers. Even as a clinic worker it can be difficult not to wonder why a patient returning for multiple abortions would repeatedly decline choosing a birth control method. The pro-choice community is wracked with language about women being burdened to deal with the “consequences” of having sex, and we will see this in many of the pro-choice narratives collected for this thesis. Pollitt writes that “a man’s home is his castle, but a woman’s body has never been wholly her own.”36 Thus, “why shouldn’t her body belong to a fertilized egg as well?”37 We cannot expect an individual who views women’s ultimate purpose as having children to understand
34 Paris, 17.
35 Pollitt, 29.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.


20
or empathize with the logic of simply not wanting to be a mother, ever. This is also the case
for other traditional patriarchal values in the United States. McDonnell writes:
Feminist commitment to women’s control over their bodies led logically to demands for freedom from the violence of male battering, freedom from the physical restrictiveness of women’s fashion, and freedom to choose an abortion, among others. Abortion also represented the freedom to make sexual choices independent of reproductive choices.38
If so much of women’s full participation in society hinges on how much control they have over their own bodies, then using women’s bodies as a means to “keep them under surveillance and control” seems like a logical step for those individuals who would like to see women pushed back into traditional gender roles.39 But what are the ways in which the pro-choice community unknowingly caters to these values by selectively talking about abortion in ways that are less confrontational to the anti-abortion position? Part of the problem is that even when the reproductive rights/pro-choice communities put women back at the center of the way we talk about abortion, the language about women and their stories often reinforces patriarchal concepts of motherhood, success, and who should/should not be allowed to have children. In fact, there is a seemingly rigid set of guidelines about which types of individuals “should” or “should not” continue pregnancies or have abortions based on factors such as age, income, relationship status, sexual orientation, etc. The popular reality television serious 16 and Pregnant that first aired in 2009 depicted American teenagers who made decisions to continue their unexpected pregnancies, and public perception was that they were to young, stupid and/or promiscuous to be allowed to make this decision. The belief was that their lack of intelligence could be proven by the fact that they had become pregnant
38 McDonnell, ii.
39 Pollitt, 4.


21
in the first place.40 In a handful of episodes, parents of these young girls would hint at how they had initially tried to coerce their children into having abortions, admitting that they did not want them to “ruin their lives.” Yet Friedman also points out that, overall, an open discussion about abortion as an available option is “suspiciously absent” from the show and suggests a more ominous purpose: to exploit the cultural perceptions of what types of motherhood are acceptable and the conflict of young motherhood (they should accept motherhood as punishment for their behavior but they will never be viewed as acceptable parents because of their age).41 One abortion narrative from the reproductive justice-centered Choice/Less podcast demonstrates another type of discriminatory judgment, featuring an agender (meaning an individual that does not have a specific gender identity or recognizable gender expression), female-bom individual that was questioned by clinic workers for choosing to terminate their pregnancy. Despite insisting that there were many factors in the decision not to continue the pregnancy — primarily that they wanted to dedicate significant attention to further exploring their agender identity and it’s implications before starting a family — medical staff contended that this individual had “no reason” not to embrace motherhood given that they were in a committed relationship, middle-aged and financially stable. The result was the individual had to unfairly justify and convince health care professionals that they deserved to have an abortion in a way that many women would never have to.42
40 May Friedman, “T00% Preventable’: Teen Motherhood, Morality, and The Myth of Choice,” in MTV and Teen Pregnancy, ed. Letizia Guglielmo (Scarecrow Press, 2013), 75.
41 Ibid.
42 JackRR. Evans, Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire, https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March
1, 2017).


22
Why Speak Out?
Abortion storytelling and public speak-outs led by women about ending their pregnancies are far from a new tactic of the reproductive rights community in an effort to normalize abortion. The first issue of Ms. Magazine published a piece, titled “We Have Had Abortions,” that was signed by “more than fifty prominent women” such as Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Billie Jean King, Lee Grant, and Lillian Heilman.43 Even Margaret Sanger’s 1928 book Motherhood in Bondage contains excerpts from letters written to her by women desperate to avoid and/or end pregnancy. Their confessions of the circumstances leading them to seek out her help could be seen as a precursor to contemporary abortion storytelling. First-person abortion storytelling is unique because the narrators can openly discuss what it’s actually like to have an abortion, (rather than leave it up to the potentially negative interpretation of someone who has never had one). Joffee points out how clinic workers are given an appreciation “of the concrete realities of abortion and contraception” through their interaction with clients.44 Yet the clients themselves are given their own individual understanding of these realities based on what happened, what they think happened, the details that may have affected their experience with having an abortion, and their beliefs about abortion before, during, and after having one. In one sense, their perspective is limiting, but it differs from the perspective of the clinic worker in that it is a lived experience of the individual. Emphasizing the importance of abortion as an option for maintaining female autonomy, much of the language of abortion deals specifically with the ways in which
43 Pollitt, 22.
44 Carole Joffee, The Regulation of Sexuality: Experiences of Family Planning Workers (Philadelphia, PA:
Temple University Press, 1986), 13.


23
legal power is “intimately intertwined” with what people believe, the stories they tell, and the “ways that they choose to behave.”45 Today, the growing popularity of pro-choice-centered abortion storytelling operates under the idea that simply by talking openly about women’s experiences of abortion (how/why they exercised their choice), policies will ultimately work in favor of the reproductive rights movement. Abortion storytelling websites such as lin3Campaign.org state that their mission is “to build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support for access to basic health care” by encouraging women to participate in public storytelling of their own abortions.46 In this way, many of the implied ethical issues that result in choosing an abortion can begin to reveal themselves without having to be sharply discussed. While campaigns such as these certainly succeed at highlighting the difference between laws as they exists on the books and how they are lived in real life, Wilson states that they are also “particularly suited to produce challenges to the state’s claim to monopolize law, both in terms of the arguments that movements make and the actions they take.”47 Increases in abortion storytelling have shed light on the extreme and sometimes, desperate situations that lead women to seek out an abortion: circumstances that in many cases, lawmakers cannot grasp. Although there are often patterns to abortion stories, making it a community issue rather than an individualized one, the circumstances faced are often women-specific, and thus overlooked or down-played by patriarchal society. In some cases, the details of women’s lives that lead them to choose an abortion can be so unique that they are difficult to account for while implementing policy. Pollitt discusses how unrealistic many
45 Joshua C. Wilson, The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2013), 17.
461 in 3 Campaign, “The 1 in 3 Campaign: These Are Our Stories,” last modified 2016,
http://www. Iin3campaign.org/.
47 Wilson,18.


24
people’s perceptions and views on abortion actually are, and she asks us to consider this when making generalized statements. For example, many individuals state that they feel abortion is only permissible in cases of rape and incest, to which Pollitt asks: “How do you define a rape victim?”48 Does this only include “ones who promptly reported their rape to the police? Only ones whom the police believed? Only ones whose rapist were caught and confessed their guilt? What happens when the accused rapist claims the sex was consensual, as so many of them do?”49 By asking these questions we can see how further restrictions on abortions only complicates the issue to such a degree that it would likely increase the number of second and third trimester abortions simply because the process of sifting through each case would be so arduous.50 By trying to highlight the real-world implications of restricting abortion we can begin to gain a better understanding of how the language of opinion polls measures just how much people know/understand about abortion know, which is often very little. Abortion storytelling also highlights the ways in which accessing an abortion can be so arduous that many feminist activists consider this lack of access to be a form of cruelty toward women, particularly when terminating a pregnancy is a matter of life and death. Stories about mothers desperately needing a dilation and curettage to save their lives and hospitals refusing to do so because of state laws that target any form of abortion practice past a certain gestational age are becoming an increasingly popular angle for pro-choice storytelling.
48 Pollitt, 50.
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid, 56.


25
Given that the majority of politicians working so adamantly to enact anti-abortion policy are men, they are more likely to be removed from understanding the complexity of women’s circumstances when faced with needing access to an abortion. Pollitt points out how dangerous this lack of understanding can be when it comes to creating law, because “there are many things other people do that you think you would never do,” especially “if there is, in fact, no possibility that you will ever be called upon to decide, as is the case with men and abortion.”51 This is why putting women back at the center of their own stories is key when it comes to normalizing abortion as well as policy-making. Not only does it remind us whom the story is about, but it also helps us to see how as a society we are all simultaneously affected by and affecting women’s ability to have control over their bodies. According to Wilson, “by narrowing the focus from the larger political stories told about them [women who have abortions] by those involved, these cases present the ability to learn about the decentralized and interactive process of creating law and legal power.”52 After all, abortion “does not happen on the edge of society, community, and family” writes Pollitt, but rather “it is enmeshed in the way we live, it requires the cooperation of many people beyond the woman herself.”53 Yet this is far from the way that abortion rights advocates often talk about abortion in the United States.
Ultimately, the controversy generated by women’s lives and stories about abortion came to reflect and be revised by public discourse following Roe v. Wade.54 The reproductive rights movement has operated under the assumption that any discourse at all will begin to
51 Pollitt, 38.
52 Ibid.
53 Pollitt, 39.
54 Condit, 2.


26
reveal the reasons and justifications for choosing abortion, with the intent of helping people to reconcile others choices with what is often seen as an immoral act. Pollitt asks the question: “how many people have said abortion should be legal but they would never have one, and who then end up having one?”55 Pollitt highlights how people’s judgment about women’s decisions to have abortions is not relevant to the legal status of abortion as a whole.56 Yet we often see these negative images and judgments impact how pro-choice language remains defensive and reactive. Thus people’s right to access abortions are constantly under threat. A 2014 report published by Planned Parenthood Federation of America reviews a collection of literature on the emotional effects of abortion. The report references a previous 2008 report from the American Psychological Association, which found no increase in “psychological hazards” to women who obtained abortions since 1989.57 In fact, the APA notes that it does not formally recognize “post-abortion syndrome” (PAS) as a formal diagnosis, stating that previous studies done on PAS have been “self-selected” and are “not typical of U.S. women who obtain abortions.”58 Yet anti-abortion groups and even politicians frequently indicate this condition as a major risk to women’s health. Thomsen analyzes the discourse from the 2006 Vote Yes for Life campaign in order to demonstrate not only how pervasive this type of language is but also how pro-choice discourse in many ways aids in this process by conjuring up images of “a person (woman)
55 Pollitt, 37.
56 Ibid.
57 “The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America, last modified
February, 2014.
58 American Psychological Association, “Report of the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion,”
American Psychological Association, 2008.


27
making a choice (to abort).”59 The campaign critiqued abortion by attempting to discuss the ways in which it harms women, and Thomsen argues that this image of a woman making a choice leaves rooms for anti-abortion groups to mimic the same discourse of victimization and privacy used by abortion rights advocates.60 Even the framework of privacy, on which the entire legality of abortion rests based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, is utilized by abortion opponents who claim that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for other peoples choices.61
Despite women consistently demonstrating that for the majority of the time, abortion is not the life-long mournful, traumatic and regretful experience that they have been taught to believe, pro-choice public figures continue to incorporate this ineffective language into their discussions on the topic. Even Hillary Clinton, while publicly endorsed by Planned Parenthood during the 2016 presidential election, described abortion as “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.”62 What she failed to mention was that for many others, abortion was/is “a blessing and a lifesaver ”63 Pro-choice abortion storytelling, should, in theory, aim at redirecting notoriously negative images of abortion and the women who have them, toward more of an understanding about why they come make this decision. It should also attempt to avoid attributing an additional sense of negativity to the experience that abortion opponents so frequently warn women about, because the reality for many women is that abortion is not necessarily good or bad, but simply a part of life. Overall, the “images” of
59 Thomsen, 8.
60 Ibid.
61 Ibid.
62 Pollitt, 28.
63 Pollitt. 29.


28
women who have abortions and why they have them has the ability to shift policy-making,
sometimes in favor of upholding the right to access an abortion, and sometimes not.
This stands in contrast to how the pro-choice movement has in many ways allowed
negative public discourse to aid in the chipping away of access along with the
implementation of TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers). Wilson employs a
description of the three ways in which “narrative” has the potential to enter scholarly work in
this case: that it can be present as either “the object of inquiry, the method of
inquiry... [and/or] the product of inquiry.”64 He points out here that the subjects of abortion
narratives are of “particular interest.”65 This is not only because of their status as the subjects
of a social movement itself, but because as citizens they are also involved as “officers in the
formal institutional process of creating and sustaining official state legal power,”66 and as
such, deemed the only ones who can legitimately wield and invoke abortion law. Pollitt
provides us with examples of how even in the most conservative anti-abortion states many
laws fail to pass, demonstrating the actual need for abortion services.
So far, personhood amendments have universally failed at the ballot box, even in Mississippi, where voters rejected one, Proposition 26, in 2011. This loss was widely hailed as a major pro-choice victory: If voters in one of the nation’s most conservative and most religious states wouldn’t pass it, who would?67
After all, Steinem writes that the point of democracy is not what gets decided, but rather who
decides, thus the possible consequences of Mississippi’s Proposition 26 (such as the idea of
investigating every single miscarriage as a possible crime) was too extreme even for anti-
64 Wilson, 20.
65 Ibid.
66 Ibid.
67 Pollitt, 85.


29
choice voters.68 Yet, it is important to note that a major argument resulting in this victory was not about women having a right to end a pregnancy, or even to use emergency contraception. The focus for many was on the “possible dangers posed by the measure to fertility treatments, stem-cell research, and hormonal contraception.”69 Once again, the issue becomes less about women’s needs, and more about the possible threat to the medical community aiding in having more babies. Condit also remarks on the importance, as well as the danger, of how specific language within these narratives are used. Condit suggests that “once such competing vocabularies are developed, advocates frequently move the discussion into the domain of the law in order to place the coercive power of the state behind their vocabularies and, hence, their interests.”70 She provides the example of how during the 1970’s State legislators began a formal process of “adjudicating” between the terms “choice” and “life” in order to “produce a legitimated set of terms” that would guide public action.71 The competing vocabularies were the result of one side attempting to articulate women’s interests, as well as the opposing side articulating the interests of preserving traditional patriarchal values and power structures.72 Condit explains that in the case of Roe v. Wade, “the courts decision then embroiled the national Congress directly in the public negotiation process.”73 The result, Condit argues, was that the negotiation process and the Court’s
68 Gloria Steinem, “Foreward,” in The Choices We Made, ed. Angela Bonavoglia (New York: Random House,
Inc., 1991), xiii
69 Pollitt, 85.
70 Condit, 96.
71 Ibid.
72 Ibid.
73 Ibid.


30
ultimate ruling in the case of Roe shifted public meaning of the word “Choice” as well as reshaped the concept of fetal “Life.”74
Perhaps this is part of the reason why abortion continues to remain such a heated political issue. We simply are not using the right language to demonstrate the range of complexities that pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion can be for women. Pollitt makes the case that these are not only physical and medical experiences, but that they are “social experiences that, in modern America, just as when abortion was criminalized in the 1870’s, serve to restrict women’s ability to participate in society on equal footing with men.”75 Meanwhile, “anti-abortionists have come to monopolize the current language and drama of public debate about abortion,” says McDonnell.76 After all, negative language about abortion is so effective that it has become the overall tone of abortion even in pro-choice public discussions. Abortion is no longer the “unspeakable” subject once was, but it is often discussed in the context of being a sad and shameful discussion filled with undertones of regret. McDonnell reminds us that the powerful language used by anti-abortion groups was developed “in reaction to the success of feminists in winning important reforms and in challenging psychological and structural patterns of gender inequality.”77 McDonnell recalls a sign outside of a National Right To Life Committee convention in 1982 that read: “Abortion is Violence Against Women and Third World People.”78 Although the message is referring specifically violence against women and the “unborn” through the practice of
74 Ibid.
75 Pollitt, 9.
76 McDonnell ix.
77 Ibid.
78 Ibid.


31
abortion based on factors such as race and class, it seems to misinterpret the fact that in many ways violence against women, particularly marginalized women, can also come in the form of being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies. First trimester abortion carries a risk of less than 0.05% chance of major complications that may require medical care.79 This stands in contrast to the 18.5 deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S. found by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.80 Yet narratives such as risk and death remain incredibly pervasive because what abortion opponents lack in numbers they often make up for with passionate language.81 With this in mind, we can see the potential power held in choosing not to remain silent on an issue that affects a large number of American women, because language often shapes society’s perception of that issue. We need to be conscious of how we may be perpetuating negative ideas about abortion while discussing it more openly. Feminist legal scholars argue that a major flaw in the discussion led by abortion rights groups is a reliance on “pro-privacy, pro-family, and anti-government intrusion rhetoric” instead of human rights.82 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg even argued how “the Supreme Court should have legalized abortion on the ground of equality rather than privacy ”83 Use of words like “privacy,” on which to base the reproductive rights argument, are specifically chosen rather than terms that get at the heart of the issue like “equality”
79 Weitz TA et al., “Safety of Aspiration Abortion Performed By Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse
Midwives, and Physician Assistants Under A California Legal Waiver,” American Journal of Public Health, 2013, 103(3),454-461.
80 “Global, regional, and national levels and causes of maternal mortality during 1990-2013: a systematic
analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013,” The Lancet.com, last modified September 12, 2014, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/joumals/lancet
81 Pollitt, 59.
82 Thomsen, 2.
83Pollitt, 9.


32
because they are considered more appealing and digestible. Perhaps the topic of female equality is too controversial for a culture with deeply held patriarchal values that it is too risky to insert into an already exhausting and complicated discourse of abortion in the U.S. The more complex question however, is to what end are these methods of selective language within storytelling considered effective or ineffective?
Ethics Behind The Rights
Wilson, through his analysis of high court anti-abortion regulation cases, notes that the pro-choice movement has become increasingly less pro-active and more reactive about abortion rights in the years since Roe, particularly in regards to their use of language and invoking the law. This could in part explain the resilience of abortion politics:
Through these cases we see how abortion-rights activists have largely taken a defensive stance that reacts to, rather than initiates action against their opponents. In the decades since Roe, the abortion-rights movement has yet to find a way to take the offensive, control the political discussion, or sustain popular involvement. They have come to be both behind and significantly subject to the anti-abortion movement's actions. As a result, they show no signs of being able to slow, let alone end the ongoing movement-countermovement conflict over abortion. Rather, they can only perpetuate it.
What is the reason behind this deadlock? One idea for why it may be difficult to sustain interest (even from individuals who claim to be “pro-choice”) is that many people simply do not think about the difficulties surrounding the abortion issue unless they are confronted with a situation where they (or someone they know/love) are in need of one. At the very least, people are compelled to take interest when they hear a tragic story about how a woman in an unfortunate situation needs one, and this is part of the intention behind abortion storytelling 84
84Ibid


33
as a tool for the reproductive rights. Yet these stories are often extreme and fail to represent the majority of women who still need access to abortions even when their life is not as risk. Surely, a lack of personal interest cannot be the entire explanation for why the movement is often at a standstill. Perhaps part of the answer lies in the ethics behind the right to access an abortion itself. Anti-abortion activists often ignore the earlier point made by Pollitt about how one's opinion about abortion does not, in theory, prevent another individual from upholding their right to access one. Despite this, the blocking of clinic access and the development of state-level TRAP laws to patients has continued to take on new and creative forms for the anti-abortion movement. On the other side of this spectrum, the reproductive rights movement not only has an obligation to help ordinary patients obtain access, but also to help those individuals who identify as anti-abortion advocates obtain access to abortions as well. As mentioned earlier abortion clinic workers are often trained to expect that some individuals may be seen protesting outside of the health center one day, come into the clinic for an appointment the next, and then be seen back on the picket line the day after that. The popular phrase of reasoning being: My situation is different. Upholding the same axiom of abortion care and protection for individuals that identify as anti-abortion puts organizations like Planned Parenthood in an unusual position of being silenced in order to provide the same standard of care. Doing too much on the offensive might hinder the movement’s ability to remain accessible to its patient population who so desperately need it. Yet doing nothing puts them as risk of being defunded and put out of business. This is part of the reason why much of the language that we see from the reproductive rights movement never quite seems to get at the heart of the issue, because the realities of the issue are often unspeakable and violate the privacy of others. Thus, according to Wilson, while one side of these cases is illustrative


34
of a movement that faces difficulty in spite of success, the other side provides examples of a movement that is in many ways successful in spite of it's failures.85
Questioning Motherhood
In many ways, the reproductive rights movement has been just as successful as antiabortion groups in keeping women out of the center of the issue when it comes to the language of abortion. This is seen in how often the conversations about the abortion experience are redirected toward other situations surrounding women’s lives. By shifting the focus away from the concept of female equality (in the sense that women simply have a right to not want to continue a pregnancy, without reason), and toward a sense of female equality that is centered around more material and capitalist ideas such as, education, or finances, the story becomes more about the “things” that are being obtained by having the abortion, rather than the abortion itself, or the person having one. This is something that is more digestible to the general public, because it does not challenge patriarchal concepts of women being mothers above all else. In fact, most of the narratives collected for this thesis make some mention of the subjects already being mothers, either before or after the abortion. In others, their intent to become mothers eventually is sharply emphasized. The concept of “maternal instinct” distracting from open discussions about women’s sexual autonomy is far from new.86 Gordon describes how many nineteenth-century women’s rights advocates would use
85 Ibid.
86 Linda Gordon, “Voluntary Motherhood: The Beginnings of Feminist Birth Control Ideas in the United
States,” Feminist Studies 1, no. 3/t (1973): 8.


35
“presumed ‘special motherly nature’ and ‘sexual purity’ of women as arguments for
increasing their freedom and status.”87 Gordon writes:
In many nineteenth-century writings we find the idea that the maternal instinct was the female analog of the male sex instinct; it was as if the two instincts were seated in analogous parts of the brain, or soul. Thus to suggest, as feminists did, that women might have the capacity for sexual impulses of their own automatically tended to weaken the theory of the maternal instinct.88
Even today, pro-choice rhetoric indulges the belief that if women can justify their sexuality,
and the need to carefully consider family planning with their desire to become mothers
“when the time is right.” This way, the concept of women being more sexually active and
utilizing birth control is much more admissible. Gordon remarks on how the circumstances
surrounding the founding of Planned Parenthood demonstrate the reproductive rights
movements desire to detach itself from its earlier radical connotations of sexual promiscuity.
All the names proposed took the focus away from women and placed it on families and children. All were designed to have as little sexual connotation as possible. Planned Parenthood advocates sought to treat the family and, in particular, the married couple within it as a unit, capable of common decisions. They consciously wanted to de-emphasize the feminist connotation that still clung to birth control.89
Indeed, the very idea of birth control rests on a “full acceptance, at least quantitatively, of female sexuality” which even today is only permissible with the presumption that women will have children one day.90 However, abortion takes away this part of the equation, leaving only female sexuality. The underlying attitude being that if women want independence, integrity, as well as personal, financial and social growth, she must simply not have sex, or she must keep any trace of her sexuality completely out of view. Becoming pregnant
87 Ibid.
88 Ibid.
89 Carole Joffe, The Regulation of Sexuality (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1986), 21.
90 Gordon, 8.


36
automatically “outs” women as sexually active beings, and gives the public a reason to cast judgment and demand that she gladly accept her punishment and highest calling: motherhood.
With this concept of punishment in mind, one of the benefits of women sharing the stories of how they came to have abortions is that is breaks down the idea that it is so easy for women to control their reproductive health and that they “should have known better.” Never mind the fact that no birth control method is 100% effective. The CDC reports that with typical use of combined hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, patch, or ring, 6-12 pregnancies will result in every 100 women.91 Pollitt also remarks on how a lack of proper sex education and discussions on reproduction with healthcare providers leads to an alarmingly high number of women who are kept from having a full understanding of how they can get pregnant.92 Many women share in their abortion stories the difficulties they had in finding, obtaining, and continuing birth control methods due to financial issues or problems with insurance coverage. Others’ lack of sexual education has led to a complete ignorance of what their risk for pregnancy was in the first place, or how to properly use a birth control method once they obtained one. I’ve spoken directly with several women who believed they could never get pregnant simply because they never had been up until that point. Still, one problem is that the myriad of scenarios that result in unintended pregnancies (while they may provide an eye-opening perspective for many readers on just how accidents do happen) does not combat the mindset that women should be less sexual. In fact, many of the themes discovered during my analysis of the narratives collected for this thesis invoke
91 “Reproductive Health: Effectiveness of Family Planning Methods,” CDC.gov, last modified February 9th,
2017, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception
92 Pollitt, 154.


37
(whether intentionally or unintentionally) seemingly counter-productive concepts of how women should think, feel, and behave. This is why abortion storytelling as a tool should be utilized carefully.
Useful Tools
Without proper analysis of the ways in which the subjects of abortion narratives discuss their experiences, we cannot determine their efficiency as tools for the reproductive rights movement. This includes the ways in which internalized oppression and patriarchal language may be unconsciously emitted throughout the narratives. In some cases, abortion storytelling may have the opposite effect of what was intended by the narrator. That being said, what are the ways in which the language of abortion-rights storytelling can be improved in order to better ensure that it has the affects for which they were intended? Feminist scholars point out that, along with a rise in abortion storytelling among public figures, there is also an increase in attaching a level of “success” to the narratives themselves, or as Condit describes it, expressing the desire for a career or a life of “one’s own,” factors which she points out are often labeled as “convenience” by abortion opponents.93 Statements situated within abortion narratives such as “I currently have my masters and teach at the college level”94 succeed in once sense by showing what could be possible for some women. In addition to the fact that they speak to only a limited number of women for whom this type of “success” is possible, they also unconsciously play into the belief that a certain kind of reason is needed for wanting to terminate a pregnancy.
93 Condit 96.
94 Rebecca Ruiz, “I am Sick of Being Silenced: 14 Women Share Their Abortion Stories,” Maskable, last
modified March 6, 2016, http://mashable.eom/2016/03/06/abortion-stigma-women-stories


38
We also cannot forget the rhetorically compelling, politically/socially acceptable, and often “prime-time” displayed case for women needing to rid themselves of a rapist’s child, or seek out an abortion because their life depends on it.95 Ludlow describes a “constructed gap” between what is experienced at clinics and “how we talk about those experiences” while reflecting back on her time as an abortion clinic worker.96 Ludlow claims that the “pro-choice political perspective” has developed a hierarchy out of a defensive stance that has “circumscribed our own discourse.”97 Situated at the top of this hierarchy is what Ludlow claims to be the “politically necessary” narratives (“rape/incest/domestic violence victims’ difficulty in obtaining abortion services, clinic personnel’s struggles with anti-abortion protestors, the risks of illegal abortion to women’s health and welfare”).98 Ludlow suggests that these narratives are central to maintaining public support for abortion rights and access.99 Second place in the hierarchy are the politically, or socially acceptable narratives (including “contraceptive failure rates, a young mother’s financial inability to support another child, fetal anomaly cases,” etc.).100 Although these narratives “raise potentially difficult questions about personal choice and responsibility,” Ludlow states that they work by representing “situations in which most Americans can empathize, thereby posing no threat to continued public support for abortion rights and access.”101 The bottom of the hierarchy is inhabited by
95 Condit, 124.
96 Jeannie Ludlow, “The Things We Cannot Say: Witnessing the Trauma-tization of Abortion in the United
States,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1 & 2 (2008): 30.
97 Ibid.
98 Ludlow, 29.
99 Ibid.
100 Ibid, 30.
101 Ibid.


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what one of Ludlow’s coworkers had coined as “the things we cannot say.” Ludlow describes this level as follows:
These are narratives of abortion experience that, while often exploited in anti-abortion discourse, are generally not considered part of Pro-Choice public discourse in the United States; they are narratives of multiple abortions; of failure or refusal to use contraceptives (correctly, consistently, or at all); of grief after abortion; and of the economics of abortion provision.102
Reluctance to close this gap out of fear that it will provide rhetorical ammunition for the opposition is precisely where the pro-choice community has failed in bringing abortion storytelling to it’s full potential. If the goal is to normalize the abortion experience, this movement has consistently fallen short by unknowingly contributing to a belief that (a) All women have the same choices, and (b) That their choices require “reasons” that will rarely justify their actions. What has unintentionally been presented is an ideology suggesting that with abortion storytelling, women must first and foremost defend their choices while advocating for the right to choose. The socially and politically accepted “reasons” to have an abortion, once they are deemed sufficient, can often be materialistic and reinforce patriarchal concepts that women should be mothers above all else, as well as set the bar for what constitutes “good” and/or “acceptable” motherhood.
In many ways the abortion conversation seems to completely leave out women who simply do not want to have children. The language of family planning services has often emphasized putting off childbearing in the moment in order to do it “better” (or in a more culturally acceptable fashion) at a later time. Condit points out that legal rhetoric leading up to Roe was careful to limit recognition of the reproductive freedom which women deserve, and instead emphasize reasons for abortion that did not “challenge the myth of idealized
102 Ibid.


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motherhood.”103 Reti discusses how a maternal revivalist occurrence has led feminism to betray women who wish to remain childless for the sake being childless.104 Snitow also writes:
It’s been some time since feminists demanding abortion have out front and center the idea that one good use to which one might put this right is to choose not to have kids at all. Chastised in the Reagan years, pro-choice strategists understandably have emphasized the right to wait, to space one’s children, to have each child wanted. They feared invoking any image that could be read as withdrawal from the role of nurturer.105
Thus, in many pro-choice abortion narratives we see supplemental and often explanatory justifications such as: “I am now married and have two beautiful children whom I adore more than life itself.”106 To what degree is information such as this pertinent to the story or the overall message of normalizing abortion? Does it help the narrator feel safer? Or more justified? Does have the potential to do more harm than good? Of course there is some underlying reason why the narrator chose to include this information. It adds something to the meaning that she has assigned to her story. What that meaning is, we can only assume, is a type of response to the hostile attitudes and discourses that continue to surround the abortion experience.
Pro-Choice Oversight
This thesis seeks to understand the meanings of abortion stories assigned by the narrators themselves and understand why certain types of language are chosen, and why
1113 Condit, 124.
1114 Irene Reti. Childless by Choice: A Feminist Anthology. (Santa Cruz, CA: HerBooks, 1992), 1
1115 Ann Snitow. “Motherhood: Reclaiming the Demon Texts”, quoted in Irene Reti, Childless By Choice: A
Feminist Anthology” (Santa Cruz, CA: HerBooks, 1992), 1.
1116 Ruiz, “Sick of Being Silenced.


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others are intentionally or unintentionally left out. By analyzing the ways in which the “choice” paradigm unintentionally reinforces patriarchal ideologies about women and motherhood, we can begin to see how the rhetoric of many pro-choice abortion storytelling projects is not only privileged, but also falsely assumes that all women have the same kinds choices when it comes to abortion. These narratives effectively leave marginalized women out of the abortion discussion, thus hindering overall progress for the reproductive rights movement. Just as important as the normalization of abortion language, critiquing the language itself through both a feminist and reproductive justice lens is equally important to ending other diminutive types of stigmas that exist in the space surrounding the abortion experience.
Methodology
The purpose of this data collection and analysis is to demonstrate that first-person abortion stories collected by websites and blogs under the “pro-choice” framework have insufficiently served as tools for the reproductive rights movement. In this section, I will outline how I collected 100 first-person narratives from three different websites about women’s individual experience with abortion: lin3Campaign.org, ChoiceOutLoud.org, and ProjectVoice.org and coded each narrative within 1 of 3 different themes: Motherhood, Success and Regret. In each section, I will discuss specific aspects of the language chosen throughout some of the stories in order to demonstrate how they unintentionally reinforce patriarchal concepts about women, and reflect how the women telling their own stories can internalize these attitudes. I then go on to provide examples of narratives collected from the Choice/Less podcast, which I feel best represents a reproductive justice-centered abortion


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storytelling project, and attempt to demonstrate the fundamental shift in the language used in these narratives by comparing the rhetoric of the podcast to those of the pro-choice website narratives. Given that I am unable to copy 100 narratives into this section, I have created appendices for both the pro-choice and reproductive justice narratives that are mentioned throughout this thesis. The appendices show the full content of each story being analyzed in order to provide a better context for my critique. I have been advised by my chair to keep these separate, given how immense the collection is, however electronic copies of the appendices are available by request. The example narratives provided are only a small percentage of what was actually collected for my research.
Sample/Sampling
There are many dimensions to abortion narratives, thus the process of collecting particular types of stories for the purpose of this thesis needed to be selective. To start, I wanted the narratives to be specifically first-person accounts of women’s own experiences with having an abortion. A surprising number of narratives that were posted on websites were second-hand accounts of someone else’s experience as told by a friend, a male partner, or a daughter of someone who had obtained an illegal abortion. One reason for avoiding these accounts was that I felt they were more susceptible to falling into anti-abortion language patterns, and in many cases were centered on the thoughts and feelings of how the abortion affected others, rather than the experiences of women who had them. Given that one goal of this thesis is to understand the meanings assigned to the narratives by the women who tell their stories, it did not make sense to include stories told by other individuals on behalf of someone else. Although some stories on the websites were told by daughters and often tried


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to highlight the difficulties that their mother’s experienced obtaining an abortion in a pre Roe era, I felt it was important to make sure that the narratives that were collected had taken place post-Aoe in order to demonstrate that just because abortion is legal, does not mean it is any less difficult for women to obtain or discuss openly. One purpose of women sharing their abortion is to demonstrate the extreme circumstances women will often endure to obtain one, similarly to those women who did so illegally. This allows readers to understand that despite abortion being legal, many women are still forced to endure inexorable violations of their rights and privacy, such as mandatory waiting periods, being forced to look at multiple ultrasounds, listening to heartbeats as well as accept false information about risks to their health, and even being blocked access to clinic entrances.
The next condition for my process of selection was heavily informed by my experience as a clinic worker, and the fact that for almost all of the patients I work with in a given day, the experience of having the abortion itself does not to appear to be as traumatic as we are often made to believe based on public discourse about abortions. It seems that for my patients, their biggest complaint lies with the previously mentioned difficulties in obtaining the abortion, but the procedure itself hardly seems to be the agonizingly weighty issue that it is portrayed as by oppositional rhetoric. Although many abortion story-sharing websites attempt to be unbiased and allow both positive and negative accounts of the abortion experience to be shared publicly, I wanted to look explicitly at stories that were at least intended to be accounts of overall positive experiences, meaning the narrators made some mention of how they feel it was their best option at the time. More specifically, I wanted the narratives to be “pro-choice” in their overall message, intended to be used as strategies of social change, and to see how socially negative concepts of morality and ideas


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about women could permeate these stories due to an over-emphasis on the “choice” paradigm. I felt this would allow me to start asking the larger question of who has these choices? I made a point to not to collect stories containing overt statements about the individuals having the privilege of a choice, which was not difficult because the entire framework of the websites I collected the narratives from seemed to be centered, perhaps unintentionally, on “choice” being presumed or even a guideline for their publication. The mission statements of the three websites were listed as follows: lin3Campaign. org
“The 1 in 3 Campaign is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion - telling our stories on our own terms. Together, we can end the stigma and shame women are made to feel about abortion. As we share our stories we begin to build a culture of compassion, empathy and support for access to basic health care.
It’s time for us to come out in support of each other and in support of access to legal and safe abortion care in our communities. The 1 in 3 Campaign builds on the success of prior social change movements, harnessing the power of storytelling to engage and inspire action and strengthen support for abortion access. By encouraging women who have had abortions to end their silence, share their stories, and start a new and more personal conversation about abortion in our society, the 1 in 3 Campaign will help create a more enabling cultural environment for the policy and legal work of the abortion rights movement.”
Project Voice
“Millions of women have abortions, yet many feel secretive and alone in their decision. By bringing together personal stories, Project Voice hopes to establish a resource of sharing and support. The more people who share their stories here, the more accurately Project Voice can represent the multiplicities of abortion experiences.”
Choice Out Loud
“The cornerstone of Choice Out Loud is storytelling. This generation shared stories in many different ways: on social media, in videos, in pictures, and in person. Because choice is a personal issue, not everyone is comfortable sharing their story. But hearing people speak out can help encourage others to do the same. Choice Out Loud is a Millennial-led effort to highlight these stories and help amplify the conversation that this generation is having about choice.”


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I would like to point out that the first two websites do not specifically assert in their mission statements that they are operating within a pro-choice framework. However, I feel that because their intention is to end stigma around abortion itself by demonstrating how women enact their choice to have a legal abortion, they still fall within the choice-framework. Conversely, the Choice/Less podcast demonstrates how sharing stories within a reproductive justice framework works toward ending the stigma that women (or female-bodied trans and agender individuals) who have abortions face because of their decision, and the ways in which their choices are not all the same based on factors such as race, class, sexual orientation or disability. The Choice/Less podcast does not have a mission statement. It is a product of Rewire news, a non-profit online publication dedicated to investigating and analyzing issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice. It is also not only about abortion storytelling; the podcast regularly discusses injustices faced by marginalized individuals with intersecting identities in regards to other issues of health, sexuality and reproductive justice. However, I feel that the abortion stories provided by this website do a better job of discussing the abortion experience within a reproductive justice framework that is useful for serving abortion-rights advocacy in the United States.
Data Collection
Rather than attempt to discover the many themes that could continue to appear in the narratives over time, I decided to look at three specific themes for the purpose of critiquing the language used throughout the narratives: Motherhood, Success and Regret. Scaling the analysis down to these three basic themes most strongly demonstrates the ways in which patriarchal language is reflected throughout different accounts of the abortion experience.


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Some attention is paid to certain aspects of the narratives that are absent, or rather, the negative space existing within each narrative (i.e. what is NOT said), but only to the degree that these three themes are reflected in that space.
The narratives were coded using a latent method, paying attention to the hidden or inferred themes rather than specific words. This is in order to avoid self-selection of specific words and phrases that may influence my research in any particular way. Instead, the purpose of latent coding will be to examine overarching themes of the narratives collected. For example, rather than looking for narratives specifically containing the word “regret,” this analysis will instead look for overall themes of regret that may appear in the story despite the specific types of words used. Another example would be to look at how motherhood appears in the narratives (i.e. phrases such as “I now have children that I love because I was able to have an abortion back then”), and examine how this may reinforce certain ideas of how abortions are acceptable so long as women eventually chose to become mothers.
The narratives were collected and coded into groups based on which themes were represented the most throughout their language. The theme of motherhood was the easiest identify, as this came down to finding phrases that made reference to the fact that the abortion was either for the sake of their already living and/or unborn future children. In this sense the goal of the abortion was to better plan for/carry out motherhood and emphasize the importance of doing this in a “correct” way, keeping in line with the patriarchal belief that motherhood is what is most important for women. The narratives that fell into the category of regret, though they did not specifically mention the term “regret,” were chosen based on factors such as the narrator stating that despite their abortion being the best decision they still have lingering thoughts of guilt, or perhaps will annually commemorate the would-be


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birthday of the child they never had. Others would discuss in detail how they suffered extreme periods of depression following their abortion, or feel that they never fully recovered emotionally. The success narrative was slightly more difficult to identify, because the concept of “success” seemed to mean different things for different women. In some cases, narratives contained more than one dominant theme, such as the combination of motherhood and success. These two themes were often grouped together because, for many women, the definition of finding success after having an abortion meant going on to have children in better circumstances at a later time, or “successfully” raising the children they already had. The most obvious representation was when the narrators discussed their success in terms of academic achievements, financial stability, or career advancement. However, more subtle representations of success could be found in narratives discussing topics like mental health issues, or abuse, where success was determined by the fact that the narrator simply survived.
These three websites were chosen based on several factors. The lin3Campaign.org had frequently come up in discussions about abortion while forming the idea for this thesis. It has become a popular abortion story-sharing website based off of it’s association with the Guttmacher statistic that 1 in 3 women in the United States will have an abortion, a number that I believe people find to be higher than they often expected. Both ChoiceOutLoud.org and ProjectVoice.org were chosen from a group of suggested resources offered to me by Planned Parenthood. When reviewing the abortion consent process, health center staff is required to offer resources to patients regarding how to better cope with their abortion if they find they are struggling after the procedure. A handful of pamphlets and business cards are supplied, and I came across both of these websites through a resource called “Backline” that offers a list of phone numbers, websites and support groups. I felt that these three websites were


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adequate examples of abortion storytelling within a pro-choice framework because, when scrolling through their collections of narratives, there was a presumed concept of choice at the center of the discussion, rather than an emphasis on dialogue about reproductive justice like the Choice/Less podcast. These three websites and the 100 narratives collected were entered into an excel document and the themes were grouped into graphs depicting how much of each theme was present on each website:


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1 in 3
Project Voice
â–  Regret â–  Motherhood & Success
Choice Out Loud
â–  Regret â–  Motherhood IB Success
*Thematic elements of pro-choice websites


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Methodological Choices
There are two methodological choices to be discussed: (1) Even though men often play a significant role in the participation/sharing of abortion storytelling, this research has intentionally left out narratives written from the male perspective. The reason for this is based on attempting to obtain knowledge about the meanings that women assign to their personal experience with abortion and how they choose to share this with the public. (2) There is the plausibility of self-selection during the collection process. This has been avoided by first, gathering narratives without giving too much initial attention to the specific details of the story (outside of when they were written, who is telling them, and where they are being collected from), and then reading them more closely at a later time during the process of elimination.
Strengths/Weaknesses
I want to recognize that there is sometimes a distinct difference between the individual’s actual lived experience and the narratives shared. For this reason, I have decided to focus on how the stories are told, and what can be discovered by an analysis of the information deemed important enough to share by the individual. An experience that one individual might consider traumatic may be meaningless to another in the same situation. I am not concerned with authenticating the narratives or attempting to reveal how “truthful” they are. The thesis is only concerned with perceived significance of the particular details that the individual has chosen to share, rather than the details of what actually took place. I have become particularly aware of this because one part of my job is receiving feedback


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from patients in an email survey that is sent to them 24 hours after their appointment, and it can be often difficult to determine whether someone was mistreated or simply frustrated by the fact that that they had to be there in the first place. That being said, there is a possibility for some or all aspects of a number of the stories collected to be fabricated, as many antiabortion activists may try to infiltrate pro-choice forums and share dramatic negative interpretations of abortion in order to dissuade readers from making the same decision. There is also the possibility that some women could simply make up some or all aspects of their story, for whatever reasons we may not understand. However, this should not have an affect on demonstrating the perceived meaning of the overall experience of abortion, as told by individuals who experience them in some capacity, whether real or imagined. With careful examination and an impartial process of the scaling down the data once collected, I feel that a suitable group of narratives has been obtained.


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CHAPTER III ANALYSIS
Onset
To begin the analysis of narratives collected for this thesis, it is important to note that the problem with choice-centered abortion storytelling is not in the stories themselves, but rather the rhetorical framework for how these stories are told. Indeed everyone’s experience is their own, and this critique is not to say that the experiences of the women who share their stories is not valid because of their choice privilege or my interpretation of possible internalized patriarchal ideas about their abortion experience (such as the narrators perceived moral failings). Rather, the issue at hand is more about the recurring themes of narratives that were selected with the specific purpose of de-stigmatizing abortion, and how they may unknowingly be inadequately serving the reproductive rights movement. It should be noted that there is a distinct difference in abortion storytelling for the purpose of providing healing to individuals who have had an abortion and may be struggling to come to terms with their decision, versus abortion storytelling for the purpose of enlightening readers to conditions such as how common abortion is, the types of circumstances that lead women to choose abortion, and the complex barriers women can face in obtaining abortions. Abortion storytelling as a tool for the reproductive rights movement has developed with the intention of normalizing the abortion experience for readers and perhaps more importantly, demonstrating the myriad of social and economic barriers to accessing abortions. This, in theory should stand in contrast to anti-abortion storytelling that has intent to dissuade readers from having future abortions or providing a space to discuss negative emotions associated with the abortion experience. However, there are a surprising amount of similarities between


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the two types of narratives, despite their different intentions. Many themes other than motherhood, success and regret present themselves, such as legal and social barriers and social consequences. The argument of this analysis is that the three specific themes chosen can particularly reinforce patriarchal concepts and values, thus they risk having the opposite affect intended for normalizing the abortion experience. Instead, these narrative themes could cater to the anti-abortion perspective that abortion is an overall negative experience for women. This analysis is broken up into three sections to coincide with each theme.
Motherhood
The primary theme from which I feel the others could be seen as resulting from is motherhood. If we are to look at the nature of what drives the desire to keep women from having equal standing with men by taking control of their reproductive health, then we cannot ignore motherhood as a groundwork for attempting to define women’s purpose within a patriarchal society. Even for individuals who believe that nature has made man stronger or given him superiority over women, abortion in many ways allows women to take back a certain amount of power. Reproduction has become the one aspect of life that men cannot always control in the same way women have learned to. Historically, women’s inability to control pregnancies directly resulted in their economic dependence and overall oppression. Thus demanding control of their own bodies was key in women’s liberation. Carby suggests that because historically women’s “self-concept” was viewed as extremely bound up with her “biological destiny,” there is a correlation between the duty of motherhood and women being seen as a type of slave.107 This is evident in how, as Gordon points out, during the mid-
107 Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (Oxford University Press, 1987), 25.


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nineteenth century, both “law and practice” made sexual submission to their husband a woman’s duty.108 Emphasizing motherhood as a valued moral standard is crucial for attempting to dissuade women from taking control of their reproductive health, and thus standing on equal ground with men. This historical framework provides some outlook for considering the ways in which the concept of motherhood is carried out in our contemporary belief systems and is often demonstrated throughout abortion storytelling. Even when discussing abortion in a positive light, one woman describes that because she had an abortion at 20 years old after two teenage pregnancies, she “no longer worries about the future” of her children.109 With language such as this we can see how the abortion for the sake of motherhood (rather than herself as an individual) becomes inadvertently emphasized. In another narrative, one woman states that she is thankful she lives in a country where she has the choice to decide when and how to have a family so that she can give her child all of the attention and love they deserve.110 This ignores the fact that just because she has this choice it does not mean all women in the U.S. have the same ones, and emphasizes a more acceptable type of motherhood as being the excuse for having an abortion. Ultimately, the decision not to continue a pregnancy has something to do with deciding not to participate in the mothering of a potential human being. If the reason for making this decision can somehow be excused with an existing obligation to mother an already living child, or at least intend to at some point in the future, then it becomes more admissible to a public that is largely situated somewhere in the middle of the abortion issue. Although having an abortion in order to care for already living or future children is an extremely important aspect of the
108 Gordon, 11.
109 Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org. (accessed October 1, 2016).
110 Ibid.


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abortion experience, it has become such an important part of the discussion to respond to anti-abortion critiques, that the patriarchal attitudes regarding women’s overall purpose as mothers seems to be overlooked. In this sense we are more inclined to accept women’s decisions to have abortions if they can provide us with evidence of their desire to either become mothers eventually or be better mother’s now. The problem is that this begins to erase women that choose abortion because they have no intention of ever becoming mothers, a concept that fundamentally challenges this expectation of women.
How is Motherhood just as problematic of a rhetorical decision as Choice? Solinger points out that most Americans agree that the desire to raise a family is a fundamental human longing for most, and within that, motherhood is a source of “self-and community esteem.”111 Perhaps more importantly is how most American’s agree that to be denied that experience is a denial of “the right to choose.”112 Even though public perception is in favor of the right to make the choice to have children, this is not the case when women with “few resources” had the same desires.113 Here we can see the interception of the choice and motherhood frameworks as being problematic. Certain women have the right to choose motherhood but do not necessarily have the same social allocation when it comes to choosing to reject motherhood altogether, only to reject it for a certain amount of time. On the other hand, Solinger notes that motherhood for other marginalized women, such as poor women, is not viewed in the same context of self- and community esteem or loving relationships, but as
111 Rickie Solinger, “Motherhood as Class Privilege in America,” in Reproduction and Society:
Interdisciplinary Readings, ed. Carole Joffe and Jennifer Reich (New York: Routledge, 2015), 232.
112 Ibid.
113
Ibid.


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a source of negative associations such as “dependency and depravity.”114 One woman from ProjectVoice.org gives an emotional account of knowing it is going to be “the worst day of her life,” but stating that she feels it is the best decision because she is “barely capable of feeding her and putting clothes on her back” aside from begging her family on a daily basis for financial support.115 The narrator makes it clear that this is not a decision she wants, but feels obligated to make. What is interesting here is how this story is published on a pro-choice website, yet seems to actively ignore the fact that the narrator feels she does not have one. As a reader, the message I am struck with is: “choice” only within a certain framework of acceptable motherhood. Certain women may have the right to choose a legal abortion, but are not given the same social approval for choosing motherhood. In some cases, the women knew that if they continued their pregnancies they would have fallen into this category of being associated with “dependency and depravity” that Solinger talks about, such as one woman stating that she all she could envision was “living off the government’s money for some time, asking my family for help constantly, fighting with my boyfriend and just generally struggling financially and emotionally.”116 This contrast between dependency and acceptable motherhood is where I began to see the themes of success and regret emerge.
Success
When examining the stories that specifically addressed the success narrators felt they had gained by having an abortion, the most obvious outcomes dealt with careers, finances, family, and motherhood. Many of them contained all of these outcomes, as one woman from
114 Ibid.
115 Anonymous, ProjectVoice.org (accessed January 5, 2017).
116 Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org (accessed January 5, 2017).


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lin3Campaign.org points out that she and her partner ended up getting married 5 years later despite barely knowing each other at the time of their unplanned pregnancy.117 She discusses how they both have careers, a home, a young son and expressed her belief that “having an abortion because you aren’t equipped to be a parent is a perfectly acceptable reason to do so and you can still have a happy, healthy family when you are ready later.”118 Although this narrative demonstrates a more positive experience compared to the narratives reflected in the motherhood and regret categories (I noticed this positivity was generally more prevalent with the success narratives) it’s language still reflects a belief system that there are reasons needed in order to have an abortion and that certain reasons are either acceptable or unacceptable. I cannot help but wonder if some of the women inadvertently expressing themes of regret in their narratives would have different outlooks on their experience with abortion had their overall circumstances ended up with outcomes deemed socially or financially acceptable. Does success (or a lack of) in other areas of life determine how some women feel about the overall experience of ending their pregnancies? Does this somehow cater to the belief that women can be mothers or have a career, but not both at the same time? Many stories in the success category cite a concern about finishing school or continuing a career as the reason for choosing abortion. What’s interesting is that several of these narratives also make note of the fact that they have or had a supportive partner during their unplanned pregnancy, yet not a single one mentions their male partners offering to postpone their own education or careers to raise a wanted child. The responsibility seems to rest solely on the woman: she can choose success first, and motherhood second, but should not do it the other way around unless she is stable. For the many women who mentioned already having children in their stories, their
117 Anonymous, lin3Campaign.org (accessed January 5, 2017).
118 Ibid


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success was often intertwined with their existing motherhood, bringing this role back as the focus of their decision.
Not all success narratives were centered on material or social concepts. Several women’s stories in this category had defined success by their physical and mental health, and in some cases their will to survive. What I find fascinating about these kinds of stories is how they can be such a powerful tool for the abortion-rights argument, yet I believe they have a tendency to be overly discussed and the ability to not only overshadow but also silence the stories of women who don not have socially acceptable reasons to terminate a pregnancy (based on patriarchal standards and beliefs about women). They can also strongly reinforce the mindset that reasons are needed in the first place. One of the best illustrations of this was that there appeared to be two types of “medical” stories in the success category that demonstrate Ludlow’s earlier mentioned hierarchy of pro-choice rhetoric. The first were stories regarding the physical health of the women, the fetus, or sometimes both. In these stories narrators present the medical circumstances that lead them to abortion, such as one woman describing how hers was “live-saving.”119 What is unique about these stories is that, although they could be considered some of the most affective and convincing tools in the argument for reproductive rights, there is often an emphasis on the fact that the women felt they did not have any choice but to terminate, yet praise the fact that this it was an available option. If this was truly the only option then this would not actually be a choice to make at all, making it an unusual topic to focus on within a choice-centered rhetorical framework. In this group of the hierarchy, there also stories about rape, abuse, domestic violence, and complicated medical conditions with an emphasis on the women being victims who, by having an abortion, were able to survive. The “lower half’ representing the hierarchy
119 Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org (accessed October 12, 2016).


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contained stories dealing with mental health as the conditions for which the narrators choose abortion. In these, the narrators discuss experiences with issues like drug abuse, eating disorders, and various types of depression. Rather than frame their situations as personally life saving, they discuss their success in terms of how they avoided causing harm to another potential life. This provides an example of the ways in which abortion can become more about a non-existent “person” than an already existing woman. Although these two types of medical success narratives provide some of the most pervasive arguments for abortion rights advocates and cause listeners to think about the potentially devastating outcomes for women if abortion were to become illegal, they still have the ability to reflect patriarchal concepts about what constitutes success and acceptable reasons for postponing motherhood.
Regret
Regret was present in various forms throughout a large number of the narratives collected. In many cases it was not blatantly talked about, as if to say, “I regret my abortion.” In fact, very few of the narratives did this. Instead, the theme of regret was infiltrated throughout the story in rather esoteric arrangements. In one narrative, a woman recounts her experience of having an abortion at 15 years old. Although she states that she “immediately knew” she wanted an abortion, her story primarily focuses on the subsequent shame that she felt led her down a road of drugs and alcohol use in the years following her abortion.120 What is interesting here is that the narrator blatantly states that she does “not regret” her abortion, only that she regrets getting pregnant.121 Yet the she tells us in the beginning of her story that
120 Anonymous, lin3Campaign.org (accessed October 13, 2016).
121 Ibid.


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due to her lack of sex education, her pregnancy was to some degree unavoidable, so citing regret for becoming pregnant is a rather confusing statement. Are readers to assume that her pregnancy is what ultimately caused her to become a drug addict? It is hard not to connect the bad things in her life with her abortion because there is no mention in her story of how the pregnancy itself caused the turmoil in her life; only the ripple affect that abortion caused for her, her partner, and her family. She discloses that many of her family members became pregnant as teenagers, and that she received a great deal of support when she found out she was pregnant. The author seems to associate only her abortion with the negative turning point in her life, rather than her lack of sex education, or the fact she came from a family lineage of teen pregnancy. Many stories such as these can have an underlying and unintentional theme of regret, by attributing several misfortunes to the abortion act itself, rather than the situation as a whole. When looking at the realities of an abortion procedure, an in-clinic abortion typically takes about 5 minutes and it is one of the safest procedures one can have. We can assume that much of the trauma is not actually a result of the procedure but rather the details surrounding the abortion such as social stigma, finances, travel, poor quality of care by clinic workers, even the emotions experienced when one feels they have no other choice. At the same time, a large number of the stories reviewed were completely open about the regret they were experiencing despite being selected for pro-choice readership, as was the case in another lin3Campaign.org narrative. Not only does the narrator face pressure from her husband to have an abortion, but also from her job, as she has a high profile position within a prestigious university, and is the only women in her department. Her entire story recounts the pressure that is put on her by nearly every facet of her life; her failing marriage, her career, the fact that has already had 3 previous pregnancies all with medical complications of their


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own. She describes the experience as lonely and “sad,” and explains how to this day she was only able to tell a handful of people after much time had passed and her pain had “dulled” after receiving therapy.122 Her closing statement and overall message is that “sometimes women have to make choices they would rather not make.”123 This is an interesting perspective that has been heavily adopted by choice rhetoric and in many ways completely ignores the concept of reproductive justice. Labeling abortion as a negative experience that women do not want to make but feel they have to somewhat contradicts the idea of choice altogether. Of course there are instances where women are coerced into having an abortion, which might have been the case in this story, and many women have experienced unwanted abortions. Yet there is a danger in choosing to portray abortion as largely regrettable in a community where narratives are meant to normalize the experience for it’s readers. This is because it begins to seem less and less like abortion was actually the woman’s choice, and more like something she may have felt obligated to do for one reason or another. Furthermore, if “choice” is the central argument of the movement, then would it not be the case that allowing regret to shape the readers’ perspective of what may or may not have actually been a choice seem counterproductive? In a sense, her lack of choice is something the movement should be fighting against, not utilizing her story as a framework for what the abortion experience is like.
Another example is a story that describes one of the circumstances argued by pro-choice individuals where abortion is crucial. The narrator is faced with a medical complication that makes carrying a pregnancy to term dangerous to both her and the fetus. Although she describes various reasons for why it was necessary, she does mention that in
122 Anonymous, lin3Campaign.org (accessed October 13, 2016).
123 Ibid.


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her heart she was “screaming NO.”124 While this particular narratives aids in psychologically creating a separation between “life” as it is seen by abortion opponents and valuing the lives of already existing women, there is still a sense of regret in her story because, like so many others, it describes a situation where abortion is a painful last resort, one that she felt she ultimately had to choose. There is a regrettable tone in these narratives as if to apologize for the fact that they felt they had no other option, and if given the opportunity things would have been done differently. This is where the anti-abortion movement has room to step in and say: “you have other options!” Many women may regret their decision to have an abortion, and hearing other stories of women who regret theirs as well may be helpful at aiding in their healing process. However, emphasizing the concept of regret too often in the selection of narratives that are intended to normalize the experience must be approached with caution. This is because it leaves room for oppositional arguments that women are easily coerced into having abortions and that anti-abortion public policy will aid in “protecting” women from this coercion. These narratives cater to the ideology that we cannot trust women to be strong enough to make their own decisions and that society must do this for them, lest they will most certainly end up regretting their abortions eventually because their highest purpose can only ever be motherhood.
Choice/Less-ness
The pervasiveness of patriarchal attitudes about women in the United States is not the only outcome of the choice paradigm when discussing personal accounts of abortion. The division of choice from reproductive rights is exhibited in the first-person abortion narratives shared on the Choice/Less podcast. Rather than center abortion discourse on the importance
124 Anonymous, ProjectVoice.org (accessed December 10, 2016).


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of having a choice and demonstrating how women who have choices will enact this privilege, the podcast focuses its attention on aspects of the abortion experience that demonstrate how legal abortion in the U.S. is flawed. It also shows how abortion at times can seem less like an undivided right, and more like what Higgins describes as “a practice whose delivery depends greatly on one’s wealth, insurance status, and access to the social and cultural resources that help avert unintended pregnancy.”125 One aspect of the abortion experience that is heavily emphasized in some of the narratives is a detailed account of how even the smallest changes in public policies can have drastic affects in ways that the narrators never imagined. It also provides a viewpoint into how abortion is simultaneously affecting and affected by other social issues and injustices. In one episode, the host begins with a description of Texas House Bill 2, and then interviews the narrator, specifically detailing the ways in which HB 2 affected one of her three abortion experiences while living in Texas. She also discusses factors such as going to the urgent care for a headache and thoughtlessly being told “congratulations, you’re pregnant,” experiencing a forced 24-hour waiting period, the discrimination she felt for being Latina, her insurance card being denied at an abortion clinic, her coworkers finding out through the human resources department, and being repeatedly denied sterilization because one doctor was concerned that her husband might change his mind about wanting children.126 One of the main differences that we can see in this narrative from the previous websites is that the emphasis lies in the choices the narrator does not have. It highlights how the issue is often more than simply making a choice whether or not to have
125 Jenny Higgins, “Sex, Unintended Pregnancy, and Poverty: One Woman’s Evolution from “Choice” to
“Reproductive Justice,” in Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choices, ed.
Krista Jacob (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006), 39.
126 Candace, Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire, https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1,
2017).


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an abortion and then embracing the outcomes later. The problem for the narrator is the ongoing process of sifting through which choices she does or does not have in regards to simply not wanting to be pregnant. The narrator ultimately testifies against HB 2, and describes how when she was married she was refused sterilization (because of her husband), as well as when she became single again (because she might meet someone new). Clinicians consistently denied her permanent birth control citing that she might meet a man who wants children, completely ignoring the fact that she insists she never wants to have kids. Unlike the pro-choice website narratives which often have narrators internalizing different ideas about motherhood in regards to their stories, this episode turns the perspective around in order to demonstrate a larger cultural issue with motherhood instead and the lack of choice this woman had when she wanted to take permanent action in order to not become a mother.
Medical complications also make up some stories on the Choice/Less podcast, much like pro-choice websites. However, rather than focus specifically on why the medical conditions create a necessary and acceptable reason for having an abortion, the podcast instead looks at the details of undue burdens placed on patients seeking abortions for medical purposes. One woman recounts the considerable amount of red tape she had to endure when finding out that her much wanted pregnancy was no longer viable. This was especially complicated by the fact that her scans did not reveal the extent of the condition until just before 17 weeks and this combined with mandatory waiting periods put her dangerously close to the 20-week ban. Not only did the entire process take weeks but it also cost her thousands of dollars due to the fact that she ultimately had to travel outside of her home state of Texas in order to have the procedure done (another outcome resulting from HB 2).127
127 Valerie. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire, https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March l, 2017).


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What I find most valuable about this narrative is that it demonstrates grief in regards to the difficulties of deciding to have an abortion for medical reasons without overemphasizing the loss of motherhood as the reason for this grief. Instead, the narrator gives us insight into the grief she experiences because her human rights are being violated. Even though she accounts for the fact that her already living children are affected by the experience, she shows us that their concern lies within her health as an individual (not just as a mother) and that while the loss of their “baby brother” is unfortunate, he is also not the center of the grief experienced by the family.
Trusting All Women
It would not be possible to separate reproductive justice from the simplistic choice paradigm without discussing the enormous disjunction that race and class creates between the two. This is a topic that has been virtually absent from the narratives I had collected from the choice-centered websites. One Choice/Less episode gives readers insight into the experience of a woman who was accused of being complicit in black genocide by anti-abortion activists “masquerading” in what she now knows was a crisis pregnancy center.128 The narrator then points out the irony of how, in the same visit, she was “asked by the white woman if I was on food stamps. I was asked by the white woman if, was I on WIC, did I have other kids, those types of things. I was like, ‘No’.”129 Eventually, another Black women is brought in to speak to her and ultimately coerce her out of having an abortion by exploiting the fact that they share experiences and face specific challenges as Black women. Even though the narrator is
128 Cherisse, Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire, https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed February 14,
2017).
129 Ibid.


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aware at this point in her story that the anti-abortion advocates don not care about her (as a Black woman) or her child, she ultimately does not go through with the abortion. She points out that her lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive education at the time made her panic when she was lied to and told that having an abortion would prevent her from having children in the future. Eventually, the trauma that resulted from postpartum depression and becoming a single mother led her to become a reproductive justice advocate for other women. Her organization created an ad-campaign in response to local billboards in her area that accused abortion clinics of being the cause of black genocide. Her campaign highlights the ways in which the anti-abortion movement does not care about providing assistance and resources for women (especially women of color) once they bring a child to term, only the moment when they are trying to talk them out of having an abortion. It also offers information about the kinds of resources needed in the community to help prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. Although anyone is susceptible to being targeted by antiabortion protestors, Higgins points out that “white, middle-class women have had the luxury of avoiding coercive contraceptive practices, let alone forced sterilizations or abortions.”130 Furthermore, white women face less of a risk of being associated with the dependency and depravity mentioned by Solinger, should they bring a pregnancy to term, in the way that is experienced by women of color. Choice privilege includes not only having certain types of choices available, but also not having them questioned because of factors such as race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. One Black feminist writer actually brings this to light in her episode of Choice/Less, when she describes an article she wrote for Ebony magazine about her abortion experience: "For white women in American society, the shame of having an abortion is mainly centered on their individual behavior. For Black women, our behavior
130 Higgins, 41.


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reflects on black folks as a whole, especially other Black women, so the scope of the shame is much wider."131 Her episode demonstrates a sort of perfect storm of human rights violations. She is refused a tubal ligation for being “too young” and opts instead for an IUD. She tests positive during a routine pregnancy test before the IUD insertion, and although she immediately tells her OBGYN that she wants an abortion, the response is that she should “wait it out.”132 The problem with doing so, however, is that her morning sickness quickly turns into all day sickness, and we begin to see how “waiting it out” can cause undue suffering, especially for women who are certain they want to terminate. After being harassed by protestors on her way into the clinic shouting at her that “abortion is the number-one killer of African-American babies” she decides to write her article for Ebony, and points out the irony of abortion opponents using race as an argument for their cause. She describes how even when black women do decide to continue a pregnancy they are often criticized for doing so, and that abortion opponents don not care about black kids when they are kids because they are immediately seen as a threat.133 Her article was published in an attempt to help other Black women who may have been shamed for their reproductive choices, but she quickly began to experience online harassment for going public with her abortion story.134 Her article was even utilized by an anti-abortion propaganda site in an attempt to bolster the connection between abortion and Black genocide, completely ignoring the additional hardships Black women face as well as the lack of “social safety net” they receive when they do decide to continue their pregnancies. All of this information is stressed by the narrator,
131 Tasha Fierce. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire, https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March l,
2017).
132 Ibid.
133 Ibid.
134 Ibid.


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and she leaves listeners with some pertinent advice to “look at the source” of who is advising you about pregnancy, as well as how they might benefit or if they actually care about you outside of “this moment.”135 Given that the narrative ends with concrete advice for women on how to deal with societal pressures regarding abortion, I think it could be considered one of the most ideal examples of an effective reproductive justice tool. It does not specifically advise listeners one way or the other, but rather encourages them to have autonomy in their reproductive decisions without perpetuating patriarchal concepts of motherhood, success or regret regarding the abortion experience.
A More Suitable Framework
The Choice/Less podcast provides insight into the fact that “choice” is not as empowering as the reproductive rights movement has lead us to believe. Choice rhetoric within abortion discourse often creates a division between feminist issues that, in theory, should be linked together through a framework of reproductive justice. Higgins reminds us how easy it is to forget that abortion for the sake of choice alone should never overshadow other feminist efforts, such as poverty, racism eradication, education, violence reduction, gender-sensitive development policies, fair trade, peaceful conflict resolution, etc.136 By demonstrating that the issues of abortion reach far behind the choice privilege of the previous narratives analyzed, the Choice/Less podcast serves as a more useful tool for improving the reproductive rights movement in general. The only way that choice will have the ability to reach all women in a meaningful way is if reproductive rights advocates work toward
135 Ibid.
136 Higgins, 42.


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reducing not just sexism and gender inequality as the main focus, but also class- and race-based injustices as they relate to the abortion experience.137
137 Ibid.


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CHAPTER IV CONCLUSIONS
Questions For Further Research
What would it look like if we were to shift our language about abortion and thus our perceptions about the women who have them? We would have to fundamentally accept new premises that women, who have historically been contested and judged based on their sex, can have worth and deserve equality while simultaneously being sexually active, getting pregnant, and taking control of their reproductive health with contraception and abortion.
Yet, is this possible in a patriarchal, capitalist society that continues to cling tightly to its oppressive attitudes about women, especially when these ideas are cloaked in the rhetoric of tradition and morality? To conclude this thesis, I ask us to consider what it would look like if we were to change abortion-rights discourse in the United States, or rather, who would we look like? Would a reconstruction of abortion discourse require a departure from many of the patriarchal ideas that the U.S. claims to value on the basis of morality? Would this consequently make us somehow “un-American”? Perhaps this is part of the reason why a reproductive justice rhetorical framework has yet to be utilized in mainstream abortion discourse.
Nie brings to light the concept of morality from the perspective of another country that has a multifaceted and complex a relationship to abortion just as the U.S. does: China. Recognizing the American condemnation of China’s one-child laws, in 1997 Nie attempted to understand the rhetoric of the abortion experience by interviewing various Chinese women who had previously had abortions and tried to understand the meanings they had assigned to their experiences as directly affected by a government with ideas about abortion that are at


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odds with the western viewpoint. Nie tries to reconcile the tragedy of coerced abortions with what he believes to be a genuine concern for public good by the Chinese government.138 What stands out is how rhetorical patterns of high moral purpose and protection are pervasive throughout the language of China’s one-child laws, almost in the same way that we see politicians attempting to enact TRAP laws against American abortion providers. Even though abortion is legal in the U.S., growing restrictions can make it nearly impossible for some women to actually have them, while under the guise of safeguarding women from coercion. Consider if the political language of “protecting women” were to shift from the American viewpoint that women need to be protected from themselves (through patriarchy), to the idea that they need to be protected from the cataclysms of over-population and thus a lack of resources. Would this “lack of freedom” suddenly be at odds with the “American dream?” Or is the problem perhaps that neither side offers any real freedom for women to take control of their lives and thus protect themselves? Both perspectives adhere to belief that women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about reproduction and the result is that larger society will somehow suffer, yet the messages about morality seem to be different. When we look at the kinds of things that women are believed to need protection from, it is not actually about overpopulation or immorality, but rather it is about protecting women from the ultimate threat to patriarchy, themselves. If we began talking about abortion in terms of its realities and the ways that it connects to other societal concerns (such as over-population) would that become a slippery slope to coercion? However, by representing abortion as an issue that can be narrowed down to an uncomplicated feminist principle of choice rather than reproductive injustices, are we leaving room for coercion to work in the opposite way, by shaming women
138 Nei Jing Bao, Behind The Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005).


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who have abortions and ultimately attempting to dissuade them from future ones? Kleinman points out that moral experience is “about things that are most at stake for us when encountering the very real dangers of the social world,” and that those dangers “force us to confront the possibility that our commitments will be challenged, undermined, even lost.”139 Yet, Kleinman continues, “we ourselves become dangerous as we strike back to defend what is at stake” and the heavy debate surrounding abortion in the U.S. has created a “cascade of dangers.”140 Is it possible that by maintaining pro-choice language as defensive rather than pro-active, we are creating dangers to the overall movement? Does this defensive language create new problems by catering to patriarchal concepts and beliefs that reasons are needed for having abortions? Are we emphasizing these reasons too much in pro-choice language? Ludlow’s hierarchy of abortion discourse demonstrates this potential in the social determination about who should as well as should not be having abortions, a kind of judgment that I have come face-to-face with while working in an abortion clinic and watching co-workers become frustrated with patients who suddenly change their mind or refuse to accept contraception following their abortion. When it comes to discussing “choice” is our interest stopping short? At the same time, the lack discussion, and subsequent silence about abortion has created the same types of problems, as Nie brings to light with his first-person narratives. The reproductive rights movement has acknowledged that silence does not aid in the fight for maintaining and strengthening the right to access abortion. Yet by engaging in excessive discussion, have we forgotten to be inclusive of all types of abortion experiences? Are the voices of the reproductive rights movement primarily focused on
139 Arthur Kleinman, “Foreward” inNei JingBao, Behind The Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion (Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005).
140 Ibid.


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sharing the stories of the women privileged enough to exercise all of their choices as well as privileged enough to tell about it? I cannot help but feel that as a white, cisgendered female working at an abortion clinic that I may fit the image for what people think of as someone who would be privileged enough to stand on the front lines of this movement. Not only do I have a multitude of advantages not available to many of the women I see as patients, but I also have the freedom to talk openly about my experiences, and engage in work that positions me closer to the center of the abortion experience in ways that other women are not included.
By examining first-person abortion narratives as tools for the reproductive rights movement, I hope to challenge the concept that abortion is a strictly individualized event or “choice.” Although the pro-choice websites from which I have collected the first set of narratives were developed out of an intention to increase discourse and normalize the abortion experience, I cannot help but look critically at how their language choices often appear to leave gaps and make assumptions about the nature of women and their experiences with abortion that not only perpetuates patriarchal concepts but also leaves room to sway the discussion towards an anti-abortion stance. If we were to primarily utilize a reproductive justice framework for describing the abortion experience, especially in political terms, I feel we could begin to move away from the mindset that abortion is a strictly personal experience. We could begin recognize that it has an affect on all of the women who have them and the people who are indirectly affected by abortion on larger societal scale. By doing this, I believe we can start to see areas in which we may be falling short as reproductive rights advocates and find better ways to involve, trust and advocate for ALL women in their right to
have an abortion.


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Reflections
Looking back on my research and the questions that were presented during this thesis defense, a number of problems stand out and have the potential to provoke further research. One of the key points I have come to realize is that there is a distinct difference between “choice” and having equal options. Although I continue argue that an over-emphasis on “choice” can be problematic, this is not meant to imply that striving for all women to have the same choices should not be a primary focus of the reproductive rights movement. Rather, my critical analysis of the pro-choice narratives is meant to highlight how choice often appears to be implied as inherently present for all women based on the language choices of the narrators and the individuals who have chosen to publish their stories.
This leads me to next question whether or not these pro-choice narratives are distinctly separate from reproductive justice rhetorical strategies. Although they often focus on individualism rather than systemic inequalities, I cannot help but wonder if the details of the narratives (especially those that reflect back the patriarchal themes pointed out during my analysis) are in fact a representation of reproductive justice in their own way. After researching further and finding more websites that utilized reproductive justice frameworks for abortion storytelling, there continued to be similarities in terms of negative emotions associated with the abortion experience. I’ve recently considered that a reframing of the narrators emotions is necessary, and am brought to the conclusion that the theme of “Regret” was possibly a poor choice. Perhaps a theme such as “Shame” would have been a better option in this case.
It has also come to my attention that there was no discussion of how the themes of motherhood, regret, and success were present through the Choice/Less podcast narratives in


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the final section of my analysis, which would have demonstrated the earlier point regarding how all of these narratives could be considered part of the reproductive justice framework whether or not their discussion centers around larger systemic issues or individual emotions. It has become apparent that more extensive research and analysis could be done on the damaging effects of Ludlow’s hierarchy of pro-choice language both within personal and political discourse. Ludlow’s hierarchy could perhaps guide further research as it may have a more direct effect on abortion policy and normalization.
To that end, I also acknowledge that normalization of abortion discourse is skewed by my experience as an abortion advocate, clinic worker, and feminist. So much of my beliefs about what is “normal” regarding abortion discussion has been informed by these aspects of my identity, whereas open discussions of concepts like shame, sadness or even regret are very much a part of the normalization process for many women who experience negative emotions and are still pro-choice. Rather than focus on critically analyzing (and in many ways, assuming) how women may fall victim to patriarchal concepts through sharing their negative emotions regarding the abortion experience, in the future I hope to focus my analysis on helping to reframe these narratives as lived experiences that demonstrate a range of complex circumstances that lead women to take control of their reproductive health and thus become their own advocates.
Final Thoughts
In the complex public discussions about abortion, there are often many arguments that contain false disparities or that fail to make clear important distinctions that can have affects on cultural perceptions of the abortion experience. There is often an implied ideology that


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women who have abortions are somehow separate from women that are mothers, sisters, daughters, moral, responsible, economically stable.. .the list continues. The reality is that those who have had, and will have abortions are ALL types of women. Their experiences have value not because of tragedy, but because they are part of their life stories, whether or not the experience of having an abortion was positive or negative. Encouraging and participating in open discussions about these lived experiences is the first step in ending culturally hostile attitudes toward a procedure that many women will make the decision to have at some point in their lives - too many to simply ignore it or deny that it is often necessary for women to fully participate in society. Now that we are no longer silent about our right to have abortions, we can begin to demonstrate through first-person storytelling the ways in which although it is a part of our lives in one way or another, there is still much room for improving our overall human rights as they relate to our reproductive rights.


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ABORTION STORYTELLING by MALLORY YEDINAK B.A . University of Colorado Denver , 2012 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requir ements for the degree of Master of Social Science Social Sciences Program 2017

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ii This thesis fo r the Masters of Social Science degree by Mallory Yedinak has been approved for the Social Sciences Program by Omar Swartz, Chair Gillian Silverman Jennifer Reich Date: 13 May 2017

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iii Yedinak, Mallory (M.S.S. Master of Social Sciences Program) Abortion Storytelling Thesis directed by associate professor Omar Swartz ABSTRACT The concept of reproductive justice is centered on the human right to have children, not have children, and to parent in safe and sustainable communities. In many cases abortion is an integral part of this process. Based on data provided by the Guttmacher Institute, about 1 out of every 3 women in the United S tates will have an abortion before age 45, yet this statist ic continues to shock many individuals despite an increas e in open discussions about the prevalence of abortion in women’s lives. By analyzing a collection of personal abortion narratives, this the sis seeks to u nderstand how emphasizing “pro choice” language in abortion storytelling may unintentionally promote patriarchal concepts and beliefs about women while also s uggesting that a focus on reproductive justice will better serve the reproductive ri ghts movement by considering the ways in which marginalized women are often left out of the mainstream abortion conversation. In abortion storytelling literature, scholars make the case that publicly sharing abortion experiences may contribute to a decreas e in social stigma as well as positively contributing to reproductive rights legal policy. This thesis will analyze abortion stories collected through both a feminist and reproductive justice lens, paying particular attention to language patterns in order to explore how patriarchy is reflected and how the emphasis on “choice” serves as an insufficient tool for strengthening the reproductive rights of women in the United States.

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iv The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Omar Swartz

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS I. Title Introduction Preface..1 A Note on Language ....4 Relevance.....5 Choice Rhetoric vs. Reproductive Justice...7 Organization.....8 II. Literature Review and Methodology The Importance of Abortion Discourse.15 Erasing Women..18 Why Speak Out? ....................................................................................................22 The Ethics Behind The Right s...32 Questioning Motherhood ...34 Useful Tools ...37 Pro Choice Oversight .....40 Methodology..41 Sample/Sampling ...42 Data Collection ..45 Methodological Choices Strengths/Weaknesses ....50 III. Aanalysis Onset..52 Motherhood

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vi Success...56 Regret.59 Choice/Less ness Trusting All Women......................65 A More Suitable Framework.....68 IV. Conclusions Questions For Further Research.70 Reflections. Final Thoughts...75 B ibliography....

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vii LIST OF TABLES 1. References to thematic elements of Motherhood, Success and Regret as per latent coding from prochoice websites.49

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1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Preface I have never had an abortion, but I have met many women who have. It is hard describe the kind of fear that can linger over a person when they desperately do not want to become pregnan t, a kind of paranoia that can last more than half of a women’s life span. I do not want to be faced with a situation where I need to make the decision to have an abortion, though t here is a chance that I w ill while of reproductive age. For the last 12 years I have had a lengthy battle with finding and maintaining the right birth control method. To my knowledge I have never been pregnant, yet the quest to find the best way to continue preventing it has often been demoralizing. Thi s battle became more depressing when I learned that even with all of the different methods I might try, and the range of horrible side effects I may risk, there is still a reasonable chance that I will find myself pregnant and seeking an abortion at some point in my life. It feels so unfair, all of the hurdles to finding and accessing the correct contraceptive methods, and yet so many women end up with an unwanted pregnancy at least once. If the realities of taking control of one’s reproductive heal th had s truck up a sense of anger and injustice in me, I could only imagine how other women, many of whom are considerably less privileged than myself, must feel when seeking out an abortion at some point in their lives. I began to get a sense of this as I started working as a medical assistant for a Planned Parenthood clinic that routinely performs abortions. One aspect of my job is reviewing the consent process with patients seeking an abortion, an arduous task that can take up to several hours. Perhaps not surpr isingly, there are right or wrong answers to the questions I am required to ask, because even the most

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2 miniscule amount of doubt in a one’s firmness of decision can cause the entire process to come to a screeching halt. Following this is even more time wasted with what could be seen as tedious and often insulting protocols to ensure that patients are not being coerced into making certain decisions about their reproductive health. I have experienced a range of different emotions from patie nts, some angry, some sad; many patients appear to be completely neutral. Occasionally, people change their minds altogether and leave, which is fine. One of the requirements of my job is that I ask patients what options they considered when they found out they were pregnant and how they came to make the decision to have an abortion. This is generally where people open up the most about what they think happened, what actually happened or what is going on in their lives t hat led them to make this decision . I t’s fasci nating to me how so many people who never have or never will have an abortion can chastise and blanket a situation that has such a wide range of scenarios one could never actually imagine them up on their own. Though contrary to what society tells us, almost none of the patients I have worked with are grief stricken about their decision, and things usually go very smoothly. In fact, the most difficult part of my job is rarely about the abortion itself, but more about the life of the person seeking one, and what is happening to make them want to terminate their pregnancy. The worst feeling is when patients talk as if they deserve the kind of judgment they know others are casting on them. “I was an idiot,” and “I feel so stupid” are some of the most c ommon phrases I hear during these appointments. But I think if these women could listen to all of the stories that I hear on a regular basis, they would not only have a better understanding of the unfairness of their circumstances as I described before, but they would also come to see that just because something is often talked about in a

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3 one dimensional or negative way, does not mean that it cannot be a normal or even positive part of women’s lives. Even if we will never have an abortion it is still a par t of all women’s lives because our right to access abortion is central to our ability to fully participate in society. Even more importantly, when abortion is talked about, it is often talked about incorrectly, or in negative ways that reinforce various ty pes of systematic female oppression. Abortion storytelling is not a new phenomenon. Yet if it is to continue being a useful tool for the reproductive rights movement, abortion storytelling must evolve in order to find better ways to respond to an ever incr easing anti abortion political climate. We need to share abortion stories in order to demonstrate the range of situations that women experience when becoming pregnant, and continue asking difficult questions such as “what if your lovedone needed an aborti on?” Yet, in sharing these stories, will we continue to cater to the antiabortion rhetoric of shame surrounding a procedure that many women will have at some point in their lives? Will we keep offering reasons and justifications for something of which we do not owe any explanation? Will we continue to oppress female sexuality and unknowingly feed the internal narratives that these women often carry around with them, that having an abortion means they were “stupid,” “careless,” or somehow less than concerne d about their reproductive health, even when evidence suggests this is not the case? When negative self talk comes up in our discussions I will usually stop the patient and firmly state to them “you are not stupid.” How could someone who has taken the time to carefully consider how well they could parent another human given their current circumstances be stupid? As our conversation continues I try to invoke a sense in them the idea that they are actually part of an extremely high number of women who have ha d, and will continue having abortions, and that their decision is “just a

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4 part of life.” Then we move forward and life goes on. This thesis is for and about these women. A Note on Language I have made a conscious decision to utilize as well as avoid cer tain terms throughout this thesis. Pollitt’s book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights has informed a substantial amount of my language , thus I have decided to follow her direction and refrain from use of the terms “pro life” and “pro lifer.” E ven though it would seem polite to call people what they identify as and/or wish to be called, I must agree with Pollitt that these terms are encoded with too much propaganda about fertilized eggs as “living” bei ngs, and often implies that these eggs have more value than already living women. In addition to the fact these terms suggest abortion is a threat to “life” rat her than the reality that it can often be life saving, I concur with Pollitt that these terms suggest that anyone who is not opposed to abortion is prodeath , and that this concept, as Pollitt argues, is quite absurd. I will be using the terms “anti abortion,” “anti choice,” and “abortion opponents” instead to describe those individuals that are opposed to abortion. I have also avoided the use of the word “fet us” as a blanketed statement to describe all stages of gestation, because as Pollitt suggests, this term inaccurately implies late terminations as a norm when discussing abortion. Given that “two thirds of abortions take place at eight weeks or earlier,” I use the terms “embryo” and “zygote” when describing products of conception. Finally, I will refer to abortion rights supporters as “prochoicers” and “reproductive rights advocates .” Even though I remain critical of an over emphasis on the word “choi ce” when so many do not have equal choices, I have made the decision to use these terms particularly for their ability to engage in politically

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5 f raming the movement’s philosophies in the best possible light, while attempting to fairly portray the “ anti choice ” alternative viewpoint. Although it is suggested by NARAL Pro Choice America’s media review to capitalize the term as “Pro Choice,” I have decided to follow the direction of The Association of College & Research Libraries’ publishing unit and it’s instruction to leave the term “pro choice” in lower case. I believe this demonstrates a sense of ethics and consistency, given that the movement, as part of its name, has not specifically adopted a capitalization of the word. Relevance Abortion has always been a p art of women’s lives, yet it remains a taboo subject. When it is talked about, it is often done so in a way that misinterpret s, leaves out crucial aspects , or is false, making the reality of aborti on in women’s lives unspoken. Indeed, if language has t he ability to shape our reality, then abortion, according to oppositional rhetoric, remains a dark and mysterious aspect of the human experience filled up with regret, shame, and patriarchal ideologies about women and motherhood. Even when we are presented with seemingly positive stories of abortion, many people feel a need to inspect closely every aspect of women’s lives and behavior to justify their decision. The dissection of even the most minor details of each story makes certain whether or not an abort ion is allowed to be a positive experience (i.e., medically “lif e saving”) or disproves that a woman had a good enough reason to have one at all (“she should not have gotten pregnant”). After all nobody feels good about the fact that they needed to have an abortionright ? In fact, sharing personal accounts of abortion has the ability to shift negative language from being an unfortunate event happening to someone, to a positive situation for which to be thankful,

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6 such as feeling happy that abortion was an av ailable option during a particular time in one ’ s life. Despite what social and political rhetoric tells us, it is not so much the abortion itself that is “unfortunate ” but rather the set of circumstances surrounding the abortion that contribute to the expe rience being negative. One tool that has gained increased popularity for the reproductive rights movement is the concept of public abortion story sharing. In theory, this practice is meant for establishing a sense of normalcy about the abortion experience, which in part means discussing it in a positive way. It is also important to discuss the ways in which obtaining the abortion was difficult, meaning the social, political, or financial barriers that women often face when they decide they want o ne . Many websites and blogs created with the overall intention of normalizing the experience are flooded with stories of tragic experiences and women struggling to cope with their decisions. If abortion is a positive experience for so many women, why do so many individuals continue to view it in such sad light? For many women the only negati ve aspect of the experience is everything but the abortion itself (i.e., mandatory wait times and ultrasounds, cost, travel, ect.). Yet many individuals who are against abortion take these details and reinterpret them to mean that because these unfortunate circumstances happened, the abortion specifically was a terrible experience. If the reproductive rights movement is hoping to gain sympathy from anti abortion readers b y keeping a apologetic tone to abortion stories, surely we must know this is a poor strategy, as anti abortion groups have increasingly adopted the language of “protecting women” from the “horrors” of abortion clinics. In fact some of the stories shared on self proclaimed pro choi ce websites seem to be attempting to dissuade readers from making the decision to have an abortion altogether.

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7 What is the re ason for ignoring positive details about the about abortion experience, a procedure that so many women i n the United States will have at least once in their lives? Is it the history of pre legalization secrecy that has carried over and caused it to remain in whispers? Is it intimidation from the extreme and often violent tactics of antiabortion activists? O r is it the fear of confronting something that will logically lead to questioning our society’s issues with sexuality? Whatever the reasons, openly sharing and discussing one’s experience with having an abortion, regardless of the underlying messages, norm alizes the experience to some degree. It shows how common of a procedure abortion really is for women, and that life does in fact go on after having one. However, one area where reproductive rights advocates, and thus, abortion storytelling forums , has gon e wrong is by emphasizing the concept of “choice” rather than reproductive justice, and I feel that this has caused many abortion storytelling websites and blogs to become somewhat misguided in the ir cause. Choice Rhetoric vs. Reproductive Justice In order to understand the reproductive justice framework, we must first understand what Price describes as the “individualist approach of the ‘choice’ paradigm” utilized by the mainstream reproductive rights movement in the U.S. and the frustration caused by the pro choice schema for intersectional feminists.1 Price reveals how focus group research consistently demonstrates that low income women and women of color “do not identify with 1 Kimala Price, “What is Reproductive Justice?: How Women of Color Activists Are Redefining the Pro Choice Paradigm,” Meridians 10, no. 2 (April 2010).

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8 the prochoice message” thus rendering the rhetoric of the movement meaningless to anyone that does not identify as a white, cisgendered woman that is at least of middle class income.2 Started by a cohort of groups that promoted the rights of Native and women of color, the SisterSong Women of Col or Reproductive Health Collective was created.3 Reproductive justicefocused groups such as these, position themselves separately from the pro choice movement by using social justice and human rights as frameworks for “redefining choice.”4 The primary objective is to move away from what Price describes as the “singular focus on abortion” produced by the mainstream reproductive rights movement and link reproductive rights to other social justice issues (such as poverty, environmental justice , and violence).5 Price describes the movement’s three core values as: the right to have an abortion, the right to have children, and the right to parent those children, and that women must be able to freely exercise these rights without coercion.6 By ackn owledging and analyzing oppression in this context, the goal is that women of color and other marginalized groups will become “more involved in the political movement for reproductive freedom.”7 Price distinguishes between reproductive justice and “choice” by analyzing the social, political, and cultural context from which it’s framework emerged.8 She explains how a consistent “lack of attention” to issues specifically affecting marginalized women has created 2 Ibid , 43. 3 SisterS ong.net 4 Ibid , 42. 5 Ibid , 43. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid.

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9 “disillusionment” within the pro choice movement .9 Furthermore, the rhetoric of “choice” is problematic in that it is “based on a set of assumptions that applies only to a small group of women who are privileged enough to have multiple choices.”10 Price continues: Although the “choice” message tactic ma y have worked in the short run in response to the actions of the conservative anti abortion countermovement, many reproductive rights activists, especially women of color, believe that choice should not be the longterm or sole goal of the reproductive rig hts movement.11 So what is the long term goal? By recognizing that abortion is in many ways linked to other aspects of the human experience that can create barriers for certain individuals based on facets like race, gender, and financial stability, we can begin to see that abortion, in the context of reproductive justice , is less about “choice” as an abstract concept, and more about human rights. Zucker takes this a step further by arguing that reproductive justice is fundamentally about women’s reproductive health, meaning not only access to abortion, but also “compulsory parenthood measures and experiences of labor and delivery,” such as disparaging treatment experienced by women of color while pregnant. Access and experience are two concepts that are not only influenced by social, cultural, geographic and historical contexts, but also appear to be absent from the pro choice discussion.12 Zucker continues by stating that the “current U.S. context is one in which health care is not viewed as a fundamental hum an right” and this is where the prochoice movement has fallen short. 13 By 9 Ibid , 46. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Alyssa N. Zucker, “Reproductive Justice: More Than Choice.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy , 14: 210– 213. 13 Ibid.

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10 keeping the concept of reproductive rights focused solely on accessing abortions rather than the larger issue of human rights violations, prochoice rhetoric has not only left out an entire section of marginalized society, but has also overlooked an opportunity to influence the opposition by advocating for the lives of already existing women by using “pro life” language. Abortion storytelling in the context of reproductive justi ce rather than the “ choice ” of an individual has a much better chance of impacting readers that may be anti abortion, on the fence, or even indifferent because of their ability to better demonstrate the more significant issue of human rights that may ultimately lead to the abortion itself. Similarly to the pro choice movement, reproductive justice activists have utilized abortion storytelling as a tool attempting to normalize the abortion experience. However, these activists have taken abortion storytelling a step further by rhetorically creating a space for groups that have been historically marginalized by the mainstream reproductive rights movement.14 This includes women of color, women with disabilities, low income women, and female bodied transgender a nd agender individuals. The main difference between reproductive justice storytelling and mainstream pro choice abortion storytelling, argues Price, is that reproductive justice activists have “consciously used storytelling as an organizing tool; that is, storytelling is used as a pedagogical tool for consciousness raising within their respective communities.”15 We can see a distinct difference in the rhetoric of the narratives collected for this thesis from the 1in3Campaign.org , ChoiceOutLoud.org, and Proje ctVoice.org, because -despite varying details about t he experiences of the narrators -their rhetoric is centered on the a ssumption that the individual’s choi ce is ever present, and 14 Price, 44 . 15 Ibid.

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11 seems to ignore the fact that this is not true for everyone. Conversely , narratives told within a reproductive justice framework suc h as the Choice/Less podcast not only acknowledged choice as a sometimes separate deviation from the abortion experience altogether, but also makes a point to include stories where the individual ’s choices was either gravely restricted or taken away altogether, particularly for margi nalized women. In this way, reproductive justice narratives serve as a better overall tool for the reproductive rights movement, because in addition to attempting to n ormalize the fact that many women will decide abortion is their best option based on their unique set of circumstances, they also demonstrates the injustices that are taking place for many women in trying to obtain a legal abo rtion. They not only show the prevalence of abortion in the lives of women, but also shed light on existing flaws within a society where this right should be equally accessible to everyone, yet is not. Reproductive justice specific narratives pull the ir rhetoric out of the realm of an individual s “choice” and establish es that these stories are grounded in the “co llective stories of communities ” as well as demonstrates more accurately the prevalence and importance of the need for abortions experienced by all communities.16 Furthermore, these stories reflect how this need is often insufficiently met due specifically to the marginalization of certain groups such as Native women, making abortion a larger human rights issue. Thomsen encourages feminists to rethink “assumptions regarding the political utility of personal narratives” in order to better understand “the relationship of reproductive justice to reproductive rights frameworks.”17 Thomsen argues that, “scholars and activists alike often produce these positions as fundame ntally different, but in practice, they often overlap in ways that suggest 16 Ibid. 17 Carly Thomsen, "The Politics of Narrative, Narrative as Politic: Rethinking Reproductive Justice Frameworks through the South Dakota Abortion Story." Feminist Formations 27, no. 2 (Summer, 2015): 126.

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12 their deep intertwinement.” 18 Our language shapes the reality of what abortion means, and as we move forward in a society that is often hostile toward abortion, the reproductive rig hts movement must learn to perfect it’s ability to recount women’s experiences with abortion, outside of a one dimensional choice framework, so as not to perpetuate the sexist and oppressive beliefs that made abortion so difficult to obtain in the first pl ace. This thesis seeks to aid in the process of making abortion storytelling a productive tool for the reproductive rights movement, rather than remaining a defensive rights gaining strategy that caters to antiabortion pressures and leaves out the stories of marginalized groups. Organization This thesis is organized in the following way: this chapter discusses the difficulties that women may face when attempting to obtain an abortion including misrepresentations about the abortion experience. Here I have also discussed the phenomenon of abortion storytelling and the importance of its purpose in aiding the reproductive rights movement by attempting to normalize the abortion experience for many women. However, I argue that what has developed out of abortion storytelling is primarily within a framework of “choice” rhetoric that effectively leaves out some or all aspects of the abortion experience for marginalized individuals. I also argue that because “choice” is not ever present or existing in one singular w ay, that utilizing a reproductive justice rhetorical framework for discussing the abortion experience is a more effective way for the reproductive rights movement to normalize abortion given that it is cognizant of a much wider range of circumstances and i s more representative of what is being experienced by individuals seeking abortions throughout the United States. 18 Ibid, 2.

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13 Chapter II is a literature review that examines how scholars discuss the rhetoric of abortion. This includes ideas about strategically erasing women out of the abortion discussion, the creation of public speakouts about abortion which have led to the rise in contemporary abortion storytelling on the internet, how abortion discourse has the ability to affect policy, the ethics that lay behind t he right to access an abortion and why the anti abortion perspective relies on patriarchal concepts of unquestionable mot herhood. In this chapter I provide an analysis of the ways in which certain aspects of the abortion discussion are utilized as tools fo r the reproductive rights movement, yet because they are often exercised in a defensive rather than offensive way and created within a “choice” framework, they cater to their own opposition and are thus more likely to be ineffective at normalizing the abor tion experience. I also discuss how , out of these patterns, a hierarchy has developed within prochoice language that allows the public to not only dissect the details of each person’s lives but also unfairly determine which situations are “acceptable” for choosing an abortion. This leaves room for complicating the prochoice abortion discussion in a way that is not seen as often in the firm stance of anti abortion rhetoric. I end this chapter with a section describing methodology and how the data was colle cted. Chapter III co nsists of my analysis, where I discuss my intent to analyze 100 first person abortion narratives collected from three websites, ChoiceOutLoud.org, ProjectVoice.org, and the 1in3Campaign.org, all of which primarily utilize a “choice” framework. I do this by breaking up the narratives and coding them based on which ones fall into one of three themes: motherhood, success, and regret. I feel that these three themes in particular are the best and most identifiable reflections of patriarchal culture that are present in the abortion discussion, and I critique the ways in which these themes are represented in

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14 the personal accounts of the individuals experiencing abortion on these websites. Next, I suggest that abortion storytelling through forum s utilizing a reproductive justice framework , such as the Choice/Less podcast , are more effective at normalizing the abortion experience because, unlike the “choice” narratives, they do not assume that everyone has the same choices and provide a larger perspective of what the abortion experience actually is . Th is shift in language, I conclude in chapter IV , is a direct challenge to the way we talk about abortion, even within the reproductive rights community, and thus confronts patriarchal rhetoric of abortion because it fundamentally accepts new premises about women. I end my contribution to this thesis in chapter V by presenting some assumptions about what it would look like to utilize the reproductive justice rhetorical framework on a larger, more public scale when discussing abortion. I ask whether or not this would begin to mirror the discussions had by other countries with different overall pe rspectives on abortion, and whether or not changing our language could begin to look essentially “unAmerican” given that the attitudes represented in the abortion discussion are born out of a patriarchal, capitalist society. Here I will also discuss overall thoughts on this project, and areas where improvement and future research could be done.

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15 CHAPTER II LITERATURE REVIEW AND METHODS Literature on abortion discourse often focuses on the benefits of public discussions and how this may positively affect legal policy. Yet many feminist authors and scholars also point out how the specific details and rhetorical choices from both the prochoice and anti abortion arguments can have unique implications for both sides of the issue . Many point out the ways in which pro choice language has become problematic for the reproductive rights movement. Although overall public opinion about abortion is continuously swayed based on changing cultural climates, it does not change the prevalence of abortion in women’s lives. Thus, first person accounts of the abortion experience remain in a critical position of power by demonstrating the lived experiences of the women who have them, and thus these women’s stories are constantly affected by and af fecting the abortion debate. The Importance of Abortion Discourse Reproductive rights activists as well as many feminist scholars recognize that the ability to obtain an abortion is often key when it comes to female self determination.19 Condit writes that the “breadth and depth” of the impact that the legalization of abortion has had in this country is “not to be underestimated.”20 Indeed, the meaning and practice of abortion is “central to the reproduction of the human species, to our understandings of gender, and to our life ethics.”21 Given that the ability to determine if, when, and how one 19 Kathleen McDonnell, Not An Easy Choice: A Feminist Re Examines Abortion (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1984), ii. 20 Celeste Michelle Condit, Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: Communicating Social Change (New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1989), 1. 21 Ibid.

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16 becomes a parent is central to maintaining women’s autonomy, these “life ethics” should, in theory, be a paramount argument for the reproductive rig hts movement. However, ethical reasoning is frequently left out of public discussions about abortions from the prochoice community and the political left in general. The Democratic Party mantra in regards to abortion has been to keep it “safe, legal and r are,” the emphasis of course being on rare.22 Yet the reality is that abortion has never been rare, even before Roe. Pollitt reminds us that “at the beginning of the nineteenth century effective birth control barely existed and in the 1870’s it was criminal ized, even mailing an informational pamphlet about contraceptives was against the law and remained so until 1936.”23 Yet the average number of births per woman declined from around 7 in 1800 to around 3.5 in 1900 to just over 2 in 1930.24 Pollitt asks us to consider: “how do you think that happened?”25 Pollitt mak es the argument that in the recent decades since Roe v. Wade , the prochoice community has failed to represent abortion as “an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child, indeed sometimes more moral.”26 Paris takes this a s tep further by claiming that an average of two hundred thousand women around the world (especially poor women) that die “as a result of clandestine abortions” is in fact a form of genocide sparked by the an tiabortion policy, prolife groups and “murderous religions for women” like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.27 This number stands in contrast to a “very 22 Katha Pollitt, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (New York, NY: Picador, 2015), 29. 23 Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, “The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women’s Career and Marriage Decisions,” Journal of Political Economy 110 (2002), 73070 24 Pollitt, 16. 25 Ibid. 26 Ibid. 27 Ginette Paris, The Sacrament of Abortion (Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, 1992), 17.

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17 conservative report issued by the World Health Organization” and Paris wonders: “what world court will have the courage to denounce the murder of women as we denounce other human rights abuses.”28 Pollitt says that the reproductive rights movement in the U.S. has spent too much time verbally catering to the cries of abortion opponents by over emphas izing the fact that “no one is ‘pro abortion.’” Pollitt asks: “What is so virtuous about adding another child to the ones you’re already overwhelmed by?” and “Isn’t it a good thing that women think carefully about what it means to bring a child into this w orld?”29 One of the reasons the ethical argument is so frequently left out of the discussion is that it has the ability to open the door for a range of issues that reflect s ystematized female oppression. For example, ethical reasoning that women should be a ble to have a choice about what they do with their bodies also leaves room for the argument of anti abortion logic that a zygote also has this right, which in theory, is being taken away through the practice of abortion. Dworkin notes: The scalding rhetoric of the “pro life” movement seems to propose that the derivative claim that a fetus is from the moment of it’s conception a full moral person with rights and interests equal in importance to those of any other member of the moral commu nity. But very few people, even those who belong to the most vehemently anti abortion groups, actually believe that, whatever they say.30 N ot only do many women who have abortions claim to be against it (as we will see examples of in my analysis of the nar ratives collected) but also many clinic workers report that they accept patients whom they know are involved with anti abortion protests, often outside of their own clinic. In fact, part of Planned Parent hood’s employee orientation for clinic 28 Ibid. 29 Pollitt, 16 30 Ronald Dworkin, Life’s Dominion: An Arguememt About Abortion, Euthenasia, and Individual Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1994),13.

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18 workers expli citly tells new health center assistants to not only expect this, but also to not acknowledge or discuss this contradiction in the actions of the patient, as this could compromise the level care that the individual receives or provide evidence of bad clini cal practice (such as HIPAA violations) for the opposition to use against the organization. Thus, clinic workers must treat women as autonomous beings with full human rights, which falls in line with reproductive rights logic. The underlying issue is argua bly not about a zygote having full human rights, but rather women having less than full human rights. This is part of the reason why, according to Pollitt, abortion opponents have been “so effective at shifting the focus of moral concern onto the contents of women’s wombs” and viewing women only as vessels for growing babies.31 Women are not seen as people, but rather, a place where activity occurs. Embryos are considered people that require this woman place in order to develop into t heir full potential. Ant i abortion rhetoric has essentially taken women, as people, out of the center of the abortion argument, “stolen the language of morality , and used it to twist public opinion” argues Pollitt.32 “Who can be against ‘life’ after all?”33 Erasing Women Without women at the center of their own issue, women are effectively viewed as secondary to that of a product of conception, reinforcing patriarchal values of family, motherhood, responsibility, and the idea that women are secondclass citizens . This erasing of w omen out of the abortion discussion is effective for the anti abortion mindset. In theory, 31Pollitt, 10. 32Ibid, 29. 33Ibid, 29.

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19 the term “pro life” would include the lives of women who become pregnant, as well as the lives of children who have already been born. But as Paris points out, “pro life” groups have historically paid “scant attention to the misery of abandoned children, despite slogans and messages of love to the contrary, and they are prepared to sacrifi ce the lives of women” for their cause.34 Thus, the term “prolife” now mean s “pro life of the fetus” only (or zygote, or blastocyst, etc.) . It is not just abortion opponents who bolster these oppressive values, says Pollitt; “pro choicers” are also guilty, particularly by their willingness to remain apathetic to the needs of wome n at the center of the abortion argument.35 Pollit points out that many people who claim to be “prochoice” spout blanketed statements about how they think women should only be allowed to have an abortion if they fall into a specific category, such as “only if it’s early enough”, the pregnancy is not viable, her birth control has failed or she cannot afford another child. Within this mindset, abortion is not permissible to women who have lots of sex or who simply do not ever want to become mothers. Even as a clinic worker it can be difficult not to wonder why a patient returning for multiple abortions would repeatedly decline choosing a birth control method. The prochoice community is wracked with language about women being burdened to deal with the “consequences” of having sex, and we will see this in many of the pro choice narratives collected for this thesis. Pollitt writes that “a man’s home is his castle, but a woman’s body has never been wholly her own.”36 Thus, “why shouldn’t her body belong to a fertil ized egg as well?”37 We cannot expect an individual who views women’s ultimate purpose as having children to understand 34 Paris, 17. 35 Pollitt, 29. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid.

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20 or empathize with the logic of simply not wanting to be a mother, ever. This is also the case for other traditional patriarchal values in the United States. McDonnell writes: Feminist commitment to women’s control over their bodies led logically to demands for freedom from the violence of male battering, freedom from the physical restrictiveness of women’s fashion, and freedom to choose an abortion, among others. Abortion also represented the freedom to make sexual choices independent of reproductive choices.38 If so much of women’s full participation in society hinges on how much control they have over their own bodies, then using women’s bodies as a means to “keep them under surveillance and control” seems like a logical step for those individuals who would like to see women pushed back into traditional gender roles.39 But what are the ways in which the pro choice community unknowingly cater s to these values by selectively talking about abortion in way s that are less co nfrontational to the anti abortion position? Part of the problem is that even when the reproductive rights/prochoice communities put women back at the center of the way we tal k about abortion, the language about women and their stories often reinforce s patriarchal concepts of motherhood, success, and who should/should not be allowed to have children. In fact, there is a seemingly rigid set of guidelines about which types of individuals “should” or “s hould not” continue pregnancies or have abortions based on factors such as age, income, relationship status, sexual orientation, etc. The popular reality television serious 16 and Pregnant that first aired in 2009 depicted American t eenagers who made decisions to continue their unexpected pregnancies, and public perception was that they we re to young, stupid and/or promiscuous to be allo wed to make this decision. The belief was t ha t their lack of intelligence could be proven by the fa ct that they had become pregnant 38 McDonnell, ii. 39 Pollitt, 4.

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21 in the first place.40 In a handful of episodes, parents of these young girls would hint at how they had initially tried to coerce thei r children into having abortions , admitting that they did not want them to “ruin their lives.” Yet Friedman also points out that, overall, an open discussion about abortion as an available option is “suspiciously absent” from the show and sugge sts a more ominous purpose : to exploit the cultural perceptions of what type s of motherhood are acceptable and the conflict of young motherhood (they should accept motherhood as punishment for their behavior but they wi ll never be viewed as acceptable parent s because of their age).41 One abortion narrative from the reproductive justice centered Choice/Less podcast demonstrates another type of di scriminatory judgment, featuring an agender (meaning an individual that does not have a specific gender identity or recognizable gender expression), femaleborn individual that was questi oned by clinic workers for choosing to terminate their pregnancy. Despite insisting that there were many factors in the decision not to continue the pregnancy -primarily that they wanted to dedicate significant attention to further exploring their agende r identity and it’s implica tions before starting a family -medical staff contended that this individual had “no reason” not to embrace motherhood given that they were in a committed relationship, middle aged and financially stable. Th e result was the ind ividual had to unfairly justify and convince health care professionals that they dese rved to have an abortion in a way that many women would never have to .42 40 May Friedman, “’100% Preventable’: Teen Motherhood, Morality, and The Myth of Choice,” in MTV and Teen Pregnancy , ed. Letizia Guglielmo (Scarecrow Press, 2013), 75. 41 Ibid. 42 Jack RR. Evans, Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017).

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22 Why Speak Out? Abortion storytelling and public speakouts led by women about ending their pregnancies are far from a new tactic of the reproductive rights community in an effort to normalize abortion. The first issue of Ms. Magazine published a piece, titled “We Have Had Abortions,” that was signed by “more than fifty prominent women” such as G loria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Billie Jean King, Lee Grant , and Lillian Hellman.43 Even Margaret Sanger’s 1928 book Motherhood in Bondage contains excerpts from letters written to her by women desperate to avoid and/or end pregnancy. Their confessions of the c ircumstances leading them to seek out her help could be seen as a precursor to contemporary abortion storytelling. First person abortion storytelling is unique because the narrators can openly discuss what it’s actually like to have an abortion, (rather th an leave it up to the potentially negative interpretation of someone who has never had one). Joffee points out how clinic workers are given an appreciation “of the concrete realities of abortion and contraception” through their interaction with clients.44 Y et the clients themselves are given their own individual understanding of these realities based on what happened, what the y think happened, the details that may have affected their experience with having an abortion, and their beliefs about abortion before , during, and after having one. In one sense, their perspective is limiting, but it differs from the perspective of the clinic worker in that it is a lived experience of the individual. Emphasizing the importance of abortion as an option for maintaining fe male autonomy, much of the language of abortion deals specifically with the ways in which 43 Pollitt, 22. 44 Carole Joffee, The Regulation of Sexuality: Experiences of Family Planning Workers (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1986), 13.

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23 legal power is “intimately intertwined” with what people believe, the stories they tell, and the “ways that they choose to behave.”45 Today, the growing popularity of pro choicecentered abortion storytelling operates under the idea that simply by talking openly about women’s experiences of abortion (how/why they exercised their choice) , policies will ultimately work in favor of the reproductive rights movement. Abortion storytelling websites such as 1in3Campaign.org state that their mission is “to build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support for access to basic health care” by encouraging women to participate in public storytelling of their own abortions.46 In thi s way, many of the implied ethical issues that result in choosing an abortion can begin to reveal themselves without having to be sharply discussed. While campaigns such as these certainly succeed at highlighting the difference between laws as they exists on the books and how they are l ived in real life, Wilson states that they are also “particularly suited to produce challenges to the state’s claim to monopolize law, both in terms of the arguments that movements make and the actions they take.”47 Increases in abortion storytelling have she d light on the extreme and sometimes, desperate situ ations that lead women to seek out an abortion: circumstances that in many cases, lawmakers cannot grasp. Although there are often patterns to abortion stories, making it a community issue rather than an individualized one, the circumstances faced are often women specific, and thus overlooked or down played by patriarchal society. In some cases, the details of women’s lives that lead them to choose an abortion can be so uni que that they are difficult to account for while implementing policy. Pollitt discusses how unrealistic many 45 Joshua C. Wilson, The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2013), 17. 461 in 3 Campaign, “The 1 in 3 Campaign: These Are Our Stories,” last modified 2016, http://www.1in3campaign.org/ . 47 Wilson,18.

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24 people’s perceptions and vi ews on abortion actually are, and she asks us to consider this when making generalized statements. For example, many ind ividuals state that they feel abortion is only permissible in cases of rape and incest, to which Pollitt asks: “How do you define a rape victim?”48 Does this only include “ones who promptly reported their rape to the police? Only ones whom the police believed? Only ones whose rapist were caught and confessed their guilt? What happens when the accused rapist claims the sex was consensual, as so many of them do?”49 By asking these questions we can see how further restrictions on abortions only complicates the i ssue to such a degree that it would likely increase the number of second and third trimester abortions simply because the process of sifting through each case would be so arduous.50 By trying to highlight the real world implications of restricting abortion we can begin to gain a better understanding of how the language of opinion polls measures just how much people know/understand about abortion know, which is often very little. Abortion storytelling also highlights the ways in which accessing an abortion ca n be so arduous that many f eminist activists consider this lack of access to be a form of cruelty toward women, particularly when terminating a pregnancy is a matter of life and death. Stories about mothers desperately needing a dilation and curettage to save their lives and hospitals refusing to do so because of state laws that targ et any form of abortion practice past a certain gestational age are becoming an increasingly popular angle for prochoice storytelling. 48 Pollitt, 50. 49 Ibid. 50 Ibid, 56.

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25 Given that the majority of politicians working so adamantly to enact antiabortion policy are men, they are more likely to be removed from understanding the complexity of women’s circumstances when faced with needing access to an abortion. Pollitt points out how dangerous this lack of understanding can be when it comes to creating law, because “there are many things other people do that you think you would never do,” especially “if there is, in fact, no possibility that you will ever be called upon to decide, as is the case with men and abortion.”51 This is why putting women back at the center of their own stories is key whe n it comes to normalizing abortion as well as policy making. Not only does it remind us whom the story is about, but it also helps us to see how as a society we are all simultaneously affected by and affecting women’s ability to have control over their bodies. According to Wilson, “by narrowing the focus from the larger political stories told about them [women who have abortions] by those involved, these cases present the ability to learn about the decentralized and interactive process of creating law and l egal power.”52 After all, abortion “does not happen on the edge of society, community, and family” writes Pollitt, but rather “it is enmeshed in the way we live, it requires the cooperation of many people beyond the woman herself.”53 Yet this is far from the way that abortion rights advocates often talk about abortion in the United States. Ultimately, the controversy generated by women’s lives and stories about abortion came to reflect and be revised by public discourse following Roe v. Wade .54 The reproductive rights movement has operated under the assumption that any discourse at all will begin to 51 Pollitt, 38. 52 Ibid. 53 Pollitt, 39. 54 Condit, 2.

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26 reveal the reasons and justifications for choosing abortion, with the intent of helping people to reconcile others choic es with what is often seen as an immoral act . Pollitt asks the question: “how many people have said abortion should be legal but they would never have one, and who then end up having one?”55 Pollitt highlights how people’s judgment about women’s decisions to have abortions is not relevant to the lega l status of abortion as a whole.56 Yet we often see these negative images and judgments impact how prochoice language remains defensive and reactive. Thus people’s right to access abortions are constantly under threat. A 2014 report published by Planned Pa renthood Federation of America reviews a collection of literature on the emotional effects of abortion. The report references a previous 2008 report from the American Psychological Association , which found no increase in “psychological hazards” to women who obtained abortions since 1989.57 In fact, the APA notes that it does not forma lly recognize “post abortion syndrome ” (PAS) as a formal diagnosis, stating that previous studies done on PAS have been “self selected” and are “not typical of U.S. women who obtain abortions.”58 Y et antiabortion groups and even politicians frequently indicate this condition as a major risk to women’s health. Thomsen analyzes the discourse from the 2006 Vote Yes for Life campaign in order to demonstrate not only how pervasive thi s type of language is but also how prochoice discourse in many ways aids in this process by conjuring up images of “a person (woman) 55 Pollitt, 37. 56 Ibid. 57 “The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America , last modified February, 2014. 58 American Psychological Association, “Report of the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion,” American Psychological Association, 2008.

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27 making a choice (to abort).”59 The campaign critiqued abortion by attempting to discuss the ways in which it harms women, a nd Thomsen argues that this image of a woman making a choice leaves rooms for anti abortion groups to mimic the same discourse of victimization and privacy used by abortion rights advocates.60 Even the framework of privacy, on which the entire legality of abortion rests based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, is utilized by abortion opponents who claim that taxpayers should not be f orced to pay for other peoples choices.61 D espite women c onsistently demonstratin g that for the majority of the time , abortion is not the life long mournful, traumatic and regretful experience that they have been taught to believe, prochoice public figures continue to incorporate this ineffective language into their discussions on the topi c. Even Hillary Clinton, while publicly endorsed by Planned Parenthood during the 2016 presidential election, described abortion as “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.”62 What she failed to mention was that for many others, abortion was/is “a blessing and a lifesaver.”63 Pro choice abortion storytelling, should, in theory, aim at redirecting notoriously negative images of abortion and the women who have them, toward more of an understanding about why they come make thi s decision. It should also attempt to avoid attributing a n additional sense of negativity to the experience that abortion opponents so frequently warn women about, because the reality for many women is that abortion is not necessarily good or bad, but simply a part of life. Overall, the “images ” of 59 Thomsen, 8. 60 Ibid. 61 Ibid. 62 Pollitt, 28. 63 Pollitt. 29.

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28 women who have abortions and why they have them has the ability to shift policy making, sometimes in favor of upholding the right to access an abortion, and sometimes not. This stands in contrast to how the proc hoice movement has in many ways allowed negative public discourse to aid in the chipping away of access along with the implementation of TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers). Wilson employs a description of the three ways in which “narrati ve” has the potential to enter scholarly work in this case: that it can be present as either “the object of inquiry, the method of inquiry[and/or] the product of inquiry.” 64 He points out here that the subjects of abortion narratives are of “particular int erest.” 65 This is not only because of their status as the subjects of a social movement itself, but because as citizens they are also involved as “officers in the formal institutional process of creating and sustaining official state legal power,” 66 and as s uch, deemed the only ones who can legitimately wield and invoke abortion law. Pollitt provides us with examples of how even in the most conservative anti abortion states many laws fail to pass, demonstrating the actual need for abortion services. So far, personhood amendments have universally failed at the ballot box, even in Mississippi, where voters rejected one, Proposition 26, in 2011. This loss was widely hailed as a major pro choice victory: If voters in one of the nation’s most conservative and most religious states wouldn’t pass it, who would? 67 After all, Steinem writes that the point of democracy is not what gets decided, but rather who decides, thus the possible consequences of Mississippi’s Proposition 26 (such as the idea of investigating ever y single miscarriage as a possible crime) was too extreme even for anti 64 Wilson, 20. 65 Ibid. 66 Ibid. 67 Pollitt, 85.

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29 choice voters. 68 Yet, it is important to note that a major argument resulting in this victory was not about women having a right to end a pregnancy, or even to use emergency contracepti on. The focus for many was on the “possible dangers posed by the measure to fertility treatments, stemcell research, and hormonal contraception.” 69 Once again, the issue becomes less about women’s needs, and more about the possible threat to the medical co mmunity aiding in having more babies. Condit also remarks on the importance, as well as the danger, of how specific language within these narratives are used. Condit suggests that “once such competing vocabularies are developed, advocates frequently move t he discussion into the domain of the law in order to place the coercive power of the state behind their vocabularies and, hence, their interests.” 70 She provides the example of how during the 1970’s State legislators began a formal process of “ad judicating” between the terms “choice” and “l ife” in order to “produce a legitimated set of terms” that would guide public action. 71 The competing vocabularies were the result of one side attempting to articulate women’s interests, as well as the opposing side articulating the interests of preserving traditional patriarchal values and power structures. 72 Condit explains that in the case of Roe v. Wade , “the courts decision then embroiled the national Congress directly in the public negotiation process.” 73 The result, Condit argues, was that the negotiation process and the Court’s 68 Gloria Steinem, “Foreward,” in The Choices We Made , ed. Angela Bonavoglia (New York: Random House, Inc., 1991), xiii 69 Pollitt, 85. 70 Condit , 96. 71 Ibid. 72 Ibid. 73 Ibid.

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30 ultimate ruling in the case of Roe shifted public meaning of the word “Choice” as well as reshaped the concept of fetal “Life.” 74 Perhaps this is part of the reason why abortion continues to remain such a heated political issue. We simply are not using the right language to demonstrate the range of complexities th at pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion can be for women. Pollitt makes the case that these are not only physical and medical experiences, but that they are “social experiences that, in modern America, just as when abortion was criminalized in the 1870’s, s erve to restrict women’s ability to participate in society on equal footing with men.” 75 Meanwhile, “anti abortionists have come to monopolize the current language and drama of public debate about abortion,” says McDonnell. 76 After all, negative language abo ut abortion is so effective that it has become the overall tone of abortion even in pro choice public discussions. Abortion is no longer the “unspeakable” subject once was, but it is often discussed in the context of being a sad and shameful discussion fil led with undertones of regret. McDonnell reminds us that the power ful language used by anti abortion groups was developed “in reaction to the success of feminists in winning important reforms and in challenging psychological and structural patterns of gender inequality.” 77 McDonnell recalls a sign outside of a National Right To Life Committee convention in 1982 that read: “Abortion is Violence Against Women and Third World People.” 78 Although the message is referring specifically violence against women and th e “unborn” through the practice of 74 Ibid. 75 Pollitt, 9. 76 McDonnell ix. 77 Ibid. 78 Ibid.

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31 abortion based on factors such as race and class, it seems to misinterpret the fact that in many ways violence against women, particularly marginalized women, can also come in the form of being forced to carry unwanted pr egnancies. First trimester abortion carries a risk of less than 0.05% chance of major complications that may require medical care. 79 This stands in contrast to the 18.5 deaths per 100,000 live births in the U.S. found by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. 80 Yet narratives such as risk and death remain incredibly pervasive because what abortion opponents lack in numbers they often make up for with passionate language. 81 With this in mind, we can see the potential power held in choosing not to remain silent on an issue that affects a large number of American women, because language often shapes society’s perception of that issue. W e need to be conscious of how we may be perpetuating negative ideas about abortion while discussing it more openly. Feminist legal scholars argue that a major flaw in the discussion l ed by abortion rights groups i s a reliance on “pro privacy, profamily, and anti government intrusion rhetoric” instead of human rights . 82 Justice Ruth Bader Gins burg even argued how “the Supreme Court should have legalized abortion on the ground of equality rather than privacy.” 83 Use of words like “privacy,” on which to base the reproductive rights argument, are specifically chosen rather than terms that get at th e heart of the issue like “equality” 79 Weitz TA et al., “Safety of Aspiration Abortion Performed By Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse Midwives, and Physician Assistants Under A California Legal Waiver,” American Journal of Public Health, 2013, 103(3),454– 461. 80 “ Global, regional, and national levels and causes of maternal mortality during 1990 – 2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013,” The Lancet.com , last modified September 12, 2014, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs /journals/lancet 81 Pollitt, 59. 82 Thomsen, 2. 83Pollitt, 9.

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32 because they are considered more appealing and digestible. Perhaps the topic of female equality is too controversial for a culture with deeply held patriarchal values that it is too risky to insert into an already exhau sting and complicated discourse of abortion in the U.S. The more complex question however, is to what end are these methods of selective language within storytelling considered effective or ineffective? Ethics Behind The Rights Wilson, through his analysis of high court anti abortion regulation cases, notes that the prochoice movement has become increasingly less proactive and more reactive about abortion rights in the years since Roe , particularly in regards to their use of language and invoking the law. This could in part explain the resilience of abortion politics: Through these cases we see how abortion rights activists have largely taken a defensive stance that reacts to, rather than initiates action against their opponents. In the decades si nce Roe , the abortionrights movement has yet to find a way to take the offensive, control the political discussion, or sustain popular involvement. They have come to be both behind and significantly subject to the anti abortion movement's actions. As a result, they show no signs of being able to slow, let alone end the ongoing movement countermovement conflict over abortion. Rather, they can only perpetuate it. 84 What is the reason behind this deadlock? One idea for why it may be difficult to sustain inte rest (even from individuals who claim to be “prochoice”) is that many people simply do not think about the difficulties surrounding the abortion issue unless they are confronted with a situation where they (or someone they know/love) are in need of one. A t the very least , people are compelled to take interest when they hear a tragic story about how a woman in an unfortunate situation needs one, and this is part of the intention behind abortion storytell ing 84Ibid

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33 as a tool for the reproductive rights . Yet these s tories are often extreme and fail to represent the majority of women who still need access to abortions even when their life is not as risk. Surely, a lack of personal interest cannot be the entire explanation for why the movement is often at a standstill. Perhaps part of the answer lies in the ethics behind the right to access an abortion itself. Anti abortion activists often ignore the earlier point made by Pollitt about how one's opinion about abortion does not , in theory, prevent another individual from upholding their right to access one. Despite this, the blocking of clinic access and the development of state level TRAP laws to patients has continued to take on new and creative forms for the anti abortion movement. On the other side of this spectrum, t he reproductive rights movement not only has an obligation to help ordinary patients obtain access, but also to help those individuals who identify as anti abortion advocates obtain access to abortions as well. As mentioned earlier abortion clinic workers are often t rained to expect that some individuals may be seen protesting outside of the health center one day, come into the clinic for an appointment the next, and then be seen back on the picket line the day after that. The popular phrase of reasoning be ing: My situation is different. Upholding the same axiom of abortion care and protection for individuals that identify a s anti abortion puts organizations like Planned Parenthood in an unusual position of being silenced in order to provide the same standar d of care. Doing too much on the offensive might hinder the movement’s ability to remain accessible to its patient population who so desperately need it. Yet doing nothing puts them as risk of being defunded and put out of business. This is part of the rea son why much of the language that we see from the reproductive rights movement never quite seems to get at the heart of the issue, because the realities of the issue are often unspeakable and violate the privacy of others. Thus, according to Wilson, while one side of these cases is illustrative

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34 of a movement that faces difficulty in spite of success, the other side provides examples of a movement that is in many ways successful in spite of it's failures. 85 Questioning Motherhood In many ways, the reproductive rights movement has been just as successful as anti abortion groups in keeping women out of the center of the issue when it comes to the language of abortion. This is seen in how often the conversations about the abortion experience are redire cted toward other situations surrounding women’s lives. By shifting the focus away from the concept of female equality (in the sense that women simply have a right to not want to continue a pregnancy, without reason), and toward a sense of female equality that is centered around more material and capitalist ideas such as, education, or finances, the story becomes more about the “things” that are being obtained by having the abortion, rather than the abortion itself , or the person having one . This is somethi ng that is more digestible to the general public, because it does not challenge patriarchal concepts of women being mothers above all else. In fact, most of the narratives collected for this thesis make some mention of the subjects already being mothers, e ither before or after the abortion. In others, their intent to become mothers eventually is sharply emphasized. The concept of “maternal instinct” distracting from open discussions about women’s sexual autonomy is far from new.86 Gordon describes how many nineteenth century women’s rights advocates would use 85 Ibid. 86 Linda Gordon, “Voluntary Motherhood: The Beginnings of Feminist Birth Control Ideas in the United States,” Feminist Studies 1, no. (1973): 8.

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35 “presumed ‘special motherly nature’ and ‘sexual purity’ of women as arguments for increasing their freedom and status.”87 Gordon writes: In many nineteenth century writings we find the idea that the mater nal instinct was the female analog of the male sex instinct; it was as if the two instincts were seated in analogous parts of the brain, or soul. Thus to suggest, as feminists did, that women might have the capacity for sexual impulses of their own automat ically tended to weaken the theory of the maternal instinct.88 Even today, prochoice rhetoric indulges the belief that if women can justify their sexuality, and the need to carefully consider family planning with their desire to become mothers “when the time is right.” This way, the concept of women being more sexually active and utilizing birth control is much more admissible. Gordon remarks on how the circumstances surrounding the founding of Planned Parenthood demonstrate the reproductive rights moveme nts desire to detach itself from its earlier radical connotations of sexual promiscuity. All the names proposed took the focus away from women and placed it on families and children. All were designed to have as little sexual connotation as possible. Planned Parenthood advocates sought to treat the family and, in particular, the married couple within it as a unit, capable of common decisions. They consciously wanted to de emphasize the feminist connotation that still clung to birth control.89 Indeed, the very idea of birth control rests on a “full acceptance, at least quantitatively, of female sexuality” which even today is only permissible with the presumption that women will have children one day .90 However, abortion takes away this part of the equati on, leaving only female sexuality. The underlying attitude being that if women want independence, integrity, as well as personal, financial and social growth, she must simply not have sex, or she must keep any trace of her sexuality completely out of view. Becoming pregnant 87 Ibid. 88 Ibid. 89 Carole Joff e, The Regulation of Sexuality (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1986), 21. 90 Gordon, 8.

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36 automatically “outs” women as sexually active be ings, and gives the public a reason to cast judgment and demand that she gladly accept her punishment and highest calling : motherhood. With this concept of punishment in mind, one of the benefits of women sharing the stories of how they came to have abortions is that is breaks down the idea that it is so easy for women to control their reproductive health and that they “should have known better.” Never mind the fact that no birth control me thod is 100% effective. The CDC reports that with typical use of combined hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, patch, or ring, 612 pregnancies will result in every 100 women.91 Pollitt also remarks on how a lack of proper sex education and discussions on reproduction with healthcare providers leads to an alarmingly high number of women who are kept from having a full understanding of how they can get pregnant.92 Many women share in their abortion stories the difficulties they had in finding, obtaining, and continuing birth control methods due to financial issues or problems with insurance coverage. Others’ lack of sexual education has led to a complete ignorance of what their risk for pregnancy was in the first place , or how to properly use a birth control method once they obtained one . I’ve spoken directly with several women who believed they could never get pregnant simply because they never had been up until that point. Still, one problem is that the myriad of scenarios that result in unintended pregnancies (while they may provide an eye opening perspective for many readers on just how accidents do happen) does not combat the mindset that women should be less sexual. In fact, many of the themes discovered during my analysis of the narratives collected for this thesis invoke 91 “Reproductive Health: Effectiveness of Family Planning Methods,” CDC.gov, last modified February 9th, 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception 92 Pollitt, 154.

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37 (whether intentionally or unintentionally) seemingly counter productive concepts of how women should think, feel, and behave. This is why abortion storytelling as a tool should be utilized carefully . Useful Tools Without proper analysis of the ways in which the subjects of abortion narratives discuss their experiences, we cannot determine their efficiency as tools for the reproductive rights movement. This includes the ways in which internalized oppression and patriarchal language may be unconsciously emitted throughout the narratives. In some cases, abortion storytelling may have the opposite effect of what was intended by the narrator. That being said, what are the ways in which the language of abortionrights storytelling can b e improved in order to better ensure that it has the affects for which they were intended? Feminist scholars point out that, along with a rise in abortion storytelling among public figures, there is also an increase in attaching a level of “success” to the narratives themselves, or as Condit describes it, expressing the desire for a career or a life of “one’s own,” factors which she points out are often labeled as “convenience” by abortion opponents .93 Statements situated within abortion narratives such as “ I currently have my masters and teach at the college level” 94 succeed in once sense by showing what could be possible for some women . In addition to the fact that they speak to only a limited number of women for whom this type of “success” is possible, they also unconsciously play into the belief that a certain kind of reason is needed for wanting to terminate a pregnancy. 93 Condit, 96. 94 Rebecca Ruiz, “I am Sick of Being Silenced: 14 Women Share Their Abortion Stories,” Mashable , last modified March 6, 2016, http://mashable.com/2016/03/06/abortion stigma women stories

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38 We also cannot forget the rhetorically compelling, politically/socially acceptable, and often “prime time” displayed case for women needing to rid themselves of a rapist’s child, or seek out an abortion because their life depends on it. 95 Ludlow describes a “constructed gap” between what is experienced at clinics and “how we talk about those experiences” while reflecting back on her time as an abortion clinic worker. 96 Ludlow claims that the “ pro choice political perspective” has developed a hierarchy out of a defensive stance that has “circumscribed our own discourse.” 97 Situated at the top of this hierarchy is what Ludlow claims to be the “politically necessary” narratives (“rape/incest/domestic violence victims’ difficulty in obtaining abortion services, clinic personnel’s struggles with anti abortion protestors, the ri sks of illegal abortion to women’s health and welfare”). 98 Ludlow suggests that these narratives are central to maintaining public support for abortion rights and access. 99 Second place in the hierarchy are the politically, or socially acceptable narratives (including “contraceptive failure rates, a young mother’s financial inability to support another child, fetal anomaly cases,” etc.). 100 Although these narratives “raise potentially difficult questions about personal choice and responsibility,” Ludlow states that they work by representing “situations in which most Americans can empathize, thereby posing no threat to continued public support for abortion rights and access.” 101 The bottom of the hierarchy is inhabited by 95 Condit, 124. 96 Jeannie Ludlow, “The Things We Cannot Say: Witnessing the Trauma tization of Abortion in the United States,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1 & 2 (2008): 30. 97 Ibid. 98 Ludlow, 29. 99 Ibid. 100 Ibid, 30. 101 Ibid.

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39 what one of Ludlow’s coworkers had coined a s “the things we cannot say.” Ludlow describes this level as follows: These are narratives of abortion experience that, while often exploited in anti abortion discourse, are generally not considered part of ProChoice public discourse in the United States; they are narratives of multiple abortions; of failure or refusal to use contraceptives (correctly, consistently, or at all); of grief after abortion; and of the economics of abortion provision. 102 Reluctance to close this gap out of fear that it will provi de rhetorica l ammunition for the opposition is precisely where the pro choice community has failed in bringing abortion storytelling to it’s full potential. If the goal is to normalize the abortion experience, this movement has consistently fallen short by unknowingly contributing to a belief that (a ) All women have the sa me choices, and (b ) That their choices require “reasons” that will rarely justify their actions . What has unintentionally been presen ted is an ideology suggesting that with abortion storytelling, women must first and foremost defend their choices while advocating for the right to choose. The socially and politically accepted “reasons” to have an abortion, once they are deemed sufficient, can often be materialistic and reinforce patriarchal concepts that women should be mothers above all else, as well as set the bar for what constitutes “good” and/or “acceptable” motherhood. In many ways the abortion conversation seems to completely leave out women who simply do not want to have childre n. The language of family planning services has often emphasized putting off childbearing in the moment in order to do it “better” (or in a more culturally acceptable fashion) at a later time. Condit points out that legal rhetoric leading up to Roe was car eful to limit recognition of the reproductive freedom which women deserve, and instead emphasize reasons for abortion that did not “challenge the myth of idealized 102 Ibid.

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40 motherhood.” 103 Reti discusses how a maternal revivalist occurrence has led feminism to betray women who wish to remain childless for the sake being childless. 104 Snitow also writes: It’s been some time since feminists demanding abortion have out front and center the idea that one good use to which one might put this right is to choose not to have ki ds at all. Chastised in the Reagan years, pro choice strategists understandably have emphasized the right to wait, to space one’s children, to have each child wanted. They feared invoking any image that could be read as withdrawal from the role of nurturer . 105 Thus, in many pro choice abortion narratives we see supplemental and often explanatory justifications such as: “I am now married and have two beautiful children whom I adore more than life itself.” 106 To what degree is information such as this pertinent to the story or the overall message of normalizing abortion? Does it help the narrator feel safer? Or more justified? Does have the potential to do more harm than good? Of course there is some underlying reason why the narrator chose to include this inform ation. It adds something to the meaning that she has assigned to her story. What that meaning is, we can only assume, is a type of response to the hostile attitudes and discourses that conti nue to surround the abortion experience. Pro Choice Oversight This thesis seeks to understand the meanings of abortion stories assigned by the narrators themselves and understand why certain types of language are chosen, and why 103 Condit, 124. 104 Irene Reti. Childless by Choice: A Feminist Anthology. (Santa Cruz, CA: HerBooks, 1992), 1 105 Ann Snitow. “Motherhood: Reclaiming the Demon Texts”, quoted in Irene Reti, Childless By Choice: A Feminist Anthology” (Santa Cruz, CA: HerBooks, 1992), 1. 106 Ruiz, “Sick of Being Silenced . ”

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41 others are intentionally or unintentionally left out. By analyzing the ways in which the “choice” paradigm unintentionally reinforces patriarchal ideologies about women and motherhood, we can begin to see how t he rhetoric of many pro choice abortion storytelling projects is not only privileged, but also falsely assumes that all women have the same kinds choices when it comes to aborti on. These narratives effectively leave marginalized women out of the abortion discussion, thus hindering overall progress for the reproductive rights movement . Just as important as the normalization of abortion lan guage, critiquing the language itself through both a feminist and reproductive justice lens is equally important to ending other diminutive types of stigmas that exist in the space surrounding the abortion experience. Methodology The purpose of this data collection and analysis is to demonstrate that firstperson abortion stories collected by websites and blogs under the “prochoice” framework have insufficiently served as tools for the reproductive rights movement. In this section, I will outline how I c ollected 100 first person narratives from three different websites about women’s individual experience with abortion: 1in3C ampaign.org, ChoiceOutLoud.org, and ProjectVoice.org and coded each narrative within 1 of 3 different themes: Motherhood, Success and Regret. In each section, I will discuss specific aspects of the language chosen throughout some of the stories in order to demonstrate how they unintentionally reinforce patriarchal concepts about women, and reflect how the women telling their own stories can internalize these attitudes. I then go on to provide examples of narratives collected from the Choice/ Less podcast, which I feel best represents a reproductive justice centered abortion

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42 storytelling project, and attempt to demonstrate the fundamental shift in the language used in these narratives by comparing the rhetoric of the podcast to those of the pro choice website narratives. Given that I am unable to copy 100 narratives into this sec tion, I have created appendices for both the prochoice and re productive justice narratives that are mentioned throughout thi s thesis. The appendices show the full content of each story being analyzed in order to provide a better context for my critique. I have been advised by my chair to keep these separate, given h ow immense the collection is, however electronic copies of the appendices are available by request. T he example narratives provided are only a small percentage of what was actually collected for my research. Sample/Sampling There are many dimensions to abortion narratives, thus the process of collecting particular types of stories for the purpose of this thesis needed to be selective. To start, I wanted the narratives to be specifically first person accounts of women’s own experiences with having an abor tion. A surprising number of narratives that were posted on websites were second hand accounts of someone else’s experience as told by a friend, a male partner, or a daughter of someone who had obtained an illegal abortion. One reason for avoiding these ac counts was that I felt they were more suscept ible to falling into antiabortion language patterns, and in many cases were centered on the thoughts and feelings of how the abortion affected others, rather than the experiences of women who had them. Given that one goal of this thesis is to understand the meanings assigned to the narratives by the women who tell their stories, it did not make sense to include stories told by other individuals on behalf of s omeone else. Although some stories on the websites wer e told by daughters and often tried

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43 to highlight the difficulties that their mother’s experienced obtaining an abortion in a pre Roe era, I felt it was important to make sure that the narratives that were collected had taken place post Roe in order to demonstrate that just because abortion is legal, does not mean it is any less difficult for women to obtain or discuss openly. One purpose of women sharing their abortion is to demonstrate the extreme circumstances women will often endure to o btain one, similarly to those women who did so illegally. This allows readers to understand that despite abortion being legal, many women are still forced to endure inexorable violations of their rights and privacy, such as mandatory waiting periods, being forced to look at multiple ultrasounds, listening to heartbeats as well as accept false information about risks to their health, and even being blocked access to clinic entrances. The next condition for my process of selection was heavily informed by my experience as a clinic worker, and the fact that for almost all of the patients I work with in a given day, the experience of having the abortion itself does not to appear to be as traumatic as we are often made to believe based on public discourse about abortions. It seems that for my patients, their biggest complaint lies with the previously mentioned difficulties in obtaining the abortion, but the procedure itself hardly seems to be the agonizingly weighty issue that it is portrayed as by oppositional r hetoric. Although many abortion story sharing websites attempt to be unbiased and allow both positive and negative accounts of the abortion experience to be shared publicly, I wanted to look explicitly at stories that were at least intended to be accounts of overall positive experiences, meaning the narrators made some mention of how they feel it was their best option at the time. More specifically, I wanted the narratives to be “prochoice” in their overall message, intended to be used as strategies of soc ial change, and to see how socially negative concepts of morality and ideas

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44 about women could permeate these stories due to an over emphasis on the “choice” paradigm. I felt this would allow me to start asking the larger question of w ho has these choices? I made a point to not to collect stories containing overt statements about the individuals having the privilege of a choice, which was not difficult because the entire framework of the websites I collected the narratives from seemed to be centered, perhaps unintentionally, on “choice” being presumed or even a guideline for their publication. The mission statements of the three websites were listed as follows: 1in3Campaign.org “The 1 in 3 Campaign is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about a bortion – telling our stories on our own terms. Together, we can end the stigma and shame women are made to feel about abortion. As we share our stories we begin to build a culture of compassion, empathy and support for access to basic health care. It’s time for us to come out in support of each other and in support of access to legal and safe abortion care in our communities. The 1 in 3 Campaign builds on the success of prior social change movements, harnessing the power of storytelling to engage and inspi re action and strengthen support for abortion access. By encouraging women who have had abortions to end their silence, share their stories, and start a new and more personal conversation about abortion in our society, the 1 in 3 Campaign will help create a more enabling cultural environment for the policy and legal work of the abortion rights movement.” Project Voice “Millions of women have abortions, yet many feel secretive and alone in their decision. By bringing together personal stories, Project Voic e hopes to establish a resource of sharing and support. The more people who share their stories here, the more accurately Project Voice can represent the multiplicities of abortion experiences.” Choice Out Loud “The cornerstone of Choice Out Loud is stor ytelling. This generation shared stories in many different ways: on social media, in videos, in pictures, and in person. Because choice is a personal issue, not everyone is comfortable sharing their story. But hearing people speak out can help encourage ot hers to do the same. Choice Out Loud is a Millennialled effort to highlight these stories and help amplify the conversation that this generation is having about choice.”

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45 I would like to point out that the first two websites do not specifically assert in their mission statements that they are operating within a pro choice framework. However, I feel that because their intention is to end stigma around abortion itself by demonstrating how wom en enact their choice to have a legal abortion, they still fall within the choice framework. Conversely, the Choice/Less podcast demonstrates how sharing stories within a reproductive justice framework works toward ending the stigma that women (or femalebodied trans and agender individuals) who have abortions face becaus e of their decision, and the ways in which their choices are not all the same based on factors such as race, class, sexual orientation or disability. The Choice/Less podcast does not have a mission statement. I t is a product of Rewire news, a nonprofit online publication dedicated to investigating and analyzing issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice. It is also not only about abortion storytelling; the podcast regularly discusses injustices faced by marginalized individuals with inter secting identities in regards to other issues of health, sexua lity and reproductive justice. H owever , I feel that the abortion stories provided by this website do a better job of discussing the abortion experience within a reproductive justice framework th at is useful for serving abortionrights advocacy in the United States. Data Collection Rather than attempt to discover the many themes that could continue to appear in the narratives over time, I decided to look at three specific themes for the purpose of critiquing the language used throughout the narratives: Motherhood, S uccess and Regret. S caling the analysis down to these three basic themes most strongly demonstrates the ways in which patriarchal language is reflected throughout different accounts of the abortion experience.

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46 Some attention is paid to certain aspects of the narratives that are absent, or rather, the negative space exist ing within each narrative (i.e. what is NOT said), but only to the degree that these three themes are reflected in that space. The narratives were coded using a latent method, paying attention to the hidden or inferred themes rather than specific words. This is in order to avoid self selection of specific words and phrases that may influence my research in any particular way. Instead, the purpose of latent coding will be to examine overarching themes of the narratives collected. For example, rather than looking for narratives specifically containing the word “regret,” t his analysis will instead look for overall themes of r egret that may appear in the story despite the specific types of words used. Another example would be to look at how motherhood appears in the narratives (i.e. phrases such as “I now have children that I love because I was able to have an abortion back the n”), and examine how this may reinforce certain ideas of how abortions are acceptable so long as women eventually chose to become mothers. The narratives were collected and coded into groups based on which themes were represented the most throughout their language. The theme of motherhood was the easiest identify, as this came down to finding phrases that made reference to the fact that the abortion was either for the sake of their already living and/or unborn future children. In this sense the goal of the abortion was to better plan for/carry out motherhood and emphasize the importance of doing this in a “correct” way, keeping in line with the patriarchal belief that motherhood is what is most important for women . The narratives that fell into the category of regret, though they did not specifically mention the term “regret,” were chosen based on factors such as the narrator stating that despite their abortion being the best decision they still have lingering thoughts of guilt, or perhaps will annually comm emorate the would be

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47 birthday of the child they never had. Others would discuss in detail how they suffered extreme periods of depression following their abortion, or feel that they never fully recovered emotionally. The success narrative was slightly more difficult to identify, because the concept of “success” seemed to mean different things for different women. In some cases, narratives contained more than one dominant theme, such as the combination of motherhood and success. These two themes were often g rouped together because , for many women , the definition of finding success after having an abortion meant going on to have children in better circumstances at a later time, or “successfully” raising the children they already had. The most obvious represent ation was when the narrators discussed their success in terms of academic achievements, financial stability, or career advancement. However, more subtle representations of success could be found in narratives discussing topics like mental health issues, or abuse, where success was determined by the fact that the narrator simply survived. These three websites were chosen bas ed on several factors. The 1in3Campaign .org had frequently come up in discussions about abortion while forming the idea for this thesis . It has become a popular abortion story sharing website based off of it’s association with the Guttmacher statistic that 1 in 3 women in the United States will have an abortion, a number that I believe people find to be higher than the y often expected. Bo th ChoiceOutLoud.org and ProjectVoice.org were chosen from a group of suggested resources offered to me by Planned Parenthood. When reviewing the abortion consent process, health center staff is required to offer resources to patients regarding how to bett er cope with their abortion if they find they are struggling after the procedure. A handful of pamphlet s and business cards are supplied, and I came across both of these websites through a resource called “Backline ” that offers a list of phone numbers, websites and support groups. I felt that these three websites were

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48 adequate examples of abortion storytelling within a prochoice framework because, when scrolling through their collections of narrativ es, there was a presumed concept of choice at the center o f the discussion, rather than an emphasis on dialogue about reproductive justice like the Choice/Less podcast. These three websites and the 100 narratives collected were entered into an excel document and the themes were grouped into graphs depicting how m uch of each theme was present on each website:

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49 *Thematic elements of pro choice websites Regret 37% Motherhood 23% Success 40%1 in 3 Regret Motherhood Success Regret 54% Motherhood 23% Success 23%Project Voice Regret Motherhood Success Regret 3% Motherhood 55% Success 42%Choice Out Loud Regret Motherhood Success

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50 Methodological Choices There are two methodological choices to be discussed: (1) Even though men often play a significant role in the participation/sharing of abortion storytelling, this research has intentionally left out narratives written from the male perspective. The reason for this is based on attempting to obtain knowledge about the meanings that women assign to their personal experience with abortion and how they choose to share this with the public. (2) There is the plausibility of self selection during th e collection process. T his has been avoided by first, gathering narratives without giving too much initial attention to the specific details of the story (outside of when they were written, who is telling them, and where they are being collected from), and then reading them more closely at a later time during the process of elimination. Strengths/Weaknesses I want to recognize that there is sometimes a distinct difference between the individual’s actual lived experience and the narratives shared. For this reason, I have decided to focus on how the stories are told, and what can be discovered by an analysis of the information deemed important enough to s hare by the individual. An experience that one individual might consider traumatic may be meaningless to another in the same situation. I am not concerned with authenticating the narratives or attempting to reveal how “truthful” they are. The thesis is onl y concerned with perceived significance of the particular details that the individual has chosen to share, rather than the details of what actually took place. I have become particularly aware of this because one part of my job is receiving feedback

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51 from p atients in an email survey that is sent to them 24 hours after their appointment , and it can be often difficult to determine whether someone was mistreated or simply frustrated by the fact that that they had to be there in the first place. That being said, there is a possibility for some or all aspects of a number of the stories collected to be fabricated, as many anti abortion activists may try to infiltrate pro choice forums and share dramatic negative interpretations of abortion in order to dissuade readers from making the same decision. There is also the possibility that some women could simply make up some or all aspects of their story, for whatever reasons we may not understand. However, this should not have an affect on demonstrating t he perceived meaning of the overall experience of abortion, as told by individuals who experience them in some capacity, whether real or imagined. With careful examination and an impartial process of the scaling down the data once collected, I feel that a suitable group of narratives has been obtained.

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52 CHAPTER III ANALYSIS Onset To begin the analysis of narratives collected for this thesis, it is important to note that the problem with choice centered abortion storytelling is not in the stories themselve s , but rather the rhetorical framework for how these stories are told . Indeed everyone’s experience is their own, and this critique is not to say that the experiences of the women who share their stories is not valid because of their choice privilege or my interpretation of possible internalized patriarchal ideas about their abortion experience (such as the narrators perceived moral failings ) . Rather, the issue at hand is more about the recurring themes of narratives that were selected with the specific pur pose of de stigmatizing abortion, and how they may unknowingly be inadequately serving the reproductive rights movement . It should be noted that there is a distinct difference in abortion storytelling for the purpose of providing healing to individuals who have had an abortion and may be struggling to come to terms with their decision, versus abortion storytelling for the purpose of enlightening readers to conditions such as how common abortion is, the types of circumstances that lead women to choose aborti on, and the complex barriers women can face in obtaining abortions. Abortion storytelling as a tool for the reproductive rights movement has developed with the intention of normalizing the abortion experience for readers and perhaps more importantly, demonstrating the myriad of social and economic barriers to accessing abortions. This, in theory should stand in contrast to antiabortion storytelling that has intent to dissuade readers from having future abortions or providing a space to discuss negative emotions associated with the abortion experience. However, there are a surprising amount of similarities between

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53 the two types o f narratives, despite their different intentions. Many themes other than motherhood, success and r egret present them selves , such as legal and socia l barriers and social consequences . The argument of this analysis is that the three specific themes chosen can particularly reinforce patriarchal concepts and values, thus they risk having the opposite affect intended for normalizing the ab ortion experience. Instead, these narrative themes could cater to the anti abortion perspective that abortion is an overall negative experience for women. This analysis is broken up into three sections to coincide with each theme. Motherhood The primary theme from which I feel the others could be seen as resulting from is motherhood. If we are to look at the nature of what drives the desire to keep women from having equal standing with men by taking control of their reproductive health, then w e cannot ignore motherhood as a groundwork for attempting to define women’s purpose within a patriarchal society. Even for individuals who believe that nature has made man stronger or given him superiority over women, abortion in many ways allows women to take back a certain amount of power. Reproduction has become the one aspect of life that men cannot always control in the same way women have learned to. Historically, women’s inability to control pregnancies directly resulted in their economic depende nce and overall oppression. Thus demanding control of t heir own bodies was key in women’s liberation. Carby suggests that because historically women’s “self concept” was viewed as extremely bound up with her “biological destiny,” there is a correlation between the duty of motherhood and women being seen as a type of slave.107 This is evident in how, as Gordon points out, during the mid107 Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro American Woman Novelist (Oxford University Press, 1987), 25.

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54 nineteenth century, both “law and practice” made sexual submission to their husband a woman’s duty.108 Emphasizing motherhood as a valued moral standard is crucial for attempting to dissuade women from taking control of their reproductive health, and thus stan ding on equal ground with men. This historical framework provides some outlook for considering the ways in which the concept of motherhood is carried out in our contemporary belief systems and is often demonstrated throughout abortion storytelling. Even when discussing abortion in a positive light, one woman describes that because she had an abortion at 20 years old after two teen age pregnancies, she “no longer worries about the future” of her children.109 With language such as this we can see how the abortion for the sake of motherhood (rather than herself as an individual) becomes inadvertently emphasized. In another narrative, one woman states that she is thankful she lives in a country where she has the choice to decide when and how to have a family so that she can give her child all of the attention and love they deserve.110 This ignores the fact that ju st because she has this choi ce it does not mean all women in the U.S. have the same ones, and emphasizes a more acceptable type of motherhood as being the excuse for having an abortion. Ultimately, the decision not to continue a pregnancy has something to do with deciding not to part icipate in the mothering of a potential human being. If the reason for making this decision can somehow be excused with an existing obligation to mother an already living child, or at least intend to at some point in the future, then it becomes more admiss ible to a public that is largely situated somewhere in the middle of the abortion issue. Although having an abortion in order to care for already living or future children is an extremely important aspect of the 108 Gordon, 11. 109 Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org. (accessed October 1, 2016). 110 Ibid.

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55 abortion experience, it has become such an i mportant part of the discussion to respond to anti abortion critiques , that the patr iarchal attitudes regarding women’s overall purpose as mothers seems to be overlooked. In this sense we are more inclined to accept women’s decisions to have abortions if t hey can provide us with evidence of their desire to either become mothers eventually or be better mother’s now. The problem is that this begins to erase women that choose abortion because they have no intention of ever becoming mothers, a concept that fundamentally chall enges this expectation of women. How is Motherhood just as problematic of a rhetorical decision as Choice? Solinger points out that most Americans agree that the desire to raise a family is a fundamental human longing for most, and within t hat, motherhood is a source of “self and community esteem.”111 Perhaps more importantly is how most American’s agree that to be denied that experience is a denial of “the right to choose.”112 Even though public perception is in favor of the right to make the c hoice to have children, this is not the case when women with “few resources” had the same desires.113 Here we can see the interception of the choice and motherhood frameworks as being problematic. Certain women have the right to choose motherhood but do not necessarily have the same social allocation when it comes to choosing to reject motherhood altogether, only to reject it for a certain amount of time . On the other hand, Solinger notes that motherhood for other marginalized women, such as poor women, is not viewed in the same context of self and community esteem or loving relationships, but as 111 Rickie Solinger, “Motherhood as Class Privilege in America,” in Reproduction and Society: Interdisciplinary Readings , ed. Carole Joffe and Jennifer Reich (New York: Routledge, 2015), 232. 112 Ibid. 113 Ibid.

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56 a source of negative associations such as “dependency and depravity.”114 One woman from ProjectVoice.org gives an emotional account of knowing it is going to be “the worst day of her life,” but stating that she feels it is the best decision because she is “barely capable of feeding her and putting clothes on her back” aside from begging her family on a daily basis for financial support.115 The narrator makes i t clear that this is not a decision she wants, but feels obligated to make. What is interesting here is how this story is published on a prochoice website, yet seems to actively ignore the fact that the narrator feels she does not have one. As a reader, t he message I am struck with is : “choice” only within a certain framework of acceptable motherhood. Certain women may have the right to choose a legal abortion, but are not given the same social approval for ch oosing motherhood. In some cases , the women kne w that if they continued their pregnancies they would have fallen into this category of being associated with “dependency and depravity” that Solinger talks about, such as one woman stating that she all she could envision was “living off the government’s m oney for some time, asking my family for help constantly, fighting with my boyfriend and just generally str uggling financially and emotionally. ”116 This contrast between dependency and acceptable motherhood is where I began to see the themes of success and r egret emerge. Success When examining the stories that specifically addressed the success narrators felt they had gained by having an abortion, the most obvious outcomes dealt with careers, finances, family, and motherhood. Many of them contained all of these outcomes, as one woman fr om 114 Ibid. 115 Anonymous, ProjectVoice.org (accessed January 5, 2017). 116 Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org (accessed January 5, 2017).

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57 1in3Campaign .org points out that she and her partner ended up getting married 5 years later despite barely knowing each other at the time of their unplanned pregnancy.117 She discusses how they both have careers, a home, a y oung son and expressed her belief that “having an abortion because you aren’t equipped to be a parent is a perfectly acceptable reason to do so and you can still have a happy, healthy family when you are ready later.”118 Although this nar rative demonstrates a more positive experience compa red to the narratives reflected in the motherhood and regret categories (I noticed this positivity was generally more prevalent with the success narratives) it’s language still reflects a belief system that there are reasons needed in order to have an abortion and that certain reasons are either acceptable or unacceptable. I cannot help but wonder if some of the women inadvertently expressing themes of regret in their narratives would have different outlooks on their experience with abortion had their overall circumstances end ed up with outcomes deemed socially or financially acceptable. Does success (or a lack of) in other areas of life determine how some women feel about the overall exper ience of ending their pregnancies? Does this somehow cater to the belief that women can be mothers or have a career, but not both at the same time ? Many stories in the success category cite a concern about finishing school or continuing a career as the rea son for choosing abortion. What’s interesting is that several of these narratives also make note of the fact that they have or had a supportive partner during their unplanned pregnancy, yet not a single one mentions their male partners offering to postpone their own education or careers to raise a wanted child. The responsibility seems to rest solel y on the woman: she can choose success first, and motherhood second, but should not do it the other way around unless she is stable . For the many women who menti oned already having children in their stories, their 117 Anonymous, 1in3Campaign.org (accessed January 5, 2017). 118 Ibid

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58 success was often intertwined with their existing motherhood, bringing this role back as the focus of their decision. Not all success narratives were centered on materi al or social concepts. Several wo men’s s torie s in this category had defined success by their physical and mental health, and in some cases their will to survive. What I find fascinating about these kinds of stories is how they can be such a powerful tool for the abortionrights argument, yet I believe they have a tendency to be overly discussed and the ab ility to not only overshadow but also silence the stories of women who don not have socially acceptable reasons to terminate a pregnancy (based on patriarchal standards and beliefs about women). T hey can also strongly reinforce the mindset that reasons are needed in the first place. One of the best illustrations of this was that there appeared to be two types of “medical” stori es in the success category that demonstrate Ludlow’s earlier me ntioned hierarchy of prochoice rhetoric. The first were stories regardi ng the physical health of the women, the fetus, or sometimes both. In these stories narrators present the medical circumstances that lead them to abortion, such as one woman describing how hers was “livesaving.”119 What is unique about these stories is that , although they could be considered some of the most affective and convincing tools in the argument for reproductive rights , there is often an emphasis on the fact that the women felt they did not have any choice but to terminate, yet praise the fact that this it was an available option. If this was truly the only option then this would not actually be a choice to make at all, making it an unusual topic to focus on within a choice –centered rhetorical framework. In this group of the hierarchy, there also st ories about rape, abuse, domestic violence , and complicated medical conditions with an emphasis on the women being victims who, by having an abortion, were able to survive. The “ lower half ” representing the hierarchy 119 Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org (accessed October 12, 2016).

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59 contained stories dealing with mental health as the conditions for which the narrators choose abortion. In these, the narrators discuss experiences with issues like drug abuse, eating disorders , and various types of depress ion. Rather than frame their situations as personally life saving, they discuss their success in terms of how they avoided causing harm to another potential life. This provides an example of the ways in which abortion can become more about a nonexistent “ person” than an already existing woman. Although these tw o types of medical success narratives provide some of the most pervasive arguments for abortion rights advocates and cause listeners to think about the potentially devastating outcomes for women if abortion were to become illegal, they still have the ability to reflect patr iarchal concepts about what constitutes success and acceptable reasons for postponing motherhood. Regret Regret was present in various forms throughout a large number of the narratives collected. In many cases it was not blatantly talked about, as if to say, “I regret my abortion.” I n fact, very few of the narratives did this. Instead, the theme of regret was infiltrated throughout the story in rather esoteric arrangements. In one narrative, a woman recounts her experience of having an abortion at 15 year s old. Although she states that she “immediately knew” she wanted an abortion, her story primarily focuses on the subsequent shame that she felt led her down a road of drugs and alcohol use in the years following her abortion.120 Wh at is interesting here is that the narrator blatantly states that she does “not regret” her abortion, only that she regrets getting pregnant.121 Yet the she tells us in the beginning of her story that 120 Anonymous, 1in3Campaign.org (accessed October 13, 2016). 121 Ibid.

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60 due to her lack of sex education, her pregnancy was to some degree unavoidable, so citing regret for becoming pregnant is a rather confusing statement. Are readers to assume that her pregnancy is what ultimately caused her to become a drug addict? It is hard not to connect the bad things in her life with her abortion because there is no mention in her story of how the pregnancy itself caused the turmoil in her life; only the ripple affect that abortion caused for her, her partner, and her family. She discloses that many of her family members became pregnant as teenagers, and that she rece ived a great deal of support when she found out she wa s pregnant. The author seems to associate only her abortion with the negative turning point in her life, rather than her lack of sex education, or the fact she came from a family lineage of teen pregnan cy. Many stories such as these can have an underlying and unintentional theme of regret, by attributing several misfortunes to the abortion act itself, rather than the situation as a whole. When looking at the realities of an abortion procedure, a n inclin ic abortion typically takes about 5 minutes and it is one of the safest procedures one can have. We can assume that much of the trauma is not actually a result of the procedure but rather the details surrounding the abortion such as social stigma, finances , travel, poor quality of care by clinic workers, even the emotions experienced when one feels they have no other choice . At the same time, a large number of the stories reviewed were completely open about the regret they were experiencing despite being selected for pro choice readership, as was the case in another 1in3Campaign .org narrative. Not only does the narrator face pressure from her husband to have an abortion, but also from her job, as she has a high profile position within a prestigious universit y, and is the only women in her department. Her entire story recounts the pressure that is put on her by nearly every facet of her life; her failing marriage, her career, the fact that has already had 3 previous pregnancies all with medical complications of their

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61 own . She describes the experience as lonely and “sad,” and explains how to this day she was only able to tell a handful of people after much time had passed and her pain had “dulled” after receiving therapy.122 Her closing statement and overall messa ge is that “sometimes women have to make choices they would rather not make.”123 This is an interesting perspective th at has been heavily adopted by choice rhetoric and in many ways completely ignores the concept of reproductive justice. Labeling abortion as a negative experience that women do not want to make but feel they have to somewhat contradicts the idea of choice altogether. Of course there are instances where women are coerced into having an abortion, which might have been the case in this story, and many women have experienced unwanted abortions. Yet there is a danger in c hoosing to portray abortion as largely regrettable in a community where narratives are meant to normalize the experience for it’s readers. This is because it begins to seem less and less like abortion was actually the woman’s choice, and more like somethin g she may have felt obligated to do for one reason or a n other. Furthermore, if “choice” is the central argument of the movement, then would it not be the case that allowing regret to shape the readers’ perspective of what may o r may not have actually been a choice seem counterproductive? In a sense, her lack of choice is something the movement should be fighting against, not utilizing her story as a framework for what the abortion experience is like. Another example is a story that describes one of the cir cumstances argued by pro choice individuals where abortion is crucial. The narrator is faced with a medical complication that makes carrying a pregnancy to term dangerous to both her and the fetus. Although she describes various reasons for why it was nece ssary, she does mention that in 122 Anonymous, 1in3Campaign.org (accessed October 13, 2016). 123 I bid.

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62 her heart she was “screaming NO.”124 While this particular narratives aids in psychologically creating a separation between “life” as it is seen by abortion opponents and valuing the lives of already existing women, there is s till a sense of regret in her story because , like so many others, it describes a situation where abortion is a painful last resort, one that she felt she ultimately had to choose. There is a regrettable tone in these narratives as if to apologize for the f act that they felt they had no other option, and if given the opportunity things would have been done differently. This is where the anti abortion movement has room to step in and say: “you have other options!” Many women may regret their decision to have an abortion, and hearing other stories of women who regret theirs as well may be helpful at aidin g in their healing process. However, emphasizing the concept of regret too often in the selection of narratives that are intended to normalize the experience m ust be approached with caution. This is because it leaves room for oppositional arguments that women are easily coerced into having abortions and that anti abortion public policy will aid in “protecting” women from this coercion. These narratives cater to the ideology that we cannot trust women to be strong enough to make their own decisions and that society must do this for them, lest they will most certainly end up regretting their abortions eventually because their highest purpose can only ever be mother hood. Choice/Less ness The pervasiveness of patriarchal attitudes about women in the United States is not the only outcome of the choice paradigm when discussing personal accounts of abortion. The division of choice from reproductive rights is exhibited in the first person abortion narratives shared on the Choice/Less podcast. Rather than center abortion discourse on the importance 124 Anonymous, ProjectVoice.org (accessed December 10, 2016).

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63 of having a choice and demonstrating how women who have choices will enact t his pr ivilege, the podcast focuses its attention on aspects of the abortion experience that demonstrate how legal abortion in the U.S. is flawed . It also shows how abortion at times can seem less like an undivided right, and more like what Higgins describe s as “a practice whose delivery depends greatly on one’s wealth, insurance status, and access to the social and cultural resources that help avert unintended pregnancy.”125 One aspect of the abortion experience that is heavily emphasized in some of the narra tives is a detailed account of how even the smallest changes in public poli cies can have drastic affects in ways that the narrators never imagined. It also provides a viewpoint into how abortion is simultaneously affecting and affected by other social issu es and injustices. In one episode, the host begins with a description of Texa s House Bill 2, and then interviews the narrator, specifically detailing the ways in which HB 2 a ffected one of her three abortion experience s while living in Texas. She also disc uss es factors such as going to the urgent care for a headache and thoughtless ly being told “co ngratulations, you’re pregnant,” experiencing a forced 24 hour waiting period, the discrimination she felt for being Latina, he r insurance card being denied at an abortion clinic, her coworkers finding out through the human reso urces department , and being repeatedly denied sterilization because one doctor was concerned that her husband might change his mind about wanting children.126 One of the main differences that we can see in this narrative from the previous websites is that the emphasis lies in the choices the narrator does not have. It highlights how the issue is often more than simply making a choice whether or not to have 125 Jenny Higgins, “Sex, Unintended Pregnancy, and Poverty: One Woman’s Evolution from “Choice” to “Reproductive Justice,” in Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choices , ed. Krista Jacob (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006), 39 . 126 Candace, Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017).

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64 an abortion and then embracing the outcomes later. The problem f or the narrator is the ongoing process of sifting through which choices she does or does not have in regards to simply not wanting to be pregnant. The narrator ultimately testifies against HB 2, a nd describes how when she was married she was refused sterilization (because of her husband) , as well as when she became single again (because she might meet someone new) . Clinicians consistently denied her permanent birth control citing that she might meet a man who wants children, completely ignoring the fact that she insists she never wants to have kids. Unlike the prochoice website narratives which often have narrators internalizing different ideas about motherhood in regards to their stories, this epi sode turns the perspective around in order to demonstrate a larger cultural issue with motherhood instead and the lack of choice this woman had when she wanted to take permanent action in order to not become a mother . M edical complications also make up s ome stories on the Choice/Less podcast, much like prochoice websites. However, rather than focus specifically on why the medical conditions create a necessary and acceptable reason for having an abortion, the podcast instead looks at the details of undue burdens placed on patients seeking abortions for medical purposes. One woman recounts the considerable amount of red tape she h ad to endure when finding out that her much wanted pregnancy was no longer viable. This was especially complicated by the fact th at her scans did not reveal the extent of the condition until just before 17 weeks and this combined with mandatory waiting periods put her dangerously close to the 20week ban. Not only did the entire process take weeks but it also cost her thousands of dollars due to the fact that she ultimately had to travel outside of her home state of Texas in order to have the procedure done (another outcome resulting from HB 2) .127 127 Valerie . Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017).

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65 What I find most valuable about this narrative is that it demonstrates grief in regards to the dif ficulties of deciding to have an abortion for medical reasons without overemphasizing the loss of motherhood as the reason for this grief. Instead, the narra tor gives us insight into the grief she experiences because her human rights are being violated. Even though she accounts for the fact that her already living children are affected by the experience, she shows us that their concern lies within her health as an individual (not just as a mother) and that while the loss of their “baby brother” is unfortunate, he is also not the center of the grief experienced by the family. Trusting All Wome n It would not be possible to separate reproductive justice from the simplistic choice paradigm without discussing the enormous disjunction that race and class creates between the two. This is a topic that has been virtually absent from the narratives I had collected from the choicecentered websites. One Choice/Less episo de gives readers i nsight into the experience of a woman who was accused of being complicit in black genocide by anti abortion activists “masquerading” in what she now knows was a crisis pregnancy center.128 The narrator then points out the irony of how , in t he same visit, she was “asked by the white woman if I was on food stamps. I was asked by the white woman if, was I on WIC, did I have other kids, those types of things. I was like, ‘No’.”129 Eventually, another B lack women is brought in to speak to her and ultimately coerce her out of having an abortion by exploiting the fact that they share experiences and face specific challenges as B lack women. Even though the narrator is 128 Cherisse , Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed February 14, 2017). 129 Ibid.

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66 aware at this point in her story that the antiabortion advoca tes don not care about her (as a Black woman) or her child, she ultimately does not go through with the abortion. She points out that her lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive education at the time made her panic when she was lied to and told that having an abortion would prevent her from having children in the future. Eventually, the traum a that resulted from postpartum depression and becoming a single mother led her to become a reproductive justice advocate for other women . Her organization created an ad campaign in re sponse to local billboards in her area that accused abortion clinics of being the cause of black genocide. Her campaign highlights the ways in which the anti abortion movement does not care about providing assistance and resources for women (especially wom en of color) once they bring a child to term, only the moment when they are trying to talk them out of having an abortion. It also offers information about the kinds of resources needed in the community to help prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place . Although anyone is suscepti ble to being targeted by anti abort ion protestors, Higgins points out that “white, middle class women have had the luxury of avoiding coercive contraceptive practices, let alone forced sterilizations or abortions .”130 Furthermore , white women face less of a risk of being associated with the dependency and depravity mentioned by Solinger, should they bring a pregnancy to term, in the way that is experienced by women of color. C hoice privilege includes not only having certain types of choices available, but also not having them questioned because of factors such as race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc . One B lack feminist writer actually brings this to light in her episode of Choice/Less, when she describes an articl e she wrote for Ebony magazine about her abortion experience: "For white women in American society, the shame of having an abortion is mainly centered on their individual behavior. For Black women, our behavior 130 Higgins, 41.

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67 reflects on black folks as a whole, especiall y other Black women, so the scope of the shame is much wider."131 Her episode demonstrates a sort of perfect storm of human rights violations. She is refused a tubal ligation for being “too young” and opts instead for an IUD. She tests positive during a routine pregnancy test before the IUD insertion, and although she i mmediately tells her OBGYN that she wants an abortion, the response is that she should “wait it out.”132 The problem with doing so, however, is that her morning sickness quickly turns into all day sickness, and we begin to see how “waiting it out” can cause undue suffering, especially for women who are certain they want to terminate. After being harassed by protestors on her way into the clinic shouting at her that “abortion is the number one killer of African American babies” she decides to write her article for Ebony , and points out the irony of abortion opponents using race as an argument for their cause. She describes how even when black women do decide to continue a pregnancy they are often criticized for doing so, and that abortion opponents don not care about black kids when they a re kids because they are immediately seen as a threat.133 Her article was published in an attempt to help other B lack women who may have been shamed for their reproductive choices, but she quickly began to experience online haras sment for going public with her abortion story.134 Her article was even utilized by an anti abortion propaganda site in an attempt to bolster the connection between abortion and Black genocide, completely ignoring the additional hardships Black women face as well as the lack of “social safety net” they receive when they do decide to continue their pregnancies. All of this information is stressed by the narrator, 131 Tasha Fierce. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017). 132 Ibid. 133 Ibid. 134 Ibid.

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68 and she leaves listeners with some pertinent advice to “look at the source” of who is advising you about pregnancy, as well as how they might benefit or if they actually care about you outside of “this moment.”135 Given that the narrative ends with concrete advice for women on how to deal with societal pressures regarding abortion, I think it could be considered one of the most ideal examples of an effective reproductive justice tool. It does not specifically advise listeners one way or the other, but rather encourages them to have autonomy in their reproductive decisions without perpetuating patriarchal concepts of motherhood, success or regret regarding the abortion experience . A More Suitable Framework The Choice/Less podcast provides insight into the fact that “choice” is not as empowering as the reproductive rights movement has lead us to believe. Choice rhetoric within abortion discourse often creates a division between feminist issues that , in theory , should be linked together through a framework of reproductive justice. Higgins reminds us how easy it is to forget that abortion for the sake of choice alone should never overshadow other feminist efforts, such as poverty, racism eradication, education, violence reduction, gender sensitive development policies, fair trade, peaceful conflict resolution, etc.136 By demonstrating that the issues of abortion reach far behind the choice privilege of the previous narratives analyzed, the Choice/Less podcast serves as a more useful tool for improving the reproductive rights movement in general. The only way that choice will have the ability to reach all women i n a meaningful way is if reproducti ve rights advocates work toward 135 Ibid. 136 Higgins, 42.

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69 reducing not just sexism and gender inequality as the main focus, but also class and racebased injustices as they relate to the abortion experience.137 137 Ibid.

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70 C HAPTER IV C ONCLUSIONS Questions F or Further Research What would it look like if we were to shift our language about abortion and thus our perception s about the women who have them? We would have to fundamentally accept new premises that women, who have historicall y bee n contested and judged based on the ir sex, can have worth and deserve equality while simultaneously being sexually active, getting pregnant, and taking control of their reproductive health with contraception and abortion. Yet, is this possible in a patriarchal, capitalist society that continues to cling tightly to its oppressive attitudes about women, especially when these ideas are cloaked in the rhetoric of tradition and morality? To conclude this thesis, I ask us to consider what it would look like if we were to ch ange abortion rights discourse in the United States, or rather, who would we look like? Would a reconstruction of abortion discourse require a departure from many of the patriarchal ideas that the U.S. claims to value on the basis of morality? Would this c onsequently make us somehow “un American”? Perhaps this is part of the reason why a reproductive justice rhetorical framework has yet to be utilized in mainstream abortion discourse. Nie brings to light the concept of morality from the perspective of another country that has a multifaceted and complex a relations hip to abortion just as the U.S. does : China. Recognizing the American condemnation of China’s one child laws, in 1997 Nie attempted to understand the rhetoric of the abortion experience by int erviewing various Chinese women who had previously had abortions and tried to understand the meanings they had assigned to their experiences as directly affected by a government with ideas about abortion that are at

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71 odds with the western viewpoint. Nie tries to reconcile the tragedy of coerced abortions with what he believes to be a genuine concern for public good by the Chinese government.138 What stands out is how r hetorical patterns of high moral purpose and protection are pervasive throughout the lang uage of China’s one child laws, almost in the same way that we see politicians attempting to enact TRAP laws against American abortion providers . Even though abortion is legal in the U.S., growing restrictions can make it nearly impossible for some women t o actually have them , while under the guise of safeguarding women from coercion . Consider if the political languag e of “protecting women” were to shift from the American viewpoint that women need to be protected from themselves (through patriarchy), to the idea that they need to be protected from the cataclysms of over population and thus a lack of resources. Would this “lack of freedom” suddenly be at odds with the “American dream?” Or is the problem perha ps that neither side offers any real freedom for wo men to take control of their lives and thus protect themselves? Both perspectives adhere to belief that women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions about reproduction and the result is that larger society will somehow suffer, yet the messages about morality seem to be different. When we look at the kinds of things that women are believed to need protection from, it is not actually about overpopulation or immorality, but rather it is about protecting women from the ultimate threat to patriarchy, them selves. If we began talking about abortion in terms of its realities and the ways that it connects to other societal concerns (such as over population) would that beco me a slippery slope to coercion ? However, by representing abortion as an issue that can be narrowed down to an uncomplicated feminist principle of choice rather than reproductive injustices, are we leaving room for coercion to work in the opposi te way, by shaming women 138 Nei Jing Bao, Behind The Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005).

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72 who have abortions and ultimately attempting to dissuade them from future o nes ? Kleinman points out that mora l experience is “about things that are most at stake for us when encountering the very real dangers of the social world ,” and that those dangers “force us to confront the possibility that our commitments will be challenged, undermined, even lost.”139 Yet, Kleinman continues, “we ourselves become dangerous as we strike back to defend what is at stake” and the heavy debate surrounding abortion in the U.S. has created a “cascade of dangers.”140 Is it possible that by maintaining pro choice language as defensive rather than pro active, we are creating dangers to the overall movement? Does this defensive language create new problems by catering to patriarchal concepts and beliefs that reasons are needed for having abortions ? Are we emphasizing these reasons too much in prochoice language? Ludlow’s hierarchy of abortion discourse de monstrates this potential in the social determination about who should as well as should not be having abort ions, a kind of judgment that I ha ve come faceto face with while working in an abortion clinic and watching co workers become frustrated with patients who suddenly change their mind or refuse to accept contraception following their abortion. When it comes to discussing “choice” is our intere st stopping short? At the same time, the lack discussion , and subsequent silence about abortion has created the same types of problems, as Nie brings to light with his first person narratives . The reproductive rights movement has acknowled ged that silence does not aid in the fight for maintaining and strengthening the right to access abortion . Yet by engaging in excessive discussion, have we forgotten to be inclusive of all types of abortion experiences? Are the voices of the reproductive rights movement pr imarily focused on 139 Arthur Kleinman, “Foreward” in Nei Jing Bao, Behind The Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005). 140 Ibid.

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73 sharing the stories of the women privileged enough to exercise all of their choices as well as privileged enough to tell about it ? I cannot help but feel that as a white, cisgendered female working at an abortion clinic that I may fit th e image for what people think of as someone who would be privileged enough to stand on the front lines of this movement. Not only do I have a multitude of advantages not available to many of the wo men I see as patients, but I also have the freedom to talk openly about my experiences, and engage in work that positions me closer to the center of the abortion experience in ways that other women are not included. By examining firstperson abortion narratives as tools for the reproductive rights movement, I hop e to challenge the concept that abortion is a strictly individualized event or “choice.” Although the pro choice websites from which I have collected the first set of narratives were developed out of an intention to increase discourse and normalize the abo rtion experience, I cannot help but look critically at how their language choices often appear to leave gaps and make assumptions about the nature of women and their experiences with abortion that not only perpetuates patriarchal concepts but also leaves r oom to sway the discussion towards an anti abortion stance. If we were to primarily utilize a reproductive justice framework for describing the abortion experience, especially in political terms, I feel we could begin to move away from the mindset that abortion is a strictly personal experience. We could begin recognize that it has an affect on all of the women who have them and the people who are indirectly affected by abortion on larger s ocietal scale. By doing this, I believe we can start to see areas in which we may be falling short as reprodu ctive rights advocates and find better ways to involve, trust and advocate for ALL women in their right to have an abortion.

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74 Reflections Looking back on my research and the questions that were presented during th is thesis defense, a number of problems stand out and have the potential to provoke further re search. One of the key points I have come to realize is that there is a distinct difference between “choice” and having equal options. Although I continue argue t hat an over emphasis on “choice” can be problematic, this is not meant to imply that striving for all women to have the same choices should not be a primary focus of the reproductive rights movement. Rather, my critical analysis of the pro choice narratives is meant to highlight how choice often appears to be implied as inherently present for all women based on the language choices of the narrators and the individuals who have chosen to publish their stories. This leads me to next question whether or not these prochoice narratives are distinctly separate from reproductive justice rhetorical strategies. Although they often focus on individualism rather than systemic inequalities, I cannot help but wonder if the details of the narratives ( especially those t hat reflect back the patriarchal themes pointed out during my analysis) are in fact a representation of reproductive justice in their own way. After researching further and finding more websites that utilized reproductive justice frameworks for abortion st orytelling, there continued to be similarities in terms of negative emotions associated with the abortion experience. I’ve recently considered that a reframing of the narrators emotions is necessary, and am brought to the conclusion that the theme of “Regr et” was possibly a poor choice. Perhaps a theme such as “Shame” would have been a better option in this case. It has also come to my attention that there was no discussion of how the themes of motherhood, regret, and success were present through the Choic e/Less podcast narratives in

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75 the final section of my analysis, which would have demonstrated the earlier point regarding how all of these narratives could be considered part of the reproductive justice framework whether or not their discussion centers around larger systemic issues or individual emotions. It has become apparent that more extensive research and analysis could be done on the damaging effects of Ludlow’s hierarchy of prochoice language both within personal and political discourse. Ludlow’s hie rarchy could perhaps guide further research as it may have a more direct effect on abortion policy and normalization. To that end, I also acknowledge that normalization of abortion discourse is skewed by my experience as an abortion advocate, clinic worker, and feminist. So much of my beliefs about what is “normal” regarding abortion discussion has been informed by these aspects of my identity , whereas open discussions of concepts like shame, sadness or even regret are very much a part of the normalization process for many women who experience negative emotions and are still pro choice. Rather than focus on critically analyzing (and in many ways, assuming) how women may fall victim to patriarchal concepts through sharing their negative emotions regarding the abortion experience, in the future I hope to focus my analysis on helping to reframe these narratives as lived experiences that demonstrate a range of complex circumstances that lead women to take control of their reproductive health and thus become thei r own advocates. Final Thoughts In the complex public discussions about abortion, there are often many arguments that contain false disparities or that fail to make clear important distinctions that can have affects on cultural perceptions of the abortion experience. There is often an implied ideology that

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76 women who have abortions are somehow separate from women that ar e mothers, sisters, daughters, moral , responsible, economically stablethe list continues. The reality is that those who have had, and will have abortions are ALL types of women. Their experiences have value not because of tragedy, but because they are part of their life stories, whether or not the experience of having an abortion was positive or negative. Encouraging and participatin g in open discussions about these lived experiences is the first step in ending culturally hostile attitudes toward a procedure that many women will make the decision to have at some point in their lives – too many to simply ignore it or deny that it is of ten necessary for women to full y participate in society. Now that we are no longer silent about our right to have abortions, we ca n begin to demonstrate through first person s torytelling the ways in which although it is a part of our lives in one way or another, there is still much room for improving our overall human rights as they relate to our reproductive rights.

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77 BIBLIOGRAPHY/LIST OF REFERENCES 1 in 3 Campaign, “The 1 in 3 Campaign: These Are Our Stories,” last modified 2016, http://www.1in3campaig n.org . Anonymous, ProjectVoice.org (accessed January 5, 2017). Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org (accessed January 5, 2017). Anonymous, 1in3Campaign.org (accessed January 5, 2017). Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org (accessed October 12, 2016). Anonymous, 1in3Campaign.org (accessed October 13, 2016). Anonymous, 1in3Campaign.org (accessed October 13, 2016). Anonymous, ProjectVoice.org (accessed December 10, 2016). Anonymous, ChoiceOutLoud.org. (accessed October 1, 2016). “Report of the APA Task Forc e on Mental Health and Abortion.” American Psychological Association, 2008. Cherisse. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed February 14, 2017).

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78 Candace. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia /podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017). Carby, Hazel. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the AfroAmerican Woman Novelist . Oxford University Press, 1987. Condit, Celeste Michelle. Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: Communicating Social Change . New York, NY : Liveright P ublishing Corporation, 1989. Dworkin, Ronald. Life’s Dominion: An Arguememt About Abortion, Euthenasia, and Individual Freedom . New York: Knopf, 1994. “The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America, la st modified February, 2014. Evans, Jack RR. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017). Fierce, Tasha. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017). Friedman, May. “’100% Preventable’: Teen Motherhood, M orality, and The Myth of Choice.” I n MTV and Teen Pregnancy , ed . Letizia Guglielmo. Scarecrow Press, 2013. Goldin, Claudia and Katz, Lawrence F. “The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women’ s Career and Marriage Decisions. ” Journal of Political Economy 110. (2002): 73070 Gordon, Linda. “Voluntary Motherhood: The Beginnings of Feminist Birth Control Ideas in the United States. ” Feminist Studies 1, no. (1973): 8. “ Global, regional, and nati onal levels and causes of maternal mortality during 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013,” The Lancet.com , la st modified September 12, 2014, http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet

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79 Higgins, Jenny. “Sex, Unintended Pregnancy, and Poverty: One Woman’s Evolution from “Choice” to “Reproductive Justice.” I n Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choices , ed. Krista Jacob. E meryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006. Joffe, Carol. The Regulation of Sexuality : Experiences of Family Planning Workers . Philadelphia, PA: Te mple University Press, 1986. Jing Bao, Nei. Behind The Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion. Rowman & Lit tlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005. Kleinman, Arthur “Foreward” from Jing Bao, Nei. Behind T he Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion. Rowman & Lit tlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005. Ludlow, Jeannie. “The Things We Cannot Say: Witnessing the Trauma tization of Abortion in the United States. ” Women’s Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1 & 2 (2008) . McDonnell, Kathleen. Not An Easy Choice: A Feminist Re Examines Abortion. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1984. Pollitt, Katha. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights . New York, NY: Picador, 2015. Paris, Ginette. The Sacrament of Abortion. Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, 1992. Price, Kimala. “What is Reproductive Justice?: How Women of Color Activists Are Red efining the Pro Choice Paradigm. ” Meridians 10, no. 2 (2010). “Reproductive Health: Effectiveness of Family Planning Methods,” CDC.gov, last modified February 9th, 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception Ruiz, Rebecca. “I am Sick of Being Silenced: 14 Women Share Their Abortion Stories,” Mashable .com last modified March 6, 2016, http://mashable.com/2016/03/06/abortionstigma women stories

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80 Reti, Irene. Childless by Choice: A Feminist Anthology. Sa nta Cruz, CA: HerBooks, 1992. Snitow. Ann. “Motherhood: Reclaiming the Demon Texts”, quoted in Irene Reti, Childless By Choice: A Feminist Anthology.” Sa nta Cruz, CA: HerBooks, 1992. Solinger, Rickie. “Motherhood as Class Privilege in America,” in Reproduction and Society: Interdisciplinary Readings , ed. Joffe, Carol and Reich, Jennifer. New York: Routledge, 2015. SisterS ong.net Steinem, Gloria. “Foreward,” in The Choices We Made , ed. Angela Bonavogli a. New York: Random House, Inc., 1991. Thomsen, Carly. "The Politics of Narrative, Narrative as Politic: Rethinking Reproductive Justice Frameworks through the South Dakota Abortion Story." Feminist Formations 27, no. 2 ( 2015): 126. Valerie. Choice/Less Podcast by Rewire. https://rewire.news/multimedia/podcasts (accessed March 1, 2017). Wilson, Joshua C. The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars . Stan ford, CA: Stanford UP, 2013. Weitz TA et al., “Safety of Aspiration Abortion Performed By Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse Midwives, and Physician Assistants Under A California Legal Waiver,” American Journal of Public Health, 2013, 103(3),454–461 Zucker, Alyssa N. “ Reproductive Justice: More Than Choice.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy . 14: 210–213.