This past weekend, I attended the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) 2010 Reproductive Justice Conference at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts. The conference theme was “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom.” The conference, now in its 24th year, brings together over 1,000 advocates for an abortion speak out and a series of panels, presentations, and performances. Events spanned a busy three days, and I’m finding it hard to process everything I experienced during that time. But I’d like to share my impressions of one key experience and one of my favorite aspects of the conference: the abortion speak out.
On Friday evening, the conference kicked off with an abortion speak out, a space for people who have had abortions to share their stories in a safe and supportive environment. In this session, dozens of women shared their stories with a packed gymnasium of hundreds of audience members. No cameras were allowed, as it was meant to be a safe space where women could share their stories without unwanted public attention or stigma.
For me, this experience really reinforced the value of storytelling for movement-building. Even though I have been a pro-choice advocate for years, I was deeply moved by the power of the stories women chose to share about their own abortion experiences, and left the speak out feeling even more pro-choice than ever, if that’s possible. It was very motivating to hear the stories of so many women who have been made to feel so much shame about their decision to undergo a fairly common and safe healthcare procedure.
I was particularly struck by the wide range of women and experiences that were presented at the speak out. Speakers ranged in age from 15 to 50+ years old and represented a range of races, locations, professions, styles, socio-economic classes, and pretty much every other factor you can think of.
Despite this diversity, there was also a common thread among the speakers. Although not everyone touched on this aspect, many speakers spoke of the shame they felt, before, during, and after the procedure, and of the importance of supportive doctors, nurses, caretakers, and governments to their safety and health. They also consistently mentioned a part of their life that was changed in some way by their decision to have an abortion. Many mentioned school that they were able to finish as a result of the procedure, or children that they were better able to support and raise after deciding not to carry this particular pregnancy to term. This was one of the most powerful aspects of the event; I left the gymnasium with the knowledge that my work at IWHC and the work of the reproductive justice movement at large is work that is empowering women to live more safely, more healthily, and more freely.
For more on the importance of access to safe abortion worldwide, I encourage you to read IWHC’s factsheet “Access to Safe Abortion is a Human Right.”