Abortion Stories: Breaking the Silence

The following clip comes from the documentary When Abortion was Illegal: Untold Stories (1992).



Many feminist campaigns are engaged in breaking the culture of silence and shame that surrounds abortion. Statistically, one in three women of childbearing age will have one at some point in her life, yet we rarely hear their stories. New York Magazine recently published the stories of 26 diverse women, who talk about their circumstances and decisions.


Reframing the Conversation on Reproductive Rights…and Recent Rollbacks

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Let’s start our conversation about reproductive rights with some of the recent debate surrounding the dramatic rollbacks of women’s access to reproductive healthcare, including both abortion and contraception. The last few years (2011 and 2012) have seen some of the most dramatic restrictions to abortion in the U.S. since the passage of Roe v. Wade just 40 years ago.


View an interactive map to see where access has been restricted the most.

Visit The Guttmacher Institute for more information about contraception, pregnancy, and abortion in America.

The last year has seen many states dramatically rolling back women’s access to reproductive health services. Last year, states like Georgia, Arkansas, North Dakota, Virginia, and Texas have attempted to criminalize abortion. In 2013, North Dakota passed a law banning abortion after six weeks (that’s a month and a half), before many women even learn that they are pregnant; now, they’re trying to ban it altogether. Most famously last year, Senator Wendy Davis (TX) undertook an 11-hour long filibuster to stall the vote on SB5, which would have banned abortion past 20 weeks and forced many clinics that offered abortion services to close in the state of Texas.

More disturbingly, some of the debates surrounding the criminalization of abortion have also included arguments regarding legal ramifications for miscarriage, a fairly common and natural experience for most women of child-bearing age. For example, Virginia attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain (R-VA) has supported fetal personhood amendments and has now introduced a bill that would require women to report a miscarriage to the police within 24 hours or risk jail time. He was also responsible for getting the VA Board of Health to write stricter guidelines for clinics offering abortions, a political tactic that has been used by several conservative state politicians to effectively force such service providers, like Planned Parenthood, to close their doors. Keep in mind that many of these clincis provided many other health services, including breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings, affordable contraception, and STD testing, especially for low-income women.


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But politicians like Obenshain are tricky when it comes to winning the female vote: he’s been presenting himself as a moderate candidate (compared to his fellow conservative Cuccinelli, who’s come under more public fire for his sexism), billing himself as tough on domestic violence and sexual assault, and he often features his daughter in his ads. He is an excellent argument for why, when deciding who to vote for, the only reliable measure of a politician’s real agenda is his or her voting record.

Watch the clip from PBS Newshour: “States Become Central Battleground in Fight Over Access to Abortion Services” (2013)


Earlier this year, Indiana passed a bill through the state senate that requires women to undergo two trans-vaginal ultrasounds in order to receive a medication-induced abortion. Point of clarification: a “medication-induced abortion” does not use a medication called Plan B (the generic version is called Next Choice). Plan B does not abort a pregnancy. It can be purchased over the counter (with ID) and taken the morning after unprotected sex (e.g., if the condom broke or slipped off or you neglected to use a barrier method, etc.).  Indiana’s trans-vaginal ultrasound rule targets women who might opt to receive a medication-induced abortion, which is delivered at the clinic and can be used to end early pregnancies of up to ten weeks.

For more on Indiana’s double trans-vaginal ultrasound rule, read here.


In the clip below, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry reframes the conversation surrounding abortion as an economic issue, rather than a solely moral one.

*Watch Melissa Harris-Perry’s news clip on North Dakota’s abortion bans.

In Smith’s article, where she argues that framing conversations about women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. as simply pro-life v. pro-choice is not only limiting, but creates “blind spots” that masks the ways in which these two seemingly-opposite positions are actually quite similar in their thinking, and in particular, in their marginalization of women of color and poor women. Could it be that those of us fighting for women’s rights actually have allies on both sides of this debate?


  1. Why does Smith argue that both the pro-life and pro-choice movements need to stop framing their arguments in terms of whether or not abortion should be criminalized or de-criminalized?
  2. Why has relying on intervention from the legal system actually hurt victims of domestic violence and women seeking abortion or other forms of healthcare while pregnant (e.g., addiction treatment)?
  3. Smith points out that early activists framed their arguments in terms of “rights,” not “choice.” Why is the rhetoric of reproductive “choice” problematic for Smith? That is, what issues does an argument about “choice” ignore?
  4. In what ways do our current conversations about pregnant women, specifically women of color and third world women, blame them rather than support them?