Sign says: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology

Credit: World Can’t Wait/Debra Sweet on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–Three drugstore purchased tests had proved it without a doubt. I was pregnant. Sitting on the toilet, looking at the tests lined up side by side on the tub, it was a typically cool and foggy summer day near the beach in San Francisco. I stared at the tests and saw my future as a mother.

It wasn’t until later, when the guy brought it up, that abortion became an option. Even then, when I knew we wouldn’t be together forever and faced that parenting would be mine to handle alone, I could better imagine myself as a struggling single mother before I could picture myself as a person who had an abortion.

It was just a few days after I took the pregnancy tests that I revealed my secret to Polly. Polly has more tattoos now than she did back then, but her natural charisma was as strong as ever. It was past 2:00 a.m. when we’d finished counting our tips and closing the downtown Berkeley bar where we worked. I declined our customary end-of-shift drink and told her why: “I’m not drinking because I’m pregnant. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.” I don’t know what I thought she’d say or how I’d hope she’d help. But, I’ll never forget what she revealed: Without hesitation, she said, “I’ve had an abortion.”

Everything changed in an instant. I remember how that moment felt to this day. It was like a veil had been lifted and I finally saw the world as it truly was, behind all the secrets. I saw how much I didn’t know about other people’s lives, the challenges they face, the choices they make.

Strange Secret

And, I thought of my own life. Here I was working all night behind the bar, making jokes, keeping things light when I felt anything but, and wondering, can they tell I’m pregnant? Did these customers, our regulars, know that I was different than I was last week? Did they know I had a secret? Could they tell I was in pain and dealing with the hardest decision of my life?

It’s strange to have something so potentially life changing happen and not feel like you can talk about it with anyone else. I’d soloed my first airplane when I was 16, had driven by myself from Alaska to California (over 3,000 miles in 10 days) at age 20 and had been the only woman selling bikes and skis with the guys at a Berkeley action-sports store just the year before, but this was the first time I’d ever felt truly alone. I was 24 and I felt heavy with the weight of the choice.

Polly’s admission was a revelation. The old saying that you can’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes came alive. It would become my credo, shaping my future leadership. But that night at the bar it was exactly what I needed to hear. Polly gave me a gift in the knowledge that I was not alone in my experience.

Others had been through this too. Polly taught me that abortion is something that we can talk about. I realized then that there were probably many more women who’d had abortions than I’d ever considered. Much later, I would look at the facts and find out that nearly half of all women in America would have an abortion and that worldwide the average was even higher at one abortion per woman.

A Big Decision

Soon after talking with Polly, I had an abortion. I wouldn’t let the guy come with me. We were still talking, barely, but I was starting the next phase of my life and he wasn’t going to be a part of it. I asked my friend Heather to go with me. I told her that I might back out at the last minute, unable to go through with it. I said this remembering a beautiful surfer girl from high school who had told me one day while we were out in the waves off San Clemente that she was alive because her pregnant mother had walked out of an abortion clinic.

I didn’t walk out and no miraculous spontaneous miscarriage occurred. I went through with the abortion just like so many women before and after me have done.

Not long after that, I founded Exhale, an after-abortion talkline where women share their stories. At Exhale I have seen again and again that sharing and listening without judgment to stories that had previously been secret can bring women together, create new relationships and strengthen existing ones. At Exhale, we call this storytelling approach “pro-voice.”

Through my work, I hear stories of relief and regret, grief and happiness, and more. All of those stories are as real, complex and human as my story, and together they illustrate a community of women who have had abortions. I believe that these women’s real stories and voices are what can reshape public discussion about abortion.

When the voices and stories of women who have had abortions, along with the stories of our loved ones affected by abortion, are at the center of the public discourse and political decision-making around abortion, I believe we have the potential to transform the political debate from one of heated talking points to one of understanding. I believe we can usher in a new era of peace around the subject of abortion.

Aspen Baker is the leading voice in the nation on the personal experiences of abortion among women and men. She is the founder and executive director of Exhale, an award-winning pro-voice organization changing the social climate around abortion. The works in the compilation, “Nothing but the Truth So Help Me God,” are authored by members of A Band of Wives, a private social network for all women: married, single and everything in-between. It was founded in 2009 by Christine Bronstein as a private place for women to connect, flex their voices and support one another in unique and powerful ways.

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