The Right to Privacy and the Right to Speak Out
Written by Sarah Seltzer for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.
Our right to abortion is couched, legally and often socially, as a right to privacy, the right to keep our medical decisions to ourselves. This appeals to a certain American libertarian streak, and so it perhaps can be effective politically. But does the fact that the decision must be allowed to be made in a personal, private context mean that women ought keep their experiences with abortion to themselves?
Clearly, some people think so. Those are the terms with which many wavering people are comfortable being legally pro-choice. Your body, your choice, leave me out of it. In our age of "TMI," live-tweeting births and deaths and general over-sharing, the idea of public discussion of abortion may seem to some folks to be a herald of an era in which privacy no longer exists.
The #livetweetingabortion controversy which we covered last week attracted its share of rabid anti-choicers declaring Angie Jackson to be a pawn of Satan-- and now threatening her in alarming, serious ways but there were also plenty of people who just said ewww. That's private.
But that's the point, explained Jackson, who has blogged and tweeted about a number of intensely personal issues:
I think that secrecy is unhealthy. We don’t get help when we don’t talk about things. For women who do need counseling or support or love or understanding after an abortion, if they have to stay quiet out of shame, then they won’t get that help. I think talking about things really can make a huge difference.
Legally, privacy and bodily autonomy remain the standards we promote as pro-choicers. But socially and culturally, the pushing of abortion into a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" limbo has been truly damaging for women. Whether it's shows like "16 and Pregnant" which ignored the truth of teen girls who abort, movies like "Knocked Up" which can't even say the word "abortion", and more, our prevailing attitude of i t's your choice, but keep it to yourself has had a direct link to the chipping away of our rights. When people don't see their friends, neighbors and selves as being hassled, inconvenienced or threatened by mandatory ultrasounds, counseling and waiting periods, these things don't seem like a terrible idea.
So yes, it's a private decision, but it shouldn't be a silenced decision. That's the difference. Women should feel free to mourn or rejoice, breathe a sigh of relief or cry from exhaustion, keep it to themselves or blog or tweet about it, as they do with other personal choices--where to send kids to school, when, where, how and if to get married, whom they're dating and how they survive cancer, motherhood, or bereavement.
Unfortunately, as Robin Marty's touching story shows, without other women's stories, without the reality of abortion being portrayed in the media, the extremely common procedure can be incredibly isolating. By sharing her story, Angie Jackson is a heroine, because she chose to tell her story to help others, and she got so much invective for it, just as women who tumbled and blogged about their abortions have gotten before.
Just as gay rights have advanced by people coming to know their gay relatives, friends and neighbors and no longer seeing people without rights as a "them" so abortion rights can benefit hugely by the acknowledgement that these women are all of us. And there's a more practical side to it as well, which was Jackson's original intention. In her now-infamous Youtube video