"I was less surprised by Laura Barcella's article than by the animosity of some of the responses it provoked." Readers continue to discuss "The A-word."

Published September 27, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read "The A-word" by Laura Barcella, and the letters in response to the story.]

I think the reader response to "The A-Word" demonstrates the need for a movement that exorcises the shame from abortion. I hate that people assume that women who have had abortions are stupid, un-partnered, young and don't know how to use birth control. I certainly know a few women who, at the time they had an abortion, fit all of the above. I also know at least one woman who is partnered, educated and established who uses birth control (correctly) and still gets pregnant at the drop of a hat. She's had three abortions -- should she shut her legs too?

These reactions are exactly the type that this movement is trying to stamp out. Of course nobody who's had an abortion wanted to be in the situation in the first place, but life sometimes has a way of taking unexpected turns. I, for one, am glad women are taking advantage of their constitutional rights without feeling the shame and remorse the Christian right would like to heap upon them. Let's heap some shame instead on the people who wouldn't dare tell women what to do with their bodies, but will certainly deign to tell them how to feel!

-- Barbara Jordan

People sure like to get on a mighty high horse about other people's abortions, don't they?

First off, where does one of the letter writers get off telling me I have to be sad about my abortions?

Yep, I said abortions. Plural. As in, I have had three. Go write a nasty letter to Jesus about me. I have also given birth to a wonderful child I am raising, and had another pregnancy end in miscarriage. Some of those pregnancies I'm very sad about aborting. Not all of them.

I feel pretty safe assuming that letter writer has never been pregnant -- never spent an entire season throwing up; never had his skin stretched to the breaking point for another human being; never sat in a clinic waiting room for hours only to leave (still unhappily pregnant) after being told he wasn't far enough along to terminate the pregnancy; never felt the love and power of birthing another human being.

Go feel your own feelings; I'll handle mine.

-- Amy Callner

I suggest that the people whose tender and sensitive feelings were bruised by this article get over themselves. Women in this country have the right to abortion, and they will exercise that right. They need not apologize, rationalize or justify their decisions to anyone. Period.

-- Genevieve Carnell

These letters chilled me -- far more than the article that inspired them. If you're pro-choice, you're pro-CHOICE. That includes bad choices.

Judging the sexual behavior of someone you don't know is a slippery slope. Should we legislate that "one abortion per person" position? How about we show the Supreme Court a film of YOUR "top 10 least ideal sexual choices" and see what laws come out of THAT?

Is there any circumstance under which a non-slut could have more than one abortion? Did any of the letter writers consider the total lack of effective sex education in most of our schools, particularly at the time when many of these women may have become pregnant?

An abortion can be a radicalizing experience. I doubt many of these women were sneering, defiant, insensitive "Riot grrrls" with no concern for human life when they had unprotected sex. Now, it sounds like they are trying to counter shame with pride. It might be an excessive and inelegant response, but so has been the women's movement at times.

-- Emily Simon

I am absolutely shocked and saddened by most of the letters responding to the abortion T-shirts article. How could anybody think that the author was advocating abortions as birth control, or trivializing the seriousness of undergoing the procedure? And how could anyone POSSIBLY think it's akin to wearing a T-shirt that says "I supported Osama bin Laden"?? What I took away from the article was that it's important to put human faces on this abstract issue. Women who have abortions are not irresponsible monsters who blithely terminate human lives, but rather they are your sisters, your girlfriends, your mothers -- people you know and love -- who made the choice they thought best for everybody involved at the time, and who stand by every woman's right to make that choice.

This is about dialogue; it is about visibility. As a queer woman, I see a direct correlation between someone wearing an "I had an abortion" T-shirt and someone wearing gay pride paraphernalia. It is about bringing the issue to light, out of the rhetoric and into people's personal daily existence. It's easy to demonize the idea out of a sense of righteousness and to keep it silent. It's extremely courageous to put it out there that you have been through the experience (positively OR negatively OR ambiguously) to let others know that it is a reality for countless women and families.

-- Lizanne Deliz

I was shocked at the number of letters that seemed to suggest anyone who wasn't "ashamed" about having an abortion was somehow not really a woman. I have met both young and old women who have had abortions. I have met women who have had regrets, and women who have had none. Quite frankly, no two women are going to deal with abortion the same way, and to suggest that there is some sort of "appropriate" response to having an abortion is insulting to women.

-- Lachelle P. Rankins

I was less surprised by Laura Barcella's article than by the animosity of some of the responses it provoked. Keep up the good work. People who are shocked, or saddened, or angered when confronted with a moral world-view that is not the same as their own need to be exposed to more of these types of differences. Isn't it exactly this sort of divergence of opinion that makes the attempt to legislate morality such a contemptible exercise?

-- Brian Hunter

If the purpose of the "I had an abortion" T-shirts is to start a dialogue, then clearly, they have already succeeded. It is amazing how much outrage and anger is being expressed here just because Jennifer Baumgardner has dared to shine a light on the stigma of abortion. Does legalized abortion mean the right to an abortion only if you promise to be ashamed afterwards, and only if you refer to it in hushed terms of guilt and regret?

These t-shirts are simply saying "I had an abortion." I read it as a simple statement -- neither a celebration nor an expression of shame. Far from wearing the scarlet A on their chests, these women seem to be quietly reclaiming their dignity.

-- Marianne Jensch

Wow, reading these responses really helped illustrate how much even liberals continue to allow the terms of the abortion debate to be controlled by anti-woman attitudes. I'm not talking about conservatism either; it's simply the condescending notion that abortions are terribly shameful and the result of ridiculously risky behavior. The statistics in the article don't point to some crisis of irresponsibility among women (as some readers suggested), but rather highlight the demand for abortion among women from across the social spectra. It seems that every time abortion comes up, pro-choice people feel the need to explain themselves and/or qualify their politics on the issue with conditions or condemnation of women who get multiple abortions.

In my opinion, these T-shirts are meant to destigmatize that which should not be stigmatized. Several years ago, the sex-positive sexuality education community began an attempt to destigmatize HIV by shifting the terminology to "know your HIV status," making the conversation about useful information and not about moral judgment. I believe a similar campaign to shift the terms of the abortion conversation away from baseless moralistic judgment and excuse making and back to the plain fact that it is a women's health issue is long overdue.

-- Erin Judge

When I took my dose of mifepristone a year and a half ago, I gave thought to keeping that part of my life a secret. Not from my friends, who were with me the entire time, but from the world, by forcing myself to believe that I had done something that was so shameful that I would be forever haunted by the possibility of it being revealed to people I met later in life. This seemed to be the way everyone else handled it. But why? What had I done that I was supposed to be so ashamed of? Was it the abortion itself? Or was it having sex not sanctified by the bonds of matrimony?

I regret neither. Going off the pill for two weeks and thinking I couldn't get pregnant? Yes. But not the abortion itself; it was the best of several crappy choices. If I could go back and do it over again, I would not have gotten pregnant to begin with. But shit happens. People mess up. Sometimes there is no good choice, only a right one.

It was interesting to see what kinds of sentiments many letter-writers read into the "I had an abortion" T-shirt. As someone who's been there, I never read callousness, selfishness, happiness or pride on that shirt. I saw political awareness that this is an important right for women to have, and courage to stand up and make visible something for which continued invisibility is threatening.

-- Sandi Farrell

I was surprised that the responses to this article were so uniformly negative. I think the T-shirts are a powerful statement, and I think it is fabulous that women are trying to break some of the stigma that seems to keep us from having a rational conversation about abortion. I don't see how it helps the cause of women's rights to try to pick out who "deserves" to have an abortion and who doesn't.

-- Camille McNeely

There are only a certain amount of women who will wear an "I had an abortion" T-shirt, but there are plenty who will judge them. It's difficult to reconcile the private and personal with the public issue, but maybe if many of the people who are disgusted by the women in the article knew the personal more, they'd be less likely to be so hardcore on judging them. It's a tricky thing to do.

Why does a woman end up having 2 or 3 abortions? If she's wearing this T-shirt, ask her. It may not be what you think.

-- Millicent Souris

As I was reading the letters regarding your article, "The A-word," I was shocked at the reflexive judgments that women must not be using birth control or practicing safe sex. I know someone who got pregnant twice while using birth control, so I don't understand how anyone can make that assumption. Another couple I know got pregnant after a vasectomy and tubal ligation!

The real issue here that no one seems to want to talk about is the lack of 100% effective birth control with no negative side effects or dangers. If both sides of this issue would like to reduce the need for abortions, you'd think that birth control research would be a priority in our country. The T-shirts we ought to wear should say, "I demand better birth control!"

Give us better, safer options and the abortion rate will drop! We're certainly not going to stop enjoying sex!

-- Tapati McDaniels

What struck me so intensely about this article was not the stigma of abortion, but the stigma of young motherhood. I'm astonished that self-defined feminists would be so narrow-minded as to not perceive their own prejudice. Perhaps if they had more respect for those young women who choose to take responsibility for the products of unprotected sex, they would have less fear of becoming one of them.

-- Demetra Delia

By Salon Staff

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