How to push back against the anti-Planned Parenthood campaign: Talk more openly about unplanned pregnancies

We need to hear more real stories from women and men about individual decisions to proceed or terminate pregnancies

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Published July 22, 2015 5:29PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>Anna Jurkovska</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Anna Jurkovska via Shutterstock)

A Humans of New York photo of a father and young daughter sticking their tongues out at the camera has gone viral, due to this caption: “I was 16 when my girlfriend got pregnant. We went to the abortion clinic on 59th Street. We filled out the papers and everything. Then right before we were called back, we looked at each other, and said: ‘Let’s get out of here.’”

The photo has collected more than 678,000 likes on Facebook, 21,000 shares and a comments section featuring numerous stories by those who’ve faced similar situations. These are important stories, especially for those of us who are pro-choice, because they show that there is complexity to the decision of how to handle an unplanned pregnancy, whatever the result. They show that the process of making that decision isn’t always straightforward, and that people can, and do, change their minds—which I fully believe they should have the right to do.

There’s a nauseating thread of thinking, one in full force with the recent release of two videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue: that Planned Parenthood, and by extension, other facilities that offer abortion, want more abortions to happen. There’s an idea frequently put forth by anti-abortion groups that there’s only one acceptable ending for staffers of abortion clinics and their clients. Hearing from parents who had once planned on having abortions, but changed their minds of their own free will (without anti-choice propaganda) proves that clinics actually want what is best for their clients, and let them make decisions about what will happen to their own bodies.

The hearty response the post has received shows that people do want to discuss their experience with mulling over abortion, with having almost made that choice. Just as Aspen Baker’s organization Exhale has provided a space for people to discuss their experiences with abortion free of judgment, we also need to make more room in our society to talk about the conflicted emotions of facing a pregnancy when you aren’t sure you’re making the right choice. There’s already pressure on women to relish every aspect of their pregnancy if they do decide to go forward with it, which creates unrealistic expectations.

While some of the Humans of New York commenters are trying to make political statements, both pro-choice and pro-life, most are simply sharing their experience, as Brandon Stanton’s photographs do. They showcase that pregnancy and our feelings about it can be messy and conflicted, and that’s okay. Even I, someone who’s ardent that I want to become a mom as quickly as possible, have some doubts about how that process will go. What if I do get pregnant and don’t feel as gloriously giddy as I expect to? What if I know I become a mom but I’m absolutely wretched at parenting? These are natural fears, but at times it can feel like parents, or even parents-to-be, have to be emotionally all-in about every second, or else they have somehow failed.

We need to hear more stories of women and men facing unplanned pregnancies discussing how and why they came to the decisions they did, beyond simply glorifying the “the gift of life” or terminating their pregnancies. It’s not enough to only hear stories like those told by the 1 in 3 campaign, of women who’ve had abortions, although those are absolutely necessary. We also need voices like that of Danielle Campoamor, who wrote “Why I Chose to Keep My Unplanned Child” for The Huffington Post. She details her reasoning without the corresponding judgment of women who chose to have abortions, along with the assumptions people placed upon her when finding out her situation:

When you don't want or plan or hope for a child, and end up pregnant, people assume you're stuck. They assume you no longer have an option and you're bound to the natural consequence of a few sultry and, let's face it, wonderfully sexy decisions. They'll whisper about the perceived "end of your life" and how ill-equipped you are for the road ahead.

People speculate that the stigma of abortion will be enough to coerce you into a decision you aren't happy about. They'll shake their heads in sympathy, wondering what could have been if you hadn't unexpectedly procreated.

This kind of thinking doesn’t help women when trying to make this momentous decision. It’s refreshing to see a mother admit to the fact that her child wasn’t planned, that she grappled with how to handle it, and made a decision that was right for her, but wouldn’t necessarily be right for everyone else.

I am not a superior person for choosing him. I am not worthy of praise, or a story of religious morality done right. I am not a reformed woman, who came to her senses in a moment of desperation and, thankfully, came out of an unplanned situation stronger or better or even slightly improved.

I was a woman with a choice, and when my son asks how he came to be, that is what I'll tell him.

There’s an all-too-common narrative on anti-choice sites that laud those who had planned to have abortions but changed their mind. They go pretty much exactly like this story from, about a couple who took a women to a “pregnancy help center” for counseling, where: “There she saw her babies on the ultrasound … and she chose life for her twin babies!”

But just because the phrase “chose life” rings hollow in its utter simplicity doesn’t mean the stories of those who walked away from abortion clinics aren’t worthwhile. What made them change their minds? Who did they turn to for help in raising their children? Did they reveal, or do they plan to reveal, their child’s origin story when the child asks?  These are questions we as a society should be asking and, clearly, ones that people want to share, beyond the platitudes.

One woman wrote on the Humans of New York Facebook page about getting pregnant at age 17: “My mother begged me for an abortion. He is 11 years old now and I am married to his father. Not one regret. Don’t get an abortion because the road is a little bumpy. You have choices and should not be judged.” Women being pressured by family members to have abortions, judged for being teen moms, not having the support of those around them—these situations are just as important for us to discuss when we think about reproductive rights as legislative battles. You can be pro-choice, as I am, and still find value in the learning about the reasons why people choose to go through with an unplanned pregnancy or not. The outpouring of stories online proves that people find value in sharing their experiences, not necessarily with a political agenda in mind, but with a human one.

Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

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Abortion Humans Of New York Planned Parenthood Pregnancy Pro-choice