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Duly Noted

Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012, 11:49 am

Feminism Is Not Forcing You To Talk About Your Abortion

By Lindsay Beyerstein

An anonymous poster at Jezebel, who describes herself as a prominent pro-choice activist, explains why she doesn't talk about her abortion:

What's at issue here isn't the fact that I had an abortion; what's at issue is women's privacy, and their right to choose to keep things to themselves without betraying feminism and women everywhere.

Her abortion is part of her private medical history, to disclose or not, as she sees fit. But she's attacking a straw man, here. Feminists aren't pressuring all women to tell their stories.

The author lists several examples of feminist and pro-choice activists sharing their own abortion stories as a political strategy to normalize the procedure, and inviting other women to do the same. But she doesn't give a single example of an activist pressuring women to come forward, or even arguing that all women have a duty to do so.

She continues:

I've been thinking about privacy quite a bit since Anderson Cooper came out of the closet after years of pressure from groups who accused him of doing gay the wrong way. [...]

Public pressure to reveal extremely private information, especially if advocates think that information could promote a social good, comes from a well-intentioned place. Just as pro-gay rights folks who nudged Cooper out of the closet thought they were doing a good thing (even though it might not have seemed as fantastic from Cooper's perspective), so too are women's health advocates who aggressively promote "coming out" about abortion think they're increasing visibility and acceptance of the procedure, when they're really placing the onus on women to sacrifice themselves, their careers, their families, or their safety on the altar of ideology, especially if the woman is the wrong kind of woman or having an abortion for the wrong sort of reasons.

Again with the straw men... Handing out "I Had An Abortion" t-shirts is not the same as pressuring anyone to put one on. One in three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime. It's a given in pro-choice circles that the vast majority of them will keep that decision private for very good reasons.

Anderson Cooper is a bad analogy because some activists were pressuring him to publicly assert his sexual orientation. (It's a little misleading to say he was being pressured to come out, because he was already "out" in the way that most heterosexuals are--i.e., living a normal partnered life without making a big public proclaimation either way.) There are no comparable pressure campaigns by pro-choice activists.

Being grateful to women who do share their stories isn't an implied criticism of those who cherish their personal privacy.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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