Political = Personal

Women Share Their Secret Abortion Stories For 1 in 3 Campaign

One in three women has had an abortion in the United States—but their stories often remain private. A new campaign aims to change that.

11.20.14 9:00 PM ET

Brittany Mostiller had just turned 23 years old when she found out she was pregnant again. She thought about suicide. The Chicago native was already a mother to three girls under the age of seven, and was just getting by, working a part-time job as a grocery store cashier and living in a two-bedroom apartment with her sister and her niece. Since Medicaid doesn’t cover an abortion, she thought of ways to circumvent the high-cost procedure. “I thought about throwing myself down a flight of stairs or have my eldest daughter pounce on top of me,” she said.

Mostiller did terminate her pregnancy, with the help of Chicago Abortion Fund, a non-profit that helps low-income women obtain abortion services. She now works on behalf of the group.

Telling this story isn’t easy, but she does it often, in spite of the negative reaction she sometimes gets. “I know about the importance of being a black woman in society and saying, ‘yes I’ve had an abortion,’” she told me. “And yes that’s ok, yes I have a family, and yes I made the best decision for myself and my family.”

Mostiller is one of over 100 women and advocates sharing their experiences with abortion today as part of the 1 in 3 Campaign. Named for the share of women that will have an abortion in their lifetime, their movement encourages people to tell their stories as a way, they say, to fight the stigma that comes with the procedure. So far, 550 women have posted their stories to the project’s website.

The eight-hour online Speakout, with presenters as diverse as the stories on display, is just the most recent example of women coming out of the abortion closet. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told her unapologetic story last month in Elle. Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator derided as “Abortion Barbie” by the far right, revealed two terminated pregnancies in her memoir. Earlier this year, Emily Letts recorded her own abortion and posted it online to show other women that, in her words, “there is such a thing as a positive abortion story.”

Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the Daily Show and women’s rights advocate, was the first to share her story for the 1 in 3 Campaign event. She got pregnant in high school—after the first time she had sex. Winstead was lured into a Christian crisis pregnancy center, where a woman in a white lab coat (who was clearly not a doctor) gave her two options for dealing with her pregnancy: “mommy or murder.” “I felt so alone. I felt worthless and invisible,” Winstead said.

Dr. Julie Bindeman, a married mom of three, cried as she told the story of her two abortions. She was in her second trimester when she and her husband were given a grim prognosis. “The much-wanted son we were carrying didn’t have a brain,” she said. Because of laws in her state than denied access to surgical abortion after 20 weeks, Binderman was forced to go through labor and deliver her son. When the same abnormality was detected in a subsequent pregnancy at 18 weeks, she was able to have a surgical abortion. “I was very grateful to have a choice,” she said.

Jenny Kutner, a 23-year-old writer for Salon, talked about her abortion after an IUD failure. She was simply “neither financially nor emotionally equipped“ to have a baby, she said. In New York, she could easily access a safe, medical abortion. “My experience was very ordinary, but very privileged,” she said.

Feminist author Jessica Valenti, who has called for “free abortions on demand without apology,” described her overwhelming sense of relief after ending an unintended pregnancy in her 20s. Her second abortion, years later, wasn’t such an easy choice. Valenti already had a daughter—a pregnancy that almost killed both mother and baby. When she got pregnant again, she and her doctors knew her body couldn’t support another pregnancy. “It shattered me. It nearly destroyed me…because I really wanted to have another child,” she said.

“We all have these stories, but we aren’t sharing them,” Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, the group that sponsors the 1 in 3 Campaign, told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. “Because you don’t know what they’re going to get back. Especially young people have been raised for the last 30 years with anti-abortion rhetoric, stigma, shame and even violence.”

“This gives women a voice, and puts us at back the center of the political debate around abortion access.”

Thursday’s event comes at a time of unprecedented state-level abortion legislation. In the last three years, states have enacted more abortion restrictions than in the entire past decade. Right-wing governors and state legislators took control of many states in 2010. In 2013, 22 states enacted 70 antiabortion measures, including heartbeat and gestation limit bans, regulations on providers, and regulation of the medication and insurance coverage of abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Polling on the issue shows the country is pretty evenly split on the issue of abortion—figures that have remained stable over the last two decades.

Indeed, one of the aims of the 1 in 3 Campaign event is to garner political support to combat what abortion-rights advocates consider an assault on Roe v. Wade. “It’s not really aimed at the strong anti-abortion folks; they feel the way they feel,” Hauser said. Instead, she says these stories are more likely to energize soft supporters, who think abortion should be legal, but halfheartedly, or only in certain circumstances. About half of Americans support legal restrictions on abortions.

“It’s much harder to be judgmental when you know someone and their circumstances,” Hauser said.

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In social science this “contact hypothesis”—the idea that prejudice decreases with intimacy—is widely accepted, but it gets complicated when it comes to a secret issue, like abortion. About a third of women who have abortions keep it hidden from people they’d normally confide in, according to new research from New York University. Only 52 percent of people say they know someone who has had an abortion, and those who consider themselves “pro-life” are far less likely to hear about an abortion from someone they know than those who are “pro-choice.”

If the current trend towards openness about abortion continues, soon there will be very few people—regardless of ideology—who can claim not to know “the kind of woman” who would have an abortion.

The 1 in 3 Abortion Speakout is streaming live here.