Let’s talk about my abortion (and yours).

Several months ago, I appeared on a morning TV show alongside Cecile Richards, then the president of Planned Parenthood. Our topic had been women's activism, and we'd both spoken in equal amounts. But when I checked Twitter later, the violent insults were flying only at Ms. Richards, with commenters calling her a "baby butcher" and "this puke bitch" for her support of abortion rights. None took aim at me — and as I read the stream, I felt more cowardly than I can ever remember, as if I were crouched in a foxhole while Ms. Richards took fire for the rest of us.

Why was I letting her take the heat? After all, I'd had an abortion myself.

No woman has an obligation to talk about her most personal decisions. The right to privacy, in fact, is the legal underpinning of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that secures a woman's right to choose. Still, that day I felt ashamed — not of my choice, which I have never regretted, but of my silence. The decision I made 30 years ago was perfectly legal. I'm a grown woman, with a family and a career I love. Why keep quiet?

Last week, that question has taken on new urgency. As Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote has helped protect abortion rights over his 30 years on the Supreme Court, prepares to retire, we are faced with the very real prospect of a court that would overturn Roe, at a time when statees across the country are already restricting abortion rights. Against this alarming backdrop, my silence started to feel like a holdover from a safer time. Which this most certainly is not.

The story of my abortion is nothing out of the ordinary, though it determined the course of the rest of my life. I was a college freshman, completely infatuated with a boy I had chased most of the semester. Back home in Virginia, my mother was in the slow process of dying of cancer; she'd hung on for my high-school graduation and sat with fierce pride and tears running down her cheeks as I got my diploma. I loved her profoundly, but when she dropped me off at college, I felt free from the crushing nearness of grief, and then immediately guilty at feeling free. I immersed myself in late-night discussions and new friends. I drank too much. And one night, when the object of my affection and I ended up at the same party and walked each other home giddily singing little-known Bruce Springsteen lyrics, I forgot everything I'd ever known about birth control. (As did he.)Seven difficult weeks later, I ended my pregnancy at a nearby clinic. My main emotions were intense regret that I'd gotten myself into this mess and equally intense relief that I could get myself out.

Before my mother died the next year, she told me she'd confided my experience to a friend so that I'd have someone to talk to about it if I ever felt alone. But the truth was, I found plenty of people to talk to about it those first years: friends, roommates, boyfriends, including the one I'd eventually marry. And my female friends and colleagues told me about their abortions — stories of broken condoms, carelessness, missed pills and sometimes rape. Some found their decisions agonizing, others not at all, but most had the same feeling that I did: not the situation I wanted to be in, but thank God it's a choice I have.

Around us, it felt as if other women were talking too. Two decades earlier, in 1971, 343 well-known Frenchwomen like Catherine Deneuve and Simone de Beauvoir had signed the "Manifesto of the 343" testifying that they'd had abortions. They got called the "343 salopes," or sluts, for it, but still, the next year 53 Americans, including Gloria Steinem, Judy Collins and Billie Jean King, followed suit, publishing an open letter in Ms. magazine titled "We Have Had Abortions."By the time I came of age, in the 1980s and early 1990s, such stories were not unusual: In 1985, the Hollywood sweetheart Ali MacGraw had appeared, with a soft smile, on the cover of People under the headline "Abortion: No Easy Answers"; inside, she detailed her own harrowing procedure when it was illegal — and her later discovery that her own mother had had one as well. In 1991, Whoopi Goldberg and Rita Moreno opened up about their abortions (in Ms. Goldberg's heartbreaking case, at age 14 with a coat hanger) in the book "The Choices We Made." If I was sharing my story, I had company.

EThen, at some point, I stopped sharing. In part because of the passage of time — after a few decades, and the birth of my children, the experience became a memory I thought of mostly when filling out the "number of pregnancies" line on doctors' charts. But it wasn't just that: Around me, other women seemed quieter too. Many of the earlier generation of activists had been survivors of the coat-hanger era and they spoke out as a warning: never again. As the years passed, so did that urgency; my generation began to feel more secure — and perhaps less inclined to air our private business.

And as the extreme and often violent anti-abortion movement in this country began to build steam, it also began to feel riskier to speak up. By the mid 2000s, the idea of a high-profile actress appearing on the cover of People to discuss her choice as Ms. MacGraw had 20 years earlier seemed preposterous. "Celebrities today regularly reveal the details of their drug addictions, sexual obsessions, marital infidelities," the journalist Susan Dominus observed in 2005 in Glamour, "but no celebrity in recent memory has admitted to ending a pregnancy." To be clear, women in the United States were still getting abortions; nearly one in four of us will have had one by age 45. They just weren't talking about it.

Over the past few years, the attacks on reproductive rights have come fast and furious — 51clinics closed nationally just between 2011 and 2014; in about 90 percent of American counties there are no abortion clinics; and the reduced access has hit poor communities and women of color especially hard. As a result, activism around abortion rights has risen, and I've watched in admiration as well-known women (from the entertainers Chelsea Handler and Vanessa Williams to Representative Jackie Speier) have spoken about their own experiences, while groups like We Testifyand Shout Your Abortion, co-founded by the writer Lindy West, have collected stories online. But silence is still the rule, and I observed it: When I spoke at pro-choice events, I told only the story of an older female relative of mine who'd risked her life seeking an illegal abortion decades ago. It was true — but it wasn't the whole truth.

And that day on Twitter, I began to feel like a coward.

This silence, after all, has a price: First, it renders the women who make this choice anonymous and lets those who would deny us our freedom do so without looking us in the eye. There are so many would-be deniers today: Iowa has passed a law that outlaws most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy, making it virtually impossible for most women to have one; politicians and pundits — from President Trump on the campaign trail to the columnist Kevin Williamson — now like to bat around the idea of punishment for those of us who have made this choice. ("I've got a soft spot for hanging," Mr. Williamson said, chillingly.)

But would it be quite so easy to demonize this common experience if it were clear that the women who have gone through it include kindergarten teachers, clergywomen, Republicans, C.E.O.s, the woman who served your coffee this morning, who cleans your house, who signs your paycheck, who patrols your neighborhood? As the activist Renee Bracey Sherman, who runs the We Testify site, put it: "Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion. And if you think you don't, they just haven't shared their story with you yet."

Silence also allows menacing myths about abortion to thrive. Most Americans believe the procedure to be less common than it is, and more dangerous. No wonder: According to one study, on television 5 percent of all female characters who choose abortion die — a figure that is 7,000 times the actual, very low real-life mortality rate. As for the popular perception that women regret their abortions, 95 percent of women who end their pregnancies say they believe they made the right decision. Oh, and the stereotype that women who get abortions are selfish or unmaternal? Well, the majority already have one child, studies show. But for a young woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy, those are terrifying misperceptions to contend with.

It's time for those of us who know and have lived the truth to raise our hands and say no, this is the real story: Many of us have been here before you, and we are here for you, and we will not let your rights be rolled back. With that in mind, I recently told my own 15-year-old daughter about the choice I'd made. To my surprise, I cried as I described my life that year — the confusion, my mother's illness — and though she was just a kid, not much younger than I had been then, she wiped my tears. I told her that I felt immense gratitude for the life I have been able to build, for the two children I've been able to care and provide for, for the marriage I could choose freely, for the dreams I was able to pursue. And all of it, I told her, was made possible by my right to decide when I was ready to be a mother.

Today, that right is under greater threat than it has been in my adult lifetime, for her and for all women. And just as women decades ago shared their stories en masse in an effort to change inhumane laws, it's time for those of us who feel we can share to do so once again. Already on social media, women have responded to the Supreme Court news by coming forward to say "I made this choice," and their forthrightness encourages my own.

No woman owes anyone an answer about whether she has or hasn't. But roughly one in four of us have, and we are your sisters and mothers and friends. We have lives. We have moral compasses. If you are going to call us immoral, ignore our basic human dignity, propose sending us (but not our partners) to jail, or enact bans that, make no mistake, will kill women — well, these are not anonymous characters you're dealing with, represented by a few brave spokespeople on TV. You're dealing with real women. You're dealing with me. You're dealing with us.

Cindi Leive is a media and publishing executive, and a former editor in chief of Glamour and Self. She published this in the New York Times on June 30, 2018.


Talking the truth about our abortions and who we are can save Roe! It gave us Roe. Call your Senators.

Democrats must stay unified. Let the voters speak in November No SCOTUS vote until a new Senate sits in January.

Also, a man in the White House under investigation should not be allowed to appoint people who may judge him. Democracy is at stake.


July 2, 2018

Show Comments ()


Follow Us On


On Social