Yes, We Should Talk About Abortion, and Here's Why
By Cindi Leive
One of the first major stories I ever pitched as a fresh-out-of-college editorial assistant was dedicated to what was at the time an emerging trend: It was the '90s, and states had started to pass laws requiring that teenage girls seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy obtain their parents’, or a judge’s, consent before having an abortion; I had known enough girls for whom this would have been a dangerous challenge to wonder how young women in those situations were coping. I was far too junior to write or even edit the piece myself, but the resulting story, by journalist Le Anne Schreiber, turned into a three-part series after Schreiber unearthed another, even more significant phenomenon: that even when abortions were fully legal, women of all ages were suddenly having a hard time finding doctors willing to perform them. ("Where Are the Doctors Who Will Do Abortions?" read the cover line — pretty bold stuff, especially two decades ago.)
That series went on to win a National Magazine Award for Glamour, but if you’d asked my honest opinion at the time, I assumed that that was that. We’d reported on a disturbing trend, but progress (I figured) rolled ever forward, and surely the world would see that as morally complicated as these decisions can be, women themselves were the ones best-equipped to make them. Anyway, hadn't all that been settled a generation earlier, with Roe v. Wade? And wouldn’t all Americans, no matter where they stood on abortion, be united in a desire not to force women backwards into the back-alley days my mother had told me about?
Twenty-three-year-old me was not overly concerned. Twenty-three-year-old me was also wrong. This month, Glamour publishes a series of pieces about abortion today—and they appear against a landscape that looks more dramatic and more divided than ever. While abortion is still legal, the rise of so-called TRAP laws has put many providers out of business — there is just one clinic left in Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming each. (A case currently before the Supreme Court may shape the future of those laws; it's considered the most significant reproductive-rights decision in decades.) And as a result, as Phoebe Zerwick reports in her exclusive investigation, many women have begun taking matters into their own hands — trying DIY abortion methods at home, including some deeply risky ones. While some women's advocates tout that workaround as progress and "empowered," many doctors told Zerwick they disagree: Most, she writes, "stressed that most women who end their own pregnancies aren't doing it because it's a more empowered choice...They simply don't have other options."
Personally, I believe all of us — including my own 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son — deserve options for determining our own futures. Years ago, an older female relative I revered — a funny, fierce mama bear of a woman — told me a story that haunts me. At one point when she was young, she said, she found herself pregnant and desperately wanting not to be. She already had crushing family obligations and little money; she was panicked. She got the address of a doctor — well, maybe he was a doctor, maybe not — across town who could, as she put it, take care of her "problem." She took the subway, wearing her best coat — and about halfway there, she looked at the crumpled paper with the address written in pencil. Suddenly she became convinced that if she continued on that train, she might not live through the experience, might not return to her life, her family, and her future. She had to make a gut-wrenching choice: to get off the subway, or stay on and risk everything.
I won't tell you what she did decide, because that was her decision, but it was a choice no woman should have to make — a choice that is really not a choice at all. When she told me the story at the time, it seemed like ancient history, traumatic but distant, like the burning of witches. But against the backdrop Zerwick describes, it seems real, and current — as astonishing as it may be that eight decades later, women (at least those without resources) are still essentially on that subway, turning to desperate DIY measures and the same limited choices as their foremothers in the Great Depression. So much has changed for the better in our lives as women: We earn more, can love more freely, can live independently. Shouldn't our reproductive rights follow suit?
I'm proud of the reporting our writers and editors have done on the new landscape of this issue, and these laws. I hope that we can read and debate them with the civility we owe one another, as absent as it may be from our political world. And I wish for future readers of this magazine that they do not have to revisit the issue constantly, decade after decade, but can see it as ancient history, a brief blip on the way to a world where women are trusted to make their own decisions, even the difficult ones. For now, though, let's keep talking.
Find all our continuing coverage on how the latest abortion legislation is impacting women and doctors, as well as what's next for activists on both sides of this ongoing debate, at Abortion in America: The Tipping Point.
More From Glamour:
• The Rise of the DIY Abortion
• SCOTUS Is Hearing a Major Texas Abortion Case — What You Need to Know
• What’s the Difference Between a Medical and Surgical Abortion?
• Terrifying (and True) Facts About Violence Against Abortion Providers
Photo Credit: Andy445 via Getty Images