The troubling silence of conservative women who've had abortions

Please: Tell your stories

Silence can speak volumes.
(Image credit: Gary Waters/Ikon Images/Corbis)

By age 45, three out of 10 American women will have had an abortion.

Thirty percent of us. Millions of women, from across the country and every conceivable background. Rich, poor, black, white, liberal, and yes: conservative. Some of us talk about the experience, but most of us don't — and if you ever wonder why, a quick look at the recent attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and the subsequent rhetorical fallout should clear up any confusion.

Of course, last week was not the first time that people and institutions even remotely connected to abortion have been threatened or attacked; anti-abortion violence has been on a particularly precipitous rise since the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller. I've spoken publicly about my own abortion, but I understand why most women don't — between the slut-shaming, accusations of murder, and lethal violence, maintaining silence can be sheer self-preservation.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Women who do speak up, however, tend to fit a specific profile: Liberal, politically active, angry. We often share stories about conservative women who terminated pregnancies but judge their own abortions to be different — sanitized, as it were, by their personal circumstances.

This is hearsay at its finest, though, and serves only to further the broadly-held notion that safe access to abortion (any abortion, for any reason) is an entirely liberal concern — that asserting a woman's right to such access (or admitting to having accessed it) is tantamount to casting a vote for godless communism.

I know this is nonsense. Well, I presume it's nonsense. I presume it's nonsense because when nearly a third of a nation's women have undergone the same procedure, reason suggests that those women could not possibly have all voted the same way. Thirty-one percent of Republicans say they're pro-choice, yet all is silence among women with abortion experiences on the right.

I believe I understand this silence — fear, stigma, and our political tribalism go a long way — but consider this a plea from one liberal to her conservative sisters: Please, please speak up. If ever there was a time that American women needed your bravery, with blood on the ground in Colorado, this is it.

Words have power. They have consequences. We see this every time extremists of any stripe justify their violence with the words of others — and though it's a truth near-impossible to measure, when a man kills three people and then mutters "no more baby parts," it seems that a strictly scientific model might be not be strictly necessary.

But silence, too, has power. The absence of words, lacunae in the breadth of human narrative, serve as scaffolding for incitement. When we say nothing, we allow those who spew hate or lies to believe that they represent the norm, that they are being reasonable. We allow those who engage in violent acts to tell themselves that they have our support.

American women terminate pregnancies for reasons as varied as American women's lives. For some, the pregnancy wasn't viable, or was found to be life threatening. Some women were raped, or live with abuse. Some of us believe the choice is always ours, that an existing human life always has precedence over the potential for human life. We don't need to agree on all of this to admit that we agree on some of it.

I'm painfully aware that many women hide their abortions because people in their lives might abandon or hurt them if they knew — wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you know your life better than I ever could, and I would never ask someone to knowingly endanger themselves.

But I'm calling on self-identified conservative women who've had abortions to speak up when they can. There's a lie we tell in this country that says that only a particular kind of woman makes these choices, that abortions are not a common and often vital part of a third of American women's lives — that if we just make the whole thing unpleasant enough, it will all go away.

This lie leads to bad policy, places unfair burdens on women who already carry too many — 42 percent of Americans who get abortions live below the federal poverty line — and serves to feed an atmosphere in which smearing women's names, threatening our lives, and wreaking terror on the health care facilities we frequent becomes commonplace.

Regardless of what people like Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio would have you think, abortion is not a conservative/liberal issue. Women of all political stripes get abortions. We don't always agree on the circumstances under which abortion is an appropriate decision, but a great many of us do agree that at least some abortions, some of the time, are moral and necessary.

There is blood on the ground in Colorado. There is terror in the hearts of people who have dedicated themselves to women's health. We need to speak up — for them, for ourselves, for our daughters. Please: Tell your stories.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us