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  • Franki Appleton

Shifting the Shame Where it Belongs - To The Supreme Court

Women and people who were assigned female at birth are made to feel shame and guilt about so many things. This shame is usually linked to our reproductive health or sex lives.

We know shame intimately. Even if we don’t immediately identify the feeling as shame, we know the sensation of being pressured by some unseen force to keep our experiences to ourselves, be discrete, don’t share, don’t show, don’t talk.

Shame is the fear of our period blood leaking through our clothes. Shame is the cries of “too much information!” when we describe our menstrual pains and bleeding. Shame is hiding a tampon up our sleave as we walk through the office to the toilet (even though our colleagues are all women). We are shamed for having sex. Shamed for not having sex. Shamed for taking our sexual pleasure into our own hands. Shamed for expressing our sexuality. Shamed for being “a prude”. Shamed for becoming pregnant in our teens. Shamed for not becoming pregnant in our 20s and 30s. Shamed again for becoming pregnant in our late 40s and 50s. Shamed for having too many children. Shamed for regretting having children. Shamed for not wanting children at all. Shamed for wanting to be sterilised. Shamed for giving up work to look after our children. Shamed for not giving up work to look after our children. Shamed for not being able to leave abusive relationships. Shamed for being a single parent. Shamed for not wanting to use certain types of contraception because of how it effects our bodies. Shamed for our contraception failing. Shamed for needing emergency contraception. Shamed for not realising we were unintentionally pregnant. Shamed for our abortions.

If this looks like an entire mess of contradictions, that’s because it is. And it’s exhausting.

Abortion Stigma, Shame and the Supreme Court of the United States

Yesterday, our hearts broke for our American friends as the news spread of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) judgement. The majority of Supreme Court Justices supported the Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks gestation, and while doing so dismantled the precedent of Roe Vs Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood Vs Casey (1992). The majority opinion rejected the winning arguments in these previous cases that the constitutional right to liberty included an individual’s right to privacy in choosing to have an abortion.

This judgement is not the first time a previous ruling has been overturned, but it is the first time a ruling being overturned effectively removes rights. Abortion laws now sit with the individual States, half of which are ready to severely restrict abortion access. These restrictions add a new dimension to the stigma and shame that is already so insidious. Now in these anti-choice States, abortion is no longer framed as a constitutional right, but as illegal and wrong.

For many people, society’s construction of abortion stigma (stemming from religious dogma and restrictive and criminalising laws) can cause fear of personal judgement, leading to feelings of guilt and shame, in what otherwise is a decision they know is right for them. This causes so many people with experiences of abortions to be silenced.

This leads to the spread of misinformation, pseudo medical myths, and general ignorance of what abortions involve and feel like. Because if we are shamed enough to not talk to other people about our experiences, we are made to be isolated. We can’t ask our communities for support or reassurance about what is normal or what needs further medical assistance. This disproportionately impacts those who are already vulnerable with poorer maternal health outcomes due to poverty and structural racism. We may also develop a false impression of who has sought and may need to seek abortion services (spoiler alert – potentially everyone with a uterus).

60% of those who have abortions in America are already mothers, and of that cohort half have 2 or more children. One of the main reasons people give for wanting abortions is to be a better parent to the children they already have.

49% of those who have abortions in America are living below the poverty line. A further 26% are living just above the poverty line (up to twice the poverty level).

It feels like once again we are faced with a mess of contradictions. Anti-abortion Justices and States want to force people to give birth, the majority of whom are already mothers, and in doing so push families into deeper and deeper poverty, which will no doubt invite the response “don’t have kids if you can’t afford it”. We are tired of being held to ransom by paradoxes

We Reject Abortion Shame

For anything to change we all need to cast off the reproductive shame that is constantly thrown at us. We do this by talking about our experiences. Sharing our stories is the only way to demystify and destigmatise abortions. Our reproductive lives are messy and nuanced and beautiful and ugly and painful and yes, pretty gory at times. Some people are comfortable sharing their story publicly on social media, others feel more personal safety in sharing with a more private or intimate community setting, and others are only ready to share their story confidentially with a stranger (like on our Talkline). We have been shamed for so long, it will take practice and time to become comfortable with talking openly. We will not be shamed any longer. We refuse to be shamed.

But to the five SCOTUS Justices that just unravelled the constitutional right to seek and have abortions (Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett), shame on you. Shame on you.

In America, contraception is not always covered by health insurance, with SCOTUS allowing a wide range of companies to refuse to offer their female employees health insurance that covers contraception in 2020. Having an IUD (one of the most effective long acting reversible contraception in preventing unwanted pregnancy) can cost up to $1,300, not including medical appointments. SCOTUS, shame on you.

In the 20 states that will restrict abortion access, tens of thousands of women and pregnant people may be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will if they cannot access alternative self-managed or out of state provision. Continuing pregnancy has far greater associated health risks than medical or surgical abortion. SCOTUS, shame on you.

It’s extremely expensive to pay all the healthcare costs of being pregnant and giving birth in the US. A photo of a medical bill went viral for charging $39 for skin-to-skin contact with the baby after delivery. For those without health insurance (because they don’t have this package at work, don’t work, or can’t afford the premiums) the average cost of having a vaginal birth without complications, including pre- and post-natal checks and tests, is around $30,000. We already know that the majority of those who have abortions live below or near the poverty line. SCOTUS, shame on you.

None of the states that will now restrict abortion offer paid maternity leave. The states with the most restrictions offer the least funding for child and family services. SCOTUS, shame on you.

Women will die in hospitals from pregnancy complications when doctors are too scared to intervene if they detect a fetal heartbeat. We have seen this happen in Ireland, Poland, and most recently an American woman was denied life-saving care in Malta. SCOTUS, shame on you.

It’s time for us to shift the shame. Because it absolutely shouldn’t be on us.

Call us if you’d like to talk about your abortions

If you have felt impacted by feelings of shame, or the news of the abortion restrictions in America, you are welcome to call our pro-choice Talkline to chat. Our lines our open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 7pm – 10pm (UK time). Call +44 (0)3330 909 266.


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