As part of our #TalkingDoesMore campaign, we want abortion to be discussed openly and without shame. In this feature, Olivia Wright talks about her own experience and speaks to two women who feel shamed into silence.
One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Yet, I sit here writing this on the train with my screen dimmed in case other passengers see the word ‘abortion’ on my laptop.
I had an abortion when I was 19. I’m not ashamed to talk about it, because here I am talking about it. But you can’t see my face, I am hiding behind this page.
I don’t speak to my friends about it, I don’t talk to my family about it, and I don’t talk to my ex-boyfriend about it.
There is no tragic story behind my abortion. I was too young, I had no money, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be attached to my ex-boyfriend for the rest of my life. I, as the law dictates in this country, had to prove to two doctors that I was unfit to be a mother. I had to pretend that having a child would affect my mental state.
I don’t feel ashamed of my decision, but I do feel ashamed that I’m not ashamed. If I fell pregnant again today, I would probably have another abortion, because I’m not ready for another human to depend on me. And, I’m not ashamed of that either.
I quickly realised when you have an abortion you become part of a club. A club of women who have had an abortion, and in that club, you can speak about it, but what is said in that club stays in that club.
The funny thing is, this is a huge club. There were 190,406 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2016. That’s not taking into account the average 185,000 abortions a year carried out since 2006. Big club.
A poll conducted by Stylist found that 75 percent of people think it is important to talk about abortion to raise awareness and remove shame.
So, why is no one talking about abortion?
“Because there is so much silence nobody wants to be the person to break that silence, whether it’s in a conversation with family or friends.”
Katherine O’Brien is Head of Media and Policy Research at The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, like me, she questions why women are made to feel ashamed of a perfectly legal decision to have a common medical procedure.
“Abortion is perceived as something quite dirty by the press and the media. It is seen as something only irresponsible women do and something primarily for young women.
Layla Hunt had an abortion in 2015. Her partner already had a child, but she wasn’t ready for her own, so chose to have an abortion.
“No one has mentioned it since in my family. The only person that has mentioned it is my mum, and she said it was the reason why her year started out so bad.
“My family are not traditional, but I just couldn’t tell anyone.
“I told my parents, but a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to tell their mum and dad, so I was lucky in that sense.”
This isn’t a generational issue. Charlotte* had an abortion in 1982 when she was 22. She has been with her current partner for five years and she is too ashamed to tell him about her abortion.
“I felt really, really ashamed of it and still to this day I feel a bit of guilt.
“Even now if anyone has a scan photograph, like when my son’s partner was having my grandson and she kept giving me pictures of this scan, of this baby inside her. And it just used to kill me, because all I could see was the baby that I had aborted.
“If I see a baby I put on this face and smile and say, ‘aw that’s lovely.’ But deep down inside, it’s killing me. And that’s 35 years later.
“I wanted to talk about it. And when I finally did a few years ago, I felt so relieved that I could tell people and it wasn’t this hidden secret anymore, I had got it out.”
“Part of the problem is that as a country, all the polling suggests that we are very pro-choice and that people really support women’s access to abortion.” Katherine explains.
“But I think what happens is that those who are opposed to abortion sometimes shout the loudest. So, women expect most people to think abortion is a bad thing. But that’s not the case.
“It shouldn’t be a dirty secret or something you have to whisper to somebody you think might be sympathetic.
“This is an experience one in three women will have and they aren’t doing it to make a statement, they are doing because they found themselves pregnant and they didn’t want to have child.”
Times columnist Caitlyn Moran has also argued the biggest problem with abortion is the secrecy surrounding it, but women must not be afraid to share their stories.
Her recent Twitter campaign #ShoutMyAbortion saw women worldwide taking to social media to share their stories.
“With abortion people need to speak up about their experience. Abortion exists whether it’s legal or not.” She explained.
“Abortion is one of the wisest and most noble choices you could ever make.”
There is no doubt that it is taking a long time to break down these barriers. Abortion has been legal for 50 years.
“The shame is self-perpetuating.” Katherine explains.
“People talking is one of the most powerful things. And being relaxed in talking about it where possible.
“That sort of ripple effect does happen and it’s important.”
In the next feature, The Arguments, we speak to the anti-abortion campaigners and discuss the continuing abortion debate.
We want to hear from you. Please share your thoughts on abortion and leave you own stories in the comments below or on Twitter using the #TalkingDoesMore hashtag. Comments may be posted anonymously. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
*Charlotte’s name has been changed.