Lena Dunham, on her podcast Women of the Hour recently said the unfortunate phrase ‘I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.’
Now, as a woman who has had a very difficult history with abortion, I was initially furious. In fact, no matter which way you slice it, that sound bite is bad. In context, though, it sheds light on a real issue for abortion activism- an internalised stigma that is invisible and largely ignored. Lena had been explaining how she felt when someone at an abortion rights event asked her to share her own story only to find she didn’t have one.
“I wanted to make it really clear to her that as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion. And I realized then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue. Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department.”
Before I fell pregnant at 22 I was the same way. It took years for me to be able to tell anyone, even while campaigning for abortion rights, I was terrified. I remember being at the NARAL headquarters in Washington DC and letting it slip to an elderly woman after the phone bank was over. I can’t remember the question, but I remember my hesitation.
I had long been in the habit of making abortion palatable by phrasing it as an issue that was largely theoretical.I would explain my support to conservative friends by saying “I have never needed one, but what about a rape victim? She should be allowed. Or a woman with an abusive husband- she should be allowed. The subtext, of course, was “Not me. Not us.” Thinking about it hurts and we need to be talking about internalised stigma so we can have a snowball’s chance in hell of erasing it.
I don’t know how many people will read further into the coverage of the controversy to learn the context of that ridiculous statement and that is a shame. Lena Dunham fucked this right up and her apology left a lot to be desired, but in our glee to take down the whitest of the white feminists we are missing an important conversation.
That ridiculous statement was a clumsy attempt at expressing something that I wish more abortion-less women would come out and say. That instead of attaching shame to our abortion, we could attach a sense of pride. I know that my abortion felt like a battle, and I feel like the victor in the wake of it. Maybe if more women felt a sense of awe when a woman who’d had one walked in the room, then we could chip away at the shame the word abortion has chained us with.
So maybe it’s time to set down your damn pitchforks and stop talking about Lena Dunham. Trust me, those of us who are actually affected by abortion stigma would appreciate an end to it far more than your tirade against some celebrity.