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Giving women room to exhale.

JENNIFER BAUMGARDNER wrote (Autumn 2005) that women's abortion experiences must be attended to, respected and supported-"heard"--by those who promote reproductive health and abortion rights. She's right; this is crucial.

However, her essay, despite itself (despite even its own statistics), somehow suggests that abortion in itself, as decision, action and experience, contains within it the fear, shame and guilt associated with it in the USA today.

But fear, shame and guilt are socially defined and understood. Where abortion is neither outlawed nor mandated, responses to it are quite different from responses here and now. Abortion is not easy, but we need always to say clearly that for many it is experienced as a gift: a relief, a release, a source of freedom, exhilaration, exultation. Women have thanked their gods for it, wept in joy because of it, counted it a blessing.

Responses to unwelcome pregnancy have always been various. Fear experienced now is often fear of actively hostile strangers--not fear of back-alley butchers. Until quite recently, when a woman or girl here felt shame or guilt around abortion it was because she was "in trouble"--she'd had sex. Now shame and guilt are prompted by the belief that women and girls who abort have "murdered their babies."

Thinking and feeling are rooted in their historical moment, located in time and place. American thinking and feeling about abortion have been forcefully shaped by a hugely successful antiabortion movement for over 30 years--their definitions, concepts, language and perspectives fostered constantly by public communications media.

Though we need to "hear" what women and girls say about their abortion experiences, it would be a dangerous mistake to attribute their complex responses to the fact of having chosen--and gotten--an abortion.


Portland, Oregon
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Title Annotation:LETTERS
Author:Arcana, Judith
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jun 22, 2006
Previous Article:Reproductive and sexual rights.
Next Article:Contraceptive insurance coverage for Catholics.

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