During the House debate concerning Planned Parenthood, Representative Jackie Speier schooled her colleagues about abortion – and in the process, discussed her own.
The California Democrat’s disclosure is being characterized as a “revelation” that “stunned” fellow members of the House. The Huffington Post applauds her undeniable chutzpah, and so do I. Rep. Speier’s three-minute speech was pointed, succinct, and powerful. Her outrage at the GOP’s crusade to defund Planned Parenthood is palatable, and that makes her words that much stronger.
In Curtis Sittenfield’s novel American Wife, a fictionalized account of Laura Bush’s life, there is a subplot concerning abortion. Towards the end of the book, a main character grapples with what it would mean to reveal her long-ago choice. Is it something that she “owes” other women? Can one person’s experience influence the decisions and opinions of others? Should it? And why shouldn’t a private medical decision remain just that – private?
Watching Rep. Speier’s speech, I was reminded of those questions. Because even as I applaud and admire her action, I’m saddened that abortion holds such a firm position on the third rail of society that sharing a personal experience is still considered a notable act. Even when the woman talking about her abortion is not doing so from the floor of the House of Representatives – even if it’s your roommate sitting in her dorm room or your girlfriend talking in a bar or your best friend confiding over coffee – she’s still doing something so uncommon that her words take on a weight and meaning that might be outsize compared to reality.
Just as there are a whole host of reasons that women choose abortion, there is not one right way to feel about having had an abortion. Some women weigh their options, but are ultimately comfortable with their choice. Some women are so sure, there is no deliberation. And some women grieve the abortion itself but not the choice, because it is possible to know you did the right thing but hate the circumstances that made an abortion your best choice.
I’ve known all these women. I almost was one of these women. Ten years ago I walked into a Planned Parenthood in Charleston, South Carolina to take a pregnancy test. As the guard checked my ID, I stared at the butt of the gun just visible below the desk. I went numb with relief when the test came back negative.
I’m willing to bet that a lot of Rep. Speier’s colleagues have had their own experiences with close calls. I’m also willing to bet that whether they know it or not, a lot of her colleagues have people in their lives that have had their own experiences with abortions, their neighbors or friends, nieces or granddaughters.
In the end, the House still voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Perhaps the members saw Rep. Speiers as the exception to the rule; perhaps they didn’t even think about her at all. Perhaps their minds were made up days or weeks or months ago, that it somehow makes economic sense to deny millions of citizens access to basic health services just because those services happen in the same place where abortions are performed. And perhaps those politicians’ constituents are already vowing not to vote for them in the next election. Or perhaps they’re not paying attention at all.
Whatever the outcome of this latest assault on Planned Parenthood, Rep. Speiers’s speech was not made in vain. For three riveting minutes, she stood with all the women, men, and families whose lives have been affected by the right to choose. She gave this right a face, and a voice, and a story. I am inspired and emboldened by Jackie Speiers’s example, and I can’t help but hope that others are, too.
This post originally appeared on Generation Roe.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.