A Different Kind of Sidewalk Counseling: What Women Ask Me About Abortion

This  post originally appeared on RH Reality Check.


I’m a sidewalk counselor, but not the kind that you’re thinking of. I don’t stand outside abortion clinics with signs and I don’t approach women to spew ideological propaganda. But like the anti-choicers who block clinic entrances, I often find myself as the one person a woman talks to right before she enters an abortion clinic. As someone who speaks publicly and often about my own abortion, I’m regularly approached by women who are making that same decision. What surprises me about these encounters is that these women are usually not seeking advice or guidance about the morality or legality of the procedure. They don’t bring up the reproductive rights issue of the day. The questions they ask me, the topics we discuss, are shockingly simple and mundane yet they demonstrate the pervasive silence surrounding the procedure and the importance of just talking about it.

After sharing my personal experience with abortion on the MTV documentary “No Easy Decision” I began receiving emails, facebook messages and texts from women I barely knew. These discussions always start the same way, “Can I ask you a question?” 

What follows is rarely a discussion about politics, legislation and even the pro-choice versus pro-life debate. The questions I am asked are, “I have dance class three days after my abortion. Do you think I’ll be okay?”

And, “There are two different options for painkillers. Which one should I pick?”

 They say, “I want to tell my mom. How do I do that?”

And wonder, “Do I need to get a babysitter for the kids that night?”

They ask me what to expect from the clinic staff: “Will they be nice?”

 “What questions are they going to ask me?”

“Is it weird being in the waiting room?”

I answer their questions as honestly as I can and make referrals and references when necessary but for the most part I just listen. And it seems to me that that’s all they really want, to voice the concerns that most people would consider to be inconsequential. They want to be heard, to be understood, to relate. They want to calm their nerves. They want me to remind them that I did it and that I’m fine. It may sound strange but it’s totally normal.

I know because I did the same thing with my best friend. She was the first person I called after I found out I was pregnant, because I knew she had had an abortion. We didn’t talk about my actual decision at all. Instead I asked her if it would be weird if I brought my boyfriend, what I should do after the procedure and how long it would take for me to feel normal again. I also asked if the clinic would be cold, if I should bring a sweatshirt and if there were any protesters when she went.

As someone who is on both the personal and the political sides of the debate I’m always shocked by how different those two sides can be. And while both are equally important, I can’t help but notice that one side gets significantly more attention than the other. Maybe it’s because the politics are louder. Or maybe it’s because debates over laws are just that much more important than debates of whether women should have to recover from the procedure in the same room. I can’t be sure but I often get the sense that women who have abortions are just as alienated from the pro-choice movement as they are from the mainstream.

If we want the pro-choice position to support real women’s lived experiences with abortion we need to be willing and able to discuss the things that really matter to them. Not all women who have had abortions will have opinions on the latest legislation, and not all are directly affected by it, but we all know what it’s like to sit in a room with dozens of other women and stare at our feet.

What the pro-choice movement needs is more sidewalk counseling. Okay, not really sidewalk counseling and preferably not on sidewalks. But we need to start doing for real what sidewalk counselors claim they do. We need to listen to women. We need to address their concerns and accept their opinions without judgment. We need to share our own stories, even the seemingly trivial parts. That’s the only way to break down stigma, to support women, and to elevate conversation beyond the divisiveness of partisan politics.


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Lil Wayne’s Abortion

Again, just another example of abortion being referenced without the usual melodrama.



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I saw my sonogram, here’s why I think you shouldn’t have to…


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Advertising with Abortion

Okay, I’m a little bit late commenting on this. Frankly, it took me awhile to decide how I felt about it. Today I saw this ad again and it is now the wallpaper on my desktop. Here’s why.

About a month or so ago a friend of mine tweeted this image, which was an advertisment in some sort of “women’s” magazine.

Most of the commentary from my twitter friends was tinged with disgust. They felt that the ad trivialized the issue and was attached to consumerism in a way that made them uncomfortable. Afterall, women don’t make the choice to terminate a pregnancy the same way we choose whether or not to buy a purse (a sentiment often leveled at us by the anti-choice movment) and this image draws dangerously close parellels to that notion.

Abortion isn’t as trivial or shallow of a choice as  deciding which purse to buy is, and in some sense the comparison is hurtful.


The fact that abortion was elluded to in a mainstream publication without the usual melodrama is so freshing!

Frankly, anything that breaks down the stigma around talking about abortion is just fine in my book, even if  its potrayal of the isse is a little bit problematic.

Then again, this is coming from the girl who got started in the pro-choice movment by appearing on a reality television show, so take that how you will.

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Telling family, “I had an abortion”

Those of you who are familiar with my story know that I didn’t immediately tell my family about my abortion.

My aunt was the first person I called, but otherwise I kept information about my unplanned pregnancy to myself. As I’ve stated before, this had less to do with how I felt they would react, and more to do with the fact that I knew that abortion was the right option for me and I didn’t need anyone’s permission. Additionally, I hadn’t wanted to add more drama to an already emotional situation, as my mom and dad we about to become grandparents for the first time with the arrival of my sister’s son, Carter.

Prior to No Easy Decision I had to tell my parents and my siblings and the rest of the world found out via facebook. I assumed that because I announced my participation through social media the whole world would know, but I forgot to tell some very important people.

Well, it wasn’t so much that I forgot to tell them, but more that I didn’t know how…

I’ve always been jealous of people who have close relationships with their grandparents, but for me that’s never really been an option.

Living 12 hours away from all extended family means that it’s difficult to pop by for a visit. And because I wasn’t usually in direct contact with them, calling them up to say, “I had an abortion” seemed incredibly awkward.

Oh, and did I mention they’re Catholic?

While my family has always had more liberal views than the Church regarding social issues like sex education, contraceptive use and gay rights, they’re also very involved in their individual parish.

I mean come on, my great grandmother plays cards with priests!

So naturally, I was less than comfortable with calling them up and blurting out that I had an abortion.

But gossip and social media being what it is, it was inevitable that they would eventually find out. And that happened this past weekend.

My mother emailed me to let me know that my grandmother and great grandmother had found out about the abortion and MTV. She assured me that while they were hurt that I hadn’t told them, they we fine with the fact that I had had an abortion. “Unconditional love” as she put it.

I have no doubt that the next time I seem them I’ll be nervous that they know this about me. It wasn’t how I wanted them to find out, and frankly, I’m not sure that I wanted them to find out at all. Knowing that someone you love had an abortion immediately involves you in one of the most contentious debates of our time. I didn’t want that for them.

At the same time, I’m glad they know. Now I don’t need to explain why I’m so passionate about reproductive rights, or why I’ll never vote for a Republican.

And while their personal and political views on the subject may not change because of my story, at least I know that when they think of abortion they won’t be thinking of some obscure political ideology, that only bad girls have them or that the people who choose them are heartless. When they think of women who have had abortions, they won’t be tempted by the myths. When they think of women who have had abortions, they’ll think of me.

Maybe that will influence their politics, maybe it wont. Maybe they’re pro-choice already. But either way, I’m glad to have their support.



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Some Pro-Voice

Watch Natalia of No Easy Decision and Aspen Baker of Exhale throw down some pro-voice truth on Grit TV. Watch the segment here.



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Pro-Choice Vlogging

I’m tired of writing. Let’s try some vlogging!



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