‘Abortion Recovery’ Month? How About ‘Abortion Wellbeing Month’?

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's political decision to declare April "Abortion Recovery Month" for the women of Minnesota is unwelcomed by many, to say the least. Now Exhale, a nonprofit promoting well-being after abortion, has declared April "Abortion Wellbeing Month."

As Robin wrote about in her Roundup post this morning, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s political decision to declare April “Abortion Recovery Month” for the women of Minnesota is unwelcomed by many, to say the least. Women, reproductive health and rights advocates and journalists from around the country have a lot to say about how little he must actually understand about the full spectrum of women’s abortion experiences and how much he clearly understands about anti-choice zealotry.

One of the most personal and heartfelt voices in the crowd comes from the anonymous writer who details her personal abortion experience on Salon.com. As Robin quotes in her post:

Now, weeks into my recovery process — I’m still bleeding, cramping, underweight, emotional, grappling with my need for children and a partner with whom to raise them — I see my experience grossly manipulated by Pawlenty, a man who doesn’t, can’t, know how I feel. But it’s always like this, the moralists and proselytizers stealing the microphone because I, and millions of other women, didn’t make the choice they prescribed.

Enter Exhale, the non-profit “pro-voice” organization created by and for women who have had abortions to promote emotional well-being post abortion, Exhale feels it can make the most impact keeping the attention focused on “creating a climate where each woman’s abortion experience is supported, respected and free from stigma.”

In that vein, Exhale has declared April to be “Abortion Wellbeing Month.” It is important to Exhale, says founder and executive director Aspen Baker, to recognize that what often happens “in discussions about the emotional experiences of abortion” is that “politicians pick and choose the stories that fit their own political beliefs.”

Using words in the proclamation like “aftermath” in relation to women’s post-abortion experiences, it’s not hard to see that Governor Pawlenty is not interested in acknowledging the full range of women’s abortion experiences in order to support women as decision-makers. He is making a political plea.

Still, Baker does say that she agrees with Governor Pawlenty that “many women have been helped by agencies that provide counseling and support after an abortion.” The problem is that deciding that only women who have had a difficult time post-abortion have stories that are valid results in, as Aspen says, “some women feeling seen and heard and leaves others feeling left out and further marginalized by abortion politics.”

Women have different experiences after an abortion, of course. Even women who are entirely sure that they are doing the right thing for themselves, their families, their lives, may still acknowledge that it was a difficult decision. While, for others, the decision is sparkling clear with very little turmoil before, during or afterwards.

Overwhelmingly, however, there is still societal stigma and controversy related to any decisions women make about our bodies whether it’s about sex, childbirth, breastfeeding, or abortion. Express fear of parenting or dissatisfaction after you’ve given birth, even with a wanted, cherished pregnancy? Taboo. Decide to breastfeed in public? Be prepared for judgement. One experience becomes the “should” and the rest become the “shouldn’t.”

The truth is you can feel many things at once, or over a period of time after an abortion, childbirth, a miscarriage, etc. But the more we can provide honest portrayals of the full range of women’s experiences, the better off all women are.

We are all human, making the best decisions we can for ourselves. Allowing women to be the final decision makers over questions about our own bodies and lives means trusting women but it also means acknowledging the full range of women’s experiences: good, bad and in-between. Instead of pitting women’s experiences against each other, as Pawlenty and other anti-choicers do, or, as Baker says, “hold up one experience as the only experience of abortion, we [Exhale] believe in building connections and understanding diverse abortion experiences. We believe that every woman, every story, and every voice should be seen and heard. We believe that every woman can experience wellbeing after an abortion and that we all have a role in creating a social climate that is supportive and respectful of each person’s unique experience with abortion.”

So, this month, instead of acknowledging abortion as an experience that can only be recognized as a sickness or illness from which women need to ‘recover’, it’s immeasurably more helpful to women to talk about abortion without stigma or judgement, to promote emotional strength and wellbeing, so all women are supported in the way they need.

Herewith, we will declare April as ‘Abortion Wellbeing Month.’