I vote Democratic in every election and I have a message for my party’s leaders: I had an abortion, and you’re disappointing me.
Recently, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA) said that abortion was “fading as an issue,” and reiterated that the party was not a “rubber-stamp” party on issues like abortion. Last year, while discussing limits to abortion access, she repeated conservative talking points about “abortion on demand” and abortion as birth control. She went so far as to say that she doesn’t like to use the word abortion, as if it’s a dirty word. While I deeply respect Pelosi for all that she’s done to ensure more people living in the United States have access to health care, I don’t understand why she would make stigmatizing comments rather than support the party in defending abortion as a central human right, especially as access dwindles across the country.
I’ve decided to make my voice heard and joined over 140 other people who’ve had abortions who signed an open letter to Leader Pelosi asking her to reaffirm her support for us and protect abortion access, without stigma.
Like Leader Pelosi, I grew up in a staunchly Democratic family. As a child, my mother took me along as she collected our neighbors’ signatures to get Democrats on the ballot and folded candidate mailers at our local Elks Club. When I turned 18, I immediately registered as a Democrat and couldn’t wait to exercise my right to vote. I worked to get Democrats elected all over the country.
I’m a Black, Caribbean, first-generation American woman. I’m middle-class, Christian, and a consistent voter. I am the base of the Democratic Party. So, why do I feel forgotten by them?
When I was 19, I had an abortion. I had just completed my freshman year at an Ivy League school, had an internship on Wall Street, and wasn’t ready to become a parent. From a young age, my parents instilled in me that my education had to come first and foremost. They sacrificed so much to make sure I had the best education possible. If I continued with the pregnancy, I felt like I would be throwing away all their efforts to achieve their “American dream.”
I was that dream—they wanted me to become an educated child who defied racist stereotypes, became independently successful, and lived a life completely different from their own. There was absolutely nothing wrong with becoming a young mother, it just wasn’t the path they wanted for me, nor I for myself. I bought into that dream and felt responsible for achieving it. Becoming a mother at 19 wasn’t part of the plan.
As soon as I realized I was pregnant, I went to a Planned Parenthood and obtained a medication abortion. I was paid well at my internship, so I didn’t have to worry about the cost, unlike most people seeking abortions. It was relatively simple—as obtaining any form of health care should be.
For me, having an abortion allowed me to achieve many of my professional and life goals. It was my path forward.
Over the years, I’ve identified with the ways Democrats have expanded its platform to include people who need abortions. The message was clear last summer during our convention—why are we backing away now?
From the support of Omaha, Nebraska, mayoral candidate Heath Mello, who has an anti-choice record, to reports that Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez met with Democrats for Life of America, I’m deeply troubled wondering if the health care I once depended on will be central to the party of the future.
Despite enshrining abortion access principles and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding of abortion, in the 2016 Democratic Party platform, anti-choice Democrats like Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have joined arms with Republicans to destroy abortion access across the country. Each restriction itself may seem innocuous, but taken together they make abortion care more expensive and harder to reach.
Over a thousand abortion restrictions have been enacted since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in its Roe v. Wade decision, and more are introduced every year. Seven states now have only one clinic for all of its residents. It’s getting to the point where in many parts of the country only those who are able to travel hundreds of miles, often to another state, will be able to access care. That’s unjust. And that’s not a Democratic vision for health care in our nation.
Republicans seem to relish being the anti-choice party—introducing multiple pieces of legislation that would ban abortion, funding facilities that masquerade as pregnancy clinics, and cutting funding to clinics that provide comprehensive health care just because they also provide abortion care. In response, Democrats need to proudly claim what we are—the party that will be there for all families and give us the space to decide if, when, and how we want to grow our families. Why have they been so afraid to do so lately?
For many of us, abortion is not “fading as an issue” as Leader Pelosi would have everyone believe, but affects our daily lives. It is integral to the economic justice message she prefers to promote. Abortion has never been easy to access “on demand”; my friend Candice had to take out a high-interest payday loan to pay for her out-of-state abortion; Brittany had to carry a pregnancy to term, and now copes with the daily, complicated emotions of loving a child she didn’t want to birth; and Jack, who is non-binary, experienced dysphoria because of a state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound before their medication abortion.
Democratic Party leaders cannot be weak in this fight—restricting access to abortion and perpetuating stigma have real consequences for real people.
How can we say we’re the party for women, youth, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people of color, families, the middle class, and the working poor when we support candidates whose anti-choice, anti-autonomy, anti-health, anti-dignity policies fly in the face of the advancement of those communities and ideas? It’s not enough to simply show up when the votes happen. We need elected officials who speak out for people who have abortions with respect and compassion and vigorously defend our need for abortion access.
Maybe when the composition of the party leadership better reflects the base, this neglect might cease, and the fight for access to abortion will be as strong as it needs to be. Until then, Leader Pelosi, I lovingly say, you need to try harder.
Read and add your name to our open letter to Representative Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party at letter.abortionfunds.org.