The abortion-rights movement grapples with repression.

Science, technology, and life.
March 9 2006 7:29 AM

My Secret Burden

The abortion-rights movement grapples with repression.

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Fortunately, repression, even when practiced by the left, doesn't work. Again and again, participants who decried stigma, judgment, and overt advocacy of fewer abortions went on to concede that some women find abortion "sad" or that pro-choice policies on birth control and sex education reduce the abortion rate. Advocates who work with post-abortion women were the most explicit. One described the abortion dilemma as "awful." Another called for more stories of women who, while regretting their own abortions, wouldn't deprive others of the choice. Slowly, as though coming to terms with buried sexuality, the abortion-rights leadership is groping for a way to think and talk more frankly about the morality of ending unborn life.

In part, this process is being driven by political defeat. In part, it's being driven by the truth of women's experiences. In part, it's a matter of younger women taking over the movement, uninhibited by old fights and fears. And in part, it's a matter of reflection by some who fought those fights but see how times have changed. Abortion no longer symbolizes freedom and women's rights as it did in the 1960s and 1970s, one old-timer observed; the movement must ask how abortion fits into its mission, not the other way around. Another veteran warned her colleagues that fetal life has become "the elephant on the kitchen table": If you can't acknowledge it, people will tune you out.

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In the struggle for self-correction, such candor and wisdom will help. So will humor. Toward the end of the meeting, a Planned Parenthood executive announced with delight that Wal-Mart had just agreed to stock morning-after pills. "Of course, we don't want anyone to shop at Wal-Mart," cracked a woman to her right. Everyone laughed. Irony is part of a well-balanced diet, especially when you're earnest.

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