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Opinion | Margery Eagan

Women share their abortion stories and stand up for their rights

From left: Chelsea Handler, Margaret Cho, Representative Jackie Speier, and Cindi Leive.E! Networks/TLC/Getty

It’s rich when you think about it.

The ethically challenged misogynist in chief hopes to make millions of women guilty of a crime.

President Trump, who vowed to appoint judges to overturn Roe v. Wade, has nominated conservative Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Striking down Roe would criminalize abortion, a procedure one in four American women has by age 45. Most are already mothers.

Look around your dinner table tonight. Look at family pictures of women you love: your mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, wife. Maybe one is a nurse or a teacher. Or an office worker, minister, war veteran, Republican. It’s likely at least one has had an abortion, but never told.


Do you think she’s a criminal?

Should she be “punished,” as candidate Trump once proposed?

A generation ago, when many gays and lesbians came out, everybody suddenly knew someone who was gay. It became hard to demonize a person you liked or loved.

Many women who’ve had abortions have come out with their stories too, including comedians Chelsea Handler and Margaret Cho. Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California took to the House floor in 2011, after Representative Mike Pence proposed cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding, and gave a passionate speech about her own abortion. The chamber went silent.

The websites 1 in 3 and Shout Your Abortion share abortion stories too, but mostly anonymously. Way back in 1991, “The Choices We Made” featured abortion stories with names, by famous women like Whoopi Goldberg. She performed her own abortion, with a coat hanger, when she was 14.

Last month former Glamour magazine editor Cindi Leive detailed her abortion in The New York Times and encouraged other women to do so too. Again, it’s hard to demonize someone you like or love.


But names attached to abortion stories remain rare, in no small part because of online attacks and political efforts to shame and degrade women. “Shout Your Abortion” cofounder Amelia Bonow received so many death threats that she left her own home.

Emma O’Brien understands this completely. The 28-year-old doula, who helps women give birth, also volunteers to help poor women who live far from Boston travel to clinics here to get an abortion. She picks them up at bus stations, babysits their kids, and gives them blankets, crackers, and soda for the long ride home.

“A good amount don’t tell anybody,” O’Brien said. “Some do reach out to friends and families and are told they’re ‘a bad person.’ It’s just rejection.”

O’Brien also understands, should Roe be overturned, that it’s poor women who’ll suffer most. Blue states like Massachusetts will protect abortion rights. But in great swaths of America, women would need to travel hundreds of miles over many days to get to a clinic, plus pay for the abortion. Or they could stay put and risk an illegal abortion, like desperate girls I knew in pre-Roe days, who’d skip school and sneak off to some supposed “doctor,” petrified of what would happen there, and also petrified of getting caught. Right up to 1972, a year before Roe became law, 130,000 American women sought illegal or self-induced abortions. Thirty-nine of them died.

Since Kavanaugh’s nomination, we’ve heard much about the so-called Ginsburg Rule. It refers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, when she declined to forecast how she’d decide certain cases. Yet she did elaborate on abortion, calling women’s freedom to choose “essential to a woman’s equality” and “central to a woman’s life, to her dignity. It’s a decision that she must make for herself.”


And by herself, most certainly without the government.

As a lawyer crusading for equal rights, Ginsburg also once said that she “asks no favors for my sex. I just ask that they take their feet off our necks.”

It’s depressing image, but apt all these years later, with five conservative judges — all men — poised to hold millions of women down.

Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”