Columnist Andrea Ayvazian: Someone you love has had an abortion ... like me’

  • Hundreds of people gathered in front of Northampton’s City Hall for a Bans Off Our Bodies rally, organized by Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund and Valley Women’s March, Saturday, May 14. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Published: 5/20/2022 4:01:58 PM
Modified: 5/20/2022 4:00:13 PM

“Her Choice, Not Mine, Not Yours.”

      That was the first sign I saw when I arrived at the pro-choice rally in front of City Hall in Northampton on May 14. I thought we were off to a good start.

As I joined the large, passionate, and clearly agitated crowd, I saw other posters that made me feel grateful for the messages and excited that we were all together. One read, “Get Your Hands Out of my Uterus.” Another said, “Keep Abortion Safe, Legal, and Free from Shame.” And another read, “70% of Americans favor R v. W.” Another said, “If you cannot trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?”

I joined the group, took out a pad, and started wandering around writing down the angry, poignant, graphic messages on posters. “My Body, My Choice, My Future, My Voice,” one sign said. Another read, “Feminism is the radical idea that women’s safety is more important than men’s feelings.”

I was weaving in and out of the crowd, writing down the words I saw on placards as fast as I could, when one small handlettered poster made me stop. That poster simply read, “Someone you love has had an abortion.”

I wrote down the words and then just stood there. I thought, yes, people listen up, yes politicians, listen up, yes America listen up: someone you love has had an abortion. And then I thought: some of those people who have had an abortion are good God-fearing Christians. Dedicated people of faith. Churchgoers. Even ordained pastors. Like me.

I had not intended to “come out” about the abortion I had in 1980, but when I went to the pro-choice rally in Northampton and saw that particular sign I thought: it’s time. Yes, someone you love has had an abortion. And that someone is me.

As a minister, I feel that I am called to truth-telling, to social and political progressive activism, and to putting myself out there, even when it comes with some personal and emotional risk.

I had an abortion in North Carolina in 1980 when I was 29 years old. I am grateful to this day that the abortion was safe, legal and affordable. The nurses and physicians at the clinic were caring and supportive. The experience was difficult of course, but I left the clinic with no ambivalence and feeling relieved. To this day, my strongest emotions about my abortion are those three feelings: unambivalent, relieved and grateful.

The speakers at the May 14 rally were fiery, galvanizing, angry, determined, emotional and just plain fabulous. But it was the posters that really had me gripped. I thought: this is our history. This is our story. These are our feelings.

One poster read, “I will not go quietly back to the 1950s.” Another read, “My arms are tired from holding this sign from the 1970s.” Another read, “America: where guns have more rights than I do.”

When I came home I called a friend who had missed the rally and told her about it. “I am going to write a column about the rally,” I told her, “and come out about my abortion.” “Good,” she said, “do it.”

“I am mainly going to list the posters I saw, they tell the whole story,” I said to my friend. “Everyone will think you’re dodging the issues you raise if you do that,” she replied.

I am dodging writing about these issues because there is nothing new to say. The posters I am quoting reflect the mood, the need, the anger, and the legacy much better than I could, no matter how well-crafted an essay.

Plus, I’m tired.

I worked on the abortion issue when I was in college in Ohio in the 1960s and early 70s. I worked on the issue when later I moved to North Carolina. I worked on the issue as a NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) volunteer. I thought this was settled law, I thought we had won the war against women, at least partially. I thought we had secured safe and legal abortions forever. I am weary. Many, many, many women and some men are weary. We are tired of this fight.

And so I return to the posters. They tell the story I am too exhausted to tell. They reflect our rage, our fear, our demands, and our reality.

“Reproductive Rights are Human Rights: Vote Like Your Life Depends On It,” read one sign. “You’re pro-life until the baby is poor, transgender, Black, gay, Mexican or disabled,” read another sign. “Don’t like abortion? Just ignore it, like the kids in foster care,” read another. Another one said, “Vasectomies Prevent Abortions.”

I saw one sign that read, “Angry Women Will Change the World.” But we also need angry men. We need vocal men, men who talk to other men, men who vote with women’s issues in the forefront of their minds, men who come to rallies like the May 14 gathering and then go home and organize, men who wear buttons that say “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal,” men who contribute to Planned Parenthood. We need men who drop sentences like this into conversations: banning abortions does not make them stop, it makes them more dangerous.

A whole column that quotes placards at a rally. Good placards, forceful, honest, and powerful. To close, here’s a final, simple message that I saw on a poster. It is a message that I, a mother and grandmother recalling the abortion I had 42 years ago, believe is at the heart of it all: “Pro-child. Pro-family. Pro-choice.”

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian of Northampton is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership.

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