THELike many people, I thought of women in Texas, an American state that now practices forced births. When you consider how the pregnancy is dated to the first day of a woman’s last period, her new six-week abortion limit essentially amounts to a ban, leaving such a small window for a woman to arrange an interruption. In addition to being horrified by this cynical attack on human rights, I find myself once again counting my lucky stars as I live in England, a country which – unlike many others, including the Northern Ireland, where women are still forced to travel due to a postcode lottery – has access to safe and legal abortion for free.
As long as the assault on women’s reproductive rights continues around the world, it seems taboo to talk about abortion in any other way. It’s a privilege to be able to make an appointment, take the pills (if it’s early enough) and get on with our lives. But what has become difficult to admit is that for some women, even a safe and legal abortion can be a traumatic experience. It is a story that we have ceded to the right, when it is an experience which deserves to be heard and which could even serve to strengthen the arguments for better access.
An intensely traumatic abortion is the theme of Larger Than an Orange by Lucy Burns. This is not the story of a woman who has an abortion and feels nothing but relief, then moves on without thinking twice. It’s the diary of an abortion and its aftermath, which sees the narrator alone in her grief and pain, compulsively talking to people about it and scrolling anti-abortion memes on the internet. He somehow manages to sincerely convey the trauma of a woman’s abortion while being resolutely pro-choice. It’s quite a balance, in these polarized times.
By conveying the divide between politics and personal experience, Larger Than an Orange offers us a vital nuance and expresses emotions that seem unspoken, even to women. âA lot of my friends said, ‘I knew it was true, it had to be true, but I’ve never heard anyone say it before.’ Which is crazy, âBurns told me of their reaction to the book. (As for her male friends, many of them had no idea what abortion entailed.) Like Burns, I believe what lies behind this silence is fear.
âWe are fortunate to be able to perform legal and safe abortions in England. So people don’t want to talk about all the bad sides because they fear that when access seems so insecure it will just be taken away from them.
I wonder if they are also concerned that too much frankness could scare other women, especially younger ones. In the movie Saint Frances, a woman has an abortion and bleeds for most of the rest of the movie, and for the most part she refuses to admit – much to the frustration of the man she slept with – that she has. feelings about it at all. It looks radical and new and belongs to a space similar to Larger Than an Orange: a space of complex feelings and gray areas, coexisting with a powerful message about the importance of a safe and legal abortion. A space for which, although Saint Frances is an American film, I’m not sure the United States is fully prepared, given that it is still mired in emotional and religious arguments about the beginning of life. (Note that Burns’ book has yet to find an American publisher.)
Yet the situation in the UK is far from ideal. As Burns says, access to abortion comes with caveats. It is only legal insofar as it constitutes, in certain circumstances, an exception to the Torts against the Person Act of 1861. It must be signed by two doctors, who verify that carrying a pregnancy to term would be a risk. for the physical or mental health of the mother. There is a scene in the book where Burns is sitting with the nurse at a dead end. She knows the nurse wants her to say something in a certain way for the abortion to be allowed, but she doesn’t know how to phrase the words.
âI thought you just went to the clinic and you were like, ‘Hello, I’m pregnant, I don’t want to be pregnant.’ And it was clear it wasn’t like that, âBurns says. âThese conditions kind of confirmed the trauma of itâ¦ I’m sure other people have had the same experience, where you feel like you are. forced to say, “I think if I can’t have an abortion the impact on my mental health will be so extreme that I might injure myself.” It’s an amazing thing to admit to yourself.
I wonder if the legal need to prove the trauma of an uninterrupted pregnancy for some women prevents them from discussing the equally valid trauma of abortion itself. Instead, there is a culture of silence around the potential impact on mental health. The right should not have uncomfortable feelings about abortion and, especially in Britain, talking about it could help pave the way for an improvement in the legal situation.
Accepting that abortion is traumatic for some women reinforces the argument that no one should have to jump through hoops or stick to a legally mandated script to access it. Having to subject your feelings about an unwanted pregnancy to a check mark exercise is not a sign of a human and holistic system.
The importance of Burns’ work lies in his permission. Women who find their abortion traumatic shouldn’t feel as lonely in their pain as she does, and their response is one of a range of experiences worth hearing. Listening should in no way call into question the record of legal abortion, but I can understand that American women may be reluctant to have this conversation, standing as they are on the edge of a precipice where their rights are seated. ‘collapse before their eyes.
In 2015, writer Monica Heisey wrote about her frustration at the lack of nuance about abortion, the way women gave her sweet, sympathetic eyes, as her decision to terminate a pregnancy fell far short of her. be the most difficult decision of his life. As Heisey wrote at the time, there are as many reasons for abortion as there are women who have them, and that âdenying the range of women’s experiences with abortion keeps the subject taboo in the law. reality and a vibrant subject of debate in the abstract. It is easier to give up the reproductive rights of an abstract idea. Instead of forcing women to take polarized positions, we need to recognize the full spectrum of emotions, including those of women like Burns, who define her as the worst experience of her life. I think we’re ready for this conversation, however difficult it may be.