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In today’s binary political system, however, abortion has become oversimplified. Although fraught with social, economic, cultural, and political meaning, abortion has been reduced to a singular and isolated issue in the political arena. And yet, just below the surface of political silencing, those of us whose experiences with abortion do not fit neatly into didactic sound-bites and talking points for pundits and policymakers in their public debates about our bodies, the waters of human experience still run deep.

As a full-spectrum doula, I work with people across the spectrum of pregnancy, from abortion to birth, which can include stillbirth inductions and people who are considering adoption. I hold hands, wipe tears, massage shoulders, fetch snacks, calm nerves, make small talk, comfort, inform, listen, and remind folks to breathe.

Some patients hold their breath—sometimes because the decision to have an abortion is made reluctantly. Their circumstances can feel coercive: a lost job, limited income, negotiating rent and bills with potential expenses of a baby, or having parents who refuse to support their young daughter’s pregnancy because it sets a “bad example” for their other children. Others hold their breath waiting for a change in their heart or mind that may never come, deciding finally, despite the discomfort, that an abortion is what they want to do, or what they feel they should do.

Want, desire, and “choice” become murky concepts in a tangled web of social and economic inequality.

Some patients talk in circles:

I’m not one of those women who get an abortion.

I’m different than the other patients—I never planned to be here.

I’m not a statistic.

These examples show how women talk their way out of (or into) their internalization of public shaming and blaming, as if a certain kind of woman gets an abortion and other women do not. This circular thinking is another byproduct of the oversimplified binary of mainstream abortion politics, represented in policy and the media. But what gets lost in the respectability politics of abortion is how common an abortion procedure is: nearly 1 in 3 women have one in their lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong; there are people who are crystal clear that they don’t ever want to have children, or they don’t want a particular person to father their child, or they’re simply not ready for parenthood. But as a full-spectrum doula who has worked with patients who are primarily low-income women and women of color, I can’t help but notice that all too often the experiences of many women reside in the murky waters that become silenced, erased, or forgotten in mainstream abortion politics.

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