This month, we’re celebrating the blog’s first year as a resource for critical thought around what it means to live and work in red states with our “Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going” series. Jen starts us off by explaining how her pro-life childhood shapes her advocacy today.
I want to share a memory with y’all.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I stood along a highway in Shreveport, Louisiana with my church family holding up signs for an event. I’m not sure what it was for; maybe it was a clinic opening or just a regular outreach event we did every year. My parents don’t remember (I’ve asked them about this since). But I do remember holding a sign, wearing a puffy coat and my little sneakers and standing in the cold with my family. I looked down and could read, but did not understand, the words written in big red block letters: ABORTION KILLS WOMEN.
Living in red states means you learn about “what abortion is” using graphic pictures and manipulative rhetoric, but that you will likely never get a decent education about sex or how consent works. You’ll know abortion = murder but you won’t have any idea how babies are made in the first place because everyone thinks you’re too young and innocent to handle such knowledge. It means that you will get crash courses early on about how a fetus develops physiologically during every week of gestation (heartbeats, fingernails, brain cells), but you will not know how to deal with the incredible guilt that comes from exploring your own body late at night as your body develops. It means if you disagree and speak up publicly about access to abortion and safety, people will openly post images with your faces on it in “WANTED” poster style fashion. It means listening to people freely talk about murdering abortion doctors as a “tactic worth looking into” if the data could prove it decreases abortion rates out of fear.
It means you will flip the double-bird to the old men calling you a murderer as you walk outside of one of Oklahoma’s three vulnerable clinics that provide abortion services. You will think back to your own role in this ridiculous theater production when you were 5 or 6 in Louisiana and you held up a sign that said ABORTION KILLS WOMEN and yet you are still alive, and relieved, and received some of the best and most respectful medical care of your life. You will try to reconcile this journey and make sense of it. You get close, sometimes.
It means your family doesn’t understand why you hid the fact that you had an abortion for 6 months before this fact was unearthed because when they constantly talk about the value of life and saving babies, they don’t acknowledge how coercive or violent and terrifying this environment is for people who have abortions. They can understand why you didn’t want to be a parent right now, but they can’t understand why you aren’t tearing yourself apart with guilt. They say god knows your heart and will be the only one who can judge you. They will press their lips and refuse to speak of “your mistake” ever again.
Living in red states mean this is woven into your daily life, into your subconscious. It means you are strategically-minded and capable of defending your opinions when you have to. It means hanging out with your friends and planning an outreach event about reproductive justice and reassuring a stranger on Facebook that yes, abortion is indeed legal in Oklahoma and do you need a ride to the clinic happens on the same day, every day.
I have a lot of complicated feelings about living here, but for the love of christ, stop telling me to move away from my home. There’s a lot more to be said and written and unearthed about the lives of people in red states, about the deep issues and creative solutions we have to answer reproductive oppression as it manifests in our region. And I am all for working hard to make sure those things happen here, on our terms, and without backhanded compliments that somehow, I am so smart *in spite of* where I was born.
I’ve traded in a puffy coat for a nice blazer, thank you very much. And my sign doesn’t read ABORTION KILLS WOMEN anymore. It says: I HAD AN ABORTION AND IT SAVED MY LIFE.
Jen writes a lot of blogs in their head while driving on US 77 in the middle of the night. It’s peaceful, you should try it sometime.
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