The (feminist) joy of abortion work

28 March, 2024


By Laura Hurley

Laura Hurley is Communications Lead at the Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF), a global fund dedicated to safe abortion. The original version of this blogpost can be found on the SAAF website: 

Abortion is so often depicted as something traumatic, sad, unfortunate. Even those who fully support access to abortion can have a tendency to ‘apologise’ for it, and focus on negative situations to justify the need for safe services.

Certainly, many people around the world face incredibly difficult situations due to the restriction of access to abortion. They can run into serious health risks, and very often their life choices are compromised and curtailed. But when we only speak about abortion in these desperate and negative terms, we lose the full reality of people’s experiences.

Abortion saves lives, and it changes lives.

We already know that abortions bring relief for the majority of people who have them. A long-term study from the U.S shows that women who receive a wanted abortion are “more financially stable, set more ambitious goals, (and) raise children under more stable conditions.” Abortions can benefit romantic and familial relationships, and boost women’s aspirations and achievements.

When we pay attention to people who have abortions, we see that positive outcomes and elements of pleasure, happiness, and community are often present.

Abortion care can be a source of positive emotions.

A recent study with feminist groups in Argentina, Chile and Ecuador (including SAAF grantee partner Las Comadres) found that those supporting people to access abortion care witness, and themselves feel, a range of positive emotions.

Feminist abortion accompaniment is well established across Latin America, where restrictive laws and economic constraints often prohibit access to clinical abortion care. Accompaniment networks provide financial, practical and emotional support to those seeking abortions, helping them to navigate repressive systems.

Those interviewed for this study were providing accompaniment after 17 weeks’ gestation, which often included overnight stays with those ending their pregnancies, and a level of intimacy which that can bring:

“We end up sleeping alongside them, because you end up being there for more than 12 hours. So, you end up not only talking about abortion but about whether you like chocolate or not, of other things in life. That is lovely and I think we need more of that, of being able to enjoy accompanying, of moments of pleasure.”

Abortion accompaniment as an embodiment of feminist practice.

There are some beautiful quotes in the research report from those providing abortion care and support in often fraught circumstances.

Again, literature on abortion often problematises second and third trimester abortions as inherently ‘traumatic’. Certainly, the study acknowledges the risks present, as well as the process being “physically and emotionally intense for everyone involved”. However, it seeks to find the spaces where joy too is present.

Those interviewed speak about a very specific form of love and intimacy that can be present in the act of abortion accompaniment. And that this connection is explicitly connected to the marginalisation, and ‘difficulty’ of the act of ending a pregnancy, where it is criminalised and stigmatised:

I feel that it is lovely to be able to have those spaces of shared complicity, knowing that we are doing something that’s at the margins [of society], that we are transgressing and that we are not doing it alone.”

“The happiness of a woman who has an abortion is an indescribable sensation, how she passes it to you. I mean, that feeling of relief that she feels, and when she passes it to you, I think it is something that gives you happiness and that is why all of us do what we do… it truly is a feeling of freedom, autonomy, trust, complicity.”

These women are working with a specific kind of trust and solidarity, to support an act that is so shunned by the rest of society, but so vital to self-realisation.

My own involvement in abortion activism has shown me first-hand the joy and camaraderie which can be present.

So many of the people I know who campaign for safe abortion, or provide abortion care, are not just brave and passionate but also have a great sense of humour.

People fighting for such a stigmatised and criminalised act need to find some levity in difficult situations. Feeling like you are working against societal norms can lead to a real community spirit. And those who are willing to risk abuse, even prosecution, to ensure others have the right to end pregnancies, do so because of love and care.

It’s been great to see this recognised in recent years, with a greater public  acknowledgement of abortion care and support as an act of love, resistance and community. For example, the phrase “everyone loves someone who had an abortion’ coined by Renee Bracey Sherman of We Testify, which centres human connection. And Camila Ochoa Mendoz’s podcast ‘Abortion, With Love’ which seeks to “reclaim the ways we talk about abortion”.

Let’s tell a more expansive story about abortion.

Today, on the Global Day of Action to Destigmatise Abortions, we can reflect on how we talk about abortions in our communities. Next time you’re writing or speaking about abortion, are there any ways in which you might be inadvertently reinforcing the perception of abortion as simply a ‘difficult’ topic or a ‘necessary evil’. When in fact, the ability to choose our reproductive destinies, and support others to do so, can be a source of great promise, freedom, and even joy.

SAAF has endorsed the ‘Pleasure Principles’ as we believe work on abortion should be done with a sex-positive and pleasure focused lens.

Photo: SAAF grantee partner Association Jeunes Volontaires pour la Santé