Lauren R.S. Mendonsa, Law Student and Member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice:
“I had the pleasure of attending Law Students for Reproductive Justice’s Western Regional Conference last Sunday. Among the amazing speakers, was Apsen Baker, of Exhale. Just saying the organization’s name puts me at ease. Knowing that Exhale provides women the ability voice to their experiences with abortion, free from judgment or the risk of damage to personal relationships, gives me great comfort.
At the end of Aspen’s presentation, she posed a question to our group, “What do you think is the role of law students and the legal community in creating a more supportive and respectful social climate around abortion?” Support and respect are not central tenants of a profession that is inherently adversarial, so I found this question challenging.
As a law student, former policy advocate, and member of the reproductive justice movement, I’m perpetually strategizing about how to counter the “other side.” I’ve frequently asked myself whether “our side” could benefit from a national “coming out” of women who have had abortions. As a recent RepoRepro blogger remarked, “if people could put faces to the numbers of women we are told have abortions in this country, abortion could not be a political issue.”
This may be true, but Aspen’s presentation made me realize that such strategizing ascribes value to women’s experiences not because they’ve had them, but because they can be used to promote political change. It risks objectifying the people and decisions that “our side” aims to empower.
I don’t have a good answer to Aspen’s question, but it has prompted self-reflection and criticism of my profession, which teaches its members to speak on behalf of our clients, emphasizing the “good” facts, minimizing the “bad,” and discarding the irrelevant. A supportive environment around abortion requires listening to women’s stories without an ear toward the legal hook, and refraining from ascribing our own values to the details. I need to work on this, and I’m going to encourage my peers and colleagues to do the same. As the decades since Roe v. Wade have shown, a legal right to abortion does little to engender support for women who choose to have one.”