Abortion: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Gloria Steinem. Photo: Tara Todras-Whitehill

Gloria Steinem. Photo: Tara Todras-Whitehill

Anyone who has followed the dramatic reversal of public opinion about same-sex marriage in particular and LGBTQ issues in general knows that a big part of that shift has been due to people coming out of the closet. Whadayaknow — these folks, nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population, were our sons, our daughters, our co-workers, our friends and acquaintances, often people we already loved, liked, or respected. It became a lot harder to hold on to old prejudices, didn’t it?

But coming out was not an option for those serving in the military. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the U.S. military’s 1994 policy compromise to allow gays and lesbians to serve, so long as they stayed in the closet. When repealed in 2011, what adverse effects did our armed forces experience? A study one year later showed that military life went on as usual, national security was not compromised, and a new understanding and acceptance among soldiers and sailors ensued. The media became blissfully disinterested in the non-story.


When it comes to abortion, we’re not asking, and we’re not telling.


Noodling on this “familiarity breeds understanding” idea, I began thinking that the same might be true if those of us who have had abortions came out of the closet, too. Turns out, this idea is not my own brilliant insight, but has been around for years and is gaining traction: In 2005, Jennifer Baumgardner produced a film; in 2011, Congresswoman Jackie Speier told her story on the floor of the House of Representatives; the “1 in 3” website has published hundreds of personal abortion stories since 2011; Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis revealed her previous abortions in her 2014 autobiography; #ShoutYourAbortion appeared on Twitter in September 2015.

Mostly, though, we still live in the de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” abortion world — yes, we know abortion happens for some women out there somewhere, but we avoid divulging the details of this reality of human reproductive life. Is abortion really too unpleasant or unfortunate or shameful or embarrassing to speak of in public? If 1 in 3 women (33 percent!) has had or will have an abortion, consider how many of your lifetime circle of female acquaintances would have had an abortion. Let’s do the math: Continue reading