In the 1970s, as feminists fought for legalized abortion, a little graphic on lapel buttons and bumper stickers became a pervasive social meme. “No coat hangers,” a simple image of a coat hanger with a strike through it, quietly evoked the horrors of botched and backstreet abortions. The argument was that women had the intrinsic right to choose safe and legal abortion. In 2015, after four decades of attacks on Roe v. Wade, a new wave of the pro-choice movement hit social media. Seattle feminist Amelia Bonow posted her personal abortion story in defense of funding for Planned Parenthood, writer Lindy West reposted it under #ShoutYourAbortion, and a campaign erupted as tens of thousands added their own stories to the collective demand for accessible and affordable abortion.
That phenomenon is now rendered as Shout Your Abortion, a colorful, zine-inspired coffee table book with portraits of a wide variety of people who share their abortion stories. It’s creative and courageous, a counter-narrative to the conservative framing of abortion as shameful and secret. As West writes in the book’s introduction, “one in four people who can become pregnant will have an abortion at some point in their lives.” Abortion is normal, she writes, but beyond that, it is a matter of individual liberty. “Anti-choice legislation is a form of unconstitutional government intervention that undermines personal freedom. This country is ours just like our bodies are ours. Telling our abortion stories is a form of resistance.” The collection also includes interviews with abortion providers like Alabama OB-GYN Dr. Yashica Robinson. Whether she helps patients have a child or have an abortion, Robinson aids their emotional and physical health, “helping women celebrate life in either capacity.” Abortion as a celebration of life. The pro-choice movement has moved on from “no coat hangers.”
Dr. Yashica Robinson. Illustration from PM Press.
Dr. Yashica Robinson is an OB-GYN with a private practice in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as an abortion care provider at the Alabama Women’s Center. Amelia: Between providing abortion and your work as an OB-GYN, you see people through all sorts of different situations. Did you start out as an OB-GYN and then get into abortion care, or vice versa? Dr. Robinson: I initially decided that I wanted to be an obstetrician-gynecologist, and I wanted to work primarily with teenagers. I was a teen mom myself, and I felt like the medical professionals that I interacted with at that time really had the power to make me or break me. The people around me at that time could have either lifted me up and told me that I could have a child and still achieve my dreams, or they could have been like all the naysayers and told me that continuing my pregnancy would basically mean that my life was over. I wanted to be in the position to lift somebody up who is in a similar situation, so I went into obstetrics and gynecology and, incidentally, abortion care is part of that. And I respect that. Women have the right to choose what they would like to do, I’m just there to help them make that decision and get through it safely. I’ve come to realize that in just listening to patients, respecting their decisions, and helping them to get through that choice without judging them … you can really empower someone deeply in a life-changing way. Amelia: You’re seeing all sorts of people, from people who might have come a very long way to have an abortion to someone who is joyfully celebrating a birth. You must see and experience a huge range of emotions day to day. Dr. Robinson: Yes, it is a range, but also it all feels connected. I guess the best way to describe it is that I feel like I’m helping women celebrate life in either capacity, either in the abortion clinic or when somebody is having a baby. Often when somebody has an abortion, it’s the same celebration, it’s the same joy, it’s the same relief that is present when I’m helping a woman have a baby. Being able to be there for women, allowing them to exercise their right to choose, and then seeing their relief and their gratitude when they leave the clinic … it’s overwhelming. Amelia: Abortion is a radical act of self-care for a lot of people. And I think for a lot of people, especially young people, choosing to have an abortion is the first time that they’ve ever been allowed to make a choice that’s completely self-determined. How incredible that no matter what somebody chooses to do, you get to say to them, “You can do this, and I’m going to help you.” Dr. Robinson: One of the things that I think that I enjoy the most—a good example of this was a young lady that I took care of just yesterday. She came through the clinic, and she’s talking to me and I can see that she feels like she’s already been judged so much. Maybe she’s even judging herself more harshly than the people around her are judging her. However, just being with her, releasing her from that, and letting her know, “This is your decision, you don’t owe anybody any explanation, and what you choose is absolutely OK.” And just in that moment, she decided she could just be quiet, have her procedure done, and leave with dignity. This excerpt from Shout Your Abortion, edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes with a foreword by Lindy West (PM Press, 2018), appears by permission of the publisher.