Storytelling, and more specifically abortion storytelling is a radical act, but not a new one. Since the beginning of time, sharing stories has been the way communities of color pass oral family histories, recipes, and health treatments to loved ones, and organize to fight for justice. Passing these stories down from generation to generation ensures our ancestors and loved ones wise words, lessons, experiences carried on.
Abortion isn’t a new issue. It’s an over 4,000-year-old medical procedure that has allowed people to determine if, when, where, and how to create their families. Over the centuries, people have shared their stories to pass on recipes for abortion-inducing teas, point people towards where they can get abortions when it is illegal, and to make each other feel less alone. Abortion stories have been monumental in pushing for increased access to care, historically and in our modern fight.
But despite this rich history of abortion storytelling, abortion stigma still silences people and keeps them isolated and feeling like they’re the only one who has had an abortion. This leads to shame and stigma, which is compounded by the intersecting identities people seeking abortions hold. Often, race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, immigration status, ability, and geography, aren’t part of the conversation. And if they are, they are relegated to a data point; usually it’s the line, “and this is worse for people of color.” It’s a disempowering narrative, and no space for us to speak for ourselves. The news, media, pop culture, and even our own movement’s representations of who had abortions do not reflect the reality.
The majority of people who have abortions are people of color; they’re already parenting; they’re religious or spiritual; they’re dealing with financial and logistical barriers to access. We have to push for the change we seek. Stories of people seeking abortions and facing barriers are often sad, disempowering, and while dealing with barriers can be difficult, there’s another way to show how resilient the folks seeking the support of local abortion funds are without portraying them using a savior complex. We can change the narrative of stories “told about us” to one of stories “told by us,” with nuance and intersectionality at the forefront. And we can do while giving space for the full spectrum of abortion experiences and feelings about our own abortions.
Stigma and oppression keep many of us from speaking out; and even when we do, we’re faced with harassment and hatred. We’re denied a voice when policies impacting us are decided. We’re denied the space to testify on the very issue that impacts our lives.
And sometimes, when stories are shared in the public sphere, they’re by those with more privileges and power, continuing the lack of representation for the most marginalized and those experiencing the most barriers to care. But we believe we can change that.
We Testify was created to center people at the core of the abortion issue: people who choose abortion every day.
We Testify was created for and by people who’ve had abortions, and seeks to build the leadership of abortion storytellers to speak out and bring the complexity and nuance of our lives to the conversation around abortion. We chose the name “We Testify” to signify that we, as a collective, are fighting back. To testify about something means that one is an expert. Too often, we aren’t seen as the experts in our very own lives or communities. Many also testify in their house of worship, testify before their congregation and spiritual leaders. We hold the moral high ground in trusting people to make their own decision about abortion. We are redefining who the experts are on abortion. We Testify because we are the experts in our own lives, our abortion experiences, and our truths.
We know what’s best for us and are in charge of our stories. We know that people are less likely to speak out if they don’t see themselves represented. Together, with We Testify, we will change that.
We testify that we are autonomous and that we decided to have abortions of our own volition. There was no wool pulled over our eyes by abortion providers — we are capable of making our own choices and any questioning of that fact demeans our humanity. We will not sit silently while we are exploited for the passage of yet another abortion restriction. We testify that we will not stand for the continued Congressional attacks on access to abortion care. We testify in support of the abortion providers who care for us, and denounce any attempts to criminalize their work. We testify that we deserve dignity and respect. We testify that we had abortions and we will never be silenced.
— 56 people of color who’ve had abortions to Congress, April 21, 2016