Recently, I was having an abortion-related conversation with someone I love dearly who works in reproductive health and expressed some judgmental ideas about specific groups of people who may access abortion care. No matter what I said, I could not change her mind and convince her to think differently. It was a difficult situation for me to be in, and still one that I am struggling with and replaying in my mind because I value this person. Her words hit me hard.
Working in the field, we all have those moments where a client or an issue makes us uncomfortable. Some people might not be completely agreeable to a trans or non-gender-conforming patient requesting reproductive health services, a patient requesting an abortion at 26 weeks gestation, or a patient who expresses a lack of concern about their reproductive health, to name a few examples. I know that I have certainly experienced jarring moments or uncomfortable conversations that have made me stop and refocus myself. But I do it, because the real, hard truth is that usually, people trying to access care who we feel uncomfortable around are those most marginalized and who most need our support.
With my friend, I’m not sure if I should continue to push the issue or to let it go. I don’t want to give up, especially because this person means a lot to me, but also because I feel an obligation to the movement. It’s hard for me to articulate, but I think that if we don’t continue to press the people closest to us, especially those who are abortion rights supporters, then we will never gain any ground. On the other hand, I don’t want to risk losing an important relationship.
As I’ve continued to think about this, I’ve also reflected on myself and how far I’ve come in the years that I have been working for abortion access. There are certainly still times when I find myself judging someone or lumping them in a category; unfortunately, this is normal in the world we live in. I’ve gotten much better about clarifying my values in the moment: questioning why I’m thinking one way about ideas or people, and recognizing where people are coming from. And of course, I try to do the most important and hardest thing: admitting when I have been wrong.
The truth is that we never know the circumstances of someone else’s life or the reasons why they chose to do things or not, like having an abortion. We can only try to understand and assist someone by listening to what they need, giving them information, and ensuring that they have nonjudgmental access and equal rights to the services they need.
This always takes me back to the saying “Trust Women”. It’s a small phrase that says so much. Of course, in my trans-inclusive, non-gender determining mindset I wouldn’t mind changing it to “Trust People”, but I think you know what I mean. We need to trust that people are their own decision makers and that they think hard about important decisions concerning their health.
I worry that sometimes, we, as a movement say Trust Women or Trust People, but we say it so often that we don’t think about what it means anymore.
As reproductive, justice, and health workers, allies, and advocates, we can’t just say that we trust the people who need access to abortion care: we must continue to work on ourselves and our values to embody that trust. I can’t imagine that there is anything worse than someone who faces difficulty and marginalization accessing a health service being scrutinized, consciously or unconsciously, by a health care provider.
As far as the answer to my first question, about whether or not I should continue to converse with my friend, I’m still not sure what the answer is. But maybe we can start by reminding each other about what trust means for ourselves, our peers, and the people who need abortion care, and maybe we can continue by never letting that go. We will not be a healthy movement unless we embrace all of our constituents wholly, and only by continuously healing ourselves can we can justify making change.