Krista Jacob was a counselor at the Rape Crisis Center in Madison in the mid-1990s. She returns to Madison on Sunday, January 28, to read from and discuss her new anthology Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice (Seal Press) at 2 p.m. at A Room of One's Own bookstore.
She has worked as an abortion counselor as well as editing Our Choices, Our Lives: Unapoloogetic Writings On Abortion (2002). The new anthology features essays from Amy Richards, Jennifer Bamgardner, Rebecca Traister, and others as well as Jacob herself, in which the question "life or choice?" is seen on a continuum rather than as an either/or.
We spoke by phone in advance of her reading.
The Daily Page: Why did you decide to create this anthology?
Jacobs: I felt we needed to have a new kind of public discourse on abortion. Having worked as an abortion counselor, I saw a disconnect between the experiences of women and couples in our clinic and the larger public debate. There are all these layers to the abortion issue we don't get an opportunity to talk about, because the abortion debate is just that -- a debate.
I wanted to put something out there that was more inclusive of race and class issues than what we typically see, but also something that gives us an opportunity to look microscopically at the abortion experience, to see the complexities, maybe the contradictions, of this issue, that sometimes the pro-choice movement sweeps under the rug.
The essays are about looking at abortion in new ways. Why is it important to come up with different nomenclature, different terms?
One of the things we really need to do is show people that the pro-choice or pro-reproductive rights movement itself is a very pluralistic movement. There are many people who are doing the work of trying to keep abortion safe and legal, in clinics at a policy level, who themselves have ambivalent feelings about abortion. Maybe they are even opposed to abortion itself, yet they're still a part of the larger reproductive rights movement because they want to lower the unplanned pregnancy rate. These people are doing important work.
There are many people who need a definition of what it means to be pro-choice, yet they don't feel they have a place in [the pro-choice] movement because maybe they view our slogans or our message as being too simplistic. I want to put that out there to people, [that] that's not the case. There are a lot of facets to this issue.
Did you encounter any resistance, like, we're not supposed air our dirty laundry in public?
When I first started to talk about abortion in this way and challenge the movement to be more pluralistic, more open with the complexities, I did hear a lot of that -- about ten years ago. But I have been very surprised by the support.
When I put my call for contributions out for this book, I was very clear about what the position of this book was going to be. I heard maybe one or two "you are giving fodder to the pro-life movement" responses. But generally, people were like, "Yes, finally." I received over a hundred contributions for the book.
One of the recurring themes in the essays is that people need to be encouraged to talk about having had an abortion. You said that people are opening up to the pluralism. Are people opening up to speaking out?
The stigma against abortion is so strong in this culture, it's still very difficult for people to come forward. Even though studies estimate that 42% of women in this country alone will have one abortion in her life, the stigma is such that many women still remain silent.
I am really proud of the women in the book who talked about their abortion experience and used their real names -- that's an important step. There are people who don't want to talk about it because they don't want to be judged, but there are also women and couples who have remorse and guilt and grief that they never had the opportunity to process because they felt if they said that, it would mean their decision was wrong, or people would think that they are not really pro-choice. Which is not the case. The abortion experience itself is as varied and complex as women themselves are.
Your own essay in the volume is about women who have abortions for medically necessary reasons. What resources are out there for those women and families?
Not a lot, still. There are a few web sites, a few books. But despite the fact that this is not uncommon, this kind of experience is stigmatized in a similar way. There are many women and couples who find out that something has gone severely wrong in the pregnancy and in order to end potential suffering they make the decision to terminate the pregnancy. That's a painful and tragic situation and a lot of people feel very much left out in the cold.
What can people who favor reproductive choice do?
I think we need to talk about it with one another. And we need to start conversations with people who we've never talked to about this issue, people in the pro-life or anti-choice movement, to see if there are places where bridges can be built.
One of the most powerful essays in the book is by Elizabeth Wardle, a former pro-life activist. She speaks about about why she started there and why she is now a supporter of reproductive justice even though she is conflicted about what abortion itself is morally.
And voting, of course.