This interview is printed in the hand sewn zine of "This is an Emergency!" a print portfolio on gender justice and reproductive rights.
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If there was an ABC list or a primer on understanding abortion in a practical manner, particularly for a woman facing that decision, I suspect a large portion of Peg Johnston’s essays would be there. Refer to We Have Met the Enemy, and She/He is Us for a quick and straight forward overview on addressing the stigma of abortion. Lose the Adjective helped me describe tiny changes in perception that could go a long way in addressing that stigma. In Opting out of the Abortion War she addresses a major issue in the arena of politicizing abortion. She states, “After battling ‘the anti’s’ all these years, it came as a revelation to me that abortion politics is only a peripheral annoyance to women who are trying to decide what’s best for their lives. But only after getting “unbound” from the battle could I find a way to write something useful for people facing this decision.” And that’s what she did. As part of her work, Peg has created a series of workbooks for those facing pregnancy and questioning. The Pregnancy Option Workbooks (http://www.pregnancyoptions.info/) are available in English and Spanish. These workbooks are used by tens of thousands, in print, at clinics and online.
A funny thing happened after reading Peg Johnston’s writing. I related to her feelings, emotions, thoughts and concerns. I also discovered that she had laid out some very practical terms to better understand the Abortion debate, to help women who have had to make that decision and for people who wish to provide support for those women. Practical! It’s amazing what abortion becomes outside of the framework of a rhetorical battle. In other terms it can be framed as a difficult choice, a chance for a serious evaluation of your life and your relationships. Like a major illness, accident or life event. After being inspired to get in contact with her, I was lucky to have her graciously agree to talk to me personally and intently.
Peg Johnston and I spoke at length about my abortion and her history supporting those who had abortions. She commented, “I see a lot of young women who come in and their relationship with their boyfriend is that they’re kind of pals until the abortion. The physiological differences really put them in a different place, and an abortion brings your attention to that.”
When I ask what she thinks about the current political push against abortion with measures in Congress, she replies, “I think it’s kind of a last push. It’s our feeling that if everybody had free speech on this issue, so to speak, a lot of this craziness around abortion would disappear. There would be a lot of opinions out there, instead of just the one opinion that the anti-abortion people are pushing.”
Her opinion is a soft and reasoned one. When I asked of her experiences growing up and of the level of openness around birth control, she said “there wasn’t any.” Even though her mother worked at Planned Parenthood, they had limited conversations or openness about birth control between them. I see her voice helping to carry the abortion movement forward towards becoming a place for women to come into their own and feel empowered to make decisions without feeling ashamed.
When explaining work at her current office she tells me there are two different types of abortion providers; the kind that treat it as a medical procedure, and the kind that treat the whole person including their emotional experience. We talked about the importance and significance of the abortion experience. She clarifies for me “What the procedure does is just empty the uterus but the significance comes in the whole experience that women and their loved ones bring to it as well as whatever the provider offers.” Peg encourages women to feel lucky about having an opportunity for contemplation.
While not everyone may have the personally gratifying conversation I had with Peg Johnston, a truly well spoken and gracious soul, anyone who is touched by abortion can benefit greatly from her wealth of knowledge and the resources she has created. I strongly urge you to explore her resources whether you are looking to have an abortion, deal with an abortion you’ve had, or just to have a conversation around it. Personally, having spoken with her has changed my life. She has helped me feel not only less ashamed, but also proud to be open about my abortion experience.
Peg Johnston has been director of an abortion facility in Binghamton, NY since 1981 and has been active on the national stage in her efforts to provide compassionate abortion care for women. She is a past president of the Abortion Care Network, the Abortion Conversation Project, and the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. Peg is the primary author of several patient aides, notably the Pregnancy Options Workbook, Healthy Coping After An Abortion, Mom, Dad, I’m Pregnant… and Especially for Men. She has also written several influential essays including: Opting Out of the Abortion Wars, We Have Met the Enemy and S/he is Us and Lose the Adjective.
More information and resources are available at http://www.abortioncarenetwork.org
Sarah Reiter is a writer- living, working, thinking and writing in Providence, RI. A strange mix of random information can be found at http://www.sarahlreiter.com