Portman Women: Come out!

by Peg Johnston, ACP Board Member

Conservative Senator Rob Portman (R,OH) just changed his mind about gay marriage because his son came out to him. So, the stand that he, and most right wingers, have taken against civil rights for lgbt individuals has become personal. 

So, let’s take this a step further. How many of the Portman family females have had an abortion? Or helped a friend when they unintentionally became pregnant? Gays and lesbians comprise less than 10% of the population, but 37% of all of reproductive aged women will have an abortion! Surely there are some disclosures that are possible at the next family gathering.

Many abortion rights activists advocate a “coming out” strategy for those who have had an abortion, just as the gay and lesbian movement did, designating October 11th (the anniversary of the first large march on washington) in 1988. That strategy has paid off handsomely, as more and more Americans personally know gays and lesbians and support their wanting to have their unions recognized by society. 70% of millenials in a recent Pew poll support same sex marriage.

Last year I attended a conference on Stigma which suggested that approaches that have worked to de-stigmatize homosexuality and HIV status might be used to lessen the stigma of abortion. There are some important differences though. Women who have had an abortion can usually hide it; it’s not generally part of their identity. Gay people continue to be gay, and HIV positive folks have a chronic condition.

But the idea is a good one. If you feel that someone would think less of you (which is the definition of stigma), then you are not going to be eager to tell those people. But if you were able to tell some folks, it would lessen your sense of stigma, isolation, and shame. And, importantly, it would change those that heard your story. The Rob Portman’s of the world need to hear from women close to them who have considered or chosen an abortion. If the Right hears from those women and men who have been part of an abortion experience, will they be so quick to pass every ridiculous law that’s a barrier to abortion access? If Rob Portman’s son’s coming out is an indication, the answer is “no!” So, Portman women, we know it can be hard to speak up, but we’re counting on you. It’s time for an abortion conversation in your–and every– family!