Some people believe there’s never a good reason to have an abortion. Others believe there doesn’t have to be a reason outside of the wish to end a pregnancy. There are those who would never have an abortion themselves, but don’t question why others may have one. There are women who have had many abortions. There are those who thought they were against abortion until they were faced with an unplanned pregnancy themselves. There are those who thought they would have an abortion if they ever got pregnant, but in the end, couldn’t do it.
That’s why the conversation about abortion rights cannot stand on black and white ground. It is a complicated, deeply personal issue that can only be illuminated by the experiences of women themselves. So why have women’s reproductive health stories essentially been banned from public discourse?
“If my small gesture helps in the slightest, then I am happy.” —Mandisa Smith
In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, I struggled with how I could contribute constructively to the political and social conversation about abortion rights. I have always believed in the power fiction to expose the truth. Armed with that philosophy, I wrote the story, “First Response,” a work of short fiction that gives voice to the experiences of women from all walks of life who have an abortion. Each line of the story represents a different woman’s journey. Although the short story is imaginary, the stories are true, borne out of my own experience as a woman who had an abortion in college, and upon the real life experiences the one in five American women who will have an abortion over a lifetime.
As I performed readings all over the country, I always included “First Response” as an act of resistance. That’s when I realized that the piece had the power to go beyond pro-choice and anti-choice rhetoric. Pro-choice women who never see their abortion depicted or embraced by mainstream media wept their gratitude. Women who were staunchly anti-choice told me that “they’d never thought about it that way.”
In the spring of 2018, I had a sudden thought: What if I made the story into a video that could be viewed privately or in groups, on mobile devices or in auditoriums? Could translating the story to video make possible a broader discussion about abortion rights and women’s health care?
I had never fundraised for a personal project before. I’d never made a film. I know next to nothing about digital marketing. All I knew is that I had to make the video, “The Choice,” a reality.
I budgeted $15- 20,000 to make “The Choice,” but was afraid to ask for what I needed. Instead, I posted a Go Fund Me campaign for $10,000, and within a month, had raised that amount and more. I eventually revised my goal upwards and today the project has raised nearly $15,500.
I had no trouble finding supporters of reproductive health who were eager to help. After all, we are now daughters of the Women’s March, of the #MeToo Movement, and have survived several waves of feminism. We were fans of the “The Handmaid’s Tale” long before it was a Hulu series. We knew full well that our reproductive rights were in serious jeopardy after the last election, but we’d fought for women’s rights too long to let the clock turn back now.
“I would have liked to rest on the laurels of Roe v. Wade, but it appears that won't be possible.” - Arlene Frank
“Over the years, I marched, I argued, I advocated, I spoke out, and I supported—all for the right to choose,” said Detroiter Arlene Frank, who appears in the film. “I would have liked to rest on the laurels of Roe v. Wade, but it appears that won't be possible. Choice is a bedrock of women's rights and we cannot afford to lose it.”
By far, the most powerful part of the process was being able to talk to the fifty-five women who showed up for the filming. They not only brought their generosity and courage, but they also brought their stories. An assault where the police lost the paperwork. A devastating fetal anomaly. A violent husband. Molestation and date rape. A roommate found bleeding in her bed from a botched abortion.
It was somber and intense, to be sure. But there were many moments of relief, empowerment, levity and sisterhood. As artist Mandisa Smith, co-owner of Detroit FiberWorks said in the studio, “I cannot imagine a world where women and girls have no choice. If my small gesture helps in the slightest, then I am happy.”
All of this was before the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court and the very real possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned or significantly narrowed in the 2018 term. I’m so grateful that, with the help and support of so many, “The Choice” has come to fruition at a time when telling our stories couldn’t be more important.
How you can still help
We can still use your donations! Click here to get us over the finish line!
Get the word out on social media about this film! Our hashtag is #choicevoices. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know of affinity groups (your local Democratic women’s group, your book club, professional groups, reproductive rights organizations, etc.) please let them know about “The Choice!”
Host an event to show the video and motivate viewers to vote in the midterm elections. We need voters to understand what’s at stake!