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Nov 19 2013
As more women open up, we’re faced with the heartbreaking realization that abortion affects us all.

Feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti, known for (among other things) advocating free abortions on demand and without apology, recently wrote an apology for her own abortion. Yet, she couldn't even use the word. Instead, Valenti's essay poignantly describes the dire medical circumstances surrounding her unplanned pregnancy, her adoring love for the toddler she already has, the loss of her hope to provide her daughter with a sister, and the traditions she has cultivated around the family table to pass on to her child, such as Sunday sauce.

So it is here, it seems—at the family table—that abortion has finally arrived in its collective meaning for all of us. The semiotics of abortion in American culture has evolved, and with it the images that give its meaning power: from the dark, dirty alley; to the clean, well-lighted clinic; and now, to the warm glow of the family dining room.

Nearly every table set for the family gathering at Thanksgiving this year will have a missing place, if not two or more, since one in three women in America now has an abortion by age 45; the majority of these self-identify as Christian. Even in the church, abortion is no longer something that affects "other" people; it affects us all. The volume of abortions has grown so astronomically high today that it's virtually impossible not to be intimately acquainted with someone who has had one, explains Olivia Gans Turner, director of American Victims of Abortion. It's statistically unlikely that our own families have been untouched by abortion. Abortion hits home for all of us.

Still, it too often goes unacknowledged, even unknown, in our own families. "We're not going to discuss it over pumpkin pie," she said. Yet trusted loved ones should be those most welcoming to women (and men) needing to share an abortion experience. Turner founded her outreach after going through acute distress following her own abortion as a college student. My friend Debbie, who had an abortion at 22 when she was homeless, jobless, and penniless, says her healing didn't begin until she was able to "surrender the secret in a safe place."

In a recent New York Magazine article, "My Abortion," 26 women surrendered to millions of readers the moving stories of their abortions. Abortion, according to the introduction to their stories, "is something we tend to be more comfortable discussing as an abstraction; the feelings it provokes are too complicated to face in all their particularities." It's an issue yet to be resolved "in our consciences."

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