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Pro-abortion and proud of it

Social and media campaigns promote abortion without regrets, but sometimes a more complicated message slips out

Pro-abortion and proud of it

Katha Pollitt promotes her book in Seattle. (Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson)


Michelle Shelfer with her husband and grandchildren.


Emily Letts


Leyla Josephine


Hanna Rosin

Michelle Shelfer’s parents encouraged her at a young age to explore her sexuality. When the Berkeley, Calif., native became pregnant at 24, she thought little of her appointment at an abortion business: “It was like getting a filling in my teeth.” She breezed through a brief meeting with a counselor. 

But the procedure was unexpectedly painful, and no one made eye contact with her. A half hour later, a nurse led her out a back entrance. Shelfer shuffled to her car, surprised by a flood of tears and the “shame and secrecy” she felt. In the clinic’s parking lot she noticed a flattened and rusted quarter-size metal object on the ground. Shelfer pocketed a button depicting a mother bird hovering over her baby and read: “He careth for you.” 

In the months following her abortion, Shelfer expected relief and a happy going-forward. Instead, she felt she had made a big mistake. Over the past decade some abortion proponents have acknowledged that aborting women should mourn the choice they felt they had to make—but in 2014 some women who have had abortions decided that they should work to toughen up women like Shelfer. 

The result: In YouTube videos, fashion magazine pages, social media campaigns, and newly launched websites, seemingly unfazed women are talking unapologetically about their abortions—and they are enlisting others to do the same. They seek to reframe abortion decisions from difficult, private, and guilt-laden to normal, painless, morally right, and socially good. Three examples:

• Last May, Emily Letts, 26, posted a short, peppy video of her abortion that quickly went viral. In the video, the New Jersey abortion counselor smiles and holds hands with nurses during the procedure. Afterward she says, “I don’t feel sad. I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life.” And snuff it out. 

• In August, Leyla Josephine shared a now-viral video of her slam poem “I Think She Was a She.” She imagines her aborted child “would’ve looked exactly like me,” with full cheeks, hazel eyes, and thick brown hair. And yet, she defends the killing: “I would have died for that right like she died for mine. I’m sorry, but you came at the wrong time. I am not ashamed. … When I become a mother, it will be when I choose.” 

• In October, Hanna Rosin, 44, wrote “Abortion Is Great” for Slate. In it she writes of aborting women who had already borne children, as she had: “I never felt like I had done something awful. The truth is, I hardly thought about it after I did it.”  

Hollywood has done its part to normalize abortion. Recent prime-time shows such as Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and Grey’s Anatomy have all had abortion plotlines. Grey’s character Dr. Cristina Yang went through with an abortion despite her husband’s reluctance. She told a friend, “I don’t want a kid. I don’t want to make jam. I don’t want to carpool. I really, really, really don’t want to be a mother.” 

 ‘If you’re part of a church with 100 people and half are women, it’s very likely that a number of those women have had abortions.’ —Alex Ronan

Last year’s movie Obvious Child depicted a happily-ever-after abortion story: A 20-something comedian finds herself jobless and pregnant after a drunken one-night stand but gets an abortion and a guy on Valentine’s Day. 

Meanwhile, newly launched social campaigns like “1 in 3,” “The Abortion Diary Podcast,” and “Not Alone” are eliciting unregretful abortion stories from the general public. They feature variations of titles like “It’s actually very normal” and “Almost every woman I know has had an abortion.” 

Feminist writer Katha Pollitt captures this new mood in her book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, which lauds abortion as a social good rather than a necessary evil. In it she blames America’s pro-life movement for abortion’s “awfulization” and the subsequent growing number of state-level restrictions. She laments, “Why can’t a woman just say, This wasn’t the right time for me?” 

Despite the push to force abortion guilt and pain into the closet, the reality continues to burst out even in testimonials meant to normalize abortion. 

April D. from Vancouver told her abortion story on the pro-abortion website Not Alone—run by abortion counselor Emily Letts. April wrote three weeks after her abortion: “A part of me died,” she said, describing vivid nightmares. “I see this baby and it’s crying and it’s mine and it needs to be … comforted.” Heather J. from Florida wrote on the same website: “I have had a total of 5 now, and sometimes I do wonder ‘what if.’” 

I telephoned Hanna Rosin to ask whether she truly was fine about her abortion, and she expressed more ambivalence than she had in her Slate story: “I had to take ownership of a shadow, an existing spirit that stayed with me.” 

Alex Ronan ran into that ambivalence when she volunteered as an abortion doula (a woman who supports another woman during an abortion)—at a large Manhattan hospital. Ronan, an ardent supporter of legal abortion, wrote, “Many pro-choice doulas, doctors, and nonprofits are unwilling to acknowledge how difficult and painful many women find abortion.” 

Ronan documented her experiences on The Cut website. On her first day as a volunteer, she met a mother—whose two children were bouncing in the waiting room—undergoing the first part of a two-day, late-term abortion. While doctors were inserting laminaria, seaweed sticks that dilate the cervix, the operation went wrong and the woman began losing blood. Doctors went into emergency mode. They administered anesthesia, and a resident yelled “pull” as he tried to remove the baby. 

Ronan wrote, “The body does not want to let it go.” She saw “a doll-size arm, fist curled” amid “bloody gunk” in the bucket and wrote, “It feels like I shouldn’t look, but I can’t turn away.” She left readers with a sobering image: The mother lost both her baby and her uterus. 

The church should be the place for women to come out of the closet and admit their abortions, knowing that Christ’s salvation is big enough to cover the guilt and shame. But too often it is not.

Five months after Shelfer’s first abortion, she was pregnant and sitting in the waiting room of another abortion clinic “because I couldn’t see any other option.” As she waited for the doctor, who was late, she thought about her pregnancy, her boyfriend, her future, the praying ladies she walked past outside, and the button she still carried. In a moment, she called out to God, not even sure who He was. Then she stood up and left.

The baby Shelfer almost aborted was a boy: He is now a Yale-educated lawyer, husband, and father of three. Shelfer’s boyfriend met God separately in his car during her waiting room delay. He proposed to her as they drove away from the clinic. The Sebastopol, Calif., couple has been married for 32 years. 

For years Shelfer, now 58, struggled with an intense desire to conceal her abortion from fellow Christians: “I was not able to forgive myself. … It’s so much easier to stuff it away, to not talk about it, not think about it.” As Shelfer came to know the forgiveness of Jesus, she felt compelled to share her story, extend friendship, and offer workshops to post-abortive women.

One in three women will have had an abortion by the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Ronan says, “If you’re part of a church with 100 people and half are women, it’s very likely that a number of those women have had abortions.” Campaigns such as Silent No More and the Catholic church’s Project Rachel offer hotlines and help to post-abortive women.

But when Shelfer speaks at different congregations, the room nearly always stiffens: “You get the feeling that nobody really wants to hear. It touches too many raw nerves.” She speculates that talking about abortion stirs up feelings of guilt and pain.

Shelfer counsels expectant mothers at the Marin (Calif.) Pregnancy Center, which receives few calls each week from post-abortive women, and many of those appointments turn into no-shows. When a woman actually keeps an appointment, the counseling “is a very delicate work, done with fine needles and tweezers, not sledge hammers and pickaxes.”

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson

Mary is a book reviewer and reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Greenville University graduate who previously worked for the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal. Mary resides with her family in the San Francisco Bay area. Follow her on Twitter @mbjackson77.


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  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    >> when Shelfer speaks at different congregations, the room nearly always
    stiffens: "You get the feeling that nobody really wants to hear. It
    touches too many raw nerves."- well, that's kind of like pornography for men. No one will talk about it, it's too embarrassing. Meanwhile, our nations boys and men go down the sewer, and the women head to the abortion clinic. Ugh.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    There are those who perhaps have no idea what they are doing.  There are those who through tear filling eyes deny what they are doing.  In this article we see those who know full well what they are doing and rejoice in it.  Sin in the life of a country or an individual is progressive.  How hard and calloused our souls can become.  

  • Dale Murrish's picture
    Dale Murrish
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    Thank you for writing this article, Mary, and to Michelle Shelfer for having the courage to talk about her regrets and counsel post-abortive women. The other side never quits; neither should we, as we seek to share Christ's forgiveness in a positive way with those have made an awful choice. Let's support the unwed mothers in our churches and not shame them. They have the courage to not follow one mistake with another more grievous one. 

  • Narissara
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    Katha Pollitt asks, "Why can't a woman just say, This wasn't the right time for me?"  Sad that these women understand time is not a renewable resource but evidently think that children are.  The value children hold for society seems to be the baseline for the value of all its members . . . superfluous marriages, disposable friendships, expendable employees, obsolete parents, etc.

  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    On the Cross Jesus said: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  There are certainly many who participate in abortion who do not really realize what they are doing.  But I wonder what Jesus would say to those who clearly do know what they are doing?  Might He not quote Isaiah 5:20 and say: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"It is not simply an unwanted baby that they are dealing with but with a God of wrath for those who refuse His truth and mercy.It must be said that it is not the role of individuals to carry out God's wrath but to warn of it and extend His amazing offer of mercy.

  • Buddy's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    Lear Lord,
    I feel so hopeless and downcast. It's like your words I have spoken have no value to the many I have given them too. No one has picked up the light and fire of truth in this and passed it on. Your wisdom and love in calling some things sin has little understanding in the masses. Most say you are not real so your words have no value. Over 80% of the babies aborted in the U.S. are to unwed women. This says fornication is the major cause of our abortions yet I have not read or heard from pulpits this information. Many times your word says to flee fornication yet this loving directive that can stop abortions is over powered by freedom and rights even in the Church. Lord, I thank you for reminding me that if they reject me it's because they rejected you first. I thank you, Lord for the many who have aborted and confessed and received forgiveness and then have helped others to receive forgiveness from you. I pray you would light the fire of loving truth in your Church around the world to let it understand fornication is the reason for our abortions. Thank you Jesus for loving us so very much and having your arms open wide to us.

  • Rich277
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    Do they ever explain what it is in their life now that is more valuable to them than another human being?

  • Daniel A Breithaupt
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    Exactly as Romans Chapter 1 states and as Dr. Ravi reminds us.  The redefinition of good and evil to allow us the temporary satisfaction of being God for a day.  How long...

  • Minivan Man's picture
    Minivan Man
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

    Mary, I hope many, many people read this article.  May God give you exposure as you uncover the truth about abortion.  Press on!

  • Scott Dolfay
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:11 pm

       As you quote Hanna
    Rosin "I never felt like I had done something awful. The truth is, I hardly
    thought about it after I did it" that is painfully obvious. These public efforts
    to validate abortion at will can and should backfire. The vast majority of the
    public, wherever on the political spectrum, recoil at the sheer callousness. Two
    shocking stories that didn't receive enough coverage are what I call "single
    payer meets green energy". The first in Brittan:

    The second Canada/Oregon:

    These demonstrate where this thinking leads.