When we talk about who gets abortions and why — if we even talk about it at all — capturing reality is often not the point. Because abortion is so politically fraught and stigmatized, conversations around it tend to be more symbolic than factual, said sociologist Tricia C. Bruce. This is especially true for those without a personal experience with abortion, who rely instead on their personal values, biases and media exposure to form an opinion.
In short, “we use abortion as a proxy for things that are important to us,” said Bruce, who wrote the National Abortion Attitudes Study. For those who support abortion, those values may include things like maternal health and poverty. For those who oppose, the procedure may be a moral or religious offense.
As more Americans take to the ballot box to weigh in on abortion this November, those perceptions will play a larger role than ever in our daily reality.
“The problem is that symbolic value, when it comes to the legality, has real-life consequences in ways that I think are unanticipated, unexpected and maybe even contradictory to the better values that someone is trying to uphold,” Bruce continued. These consequences include the loss of access to critical medication; denial of lifesaving pregnancy care; and increased prosecution of pregnancy loss. Those who oppose abortion maintain that the procedure is the end of an unborn life.
To tackle this perception gap, we depicted four real abortion narratives in comic-form. We interviewed each person exhaustively about their experience, then turned our conversations into a script and story board for a comic series. We encouraged each source to dig into the complexities, contradictions and nuances that are often overlooked in politicized narratives of abortion.
They’re a reminder that abortion, as much as it exists in our collective political imagination, is a real medical procedure that happens to real people every day.
“And those real people are not strangers. They’re not others,” Bruce said. “They are, in fact, ourselves.”
Alyn Perez, 24, Pittsburgh
For the first days after Alyn Perez found out she was pregnant, she imagined herself raising a child, being a mother like she’d always wanted. But she also thought about her car payments, the instability of her relationship with her boyfriend, and most of all, the alienation she felt from her family. Her choice to get an abortion was complicated, not because she disagreed with abortion morally, but because it wasn’t the right time to have a baby — no matter how much she wished it could be.
Evelyn Greene, 25, Nashville
As a Black woman seeking abortion care in the South, Evelyn Greene was surprised at how pleasant the experience was: The drive to Carafem was short from her hometown of Murfreesboro, Tenn. No one asked questions. The staff sent her home with a care package — a gesture of kindness that still makes her tear up after a pregnancy wrought with debilitating pain and bouts of depression. But on Aug. 25, after the state’s total abortion ban went into effect, the clinic ceased all abortions. It was the last in the state to do so.
Toni McFadden, 42, Hamburg, Pa.
When Toni McFadden found out she was pregnant, she felt like her life was over. Instead, her decision to have an abortion — and the medical trauma and emotional isolation she experienced after — would become an inciting incident that changed the trajectory of her life. Her friends from church became the only solace she found in the aftermath. Speaking and writing against abortion, and about her faith, would become her life’s calling.
Tricia McCann, 30, Chicago
Getting an abortion was an easy choice for Tricia McCann. But the process was still emotionally unbearable because of a cruel doctor and a seemingly endless series of barriers designed to dissuade them from the procedure. Soon after, they chose to move to Chicago — in part because Illinois is likely to protect safe and legal access to abortion for the foreseeable future. Today, there are no remaining abortion providers in their hometown of South Bend, Ind.