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Choice Words: An Interview with Jennifer Baumgardner on Reproductive Rights
“How will you marshal your power, skills, and values to make the world a place in which all people matter?” asks Jennifer Baumgardner in her recently published book, F 'em! Goo goo, Gaga, and Some Thoughts on Balls. For more than 15 years, Baumgardner has used her own unique skills as a writer to passionately promote sexual and reproductive rights, especially the right to access safe abortion.
In 2004, Baumgardner received national attention for the “I Had an Abortion” project, which encouraged women to challenge the stigma abortion carries by telling their personal stories. She is currently working on a similar campaign to confront the shame many women feel after surviving rape.
A provocative and engaging activist, Baumgardner spoke to us about why she supports reproductive freedom and where she finds the inspiration for her work.
Why did you become an advocate of sexual and reproductive rights?
The ability to control our own bodies is an essential part of reproductive freedom. Even in the places where abortion and birth control is legal, there are a lot of ways in which we don’t truly have control. Something can be signed into law, but that’s not enough. Roe v. Wade, which is so important, is not holding up so well now because many people in our society still don’t support the basic right to control our bodies. There is constant legal encroachment and barriers that prevent access to reproductive health services. We need to create a culture that both supports people’s right to control their own bodies and freely access the services they need to do so.
What has been the most challenging part of being an advocate for sexual and reproductive rights?
I used to struggle to stay inspired because I mistakenly thought that the people who do this work professionally were the only ones I should be inspired by. But I changed my mind when I realized how many amazing stories I was missing out on that I should have been listening to. You don’t have to be a self-proclaimed expert or work in an advocacy organization to have something meaningful to contribute. It is really important for pro-choice activists to make room for people to tell the truth about what they know and be a central part of the reproductive rights conversation.
Why is it important for women to tell their stories?
Lately, I’ve felt like women have been made invisible again – or that they aren’t being seen as a necessary part of the story of reproductive rights. I think we need to look at how women have diverse experiences and what sexual and reproductive rights means to different people. It’s so hard to do things like speak out about having an abortion or having a child as a teenager because, even though these are both pretty common things to do, there is a stigma attached to them. Having to keep these things secret is so isolating for women, and it really demonstrates how we still lack power in the world. We should be able to be our whole selves, not just certain parts of our selves.
What role can stories play?
When I hear what people have lived through, I feel so appreciative of the struggles we have overcome. And when I connect to people’s stories I feel overwhelmed with a sense of possibility. Listening to someone who is being vulnerable and honest is unbelievable powerful. It helps me to think through the issues with more clarity and reminds me of how important it is to not take others’ experiences for granted.