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The activist and author was 19 when she got an abortion. Little did she know at the time that her experience would lead to a decades-spanning career in reproductive justice work. As the founder and executive director of We Testify, Bracey Sherman has made it her life’s work to help other people tell their abortion stories, with a focus on the intersections of race, class and gender, as a way to eliminate stigma around the procedure.

“I was having complicated feelings around my abortion because I felt guilty for not feeling guilty, because the rhetoric around having an abortion is that it’s incredibly tough,” she said. “You often hear ‘It’s the hardest decision you’ll ever make in your life,’ and all of this stuff. Which, for some people, it is, but for the vast majority it’s actually: ‘No, I know what I need to do.’”

As a biracial Black woman, Bracey Sherman struggled to see herself reflected in the people who talked about reproductive rights in the media. It was always white, cisgender people, and no one ever actually talked about having an abortion, she recalled. It later blew her mind when she learned that the majority of people who have abortions are people of color. How do we change this perception to reflect reality? she thought.

At the time, in my early 20s, I was working with queer and trans youth to share their stories with legislators and the public in order to change laws and educate. As a straight cis woman, I felt like, ”I don’t know if this is right, me asking young people to share their stories as queer and trans youth and I’m keeping this big secret myself.” But then I started to meet other people who did abortion storytelling work. That feeling of sharing your abortion story and somebody saying “I had an abortion” back ― that feeling was exhilarating. I wanted to bottle it up and feel it forever, because I felt this weight being lifted off of my shoulders.

It was one of the first decisions I made as an adult where I felt like, “Oh, I can take control.” I’ve always wondered, how do we make that not just something that I experience, but that everyone experiences? How do we change the culture around talking about abortion so that people who have abortions are met with nothing but love and support and kindness?

I did. I told my mom first, and the weight of having her love me and say “You made the best decision for you and I love you” ― my dad was also very loving and supportive. Again, how do you bottle that up and make that something everyone can feel and experience when going through an abortion?

Well, there’s that phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I don’t totally [subscribe] to it because you can be what you can’t see, but it’s easier to be it if you can also see it. For me, when I had my abortion, I didn’t know any other Black women who’d had abortions. When I looked on TV and people would be debating abortion in the news or whatever, it was two white people.

“You’ll see a lot of people who are like, ‘Why are you having sex if you can’t afford kids?’ Because sex is joy and pleasure and human connection. Deep down, they do not believe that people who can’t afford leisure – Black and brown people, immigrants – are entitled to joy or relaxation.”

Neither were describing my experience, or how it connects to the sociopolitical experiences of Black and brown folks, queer folks, trans folks, immigrants, low-income people in this country. Even when I started sharing my abortion story, the people that I met first were white. I felt like, ”Where are my people?” That’s when I started to realize that racism and anti-Blackness still operate within social justice spaces. That felt important to me, to not only create something where people who had abortions are sharing their stories, but particularly to support all of the folks whose voices are actively pushed out of the conversation.

The anti-abortion movement has worked really, really hard to lean into the misogyny, particularly misogynoir, of pregnancy and sexuality. And the root of that issue is that white supremacists do not believe that Black and brown people should be able to have sex and procreate on their own terms. It has to be terms dictated by whatever conservative white supremacist culture is reigning at the time.

It’s deeply embedded in individualism and capitalism. At the end of the day, you’ll see a lot of people who are like, “Why are you having sex if you can’t afford kids?” Because sex is joy and pleasure and human connection. Deep down, they do not believe that people who can’t afford leisure ― Black and brown people, immigrants ― are entitled to joy or relaxation. I actually think that’s just a deeper critique of capitalism, because it means that every act you do ― every birth ― has to be of service to something else. Abortion, at its core, is a rejection of capitalism.

But they’re the ones who are backing forced sterilization policies in jails and in immigration detention centers. They’re the ones who are marching for police who are murdering children in the street. It never has been about “pro-life.” It has been about maintaining white supremacy and a culture in which white people are at the top and get to decide what’s best for everyone else.

Literally, if they gave a shit they would have fixed the pipes in Flint [Michigan], because a hell of a lot of folks were having miscarriages over there because of the water. That would have cost, I don’t know, a couple million dollars? How many defense budgets is that? The anti-abortion movement didn’t care, because it wasn’t serving them. Because it is something that’s impacting Black and brown folks. That’s it.

Frankly, there’s a lot of liberal progressive racism in the movement. And here we are: Democrats with no backbone, who are afraid of the next election, are not doing what needs to be done to protect the majority of people who need abortions in this country. They’re using archaic policies like the filibuster, skirting around the racism that’s so blatant.

We’re about to have a constitutional crisis because of the Supreme Court. And many Democrats say nothing because they’re uncomfortable with abortion? What kind of fucking pro-choice party is that? I want a political party that is willing to love me, and everyone who has abortions, in public, out loud. We are not your dirty little secret. We are not something for you to fundraise off of every single election cycle.

Years ago we did this focus group and we asked people, “Can you describe somebody who’s had an abortion?” It was all of these tropes about women who have sex, basically: “They’re slutty. They don’t pay attention. They don’t take precautions.” Essentially, they were saying: “They’re terrible people because they have sex.” But then when you ask people to name someone who’s had an abortion, they say their mom or their sister. Everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion, but the anti-abortion movement has really been pushing this idea that someone who has an abortion is not someone you could ever love, care about or support.

This content was originally published here.

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