Stigma: a story of systematic oppression

About a year ago, I was working at my internship where I collected and filed oral histories of people living with HIV. The objectives of our department were two fold: to create spaces where marginalized bodies could feel safe; to help destigmatize HIV by disseminating their stories and exposing people to the truths of living with HIV. The point was to show that people living with HIV aren’t homeless drug addicts, and/or perverted homosexuals living deviant lifestyles. They are people whom are themselves marginalized prior to contracting HIV because of systematic barriers to economic and social mobility, healthcare, and education. These barriers are due to poverty, immigrant status, racism, xenophobia, sexism, transphobia, etc.

I had just been listening to a female sex worker living with HIV who was pregnant and decided to abort when my sister sent me a photo of a positive pregnancy test. I already had been thinking a lot about oppressive systems and the lack of accessibility to health care, sexual education and abortion, but it all went out the window when my sister sent me that photo. I selfishly got excited by the prospect of a baby joining our family. I immediately got my sister on the phone to talk about her pregnancy, and discuss the pros and cons of keeping the baby. She told me about the symptoms she was already experiencing, such as how her breasts already looked larger. We played around with all kinds of scenarios, the most exciting being the one where we’d have a new family member. However, realistically and monetarily it was not the right time. Her boyfriend was working very strenuous hours at the time and spent most of his time away from home travelling around the country. She was working part-time and had yet to finish her Masters. There was no stability - financially or otherwise. She and her partner decided it wasn't the right time but that one day they would welcome a new life with the love and appreciation it deserves.

This was an incredibly hard decision for my sister to make because she has always been the maternal type. She very much helped raised me and always protected and cared for me. She has always wanted to be a mother. My sister’s abortion reminded me of the importance of bodily autonomy. It is of the utmost importance that we let people take control over their lives and give them that agency, whether the person with a uterus is privileged, white, upper class, straight, QTPOC , or poor. After all, we would never expect cis men to give their lives for another creature (yes creature because a fetus is not yet human). I believe if cis men could get pregnant, abortion wouldn't be stigmatized. It would be seen as a right of the rational, practical, and objective man who wishes to advance economically before bringing life into the world.  We live in a capitalist world where everybody must produce and consume to survive; a world where community and emotions are seen as unnecessary and inhibiting to people’s success in life. We judge people with uteruses and prohibit them from being able to take the same steps towards safety and economic capital. This seems to be a clear systematic compulsion to bar some people from the same opportunities and social mobility as white cis men.

Akin to the lessons in the stories of people living with HIV, stories about abortion are important ones to share too. Abortion is not an individualist choice, one that is either bad or good, as christian moralists would have us believe. Abortion is a social justice issue steeped in historical, systematic, and economic disenfranchisement.  Platforms like “so, I had an abortion…”  form a community; sharing stories in resistance to a society that wishes to separate, isolate and devalue us; destigmatizing abortion as a collective.