This morning I was remembering about 25 years ago when I first began to speak publicly about the adverse experiences of women who sought abortion. I wasn't particularly ideologically aligned. I had just seen quite a number of post abortive women in my practice who were expressing some really negative emotions and relaying stories of pressure and coercion that were really disturbing.
I thought, from what I considered my feminist perspective at the time, that this was an overlooked and important area of concern for women.
It didn't take long before I realised that it wasn't overlooked, it was simply ignored, or dismissed, and that among my feminist friends I'd committed a grave error of judgement in bringing it to light. The first concerned caller, a long term friend and colleague wanted to let me know that she was concerned I might be subject to manipulation because of my 'kind nature'. She warned that I should be careful that I don't reframe women's experiences and I should always remind them that their choice was theirs alone. She said she was surprised to learn I held 'those values' as she'd always thought better of me.
When I shared the contents of this call with a mutual friend it turned out that they had actually discussed 'how to handle this' with me. To say I was confused is an understatement. I was the same person I had always been. One of my friends had had an abortion during our friendship and others had talked about past abortions, and neither had experienced any negativity or judgement from me. Now they were overtly accusing me of having been judgemental without disclosing it.
This began a 1 year period of being ostracised and these friendships all completely eroding. I really had no idea what I had done wrong and it was very difficult for me to understand how they had reframed who I was, when in reality nothing about me had changed.
I continued my work in educating about the issues women were sharing with me about abortion and I began researching coercive factors. I remained 'on the fence' about abortion as an act for a number of years in spite of many attempts from different sides pushing me to declare a position.
Over the ensuing years a new group of people were attracted to my work and entered my friendship sphere in varying ways. I was now a little wary though as many of the people were attracted to me because of the focus of my work, yet I was aware that not all of our values were aligned. Sometimes I wondered what would happen if there was an issue on which we disagreed.
The reason I thought about this today is that the exact thing is happening again on the issue of covid vaccines, except in an even more dramatic and pervasive way. People who have reported holding me in high esteem for my work, my values and my empathy toward others have over the past weeks, ridiculed and denigrated me because we have a difference of opinion on what is going on in our world.
This time round it has felt quite devastating. In fact, I realised recently that it has been one of the most traumatising aspects of this whole Covid crisis for me. I think this is mainly because I have been so personally affected by current issues, as have my own children. Yet even knowing that, people I have known for a very long time have little empathy even for me. It is nasty.
At a time when so many of us have struggled through lockdowns and separations from family and the generated fear, we have become so insular that we are not even noticing when we hurt one another. Fear throws us into a fight or flight position and when someone is that scared, it seems instinct kicks in. This is what bothers me.. does this mean that the innate character of people now behaving in hostile or passive agressive "we are just trying to help you" ways are exhibiting aspects of their true character and I just missed it?
Or does fear create something within some of us that is foreign to our character as part of a survival instinct? Whatever the answer is, it adds a further threat to those who are asking questions or directly dissenting to what we believe are unreasonable demands on our lives.
Many of us are fighting for the freedoms of all of us and will continue to do so in spite of the push back. Freedom should be our common ground. As I write those words I remember 25 years ago explaining to my vehemently pro-choice friend that if abortion is hurting some women, isn't that 'common ground' with the 'other side'.
She said "Absolutely not. Some women need to suck it up so that all women have the right to abortion."
I guess that leaves some of us for fighting for something we believe in for ourselves and for everyone, some days even against the very people who we hope will benefit from our battle.