Leslie Cannold: I Had an Abortion… Or Maybe I Didn’t

“I had an abortion… Or maybe I didn’t. What does it matter?”

In opening with that question, ethicist, Leslie Cannold, challenges us to reshape our thinking on abortion.

In the West, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Yet, society still places a stigma on this most mundane of medical procedures, and in doing so, perpetuates a cycle of shame that keeps abortion hidden and places unreasonable pressures on those needing or wanting one.

Leslie Cannold argues we must stop the cycle of shame, that it “doesn’t matter if I’ve had an abortion… or have I?”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

29 Responses

  1. Britt
    Britt October 4, 2012 at 10:50 AM | | Reply

    THANK YOU Leslie Cannold for an inspiring and thought-provoking TEDx talk.

    I’ve had an abortion and what you are saying really matters. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope this inspires men and women around the world to stop the shame cycle. Not on our hand, not on our watch, we won’t be silent anymore. Take the pledge people!

  2. Bernie O'Halloran
    Bernie O'Halloran October 4, 2012 at 12:21 PM | | Reply

    Well done Leslie on a tough subject many want to keep locked away and never discussed.

  3. Samantha
    Samantha October 4, 2012 at 2:27 PM | | Reply

    Such a powerful message Leslie, and one that needs to be repeated continually. Thank you for starting the conversation.

  4. C.
    C. October 4, 2012 at 6:23 PM | | Reply

    It shouldn’t take bravery to talk without shame about abortion; the fact that Leslie has to do it shows that shame and stigma are having a true, direct, destructive impact on women.

    When the majority of Australians are pro-choice and yet we’re all a little scared to say so shows the effective of shaming. Thank you, Leslie.

  5. sj holcombe
    sj holcombe October 4, 2012 at 11:57 PM | | Reply

    Thanks for this direct and clear talk on the consequences for women of social stigma on abortion. Particularly in the US, this stigma isolates women.

  6. Maria Deveson Crabbe
    Maria Deveson Crabbe October 5, 2012 at 7:21 AM | | Reply

    What an amazing presentation! Leslie, thank you for giving context to the very real cycle of shame about abortion and thank you for giving us a platform to stop being ashamed.

  7. Lachlan de Crespigny
    Lachlan de Crespigny October 5, 2012 at 10:10 AM | | Reply

    This is an absorbing and moving presentation Leslie.
    The medical profession adds to women’s cycle of shame by also keeping abortion hidden. Doctors in training have little exposure to or training in abortion techniques. Professional bodies do not speak out as advocates for women. The result is that too few doctors become ‘abortionists’. This limits access to services and places unreasonable pressure on women in need.

  8. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson
    Michael Hewitt-Gleeson October 5, 2012 at 10:41 AM | | Reply

    Thanks Leslie. You are bringing light into the world. Tony Abbott: Respect the healthcare needs of the forgotten women of Australia! Why not sign the petition?: http://tinyurl.com/9g9cueb

  9. Meg Richardson
    Meg Richardson October 6, 2012 at 11:19 AM | | Reply

    I just wished I could have talked about mine more openly, with people who understood. Perhaps I just came up against all the other 2:3 people who hadn’t had an experience with abortion?

  10. JS
    JS October 6, 2012 at 12:05 PM | | Reply

    On such a complex topic, there are many things I agree with about what is said here and others I have more questions about…but one thing I have found is that in my experience miscarriages are also “kept silent” and in a bizarre way way treated as something almost “shameful”. I wonder if this is also somehow relevant? Thanks.

  11. Sam
    Sam October 6, 2012 at 12:34 PM | | Reply

    Well said Leslie Cannold. A brilliant 360 on shame. If only more people watched this then maybe we could end abortion stigma once and for all

  12. Dannii
    Dannii October 8, 2012 at 1:20 AM | | Reply

    Leslie, if you’re not going to be “silent anymore”, then why can’t you say yay or nay if you’ve had an abortion or not? I thought that’s what you wanted women to come forward and say to end the silence and the stigma? Your words “if I can’t get women to come forward and tell their stories, I can’t get stories into the media”. Well, here’s your opportunity for yourself and you still can’t say. It is very, very obvious you haven’t had an abortion Leslie, so stop playing games and at least be upfront yourself, like you are asking these women to be.

    1. June
      June October 22, 2012 at 3:16 PM | | Reply

      You’ve missed the point. Leslie is making the point that there shouldn’t be shame or a stigma to a woman who had had an abortion because you cannot tell by just looking at her..
      Women don’t make this decision lightly and they certainly didn’t get into that situation on their own.

    2. Barbara Saunders
      Barbara Saunders January 1, 2013 at 5:39 AM | | Reply

      Yes. And if she were to say she never had one, that would destroy her credibility with some people, too.

  13. Cristina
    Cristina October 8, 2012 at 2:21 AM | | Reply

    Thank you Leslie for this wonderful piece… it´s amazing how abortion shame works exactly the same throughot the globe. I live and work in Latin America and can´t change a word of what you´ve said… I see it every single day…

  14. marion
    marion October 8, 2012 at 6:39 PM | | Reply

    well done Leslie – very insightful work on shame

  15. Juan C. Coral
    Juan C. Coral October 9, 2012 at 4:14 AM | | Reply

    Shame is natural in intelligent, healthy human beings. If somebody doesn’t feel ashamed about killing somebody is called a psicopath. Abortion is about killing an unborn baby. Killing inocents (animals or humas) is unnatural, and there are studies on that too. What could be worse than mothers nor respecting the lives of their own children? I’m not saying we should make it more difficult for poeple who already made this. But encoraging it? In my opinion abortion is like War: The last solution, when everithing else failed. War brings shame and guilt, and so does abortion, and this canot be avioded. Theories are theories and not facts, no mater if they pronounced by so called “scientists”. Deep inside we all know the truth about this issue.

    1. 65snake
      65snake February 19, 2014 at 7:16 AM | | Reply

      Come back when you have the first clue what you are talking about. Abortion should not bring shame, why should it? Because YOU think that the only reason women have abortions are “shameful” reasons (again, shameful in YOUR opinion).

  16. Libby Margoluis
    Libby Margoluis October 10, 2012 at 1:47 AM | | Reply

    We could see and hear the passion this issue evokes in you, and the same passion is needed from all of us if attitudes are going to change. In this day and age the idea that there’s shame in a woman’s decision to abort – no doubt one of the most difficult in her life – is tragically misplaced.

  17. Debbie Garratt
    Debbie Garratt October 11, 2012 at 11:33 AM | | Reply

    Leslie, you have asked women to come forward, yet you have also been clear that only women who have a positive story about abortion are worth listening to. You have stated that women who have regretted, or in any way suffered after an abortion should NOT tell their stories, as they only do so to make women feel bad.

    One of your colleagues labelled one post abortive woman who courageously came forward as ‘despicable’. You cannot begin to understand the courage it took for her to speak, and the absolute shame, stigma, hurt and distress cast on her for doing so.

    The fact is that abortion is not mundane, or trivial for most women. It is a difficult, serious and often heartwrenching decision, sometimes made in the absence of any real choice, not as the exercise of a ‘right’.

    It is time to address these women with compassion as well instead of selling them out for an ideological position that fails to understand the experiences of so many. Whilst you are busy labelling me as a shame-stoker, whilst never addressing my genuinely raised concerns, you are continuing to silence and shame those desperate for a voice.

    Women are entitled to understand the full ramifications of an abortion decision. We would not discourage them from hearing the stories of disastrous cosmetic surgery procedures, or availing themselves of information about the adverse effects of a myriad of other ‘choices’. Why should they not hear that abortion can also wreak havoc on their lives?

    Furthermore, why are you not concerned that not all women experiencing abortion as a ‘choice’ but as an unwanted option in the absence of genuinely supported options. Your recent twitter conversation where you express how sad it was to hear of a 21yr old happily continuing her pregnancy instead of having an abortion, expresses more clearly than anything else that you see abortion as the preferred method of managing a pregnancy, regardless of a woman’s choice.

  18. Leslie Cannold
    Leslie Cannold October 11, 2012 at 12:51 PM | | Reply

    Anti-choice people are anti-transparency and pro-shame, as the comments above reveal.

    Debbie Garratt, as is her way, has not identified herself or her latest organisation Real Choices as pro-life (they keep changing names to make it difficult for prochoicers to disclose to women who they really are and warn them about the pro-life “counselling” and conditional “support” they provide to women)

    I understand that it is very distressing for anti-choice people to have their shaming strategy exposed. I realise that people like Debbie do not want women to know that there are other options for acceptance other than the conditional ones Debbie offers, which require women to disavow their decisions and publicly gnash their teeth about their abortions.

    In contrast, the Let’s End the Stigma campaign is saying to women come as you are, we will support and accept you that way.

    I also recognise that should the majority of women who have abortions start telling their stories, the pro-life disinformation campaign that women don’t really choose abortion and that abortion hurts women (rather than the truth that most women own their choices and don’t regret them and that it’s pro-life shaming that does the harm) will be exposed. More problems for pro shame crowd.

    I don’t have anything further to say to Debbie and the other shame-stokers who have been stalking my personal social media accounts as well as the Reproductive Choice Australia ones with comments such as the one left here.

    To continue responding is just what they want, as it sucks the oxygen from the positive energy, message and images of the Let’s End the Stigma campaign like our “Abortion – A fact of life” flashmobs (see the empowering video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-TEQ6m5oSSo).

    As well, going back and forth with pro-lifers gives them more opportunities to spread their shame and disinformation and by so doing to scare women who are considering opening their mouths back into silence – one of their aims in “engaging” in the ways they do I’d imagine.

    I will, however, repeat my pleas for pro-life advocates like Mrs Debbie Garratt to disclose the fact that she IS a long time pro-life campaigner when she stalks me and Reproductive Choice Australia on the internet.

    This would give those who read her comments the capacity to make an informed choice about the weight to give her views.

    I ask this despite knowing she is unlikely to suddenly change and start providing choice on this count or any other – but then that’s what “Let’s End the Stigma” is about. Living in hope.

  19. Debbie Garratt
    Debbie Garratt October 11, 2012 at 1:18 PM | | Reply

    Leslie, your constant accusations about my intent are again a distraction from addressing the content of my arguments. Real Choices Australia has NEVER changed names. I have never worked in this role for any other organisation. I did work as an educator for Pregnancy Help Australia for a short period of time, employed as a counselling educator to lift the standard of service provision of their affiliates.

    There has never been any subterfuge or lack of transparency. Your assertion that I ‘stalk’ you on the internet is interesting, similar to the accusation that I ‘spammed’ you after sending you only 2 links to information. Again, a distraction designed to attempt to discredit me, in accordance with your paper that suggests the only way to ‘deal with’ what you call ‘pro woman activists’ is to actively undermine them by ‘exposing their links to religous or prolife groups’ rather than address the truth of what they say.

    You have nothing to say, because you have no rational argument to counter with, just further false accusations with no substance.

    This is exactly what you do. And it is all that you do. The fact remains, and the research is sound that a significant percentage (20%) of women suffer serious and prolonged adverse mental health problems following abortion.

    Some of your commentary in this video is important, but not for the reasons that you cite. Many women do suffer shame and stigma related to unintended pregnancy, including experiencing the fears that you describe, that they will be judged and/or have support withdrawn from them. The suffering of these things is often what LEADS them to abortion, not as a result of abortion.

    If you have an actual allegation of professional misconduct on my part in any way, I suggest you make it instead of perpetuating the myth that my work in upholding the voices of women who are entitled to speak is the cause of guilt in all women.

    I have NEVER claimed all women suffer after abortion. I WILL continue to provide a means for those who do to speak. I WILL continue to ensure that women have access to every support they need in order to continue a pregnancy when they choose to. I will also continue to do everything I can to ensure that women do not buy your lies that abortion is always completely harmless and mundane… like a sneeze… It isn’t.

    I am prepared to actually discuss the issues with you, to find common ground, to give all women the voice, the compassion, the respect they deserve. Sadly, you wish to continue to stigmatise every person who disagrees with your ideology, even when that means being incredibly cruel to suffering post abortive women.

  20. Eva
    Eva November 12, 2012 at 9:33 PM | | Reply

    I am getting a little tired of women applauding themselves for having done the unthinkable. I am sure none would have willfully (warning: emotive word coming, get ready to gasp) ‘killed’ any living thing such as a bird, a rabbit, even a snake, unless it was posing some sort of danger to your life at the time. What then makes women believe that doing same, but wait… not to an animal… but to a living, sensing being (call it embryo, call it human, call it whatever you will, but remember it is indeed alive inside of you, made out of your own DNA) is okay?

    If Leslie Cannold has come to TED for some sort of personal penance and now feels a whole lot better for it, good for her. But perhaps this kind of confession for something that’s clearly been plaguing her conscience for decades best be left for the priest or the psychotherapist’s office.

    1. Heather
      Heather February 14, 2014 at 6:00 PM | | Reply

      It’s not actually “sensing” until after 20 weeks, when sporadic cortical functioning begins. So you started out factually wrong in any case. But to spin this presentation–one about not having to be ashamed to speak out about an extremely common, necessary, and normal procedure that 1 in 3 women in the Western world has–as a “personal penance” for which the speaker should be ashamed, which should be confined to “the priest or the psychotherapist” is doing EXACTLY WHAT THIS PRESENTATION DESCRIBES IS KEEPING WOMEN SILENT. Good job representing Exhibit A in the reason this talk exists in the first place.

    2. atrevista
      atrevista February 19, 2014 at 3:34 AM | | Reply

      How is an embryo not a danger to a woman’s life? I know quite a few women who have been told attempting to have another child could kill them. An abortion is far safer than carrying a pregnancy to term.

  21. austin1963
    austin1963 February 19, 2014 at 3:16 AM | | Reply

    Well, Eva, I don’t really care what you’re a “little tired” of. Mind your own business and then you won’t have to worry about it.

  22. Doc Kimble
    Doc Kimble March 11, 2014 at 4:57 AM | | Reply

    About “slut shaming”
    That’s thrown at pro-lifers all the time…..”You’re slut-shaming and being judgmental; you have no right to do that!”
    So abortion supporters are judging women who have had abortions as incapable of having any feelings of shame about abortion for any reason whatsoever, as if all women who have had abortions are shameless sluts.

  23. Thankful for life
    Thankful for life May 8, 2014 at 7:18 PM | | Reply

    I wonder how any reader would view the thought of having been aborted by his or her parents; of not being able to go through school and find love and friendships, of not being able to make their own choices and decide their own fate, of not being able to stand on a stage and share their beliefs with an audience, of not being able to experience life. It seems that many of us have become so determined about reaching our own, personal goals that we’ve laid aside our basic role and duties as adults and parents. Sex has suddenly been relegated to a hobby rather than a means to continue the family and society.

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