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One Kind Word can make all the difference

by Sara Baron-Goodman October 7, 2014
One Kind Word can make all the difference

Canadian book tells women’s stories.

“The support I would have appreciated: one kind word from anyone. When I counsel women at the clinic now… I do what I can to communicate to these women that making a choice is another step towards empowerment—that they are choosing for themselves.”

These are the words of Lori, one of the 32 women who contributed to One Kind Word, a collection of stories from all walks of Canadian women about the experience of having an abortion.

Martha Solomon and Kathryn Palmateer, the curators of the project, hope to help erase the stigma that still surrounds abortion today.

“We wanted to tell the stories of these women, and show their faces so that people could see that they’re just like you and me,” said Palmateer, who is also the photographer for the project. “They’re our moms, our neighbours, our friends, our sisters, our teachers.”

Each woman in the book has a two-page spread dedicated to her. One side of the page is for the written anecdote of her story, and the other side features a face-on, black-and-white portrait.

“An important piece of the aesthetic was that the women could be seen, and not hidden in the shadows, not shrouded in darkness, because their stories so often are,” said Palmateer.

Solomon and Palmateer embarked on the project of collecting women’s abortion stories in 2008, after Palmateer saw an article in The Ottawa Citizen that detailed wait times of upwards of five to six weeks for a woman to have an abortion in Ottawa.

Many people, and even those who already identify as pro-choice or as feminists, have moved on from the fight for pro-choice and accessible abortion. Thankfully, in Canada and increasingly worldwide, abortions are legal. People are under the impression that we’ve already won that fight, Palmateer said.

Yet, the fight is far from over. “Even now, women all over the world are not able to make that choice. Even a lot of women here in Canada, who live in the North or in rural communities have very limited access to abortion clinics,” she said.

Of course, the picture is brighter than it was a few decades ago. This is abundantly clear while reading the stories of the women in the book. For many of the younger ones, the decision was theirs and theirs alone to make, and they had easy access to a safe, specialized clinic for the procedure.

One thing that comes across very strongly through the stories of all these women is that there is no right or wrong when dealing with making this decision, or how you should feel after you’ve done so.

“Some people seem perturbed that I was not more ‘cut up’ by the whole experience, which frustrated me,” wrote Kitty.

One woman, Melanie, lifts up her shirt in the photograph to show a Hebrew-letter tattoo on her lower stomach. The tattoo reads, “I shall be with you in spirit,” Melanie wrote. “It’s a tribute to the spirit baby.”

“We were striving for a diverse range of stories—we wanted to make sure we had older women, younger women, pre-Morgentaler, post-Morgentaler…” said Palmateer.

For many of the women who had their abortions in the pre-Morgentaler days, the decision was not even theirs to make. Some had to go through referrals by three doctors in order to be deemed a candidate for abortion; some had to resort to hush-hush procedures by illegal providers.

“My grandmother told me the story of her abortion,” said Palmateer. “This was the ‘50s, and she went to her doctor, who was very pro-choice and he told her he thought this was the right decision for her. She lucked out because she had a pro-choice doctor, but ultimately it was his decision.”

Palmateer hopes to continue this project with an increasingly diverse array of women in the future. “We want to get it into the library system, we want to get it into course readers for women’s studies programs, we want to get it into clinics across the country.”

For the moment, One Kind Word is available for purchase through its publisher, 3 O’Clock Press, or at Amazon.com.ies to de-stigmatize abortion

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