She had an abortion at 19. Here's what she wants the author of a pro-life op-ed to know.

Renee Bracey Sherman was 19 when she had an abortion, and she doesn't regret it.

That, she says, is why she was livid after encountering activist Lori Szala's stark, anti-abortion op-ed in The New York Times, which is generating furious responses from readers.

Photo by Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images.


In the piece, Szala argues that labeling abortion an economic issue is "dehumanizing," both to prospective parents for whom child-rearing should be about more than money and to their prospective children.

"Parenting presents undeniable challenges, but no one argues that those challenges give parents the right to kill their children.

It’s also patronizing, and patently dishonest. Of course unplanned pregnancy presents challenges. But it doesn’t have to lead to economic failure. Abortion is society’s easy way out — its way of avoiding grappling with the fundamental injustices driving women to abortion clinics."

It's a belief, Szala explains, that is largely derived from her personal experience as a young mother-to-be who nearly ended her pregnancy — though she ultimately chose not to.

Pressured to abort when she became pregnant in high school, Szala says that she was dissuaded by a friend who told her she'd had an abortion and later came to regret her decision.

Bracey Sherman wants people to know that her choice to end her pregnancy without guilt is common to far more women — and there's data to back her up.

A longitudinal study published in 2015 found that 95% of women who had abortions felt that it had been the right decision. And other research has found that women seeking abortions are more certain in their decision than people considering other surgeries.

If she had the chance, Bracey Sherman says, she would ask Szala if she appreciated the freedom to make her decision on her own terms.

"Isn’t it nice that you had a choice?" Bracey Sherman asks, rhetorically. "Someone didn’t force you to do something that you didn’t want to do, whether it was to continue the pregnancy or not. Isn’t it nice that you had a choice?"

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

At the time of her pregnancy, Bracey Sherman says she was working a low-wage retail job and in an abusive relationship. The notion that people who are pregnant — particularly people of color — can simply pull themselves "up by [their] bootstraps" and make it work as a parent is a dangerous myth, she argues.

"[Szala] ignores the fact that so many people don’t even have boots."

Other critics of Szala's piece argue that, in a rush to chastise women who end their pregnancies, she fails to offer solutions for preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Some pointed out that Szala, who works for an organization that owns and operates crisis pregnancy centers, could stand to benefit financially from people taking her advice.

Still others argued that terminating a pregnancy — for any reason — should always be a matter of choice and insisting it shouldn't be often comes from a desire to punish or control women.

Bracey Sherman wants more women to tell their friends and family about their experiences with abortion, especially in the face of a surge in high-profile, anti-choice opinion pieces like Szala's making it into print.

A 2014 study conducted by Sarah Cowen at New York University found that people who are opposed to reproductive rights are roughly 21% less likely to say they know someone who has had an abortion than those who are pro-choice. Bracey Sherman believes that's not by chance — and that people who terminate their pregnancies may be less likely to tell their anti-choice friends and relatives.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

"Everybody loves someone who has had an abortion," she says. "Pro-life people have abortions, religious people have abortions, we all have abortions," she says.

After getting involved with reproductive rights activism, Bracey Sherman started a project called "We Testify," which highlights the stories of people who have terminated pregnancies in an attempt to broker an understanding with those across the aisle.

If people aren't hearing, she believes, it's not for lack of speaking out.

"We’re here. We’re making our voices heard," Bracey Sherman says. "The question is: At what point are people going to actually listen to us?"

True

When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

Keep Reading Show less