For more than a decade, anti-choice demonstrators, the vast majority of them Roman Catholics, have massed at the Boston Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue to pray and express their opposition to abortion. On July 1, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a 250-foot protection zone around its building, over turned a Massachusetts law providing for a 35-foot protective zone around clinics providing abortion services. The law, the court held, impinged on the free speech rights of demonstrators. On Saturday, July 12, the demonstrators were at the clinic in force.
For more than a decade, anti-choice demonstrators, the vast majority of them Roman Catholics, have massed at the Boston Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue to pray and express their oppossition to abortion. On July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has a 250-foot protection zone around its building, over turned a Massachusetts law providing for a 35-foot protective zone around clinics providing abortion services. The law, the court held, impinged on the free speech rights of demonstrators. On Saturday, July 12, the demonstrators were at the clinic in force.
I could write about the history of the abortion debate, its impact on American society and politics, and its affect on women and girls. But you've probably heard all that before. So instead, I offer you the following statement, written by a former student of mine who saw these photos when I first posted them on Facebook, and felt compelled to write to me. Her letter makes clear that no one is "pro abortion." Virtually no one lightly makes a decision to end a pregnancy. These are wrenching decisions, but decisions that can prevent far more wrenching changes in a life already underway. But I'll let her tell her story:
"Your recent photos break my heart a little. But they also rally me. As a woman. As a young woman ... as a young woman who had an abortion at that clinic. And then struggled to battle the depression that came along with ii, while working through her hardest academic semester of MIT. And here, in my life that's followed that experience, I know that I can do anything. Nothing scares me anymore.
"For reference ... You had me as a photo student back then. I don't think anyone could tell from day to day interactions with me that I was wading through a torrential downpour of emotions. Which is how I wanted it to be. I try to be a private person when it counts.
"I'm proud of that part of my life. I'm still exhausted by it and saddened by it. and I had the support of my loved ones through it all - my own mother and my boyfriend at the time. I'm also lucky because I had the support of Massachusetts. I cannot believe the recent changes in the law. I am so fortunate that I didn't have to walk through that crowd of protestors. And I was fortunate that my then boyfriend was with me there through every step. We'd later part ways but he sure stuck by my side during that part of my life.
"No one gives us - young and old women - enough credit about how terrifying that whole process is - with or without protestors. When they changed the laws to force a woman to look at the sonograms before they'd do the procedure, I cried. I remember being asked if I wanted to see the sonograms - I remember saying no and meaning it. I'm glad that at the time my voice was heard and my opinion was respected. What a cruel unnecessary law. What a lack of understanding that law demonstrated.
"I sat outside my internship office in the parking lot watching Texas State Senator Wendy avis last summer. I cried. I was proud. I was angry. I was confused. Then they demeaned her efforts, calling her senator Barbie and making fun of the brightly colored sneakers she wore while she stood there for hours on end. She's a personal hero of mine. What a strong woman. What a crazy system that required her to leap through such fantastical hoops to make progress. The whole system is a fantasy game of unnecessary hoops that we need to jump through.
"I wish I was in Boston right now. I'd sit out there on that street after work or on my weekends.
"People think that women who have unwanted pregnancies are stupid or careless. That's so far from the truth that I want to laugh instead of cry. I wasn't stupid or careless - and even if I was, that shouldn't matter. Women's bodies are built to get pregnant. No birth control is 100% effective. I always knew my body was a fighter and stubborn as hell. Now I have concrete proof.
"The opponents of choice seem have no concept of the sheer number of people they're hurting, the number of women, and also the other people an unwanted pregnancy affects. It's never just the mother. Although people should care about her freedoms and health and ability to make an informed decision, they should think about all the other people impacted by her decision.
"My first and most important deciding factor was that I couldn't do what continuing a pregnancy at that point would have done to the resulting child. Period. And after that, I couldn't do that to myself. I wanted a family when I was ready for it - halfway through MIT was definitively not the time for it. And beyond that - I couldn't do that to my (ex) boyfriend, couldn't do that to my parents, couldnt do that to my siblings, couldn't do that to my now ex's parents who I knew and cared about.
"What shocked me most was how MIT didn't follow up with me. I had gotten the test for the pregnancy done at MIT medical and a nurse gave me the news over the phone - I was hysterical. They never followed up or offered me help or checked in with me. I knew to seek out mental health help later on, but I was surprised that MIT (or at least this particular nurse and my primary doctor) never checked on how I was doing. Planned Parenthood was my primary contact through the matter and my follow up appointments occured when a doctor there reached out to me. I did not have a surgical abortion. But there's a whole lot of awfulness that comes with either option. It's a physically demanding experience. A painful one. I was in so much pain. I had very strong painkillers to take and I am so grateful that they prescribed me them. It was most definitively necessary. I also felt very ashamed and very confused. I rebuilt myself after this. I had to accept a lot of things about myself and my way of thinking.
"In the days of waiting before my appointment, I spent a lot of time looking at the crowds of people at MIT wondering if someone else could relate to the sense of absolute terror and helplessness I felt.
"The relationship with my boyfriend soured, and became emotionally and physically abusive. I got out - oh I'm so glad I did - but not after enduring the worst of it for months. It would have been no place for a young soul to grow up.
"Please, and this is why I write this to you, get those photos out there. Everyone, and I mean everyone needs to see these. I'm positive that these changes are bad news for Boston and its young women. I want to see Massachusetts reinstate the barrier law. I want to see allies out there helping young women - throwing positive voices out there with the negative voices. We need that. Our bodies and our health and our lives and our choices.
"I lived my MIT life in a big way. I had an amazing time. I had the best time of my life. I went through some terrible things but that's life. I also worked my ass off and did a lot of things I'm pretty proud of. And now I get to do some amazing work with my degree. Which is cool. And when I'm not at work, I get to volunteer with young young women and encourage them to be scientists and engineers. Because they should be scientists and engineers.
"Here's to the best of people and not the ugliness that comes out sometimes.
"All my best wishes."
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A note about the use of color and black and white
I strongly favor black and white for images of people, believing that color photography tends to show us people's clothing, rather than the people themselves. Additionally, I tend to think that with certain exceptions - the photography of Alex Web comes immediately to mind, black and white images convey a story more dramatically than do color images of the same subject. There are times, however, when color is as much a part of an individual image or story as are the main elements of that image or story. This I have included a few color images in this exhibit.