As the abortion debate continues in the United States, Aspen Baker is calling for a new kind of conversation. She took the stage at TED Women on Friday in Monterey, Calif. and carved out a little piece of history while doing so. No TED Talk had ever focused on abortion.
“I was born in a trailer on the third anniversary of Roe vs. Wade,” Baker told the audience.
She grew up by the beach in Southern California and in the midst of our nation’s abortion wars. “Our community was surfing Christians. We cared about God, the ocean and the less fortunate. Everyone was pro-life.”
But when Baker became pregnant soon after graduating college, she didn’t know what to do. Growing up, abortion made her sad. She never imagined she would have one.
And then she did.
“When I thought about my choices I honestly did not know how to decide. What criteria I should use? How would I know what the right decision was? I worried that I would regret an abortion later,” she said.
But Baker had a friend at the time who shared her own abortion experience, and Baker said it served as a gift. It gave her “the knowledge that I wasn’t alone and the realization that abortion is something we can talk about.”
One in three women in America will have an abortion in their lifetimes. But Baker says the “dialogue around abortion in this country has left little room for anything besides pro-choice and pro-life. It’s political and polarizing.”
In 2000, Baker founded her nonprofit Exhale with the purpose of making room for each person’s unique experience with abortion — so that they could be supported, respected, and free from stigma. Her book, Pro Voice: How To Keep Listening When The World Wants A Fight, comes out June 1.
As often as politicians seem to bring up — and fight about — abortion, it is still rare for women to speak openly about the abortions they have had. “There’s a gap between what happens in politics and what happens in real life. And in that gap, a battlefield mentality takes root,” said Baker.
But when we share our stories, Baker explained, we all grow.
“It can be vulnerable and exhausting to tell our own stories when it feels like nobody cares,” she said. “And if we truly listen to one another, we will hear things that demand that we shift our own perceptions. Empathy gets created the moment we imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It doesn’t mean that we all have to end up in the same place.”
Baker says it’s not sameness or even agreement that she’s after. “Our experiences can exist on a spectrum.”
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