Romance Has a Problem with Abortion

Abortion – the act of it and even the discussion of it – has traditionally been frowned upon in romance. There’s no denying it.

I grew up reading romances with accidental pregnancies coming out the wazoo (ha ha!), and not a one of those heroines ever seriously considered an option other than going through with having the baby. If any other character brought up a vague reference (and the references were always vague) to other options the heroine would react angrily, even be disgusted by the suggestion she would even consider it. It was referred to as ‘getting rid of it’ or ‘not going through with the pregnancy’ or at most graphic, ‘having a termination’, but never having an abortion as though the word itself was dirty, as taboo and shocking as the word cunt. I even recall one heroine screeching, upon the hero’s suggestion she might terminate their whoopsie, that she ‘would never kill her baby!’ I recall another book where the hero forced the heroine into marrying him because he wanted ‘his’ baby to have ‘his’ name, and if she didn’t agree he would ruin her so she couldn’t support the child on her own. Yikes.

No doubt about it, that is some heavy-handed anti-choice propaganda right there (with a liberal dose of misogyny for flavouring). Mind you, I’m talking about books from the 80s and 90s, and things have moved on. Or have they? The past couple of years my consumption of romance novels has dropped a lot, but I have been a regular – at times even voracious – reader of the genre for three and a half decades. I cannot recall a single book where there is an accidental pregnancy and an ensuing, considerate discussion about abortion as a legitimate option, and not a horrible choice to be avoided at all costs. Not one can I name. And if there had been one, it would have stuck out like your grandma at a death metal concert. There must be people out there writing these scenes, but they certainly aren’t common in my experience. In a genre that supposedly centres the female experience of love, sexuality and relationships, isn’t that freaking odd?

I have to put up my hand here. I’ve never written about abortion in any one of my twenty releases. For one, I’m not a fan of accidental pregnancy storylines at all and I’ve only ever written one ‘whoopsie’ at the end of a book, when the couple were through all their difficulties, in love, and keeping the baby seemed an obvious choice (although now when I think about it, the timing wasn’t great so all options could have been considered). I don’t enjoy plots that give a foetus the job of bringing two grown adults together (not that there’s anything wrong with those books, I just don’t like ‘em). Secondly, I’ve never had an abortion myself and I wasn’t confident I could write the experience of one, even as backstory, in a way that would properly represent women who have had one. I’ve never even been through an unplanned pregnancy – lucky right? That is lucky, even though I’ve always been careful about contraception, obsessively so, really, because I never wanted to have to make that choice. It’s still very fortunate for me that both my pregnancies were planned and I never had to go through the trauma of accessing abortion in a world that makes that an incredibly difficult thing for women to do.  

Lastly, I have to admit I’ve probably shied away from ever discussing abortion in my books because I know it is seen as a political statement, and romance authors are always warned away from making political statements in their work.   

But I’ve decided that’s bullshit. I haven’t even bothered with the veneer of being apolitical since 2016.

Writing is political, just like those books of the past that made abortion seem like a filthy shameful choice were political. They sought to make women afraid of even uttering the A word. They sought to make women ashamed of their own bodies, and of their sexual agency. It is deeply misogynistic to suggest a woman should be ashamed of her sexuality when male sexuality is celebrated as though every ejaculation is tantamount to a world cup victory in *insert your favourite sport here*. It is hateful to shame women for accessing vital healthcare that may save her life, keep her from poverty, or expand her list of life options beyond being forced into motherhood before she is ready (or when she may not ever want a baby). When it is politicians in power doing this, you’re damn right that’s political. It’s weaponised hatred.

I won’t accept this kind of hatred in books I read, or write, anymore, even if it’s subliminal. 

There is no shame in not wanting to go through with a pregnancy. There is no shame in having an abortion. It is an experience many women have. So why, in a genre written and published largely by women, for a readership of mostly women, are we not talking about it more? It should be normalised as part of the female experience, not hidden under a cloak of just don’t mention it shame. It should be something heroines discuss openly, not something only villainous ex girlfriend’s do to give the hero a basis for his tragic backstory. Fuck that.  

Like I said, my consumption of romance literature has dropped significantly in recent years (that’s a topic for another blog), so there are probably books I’m unaware of that do normalise abortion. I’m speaking from my experience growing up reading traditionally published romance books, and reading them as an adult too. The A word was not mentioned, and I believe it’s still exceedingly rare. When we don’t talk openly about something important, we compel others to speak of it in whispers, or to not speak of it at all. Our mute compliance is what the powers that be want – let’s not give it to them. 

I am sorry now that I never wrote a plot where a heroine of mine talked about an abortion she had, or was faced with the choice and had to make an informed decision. I was generally more focussed on making sure my characters talked about contraception, and that consent was clear (also important topics of course!). Or I was trying to write something light-hearted and I didn’t see how such a political subject would not dampen the entertaining mood. I didn’t know how to do it, I wasn’t confident of my knowledge, and I was, admittedly afraid to rock the boat.  

I’m not sure where the future will take me, writing-wise. I’m at a point I’m not sure I can continue writing romance – at least not the kind I’ve written in the past. I’ve been experimenting with different writing styles and genres. If I do write more romance in future, it will definitely feature older characters, as I’m losing touch with what it feels like to be twenty five a little more each day, lol.

One thing I know for sure, I will no longer shy away from topics that were in the past seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘political’. I will not be shamed, nor will I inadvertently shame other women with my silence on these subjects. I’m not a US citizen, but the stripping away of reproductive rights that is happening in America right now is horrifying to every woman. These abuses on female humanity have to be resisted, and words are a powerful tool.

I plan to use mine wisely, strategically – and loudly.

 

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