Faculty Research & Creative Activity


The Things We Cannot Say: Witnessing the Trauma-tization of Abortion in the United States


Jeannie Ludlow

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2008


“Can you tell me what really happens at an abortion clinic?” My interviewer shifts forward, careful not to jar the camera she has leveled at me. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times. I began working part time at an abortion clinic in 1996. In 2000, I began speaking to small groups—classes, student organizations, feminist organizations—about clinic work, and in 2003 I began researching U.S. abortion politics. Yes, I probably could tell her what really happens at a clinic, but I don’t. Although a part of me wants to tell her that the patients at the clinic are women like her, like her mother, like me, that they come to us for help with mundane situations more often than with horror stories, I don’t, because I am being recorded, and I am afraid. Instead, I ask her to be more specific. “Tell me about the really tough cases,” she urges. She’s already confessed that someone she is close to was conceived during rape, so I suspect that she wants to hear about women who live with violence and undergo abortion. This is a politically necessary narrative about abortion in the United States; often, pro-choice activists argue correctly that laws that limit (or ban) abortion revictimize women impregnated during rape, incest, and domestic violence. Careful not to violate patient confidentiality, I tell her about my relatively infrequent experiences with rape victims at the clinic.