Book Review

You’re The Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion

You’re the Only One I’ve Told: The Stories Behind Abortion

  • Author: Dr. Meera Shah
  • Genre: Social Science
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2020
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Rating: 5 out of 5.

For a long time, when people asked Dr. Meera Shah what she did, she would tell them she was a doctor and leave it at that. But over the last few years, Shah decided it was time to be direct. “I’m an abortion provider,” she will now say. And an interesting thing started to happen each time she met someone new. One by one, people would confide—at barbecues, at jury duty, in the middle of the greeting card aisle at Target—that in fact they’d had an abortion themselves. And the refrain was often the same: You’re the only one I’ve told. This book collects those stories as they’ve been told to Shah to humanize abortion and to combat myths that persist in the discourse that surrounds it. An intentionally wide range of ages, races, socioeconomic factors, and experiences shows that abortion always occurs in a unique context. Today, a healthcare issue that’s so precious and foundational to reproductive, social, and economic freedom for millions of people is exploited by politicians who lack understanding or compassion about the context in which abortion occurs. Stories have power to break down stigmas and help us to empathize with others who’s experiences are unlike our own. They can also help us find community and a shared sense of camaraderie over experiences just like ours. You’re the Only One I’ve Told will do both.

Somehow, it feels wrong to rate a book like this. Obviously I rated it five stars because this is the kind of book that breaks down barriers and has the power to change the way people think about issues like abortion—if we can get it into the hands of the people who need to read it the most. It puts a face onto an issue that is so relevant in the United States (and around the world), and provides insight into what is going on in people’s live and inside their heads when they make a major decision like this.

“The movement toward abortion access is founded on stories: stories about people shaping their futures who want to pursue educations and careers, who are able to determine when they are ready and able to be a parent and how many children they can care for. These stories can be compelling—they can help reduce stigma and normalize abortion experiences. However, sometimes the stories with the greatest potential to have an impact on people’s thinking are hidden or kept secret. Many fear that sharing their story will invite shame, disappointment, and sometimes abuse. But more often than not, the opposite is true.”

Throughout the book, Shah presents a variety of facts and studies, all of which are well cited. There’s a ton of resources in the back of the book, as well as a thorough source list. But the real strength of this story is the wide range of experiences that the author has included. She shares the story of young people, older people, women, a non-binary person, a cis man whose wife had an abortion, people who had an abortion because they were forced to, people who had a much wanted but non-viable pregnancy, and people who chose abortion for various reasons, from all different backgrounds and faiths. I would have appreciated hearing about the experience of a trans person, but other than that, I found this book to be incredibly comprehensive.

What struck me was how different things are from when this book was written. It came out just two years ago, when abortion was technically legal in all 50 states, and I read this just after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Trigger laws have gone into effect, and there is so much legislation threatening reproductive freedom across our country. Even when abortion was legal, there were so many obstacles to accessing abortion that I didn’t know about in so many places. For example, fake health centers that masquerade as health clinics, but you know, minus all the actual headachy stuff of providing any actual health care. Instead, they just push anti-abortion propaganda on vulnerable people, and don’t offer any kind of accountability. And the worst part is that in some states, they were actually state-funded! I can’t help but think that in the two years since this book was published, this has exponentially gotten worse, and will continue to do so in the areas most deeply impacted by anti-abortion legislation.

“Some states provide fake health centers with taxpayer dollars.”

“In fact, there are about four thousand fake health centers compared to the 780 real providers of abortion care. That means that for every one health center that provides abortion care, there are five fake clinics. And in the last few decades, these fake health centers have become highly skilled at their deception, making it easy to confuse them for the real thing.”

The author and the stories spoke a lot about how the people who are most affected by restrictions on access to abortion are the most disenfranchised people, and how cutting access to reproductive healthcare isn’t the way to fix problems like poverty and reduce the need for abortion. The issue that really needs work is addressing poverty and racism, but we all know those issues aren’t going to be addressed, because it takes a lot more work. 

“Abortion and contraception won’t cure poverty. We have to address the critical issues of raising minimum wage, ensuring childcare, guaranteeing family leave, and addressing racism and implicit bias that continue to thwart economic opportunities.”

Each of the stories impacted me deeply. It spoke about how Christian beliefs are being pushed on all people, although other religions don’t always believe the same thing. There was a chapter from a Jewish rabbi, which tracks with what I was taught from a religious leader in my own community about Jewish ethics surrounding abortion, and how we believe that life begins when the baby takes their first breath. Making a ruling based on Christian beliefs is essentially preventing Jewish religious freedom, since our own beliefs support abortion when a pregnancy threatens the physical or mental health of a mother. 

Some of the stories also spoke about women who were pregnant and were looking forward to their much-wanted babies, but were devastated when they discovered that their babies were not compatible with life for some reason or another. I can’t even imagine the pain associated with being pregnant with a baby that you are excited for, and having to have an abortion for whatever reason. Even if the abortion has to occur later in the pregnancy, or perhaps especially when there is a later abortion, there are difficulties, particularly in the medical field. The costs of doing this were astronomical, and the emotional toll was even more so. Yet, for many women, this is their experience. And the people who make the laws are the ones least likely to suffer the consequences.

“Abortion will always be accessible for affluent people, white people—even conservative ones—and those publicly fighting against abortion access. Politicians have taken access away from people of color, low-income people, people who cannot afford to lose work, and those who face consequences including parental retaliation and abuse.”

This is one of those books that I think everyone should read, and the people making laws about abortion should be the first ones with a copy of this book in their hands. Realistically, this isn’t likely to happen, but it totally should be. In the meantime, I’d settle for getting just one person to read it and learn something from these stories.

5 replies »

  1. This is such a heavy topic across the globe. As someone who don’t have children and been struggling to have a baby of my own for 10 years, it’s always a difficult thing to think someone doesn’t want to have their baby.

    BUT my mom was a social worker and the things she’s seen…. She was a big advocate for abortion and yes, every single case has it’s own merit and I don’t think I support the US decision lately. No matter what my own circumstances are.

    Lovely and thorough review!

    Elza Reads

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading this – it’s such a complicated, sensitive, and nuanced topic, and it can be difficult to separate our own feelings from other people’s situations. I’m so sorry to hear about your own struggles. The US decision is already having devastating effects – I’m seeing people with autoimmune diseases being refused refills on medication they rely on to function because it *might* be used to cause abortion, even in people who aren’t pregnant and don’t plan to be. It’s a huge blow to reproductive freedom.


  2. This is a great review and you’ve made me really want to check this book out. If you’re interested in more reading on this topic, I can recommend JANE AGAINST THE WORLD by Karen Blumenthal, which is a history of reproductive rights in the U.S. over the past 250 years or so. I don’t usually leave links in comments, but for the sake of ease, if you’re interested:

    Liked by 1 person

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