Jill James was 18 years old, “in love and excited to leave home and go to college” in the summer of 1977. Then, she began noticing pregnancy symptoms.
“I knew the only option for me was to have an abortion,” she said.
That’s how James, 63, of Salt Lake City, begins the story about her abortion. Her words were printed and hung on a wall at Medium Studio in Salt Lake City for people to read.
James was among the 15 storytellers and seven artists included in an exhibit titled “Say Abortion” that was hosted by Planned Parenthood Association of Utah on Thursday and Friday, The exhibit’s goal is to expand people’s perspectives of who has abortions and to destigmatize the word itself.
The exhibit comes after a leaked draft opinion, which was published by Politico earlier this month, offered a glimpse that the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade when it rules in a Mississippi abortion case this summer.
One artist made a self-portrait, while another created photos of a mannequin in a bed and bathroom to represent her medication abortion.
One storyteller wrote a poem that read, “I could spend my time trying to convince you that I did the right thing when I found myself at the wrong path.” Amber ended the poem by writing, “And if you were me, I’d tell you I love you. You owe me nothing. The path you take is your own.”
Another picture showed a goose with three goslings inside of it.
“There’s just no more room. If I added one more, there would be less room for the three already relying on me. Is that fair to them? If I added one more how would I be able to spread myself even thinner than I already am?” the plaque by the goose picture read.
On one wall, visitors added colorful Post-it Notes with messages. “It was my choice to make. It should remain your choice to make,” one said. “We all love someone who has had an abortion,” another read. A third said, “Although I can’t relate… I hear you. I love u. I support you.”
“It touches my heart deeply, said Karen Holt Bennion, reading the stories. Bennion, 60, said she drove from South Jordan to see the exhibit because she wants “to protect the freedom of [her] granddaughters.”
James visited the exhibit Friday evening with her family. She’s now a licensed clinical social worker, and she has visited Utah state lawmakers to share her story about her abortion.
“They’re making choices for us,” James said.
It took James years after her abortion, she said, before she “understood that there is absolutely no shame in a woman exercising her right to free agency over her body, including making the decision to have an abortion.”
James also later learned that her “grandmother had an illegal abortion to save her life in the 1930s.”
“My grandmother’s abortion allowed her to live a healthy life until she died at 102 years old surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she said.
While browsing the exhibit and reading others’ stories, James said she hopes that Utahns will “see and they listen and they hear and don’t feel like they have the right answer.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.