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 BBQs, 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 does not happen in a vacuum—it always occurs in a unique context. Today, abortion has become a core political litmus test for party loyalty. 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 those whose 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.
In this nuanced and compassionate debut, Shah, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in New York State, analyzes the social, financial, and legal barriers to abortion through the stories of people who have dealt with those hurdles. Shah highlights the experiences of women of color, and incorporates the perspectives of a trans person seeking an abortion and the male partner of a woman who chose to end her pregnancy. Each chapter documents one individual's backstory and evolving feelings before taking up such issues as the growing prevalence of "fake health centers" that attempt to "coerce" women into continuing their pregnancy, the use of "junk science" (e.g., unproven links between abortions and breast cancer) by antiabortion policymakers and activists, and the criminalization of self-managed abortions. Shah is a fierce yet empathetic advocate for her own patients and those who have confided in her, and provides a wealth of resources for getting involved in reproductive health activism. Readers who have felt isolated or stigmatized in talking about their own abortions will find stories that resonate, while others will have their concept of who seeks an abortion broadened. This is a moving and deeply informed argument for abortion as a human right.