True Love No Shame: Talking about new perspectives on abortion with filmmaker Asha Dahya

For the fifth episode of True Love No Shame, I talked with Asha Dahya. We actually met through a Facebook group of former Christian conservatives. She’s working on this amazing documentary series project that’s about abortion.

You can listen to our conversation in full on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the edited version below.

Dani: Asha, does the series have a name yet?

Asha: Yeah, it does. It’s called Life at All Costs, which is a working title but I really like what it entailed and what it encompasses. So, so far I’m keeping it.

Dani: I would love to hear a little more about your background. It sounds like you also grew up in kind of an evangelical church. What was that like? And, you know, what region are you from and what kind of church background was it?

Asha: I was born in England and did most of my growing up in Australia. My family and I migrated over there when I was really young, and I only moved to the United States in 2008. So I’ve been here for almost 10 years but the majority of my evangelical upbringing was in Australia.

And it is a little different. There was no sense of being brought up to be politically active at all. Like I had no interest in politics growing up. But the influence of American evangelicalism was definitely felt as far reaching as Australia.

Like all the stereotypical like pop culture, evangelical things that a lot of Americans grew up with, we kind of grew up with too. Messages about purity and no sex before marriage.

It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that it became even more like intensely political and I realized that, oh, okay, this is a thing. Like religion and politics is like this intertwined movement. And learning about the history of the religious right and how it came about.

Dani: For me, the church was like a very strong voice on abortion and had a clear viewpoint about politics.

Asha: That’s so fascinating to me ’cause I never, I don’t think I ever really heard the word abortion growing up. And if it was said, it’s just I didn’t listen to it. So it definitely wasn’t like ingrained into us the way it is with youth here, or was with youth here. So that why it’s so fascinating to me, how it’s like drilled into your head.

I remember reading one blog post from a former conservative, fundamental person who came from this community. And they were like we were taught to outbreed, outvote and out-activate everyone else in the, quote unquote, secular world. I was like holy crap, that’s a really interesting topic.

Dani: It was kind of like this is the one political issue that matters.

Asha: Yeah. I think there’s this idea that abortion happens in a vacuum or in isolation, away from other special issues.

Even just the four or five years that I was part of a fundamental church, when I first became politically minded I had no inclination. I was not taught like, well, the reason why women choose abortion is because X, Y, Z and because of these social situations. It was just abortion is wrong, abortion is murder, it’s evil.

But then it wasn’t until I left that church that I started realizing, oh, it’s because of economic issues or health issues or just all these other reasons. I’m like, okay, there’s more to this than just the black and white narratives. Why don’t we talk about that? And so that’s kind of one of the reasons why I want to use my extensive media background to, you know, create this docu-series in the hope that it will generate more nuanced discussion.

Dani: I like your description of it. You said explore finding common grounds between her life and her choice is possible. And so were you personally pro-life at one point and then had a change?

Asha: So, growing up in Australia I would never have even known the terms pro-life and pro-choice. But it wasn’t until I moved to America that it was like, oh, you’re a Christian? Oh, you have to be very conservative. You are pro-life. And I remember talking about Obama, not even knowing anything about politics but just hearing everyone around me in my church and my close friends and family at that time were like, oh yeah, Obama’s the devil because he is allowing people to kill their babies as soon as they’re born.

Just something so far-fetched, ridiculous that like how was I even regurgitating that out, not knowing a single factual piece of information? But that’s like the way I thought. So I assume like, oh yeah, like I’m against abortion. I’m pro-life. But then, you know, kind of once I stepped back from that, I was like, well, judging by what the pro-life movement, generally speaking, stands for, that’s not me.

But generally speaking, it’s more about political activism than it is genuinely caring for the entire lifespan of people, you know, from conception to death. Like there’s a lot of missing gaps in that. And there’s this idea that if you’re pro-choice, you don’t care about life. And that’s also not true.

Dani: From the church I grew up in which was very passionate about being pro-life. But then they’re not supporting like economic help for single parents. Or something that would actually reduce the number of abortions.

Asha: Well, that’s it. I mean, even just having the conversation where it’s like you’re not actually against just abortion. Because that’s like when you look at it on a timeline, say for instance, you know, the reproductive timeline. Abortion’s at the very end. You’ve got to start at the beginning. It’s about unintended pregnancy.

So how do you reduce that? Because once you look at it from that angle, then you have to look at, well, what was the sex education she was brought up with? And what was her access to birth control or healthcare like? And what’s her financial situation? Was there rape or assault involved? Like once you start kind of adding those extra questions, it becomes challenging to a person who has their, you know, very headstrong and emotional, like you said, belief in this issue of abortion.

So that’s kind of like what I’m trying to do with this docu-series. It’s like it’s not even just about abortion. It’s about how do we really look at the issue of life, you know? This abortion is such a hyper-divisive topic. But once you break it down and ask more questions, it does become a little bit more complex and a little bit more conflicting.

And for me it was kind of like a slow burn away from the pro-life identification. And one of the big reasons that helped me, one of the big events, I guess you would say, to help me, push me more towards a pro-choice belief was one of my really good friends, who I’m still good friends with to this day. She also used to go to this church with me, and she doesn’t anymore. But she, I think, would still classify herself as Christian and pro-life.

She was always like the on-fire, missionary girl. You know, like preaching the name of Jesus, leading youth worship, all this kind of stuff. And she’s very open about her story now but she ended up having a one-night stand and got pregnant.

And her first thought was, oh, I’m going to … I’ll just go down to Planned Parenthood and just get an abortion and, quote unquote, get rid of the mistake. And God will forgive me and I’ll move on and go back to being, you know, right and good and all that.

I was like that is fascinating to me that you’re more scared of someone knowing that you had sex before marriage, and seeing the visible consequences of that, than you are having an abortion, something that you have been openly protesting against. And so she went to Planned Parenthood and she started the process of getting an abortion, a medication abortion where you take a series of pills. Because it was early enough in her pregnancy.

You're more scared of someone knowing that you had sex before marriage, and seeing the visible consequences of that, than you are having an abortion, something that you have been openly protesting against Click To Tweet

Then she decided not to do that and she ended up having her daughter, who’s now like almost five or six.

But going through that experience made her realize, okay, there’s more to this than just abortion is murder. She’s not an overly political person but she does say, you know, I’m no longer very judgmental. I know now that everyone’s situation is different, you have no idea what they’re going through.

So I see that there are glimpses of possibility for people to change their mind. But I don’t think you should have to go through it. Like I personally have never had an abortion. But I have seen both sides and I have changed my mind. And so it is possible to show empathy. I think it’s just a matter of how. You know, meeting people in the way that they digest information and presenting it in a way that doesn’t feel threatening or intimidating to them in any way.

So that’s another thing I’m very mindful of, is not being like, well, I was once you and now I think like this. And you’re wrong and I’m right. I think that also doesn’t, you know, that’s also not productive. So it’s really tough to find. The balance is like how do I, you know, make a TV show and market it to a production company? That’s going to be interesting and compelling and, you know, ticks all the boxes for a network in Hollywood, but also reaches the right audience. You know, so that’s a balance that I’m working through and navigating as a I continue to develop this idea.

Dani: I’ve noticed this with people on the liberal side who are pro-choice, who have this attitude of, you’re dumb if you disagree with me. And this is just not having a lot of patience for people. And from my experience, I know that people can change their minds, because I did.

Asha: I identify as pro-choice but I think both terms are a little bit too limiting, and I think it’s time for an update around the reproductive rights conversation.

I do have a problem when, you know, people on the pro-choice side, especially those who maybe haven’t come from a religious background and just kind of brush them all off. It’s like, oh, those crazy conservatives or crazy Christians or crazy whatever. It’s like the majority of people in the pro-life movement are, you know, genuinely have a heartfelt care for women and children. You know, the average person, I want to believe that they do.

They’re just really misguided because they’ve been taught and activated in a very politicized lens, as opposed to a social, humanitarian lens. Which is that’s the difference there. It’s just easier to think of the pro-life movement as the really extreme operation rescue people. And the group behind those doctored Planned Parenthood videos. And it’s like, oh, they represent the pro-life movement. And they don’t. They’re a very small but very vocal minority of that side.

And I think that there are more people in the pro-life movement that are willing to possibly meet in the middle. So that’s kind of what I’m trying to explore. And I know that there are people who are like, well, I think abortion’s wrong but I’m also a big supporter of birth control. Like make it all accessible, make it affordable, make it free to whoever needs it. And so that’s once you kind of start finding those few gray areas you can find a way to, you know, potentially find common ground between pro-choice and pro-life. And muddy the waters a little bit so that it’s not this divisive political thing.

I think that there are more people in the pro-life movement that are willing to possibly meet in the middle Click To Tweet

Because I also think that if the Republican Party lost the abortion voters, quote unquote, the single issue abortion voters, they wouldn’t win. They would not be winning. And like this whole Roy Moore campaign in Alabama right now, there are articles that, you know, people are just like how can these Christians support a child molester? It’s like it’s because of the abortion issue. Like that’s all it is. They’re willing it and with charm. They’re willing to overlook the fact that America’s sexual assault list because they know that they’ll get their Supreme Court judges and they’ll all vote along party lines for abortion.

Dani: What do you think are the other misconceptions about either pro-life or pro-choice that come up a lot?

Asha: I think that there’s this perception that all pro-choice people are just about abortion on demand, all day, every day, all the time. Which is not true. Like I’ve spoken to a lot of pro-choice people who are, oh yeah, I’m all for choice but I’m also to have the dignity and space to make their choices with their family and their doctor.

And, you know, I also want to say I also personally am against abortion. I wouldn’t choose it. But I’m not going to force some other woman to make the decision that I would make. And that’s, okay, that brings nuance right there.

Dani: So one thing I always like to ask people on this podcast is, with the podcast being for people who might have grown up conservative and in purity culture. What’s something that a former conservative should know about sex?

Asha: I think the first thing I would say is that your body and sexuality is not something to be ashamed about. There’s a reason why we feel sexual feelings towards people. None of that should be looked at as something dirty or wrong. I think there’s a way to guide and channel our bodies and our sexuality in a way that’s healthy and that doesn’t denigrate who we are as human beings.

And sexuality, you know, if you genuinely identify the right to sentence me, then I’m gone, right? So why? I’m thinking that’s so shameful. And I think it’s there are a lot of resources and people coming out of that community continue to, you know, people like yourself who are like talking about it. Having these conversations and making people feel like they’re not alone in this world. And being more inclusive and, you know, not condemning people for their choices or thinking a certain way.

But I think for every person it’s an individual journey in terms of undoing and deconstructing all those harmful and negative messages, you know? Purity culture really enrages people. And most especially women. You know, this idea about you’re responsible for not being sexually assaulted or not making men stumble.

It’s like, oh, dress modestly. What, do you think somebody dressed in a pair of scrubs is not going to get raped? You know?

I think there needs to be more openness and less shaming when it comes to the shape of our bodies. And understanding that everyone’s desires are normal. And it’s a very normal and healthy thing to have. We shouldn’t be, yeah, we shouldn’t be demonizing people for having them because every human has them.

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