Many experiences are like mine: unexceptional, not ‘deserving’ or ‘worthy’. The more of those testimonies we hear, the stronger we are in our fight to protect women’s rights

 A protester in Warsaw after the Polish constitutional tribunal imposed even stricter regulations on abortion. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

One of the last things I did before lockdown was attend a rally supporting the protests against Poland’s constitutional court ruling that introduced a near-total ban on abortion. Hardening the country’s already terrifyingly restrictive current law, it would, if enforced, remove one of the few narrow exceptions still permitted: termination in the event of congenital birth defects.

The scale of protests in Poland has been extraordinary – and hopeful. With up to 100,000 people gathering nightly in Warsaw, they seem to have forced a pause in implementation of this appalling ruling. My damp, local version was less impressive – there were fewer than 100 of us (including dogs and babies), carefully distanced, in cagoules and masks – but no less moving, hearing young Polish women and men stand up and denounce a sclerotic, repressive ancien regime I’m desperate to see them sweep away.

Protests, particularly in defence of reproductive rights, are my John Lewis Christmas ad: one chant of “my body, my choice” and I’m gone, in floods of tears. They make me emotional because I have needed this activism. Decades of work by indefatigably courageous women (and more than a few men) made my abortions possible.

We shouldn’t need a personal stake in abortion to support access to it, but this is a movement deeply rooted in the personal as political. Next April will mark the 50th anniversary of the Manifesto of the 343, the seismic document in which 343 French women, including Simone de Beauvoir, Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Sagan declared in Le Nouvel Observateurmagazine that they had had abortions. To mark the occasion, a film project is seeking funding to tell the story of the women behind it: the journalist Nicole Muchnik and the activist Anne Zelensky. I’ve chipped in; this story needs to be told and retold.

The Manifesto spawned numerous emulators. In the US, signatories of the We Have Had Abortions declaration in Ms Magazine included Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag. The ripples it created are still felt now. In 2019, as multiple US states restricted access to abortion alarmingly, a fresh wave of “me too” abortion stories hit social media, with celebrities including the actors Jameela Jamil and Ashley Judd and the model Tess Holliday sharing theirs.

I occasionally wonder about the value of these “me too” statements now, including my own. I feel uncomfortable discussing it; not because I am ashamed, but because it seems inappropriately self-centred. Isn’t it classic contemporary slacktivism for a celebrity (or indeed anyone) to post an artful Instagram shot with an impassioned defence of reproductive rights and cagily worded personal reference? It is certainly miles away from the genuine risk-taking of the original declarations, which were, at the time, admitting to a criminal act.

Even so, I think personal testimony is still vital. A recent example: in the wake of Donald Trump’s inflammatory and factually incorrect statements about late abortion, women’s stories of the unbearable circumstances that led to their decision provided a powerful corrective to the grotesque prevailing narrative.

More broadly, humans are hardwired to respond to stories. We engage more easily with what touches us personally – you are more likely to donate to Macmillan if you have seen a family member grapple with cancer. The more abortion stories we hear, the easier it is to find that connection.

I think, too, that personal testimony can help push back against the idea that only certain abortion stories are acceptable – exceptional ones, with an obvious human tragedy at their heart. Abortion is a public health good and a necessity, full stop; too many places and people do not accept that.

So: I had two abortions. In neither case was my life in danger; there were no foetal abnormalities; I could have supported another child. It was simply the right thing to do for me both times and I’m eternally grateful it was possible. They were not “good” abortions; they should not need to be. Many abortion stories are like mine: unexceptional, not “deserving” or “worthy”. The more of those we hear, the closer we come to drowning out an opposing rhetoric that is eroding rights that women took – and still take – real personal risks to fight for.