Dallas-native Nicole Stewart was in the second trimester of her first pregnancy when she and her husband received the devastating news that their tiny baby boy, whom they had taken to affectionately referring to as “Tutu,” was suffering from profound fetal abnormalities.
If he survived birth, the doctors and specialists told them, he would suffer from many serious health problems.
Devastated by the news and unwilling to let their unborn child’s short life be filled with suffering, the couple eventually decided, with heavy hearts, that it would be best for Tutu if they terminated the pregnancy.
Stewart later wrote a story about that experience, and all of the difficult emotions and considerations that went along with her decision to have her late-term abortion, and performed it for an edition of Oral Fixation, a live storytelling series the accomplished actress, teacher and theater director founded in Dallas in 2011. Her story was later published, along with the video of her heartfelt performance, by HuffPost.
On April 19 and April 20, Stewart’s traveling storytelling series will be making its first stop in Houston at Midtown Arts & Theater Company, and abortion will be its topic of focus. “Out From Under the Rug: True Life Tales of Abortion” will provide a platform for a selected group of seven speakers to share their own abortion stories onstage.
The diverse group of local residents selected to perform their stories, including Sherry Merfish, who had an abortion pre-Roe v. Wade, will be sharing the stage alongside Dr. Willie Parker, a black Southern Baptist doctor who went from being against abortion to becoming an abortion provider.
Dr. Parker practiced medicine for 12 years before performing his first abortion. The religious-minded doctor’s decision to start performing them came when he realized the importance of the many varied reasons why women get them, including personal autonomy, the health of the child, and their own health risks.
“He decided that it was his Christian duty to use his skills to help people,” says Stewart. “I think with Houston being such an incredibly diverse city, but with such a strong Christian and black presence, his voice will be particularly impactful.”
In sharing her own abortion story, Stewart says she found a lot of power and healing.
“I think that as women, we need to come out of the closet, or come out from under the rug and tell our stories,” she says, mentioning her admiration for the LGBTQIA community and the way the term “coming out of the closet” has changed history. “I think people would be surprised to hear the different ways in which abortion can touch people’s lives and how easily it could happen to any of us.”
Stewart says that while she doesn’t expect everyone in the audience to agree with all of the decisions the night’s storytellers have made, she does expect them to be respected because of their bravery in telling their stories.
“This show is not pro-abortion,” she notes. “It’s pro-conversation.”
“Out From Under the Rug: True Life Tales of Abortion” takes place April 19 and April 20 at 8 p.m. at Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH). Tickets are $25.