Editor’s Note: In “Bridging the Divide,” CNN profiles people who are working to find common ground on America’s most divisive issues.
It took years for Kassi Underwood to truly understand how her decision to have an abortion would alter the course of her life.
At the time, Underwood was a 19-year-old college student struggling with alcoholism. Ending her pregnancy seemed like the only option.
Growing up in Kentucky, Underwood had dreamed of becoming a mother, and she never thought she would have an abortion.
But after her pregnancy was terminated she realized that neither the “pro-life” or “pro-choice” label worked for her.
Getting lost in the abortion debate
Now Underwood is working to help other women be vulnerable and share personal stories getting lost in the debate over abortion.
“Those stories have been politicized so that when you share a story and it happens to fit one of the two narratives you get lumped into a political category too,” Underwood told CNN.
Underwood sought treatment for her alcoholism and went on a quest to investigate healing and religious practices surrounding abortion.
“It was a transformational experience in my life to make that choice,” Underwood says of her abortion. “I had this fresh start where I had to rebuild my whole self.”
Underwood found herself with a message that neither side of the abortion debate could embrace - expressing grief over her abortion, but not regret.
She started studying at Harvard Divinity School and published a memoir called “May Cause Love” about her experience.
Underwood says it’s the book she wanted to read as a 19-year-old struggling with an unexpected pregnancy.
“It was the potential for a life that I was grieving but it was so much more than that,” Underwood says. “A lot of that pain was having conflicting beliefs.”
In December, Underwood and her husband gave birth to a son, Wallace.
She is working as a spiritual teacher for others and is developing an online program called “Revolution After Abortion.”
The program is focused on providing a community for women and gender nonconforming individuals who have experienced abortion firsthand.
A difficult message in a partisan world
“When we keep asking should people have access to abortion, we’re missing their stories,” Underwood told CNN.
Underwood knows her work and her message can be hard to understand in today’s hyper-partisan world:
“People don’t really know what to do with it. It’s like they want to fight against it but they don’t really know what to fight against. They want to support it but they’re like, ‘Is she on my side?’ ”
Underwood suggests that neither side of the entrenched political divide on abortion is winning.
And women who need emotional support aren’t getting help.
“It was kind of like I walked into a high school cafeteria and there’s like two big lunch tables and they’re like rivals,” Underwood says.
“The pro-choice movement has been fighting for years and abortion clinics are still getting shut down. The pro-life movement has been fighting for years and people have been having abortions for thousands of years. That doesn’t change when abortion is illegal. People still have abortions,” Underwood says. “So neither side is getting what they really need and what they really want.”
“I’m not going to sit at the tables with the people who are fighting, I want to find the person who’s sitting alone. And that’s my work.”
In “Bridging the Divide,” CNN profiles people who are working to find common ground on America’s most divisive issues. Hear their stories at CNN.com/BridgingtheDivide.