U.S. women get creative in fighting abortion stigma
By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For Amelia Bonow, having an abortion left her relieved that she was not forced to become a mother but, still, she kept her story mostly to herself.
Amid a nationwide wave of political vitriol about abortion and the realization that she and her friends had long kept their abortions secret, however, she reached a tipping point and broke her Omerta-like silence.
“Hi guys! Like a year ago I had an abortion,” she posted on Facebook last fall. Once a friend shared the post on Twitter, the deshaming campaign #ShoutYourAbortion was unleashed.
Like Bonow, many women across the United States are taking steps to brush off the stigma long associated with undergoing the procedure.
At current rates, almost one in three U.S. women will have an abortion by age 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit reproductive health group.
Since the creation of #ShoutYourAbortion, hundreds of thousands of social media users have posted messages sharing stories of their own.
Bonow says she told her story to combat the “assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about.”
The experience and widespread media attention meant Bonow had to tell her conservative-minded grandparents what hundreds of thousands people already knew.
“I called them the day that we were on the cover of The New York Times and I was like ‘Hey guys, I guess we should talk about this’,” she said. “And they were amazing.”
At the 1 in 3 campaign, where women post abortion stories online, director Julia Reticker-Flynn said she and her colleagues drew inspiration from gay rights and other social movements that have used storytelling to change public opinion.
“What stories do as opposed to political arguments is really people are able to empathize with other people’s realities,” she said.
Theresa Burke, who opposes abortion and founded Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, said sharing stories should aim to expose the risks of grief and trauma that she associates with the procedure.
Her nonprofit group, based in Pennsylvania, holds about 800 retreats every year around the country for women who have had abortions.
Abortion for a woman “invades her medical and her physical and even her spiritual integrity,” she said.
“When you are trying to process that and you’re trying to integrate what you did and who you are and who you want to be … it’s very complicated,” she said.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found a country divided – 51 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 43 percent say it should be illegal all or most of the time.
The 1 in 3 campaign commissioned a play, “Out of Silence,” that uses the voices of women who have had abortions. It has been performed more than two dozen times on college campuses.
Laura Reid, 21, a psychology major, performed “Out of Silence” at her college, Texas A&M University.
The play triggered on-campus debate and the campus newspaper asked her to publish an opinion piece on abortion, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with people who have said that they don’t support abortion, but they wouldn’t deny it to somebody else,” she said.
Reid said she saw a need to share the stories after the local abortion clinic closed down in 2013 over funding cuts.
Students now seeking a surgical abortion must travel about 100 miles (160 km)to Houston, Reid said.
Texas has become ground zero of the national abortion debate, with a major case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the state’s law.
Lauren Mitchell, in New York City, opted to challenge public opinion by co-founding the Doula Project which trains people to accompany women having abortions or giving birth.
It has spawned dozens of similar efforts across the country.
Mitchell said she has accompanied about 1,000 women as an abortion doula, talking to them, holding their hands and being in the room during their procedures.
She recalled a woman who, for rare medical reasons, needed to have a labor induction abortion in a New York hospital but had to wait for a day and half.
“If a doula hadn’t been there, she might have been alone,” she said.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)