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Abortion-Rights Advocates Look To Change the Dialogue To Discourage Stigma

Abortion-rights advocates are seeking to change the conversation about abortion to discourage stigma surrounding the procedure, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Concerns

Abortion-rights supporters say women often are expected to apologize for receiving abortion care, provide explanations for their decision or remain silent about their abortion experience. Advocates say that such expectations show that society has not fully come to terms with a woman's right to access abortion.

Lauren Himiak -- communications manager for the Sea Change program, which encourages dialogue on abortion and reproductive health -- said, "We've seen a lot of shame around [abortion], still." She added, "Women and men have been led to believe they shouldn't talk about it. It's such a deeply personal issue that it's hard to talk about it in a national way."

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, noted, "One of the things I heard from my generation [X] and millennials is that they felt some of the big pro-choice groups had been apologizing for them. This is a generation that was raised on the idea that nobody needs to apologize for them." She added, "That's a cultural shift."

Culture Change

As part of the culture shift, reproductive-rights literature has shifted focus from stories about women in extreme situations who required abortion care, such as victims of rape or incest, to women who decided to have the procedure because they did not want to have a child or, in some instances, have another child.

Advocates are using several platforms to share such stories, including the ShoutYourAbortion social media movement, the 1 in 3 Campaign speakouts and online essays. For example, the NARAL Pro-Choice America website opens with a clip of Hogue discussing her abortion. Further, women are now often disclosing their full names, rather than remaining anonymous, when describing their experience (Milligan, U.S. News & World Report, 1/26).

#ShoutYourAbortion Co-Founder Calls for Advocates To End Silence Surrounding Abortion

In related news, Amelia Bonow in an opinion piece for The Hill's "Congress Blog" shares how she helped launch the #ShoutYourAbortion social media campaign. Bonow notes that she disclosed her own abortion experience on Facebook a "day after the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood," and "[w]ithin a few days" the corresponding hashtag, #ShoutYourAbortion, "had been used 250,000 times."

"For once, it felt as though women's voices were driving the national conversation," Bonow states, noting that while one-third of U.S. women have an abortion prior to age 45, "compulsory silence has always been the norm, even in pro-choice communities." Noting that the experience "felt like a collective catharsis, long overdue," Bonow explains how "an all-volunteer team built a #ShoutYourAbortion website, recorded dozens of abortion stories for our YouTube Channel, and hosted events geared towards creating spaces for people to talk about abortion."

According to Bonow, "Although abortion has been a common, legal medical procedure for 43 years, [abortion-rights] opponents have leveraged our fear in order to snuff out our voices." Conservatives "effectively maintained control over the parameters of political discourse by baiting us into defending our own humanity," she writes, while abortion-rights supporters "responded weakly, attempting to direct the conversation away from abortion and towards healthcare, a move which has institutionalized the expectation that those who've had abortions should best stay quiet."

Bonow states, "We cannot fight for legislative progress while ignoring the cultural toxicity of silence and shame." She writes that "[t]he United States is suspended in the sort of volatility that often directly precedes great change," citing the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and a legal challenge to a Texas antiabortion-rights law (HB 2). According to Bonow, "[I]n the midst of one of the most regressive years for abortion rights this country has ever seen, women's perspectives are transforming the landscape of mainstream culture and the opposition is terrified."

Noting that #ShoutYourAbortion organized its "first nationwide action," #TogetherForAbortion, on last week's anniversary of Roe v. Wade, she concludes, "Cultural attitudes about abortion can change, but only if we start talking about the issue" (Bonow, "Congress Blog," The Hill, 1/26).