After Teen Vogue published an article about gifts to buy for a friend who has had an abortion, right-wing and anti-choice outlets lashed out at the young women’s magazine for “normalizing” the procedure. Although right-wing media have frequently claimed that women pathologically regret their abortions -- and these media have attacked providers and clinics accordingly -- in reality, it is a safe and common medical practice. This wasn’t Teen Vogue’s first attempt at challenging abortion stigma and the myth of abortion regret, and the magazine’s collective efforts provide a useful model for other outlets.
Teen Vogue Published A Guide For “What To Get A Friend Post-Abortion” -- The Latest In Its Efforts To Challenge Abortion Stigma
Teen Vogue: People Who Have Abortions “Shouldn’t Have To Feel Ashamed” For Making “The Right Choice For [Their] Situation.” In a February 2 article, Teen Vogue’s Whitney Bell assembled a list of potential gifts to give to a friend who has had an abortion. She wrote that although “making this decision is never simple, … it shouldn’t have to be so scary” and that the problem “isn’t the procedure itself” but “how you’re treated afterward.” Bell explained that, because of abortion stigma, “many women feel like they can’t talk about” their abortion experiences. Instead of treating abortion as a taboo subject, Bell argued that people “shouldn’t have to feel ashamed” for making “the right choice for [their] situation.” From Teen Vogue:
So your friend is about to have an abortion. Of course you want to be there for her, but you don’t know how. Look, making this decision is never simple, and having to make it as a teenager is more than a little terrifying. But it shouldn’t have to be so scary. The worst part of all this isn’t the procedure itself (which by the way is completely safe as long as you have access to a good clinic). The worst part is how you’re treated afterwards.
Abortion is something that many women feel like they can’t talk about, even amongst themselves, which creates a false stigma. The more we hide something, the more confusing it becomes. But she shouldn’t have to feel ashamed, because she made the right choice for her situation. She is not ready to carry a pregnancy to term — and that’s OK. [Teen Vogue, 2/8/17]
Abortion Stigma Is “A Shared Understanding That Abortion Is Morally Wrong And/Or Socially Unacceptable” And Has “Disastrous Consequences.” According to the Sea Change Program, an organization dedicated to challenging abortion stigma, the concept can be best understood as “a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable.” This belief is reinforced implicitly and explicitly through media coverage, popular culture, and a lack of accurate information among many about the procedure itself. In particular, right-wing media and anti-choice groups have worked relentlessly to capitalize on this lack of public knowledge and awareness by demonizing abortion providers and patients, while fearmongering about the safety of abortion procedures. As Sea Change explained, leaving abortion stigma unchallenged can be “disastrous” and “leads to the social, medical, and legal marginalization of abortion care around the world”:
We define abortion stigma as a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable.
Abortion stigma has disastrous consequences around the world. People seeking abortions are bullied, shamed, marginalized, and sometimes even prevented by law or intimidation from seeking safe health care services. Abortion providers are harassed, dehumanized and targeted by regulation and anti-abortion advocates. Stigma leads to the social, medical, and legal marginalization of abortion care around the world and is a barrier to access to high quality, safe abortion care. [Sea Change, accessed February 2017; Media Matters, 1/27/16]
This Isn’t The First Time Teen Vogue Has Tackled Abortion Stigma By Elevating The Experiences Of Those Who Have Had Abortions. Teen Vogue is no stranger to publishing articles that tackle abortion stigma directly and challenge cultural assumptions that suggest it is not a normal medical experience. In January, the outlet published a series of accounts from people who have had abortions to mark the 44th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. The accounts came from women who varied in age, experience, and cultures, but all underscored the importance of being empowered to make medical decisions for oneself. One account was authored by the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, who said the decision to have an abortion “wasn’t easy, but the procedure was.” Hogue stated that she wanted “young women to know that if it’s not an easy decision, it’s fine” saying, “just because it wasn’t an easy decision, doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision.” [Teen Vogue, 1/17/17; 1/18/17; 1/20/17; 1/22/17]
Right-Wing Media Attacked Teen Vogue For “Normalizing” Abortion And Ignoring Supposed Abortion Regret
TheBlaze: Teen Vogue Provided “No Resources For Young Women Who Are Experiencing Physical Complications Or Mental Health Issues Following An Abortion.” In reaction to Teen Vogue’s article, TheBlaze promoted the myth of post-abortion regret or “post-abortion syndrome” and chided the outlet for providing “no resources for young women who are experiencing physical complications or mental health issues following an abortion.” Despite medical consensus and more recent studies disproving this claim, TheBlaze alleged that “women who had undergone an abortion were 34 percent more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, 37 percent more likely to experience depression, and 155 percent more likely to commit suicide.” [TheBlaze, 2/13/17]
National Review: Abortion Decisions “Ought Not Be Trivialized” Because Doing So “Discounts The Experiences Of The Many Women Who Honestly Do Experience Regret.” National Review criticized Teen Vogue for treating abortion in a “lighthearted” manner. Beyond arguing that abortion “ought not be trivialized,” the February 15 article claimed that saying that abortion is “the right choice” “discounts the experiences of the many women who do honestly experience regret after choosing to have an abortion.” National Review concluded that rather that destigmatizing abortion, Teen Vogue should promote “ groups that counsel and walk with those who have been negatively affected by the choice to have an abortion.” From National Review:
Regardless of one’s views on the morality of abortion, this is an emotionally fraught issue, and the decision to “terminate a pregnancy” can never be taken lightly in the way that this piece suggests. As people on both sides of the aisle will agree, whether or not to get an abortion is a complex decision — an especially challenging one for readers as young as those who read Teen Vogue — and it ought not be trivialized in the way that this slideshow does. And it’s certainly problematic to make the blanket assertion that abortion is, in all cases, “the right choice.”
Aside from the obvious moral problem of aborting a human child, this kind of rhetoric is harmful primarily because it discounts the experiences of the many women who do honestly experience regret after choosing to have an abortion.
Such a blasé attitude diminishes the obvious gravity of abortion and can easily devastate women who regret their abortion procedure. These women desperately need compassionate support, not repeated assurances that their abortions were unimportant or unequivocally acceptable. They need ministries such as Project Rachel and Silent No More Awareness, groups that counsel and walk with those who have been negatively affected by the choice to have an abortion. This kind of support should be extended to all post-abortive women, but most especially to the young readers of Teen Vogue. [National Review, 2/14/17]
Lifezette: Teen Vogue Was “Marketing The Procedure To Underage Girls” While Ignoring “The Potential Guilt And Emotional Trauma” Of Abortion. An article posted on Lifezette.com -- an outlet run by conservative media commentator Laura Ingraham -- attacked Teen Vogue for seemingly “marketing the procedure to underage girls.” Although Lifezette also took exception with the “blasé” tone, its largest objection was that Teen Vogue did not include a “single tip” for how to cope with “the potential guilt and emotional trauma” of having an abortion. Lifezette concluded that “the need for abortion — and the aspiration to normalize and justify it — is a result of a spiritual void.” [Lifezette.com, 2/13/17]
Life News: Teen Vogue Promoted “Pro-Abortion Propaganda” And Dismissed “The Pain And Regret That Many Girls And Women Feel After Aborting Their Unborn Child.” The anti-choice outlet Life News called the Teen Vogue article “disgusting” and lambasted the outlet for promoting “pro-abortion propaganda.” Life News claimed that the article failed to acknowledge that abortion “kills a unique, living human being” and “invalidates the pain and regret that many girls and women feel after aborting their unborn child.” From Life News:
The Teen Vogue article offers nothing at all to encourage pregnant teens who may be afraid and unsure about what to do, or advice for friends who want to encourage them to parent or consider adoption. No mention of pregnancy care centers, maternity homes or adoption agencies. No suggestions of baby showers or diaper drives, offering to drive to doctors appointments or volunteering to babysit. It does, however, urge teens to volunteer at abortion clinics as a “gift” to their friend.
Teen Vogue certainly does not inform teens about what an abortion involves, how it kills a unique, living human being, or how numerous studies show it can risk the young teen’s physical and emotional health.
The magazine’s message invalidates the pain and regret that many girls and women feel after aborting their unborn child. This is an extremely concerning and unhealthy message for impressionable young teens. Teen Vogue’s young readers could very easily get the idea that they are wrong to feel regret or pain and repress their feelings rather than seek help through a post-abortion counseling program like Rachel’s Vineyard.
Teen Vogue is hurting its young readers by pushing this pro-abortion propaganda and likely its next generation of readers, too. If it really cared about teens, it would encourage them to research all the facts about abortion, pregnancy and parenting options, instead of pushing thinly-veiled propaganda from the profit-driven abortion industry. [Life News, 2/10/17]
LifeSite News: Giving A Friend Gifts Will “Remind Her Of One Of The Worst Days Of Her Life” Because “Abortion Is A Very Traumatizing Experience.” LifeSite News, an anti-abortion media site, published an article suggesting that because “abortion is a very traumatizing experience,” Teen Vogue’s article was inappropriate. The article listed “infection,” “a perforated uterus” and depression as possible side effects of abortion. Because of this, the article claimed, giving a friend a gift “probably isn’t going to make things better. It will just remind her of one of the worst days of her life.” From LifeSite News:
Abortion is a very traumatizing experience for women. Even women who consider themselves pro-choice will tell you as much. It's a “difficult, personal” decision, they say. They acknowledge abortion can be very hard on a woman even if she doesn't know or believe she's ending the life of her pre-born child.
What women need after abortion is love, compassion, and care. Your friend could have a perforated uterus. She could have an infection. She may need to see a doctor or go to a hospital.
Your friend may become depressed. She needs to know you love her, that there is a loving God who will forgive her, and that there are free and low-cost services that can address her physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs.
A feminist coloring book isn't going to cut it. [LifeSite News, 2/10/17]
Medical Experts Reject “Post-Abortion Syndrome,” While Studies Show That Sharing Abortion Experiences Can Be Positive
Glamour: “No Matter What Anti-Abortion Activists Might Say,” Abortion Stories Are Most Often Met With “Compassion, Not Scorn.” In an February 15 article, Glamour highlighted the results of a new study that “challenges the common misperception that most people are judgmental about abortions.” Researchers took a “nationally-representative survey of Americans” to analyze what happens during “‘abortion disclosure’ conversations.” The study found that “the majority (58.3 percent) of reactions to abortion disclosures were positive” while merely 7 percent of people “perceived their disclosure experience as negative.” Glamour wrote that “no matter what anti-abortion activists and politicians might say, … the most common reaction is sympathy and support,” and stories are more often met with “compassion, not scorn.” From Glamour:
Sarah Cowan, an NYU sociologist, analyzed data from a nationally-representative survey of Americans to discover what happens in these “abortion disclosure” conversations—that is, conversations where one person turns to another and says, “I had an abortion.” She found that the majority (58.3%) of reactions to abortion disclosures were positive, with people categorizing listener reactions as sympathetic, supportive, or both. About one third of participants perceived the disclosure experience as a mix of positive and negative. Only about 7% of people perceived their disclosure experience as negative. This is very different from what we see on social media and on TV, when talking about abortion often provokes harassment and even death threats. Talking about your abortion person to person, according to this study, might actually positive experience.
Yes, it’s true that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making it safe for everyone to talk about their experiences with abortion. But no matter what anti-abortion activists and politicians might say, the most common reaction is sympathy and support. Talking about abortion might even bring people closer together, strengthening friendships and relationships instead of driving them apart. This study challenges the common misperception that most people are judgmental about abortions. In fact, it gives us a little bit of hope: the most common reaction to hearing about someone else’s abortion is compassion, not scorn. [Glamour, 2/14/17]
NY Times: New Study “Undermines” Abortion Regret Myth And Shows “‘Women Denied An Abortion Have More Anxiety, Lower Self-Esteem, [And] Less Life Satisfaction.’” In a December 14 article, The New York Times discussed the results of a recent study that “undermines” the myth that “terminating a pregnancy causes women to experience emotional and psychological trauma.” According to the Times, the study found that “psychological symptoms increased only in women who sought abortions but were not allowed to have the procedure because their pregnancies were further along than the cutoff time at the clinic they visited.” The study’s author, M. Antonia Biggs, said the research demonstrated that “women denied an abortion have more anxiety, lower self-esteem, [and] less life satisfaction than women who are able to get an abortion.” From The New York Times:
It’s an idea that has long been used as an argument against abortion — that terminating a pregnancy causes women to experience emotional and psychological trauma.
Some states require women seeking abortions to be counseled that they might develop mental health problems. Now a new study, considered to be the most rigorous to look at the question in the United States, undermines that claim. Researchers followed nearly 1,000 women who sought abortions nationwide for five years and found that those who had the procedure did not experience more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or dissatisfaction with life than those who were denied it.
M. Antonia Biggs, a social psychologist researcher and an author of the study, said that some people “would expect the women who have an abortion to have increasing depression and anxiety over time, but instead we don’t see that.” Instead, she said, the research showed that “women denied an abortion have more anxiety, lower self-esteem, less life satisfaction than women who are able to get an abortion. But by six months to a year, they’re similar to women who had an abortion.” [The New York Times, 12/14/16]
NAF: Experts Conclude So-Called “Post-Abortion Syndrome” Is An Unfounded Myth. Citing a number of medical experts, the National Abortion Federation's fact sheet on abortion myths demonstrates the unfounded nature of so-called “post-abortion syndrome.” It argues that, in spite of right-wing media representations of women's abortion experiences, “mainstream medical opinions … agree there is no such thing as 'post-abortion syndrome.'” It cites the research of several prominent medical experts to further support the scientific consensus supporting safe and legal access to abortion. [National Abortion Federation, accessed February 2017]
APA: “No Credible Evidence” That Abortion Procedures Are Harmful Or “Cause Mental Health Problems.” The American Psychological Association (APA) formed the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion to examine the variety of studies addressing mental health factors associated with abortion. According to its analysis, attempts to prove causality between women's mental health and abortion are unfounded. After a “thorough review of all the empirical studies … in peer-reviewed journals since 1989,” the APA task force concluded that there is “no evidence that having a single abortion causes mental health problems”:
The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The research consistently found that the backgrounds and circumstances of the women who seek abortions vary. The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience “clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.” The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain. [American Psychological Association, accessed February 2016]