How Highlighting Personal Narratives Combats Abortion Stigma

How Highlighting Personal Narratives Combats Abortion Stigma

››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

On March 21, the 1 in 3 Campaign held an event titled “Stories from the Resistance,” where speakers shared their abortion stories in an effort to counteract abortion stigma -- the idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable. In reporting on the event, media outlets highlighted the speakers’ personal narratives, thereby helping to combat abortion stigma.

1 in 3 Campaign Resists Abortion Stigma By Presenting Personal Narratives of Abortion

New York Magazine: During The 1 In 3 Campaign Event, “More Than 60 People” Recounted “Their Abortion Tales” Online And At The Capital. The 1 in 3 Campaign is a project of Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization that provides information to young people about reproductive and sexual health. The campaign’s name stands for the idea that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion at some point in their lifetime, and it is therefore an incredibly common experience. On March 21, the 1 in 3 Campaign hosted its third annual “speakout” event and invited people with abortion experiences to share their stories on Capitol Hill. For those who could not attend the event in person, the organizers provided a prerecorded online stream of speakers sharing their individual abortion stories. As New York Magazine reported, stories included “harrowing tales of abortions from the days before Roe v. Wade” and experiences recounted for the first time “to show that this topic that’s become so political is still so personal.” Overall, “more than 60 people” recounted “their abortion tales” online and at the Capitol. [New York Magazine, 3/21/17]

Bustle: The Event Featured “Personal Stories of Abortion” In Order “To Remove The Negative Stereotypes Society Layers On Top Of Abortions.” Speakers hoped sharing their stories would help “push back against our current administration” and ongoing attempts “to stigmatize people who exercise their right to choose.” Abortion stigma silences individuals and deters them from sharing their experiences about having an abortion, thereby enabling anti-choice narratives to dominate in the media. In addition, as Bustle highlighted, the 1 in 3 Campaign included speakers from “members of the LGBTQA+ community and Muslim rights groups” to highlight that “[t]he overarching fight here is one against the stripping of our basic human rights — something of which many diverse people are frightened right now.” [Bustle, 3/14/17]

Some Media Outlets Focused On Personal Narratives From The Event In Their Coverage

Huff. Post: Speaker Telling Her Story For The First Time “Decided It Was Time To Speak Out In An Effort To Reduce The Stigma” Around Abortion. The Huffington Post shared two stories from the event, including an account from Anne Hopkins who said she “had an illegal, terrifying, pre-Roe abortion in Tijuana, Mexico” in 1965. Hopkins stated, “Now, when I see the assault on a woman’s private abortion decisions and the attempts to thwart her responsible contraceptive choices, I am beyond furious. So I lend my voice to protect our daughters.” Another speaker, Benny (no last name was given), said she decided to share her abortion story for the first time because “now more than ever we cannot afford to remain silent and let stigma invade the conversation around a procedure that one in three women will have in her lifetime.” From the March 21 article:

Benny, 26, had never really shared her abortion story with anyone before she told it to the world on Tuesday.

She was 20 back then, a college student in a physically abusive relationship. She hadn’t intended to become pregnant, and neither she nor her boyfriend felt prepared to raise a child. Plus, if she continued her pregnancy, she would “be forever linked to this other person who had done so much harm to me,” Benny told HuffPost.

Benny said that she never told anyone the reasoning behind her decision and that her parents still don’t know that she had an abortion. But in the current political climate, with Congress trying to limit reproductive rights and family planning services, she decided it was time to speak out in an effort to reduce the stigma around the procedure.

“The day after I had an abortion, my sister said, ‘I never thought you’d be one of those women,’” Benny said. “I think that ‘othering’ has always stayed with me. As much as I disagree with it, someone speaking to you in a lesser way because you’re choosing to access health care stayed with me.” [The Huffington Post, 3/21/17]

Refinery29: Highlighting Individual Abortion Stories Shows Logistical And Geographical Barriers To Abortion Access. Refinery29 detailed two women’s abortion stories to demonstrate the geographic and logistical barriers to abortion access that would emerge if Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortion returned to being exclusively regulated by the states. While a few states would protect access to abortion, other states would further restrict or completely halt abortions. Such an event would disproportionately impact low-income women because of the costs associated with traveling to a state with access to abortion. From the March 20 article:

Robin Lucas, a 27-year-old Speakout participant who says she's been an active pro-choice advocate for years in Washington, D.C., tells Refinery29 that she had her own abortion two years ago.

"I was 25, employed, insured, living with my significant other, and arguably adult enough if I had wanted to step into motherhood," Lucas says. "I absolutely did not."

Lucas says that living in D.C., she was privileged enough to have access to the care she needed — but that didn't mean the experience was any easier.

[...]

Lucas is sharing her experience, she says, because "our greater family needs to know that we're allowed to be leaders, bosses in this incredible justice community, and still share our deepest moments."

"I can know all of the abortion statistics and pro-choice information there is, but having the space in my choice to feel it is priceless," she says.

Maryon Rosha, another Speakout participant, says that when she sought an abortion at 26, living in Arizona meant that she had to jump through several hoops.

"In order to have an abortion I had to have an ultrasound, go through in-person counseling, a wait time after counseling and pay a total of $500 between the cost of the ultrasound and the pills,' she says.

Now 30, Rosha says she wanted to speak out about her experience to open up about the realities about abortion — especially in places where abortion is still stigmatized.

"This campaign to me is a means to make the topic of abortion less taboo and inform the general public about the realities of an abortion," she says. "A way to make members of congress aware of how regulation impacts average people like myself and maybe make them think twice before they vote based on feelings or beliefs instead of facts." [Refinery29, 3/20/17]

ThinkProgress: Speaker Candice Russell Spoke About Obtaining An Abortion In Texas, Which “Has Some Of The Most Restrictive Laws In The Nation.” Event participant Candice Russell told ThinkProgress that she began speaking out about her experience when Texas started passing more laws restricting abortion access. In addition to talking about her personal story, Russell also said the narratives pushed by pro-choice groups often focus on “white women, with wanted pregnancies, who are married, and who had a fetal abnormality and had to get an abortion. Which is a horrific thing to have happen. But also, not the case for every single person who has an abortion.” Russell is Latina, and, as ThinkProgress explained, “the majority of women who have abortions are, like Russell, women of color. Many are already mothers. Many of those most affected by restrictions ... are low-income women.” ThinkProgress also highlighted that “the vast majority of women who receive abortions are extremely certain about their decision” in contrast to a common right-wing media argument that women often change their minds about, or regret seeking, an abortion. From the March 21 article:

Texas, where [Candice] Russell lives, has some of the most restrictive laws in the nation. She had her abortion in 2013, shortly after Texas passed HB2. The law required all abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards — including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, anesthesia pipelines, and requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

[...]

But in 2013, when Russell needed an abortion after her IUD failed, the law made it nearly impossible for her to receive care.

“I was lucky and lived in Dallas, where we hadn’t seen any clinic closures at that time,” she told ThinkProgress. Still, there was an influx of patients from the other closed clinics, overburdening the Dallas clinics. “It was going to be two and a half to three weeks before they could even see me for my initial appointment.”

Complicating matters was the fact that Russell had been depending on an IUD, which commonly causes irregular periods. She didn’t discover she was pregnant until she was 12–13 weeks along. Texas law also required two visits to the clinic: One for an ultrasound, and one for the actual procedure.

[...]

So instead, she called a clinic in California, where her then-boyfriend lived. They could get her in immediately. She took out a high-interest payday loan for the ticket and got on a plane. Ultimately, that loan put her in a financial spiral it took two and a half years to get out of, costing her thousands, but she considers herself lucky for being able to get an abortion at all. [ThinkProgress, 3/21/17]

Newsweek: Speaker Anise Simon Shared Her Story To Show The “Complexities” Of Abortion. Speaker Anise Simon told Newsweek that she wanted her story “to change people’s minds about abortion,” particularly when it comes to who is telling the story. She explained, “Sometimes, folks who are having abortions are middle-class white folks who are law students, and sometimes there are people of color who are immigrants and in abusive relationships and those stories are just as valid and should be told.” By sharing her experience, Simon hoped to show the “complexities” of abortion stories. From the March 21 article:

One woman who will be sharing her story on Tuesday is Anise Simon, 27, who lives in Durham, North Carolina. When she was in her early 20s, she says she was in a “tumultuous” relationship that progressed into an abusive situation. Simon, a first-generation American from a West Indian family, was repeatedly discouraged by her African-American partner from contacting law enforcement: “He’d always told me to never call the cops on black man in America, and I believed him. So I didn’t, for a long time.”

She eventually became pregnant and sought an abortion. “I knew I didn’t want to be tied to this man for 18 years,” says Simon. “There are a lot of women in my family who have raised children with abusers and who have done a really good job, but I wanted the cycle to end with me.”

Simon’s story also includes the frustration of trying to obtain an abortion in North Carolina. She dealt with a 24-hour waiting period for the procedure (which has since increased to 72 hours) and a forced ultrasound, the image from which must be placed within a patient’s line of sight. Simon adds that the physician was required to ask her if she wanted to see it, which she did. Simon says she had to wait several days for her surgical abortion, because she couldn’t schedule an appointment without first having a consultation. The process was “really arbitrary and controlling” and “was a little psychologically stressful for me,” says Simon. [Newsweek, 3/21/17]

Elite Daily: Speaker Shae Jackson Told Her Abortion Story To “Teach Lawmakers The ‘Diversity Of Stories Is The Most Important Thing.’” Elite Daily highlighted the story of Shae Jackson, who was a sophomore in college when she had an abortion. She stated that while sharing her story, she thought “about people who have a lot more support than they think.” Jackson told Elite Daily that she hoped hearing about her experience would “teach lawmakers the ‘diversity of stories is the most important thing,’” and encourage them to have “nuance in how they do their lawmaking [about abortion].” From the March 22 article:

Shae Jackson, a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, was one of the women who told a story at the speakout on Tuesday.

She had to go off birth control because of blood clots.

When she was a sophomore, the 20-years-old got pregnant. She knew she didn’t “have the means to have a baby” and it was “not in my mind to have it at all.”

Jackson’s partner was on the same page. She went to a clinic and had an abortion.

She kept her abortion a secret from her parents for a year, thinking they wouldn’t approve. But when she told her mother about it, her mother told her own story and was only disappointed she couldn’t help her daughter through it.

Because of this experience, she decided to share her story with 1 in 3 and join the Lobby Day on Tuesday.

[...]

She hoped it would teach lawmakers the “diversity of stories is the most important thing they could ever realize.” There is no one abortion story. Every story is different.

Jackson hoped the day moved Congress to have “nuance in how they do their lawmaking, because there’s nuance in life and experiences, and they need to understand that.” [Elite Daily, 3/22/17]

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