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New Campaign Takes on Abortion Stigma by Encouraging Women to Share their Experiences

One-third of U.S. women will have an abortion in their lifetime, but nobody is talking about it — The 1 in 3 Week of Action hopes to change that.
 
 
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Photo Credit: By internets_dairy (Pro-choice demonstrators Uploaded by Night Owl) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Tuesday marks the beginning of the “ 1 in 3 Week of Action,” a grassroots effort to push back on the  pervasive abortion stigma that continues to impact women’s experiences with their reproductive health. Despite the fact that abortion is a very common aspect of women’s health care, many people feel like  they’re not allowed to talk openly about it — largely because they’ve internalized society’s shame-based message that having an abortion means  they’ve done something wrong. The events held during the “1 in 3 Week” hope to change that.

The campaign, organized by the national sexual health advocacy organization Advocates for Youth, hopes to bring more awareness to the fact that abortion is a more mainstream issue than most Americans realize. It draws its name from the fact that  one in three U.S. women will have an abortion at some point in her lifetime — and it wants to encourage those women to tell their stories.

“We need to have a conversation about abortion that is personal,” Deb Hauser, the executive director of Advocates for Youth, explained in a statement. “We are facing unprecedented cultural and legislative attacks on our rights. We must speak up about the need for these services. By sharing our stories — of students, moms, young professionals — we can change the conversation around abortion care.”

Indeed, many women’s health advocates believe that abortion stigma is directly related to the mounting attacks on women’s right to choose. An unprecedented number of abortion restrictions have been enacted over the past several years, and it often seems like the nation is regressing on this issue even after four decades under Roe v. Wade. Abortion stigma impacts the way that society talks about the procedure, and ultimately the way that  politicians legislate it. A greater number of women sharing their personal experiences with abortion  could help slowly reverse this dynamic, in a similar way that conservative lawmakers’ personal connections with LGBT individuals have helped encourage a shift toward more pro-equality policies.

In order to get those conversations going, the “1 in 3 Week” will mobilize more than 100 communities and campus across the country to help highlight individuals’ abortion experiences. College activists are planning events to provide a space for their peers to openly share their stories.

Carly Manes, who attends the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is one of those activists. Manes is helping to organize one of the country’s first “abortion speak-outs,” a public forum where students will be encouraged to talk about their abortion in a safe space. It’s a similar model as “ Take Back The Night,” which gives college students a forum to share their stories about sexual assault in a space where they can be assured they won’t be judged or blamed. Just like Take Back The Night helps the people who have survived sexual violence reclaim their agency and their voice, Manes hopes that this week’s abortion speak-out will do the same for the people who have chosen to end a pregnancy.

“It’s giving a voice back to the women and the trans men and the other individuals who have abortions,” Manes explained in an interview with ThinkProgress. “This way, politicians and the current national rhetoric can’t shut us out. We’re speaking about our stories and our lived experiences — which can’t be legislated, can’t be argued, and can’t be debated with the current anti-choice rhetoric that goes on in our country.”

The anti-choice community typically pushes the talking point that having an abortion is always detrimental to women’s mental health. But, as Maines points out, that claim isn’t necessarily supported by women’s actual experiences. Research surveying the individuals who have ended a pregnancy has  found that abortion itself doesn’t actually make women depressed or regretful. Most of them say that it was  the right choice for them, and they felt grateful to have control over their reproductive freedom.