Archive for June, 2009

When President Obama called for Americans to find “common ground” in the abortion debate, I thought of Exhale and our message of pro-voice. I know we can all stand on common ground, because I see it under our feet. On May 27, 2009, I and fellow Pro-Voice Ambassadors stood together on that common ground and advocated for research that supports the emotional well-being of each woman who has had an abortion. That day, I gave oral testimony before the National Institutes of Health at a regional meeting in San Francisco, which gave communities a voice in establishing research priorities for women’s health over the next 10 years. I asked that the Office of Women’s Health Research (NIH/OWHR) work to better understand what women, and their loved ones, need after an abortion in order to support their own emotional well-being.

The desire for the emotional well-being of women is common ground. It doesn’t require compromise of human rights or moral values and it doesn’t require the sacrifice of dearly held beliefs. The research agenda we proposed to the NIH/OWHR reveals this common ground by addressing three indisputable facts:

1. Millions of American women have already had abortions.
2. The personal experience of abortion can be emotional.
3. People want and deserve emotional well-being.

In my testimony, I spoke about my own experience searching for resources after my abortion, a journey that led me to found Exhale, the nation’s first organization dedicated to promoting emotional well-being after an abortion.

Danielle Thomas, a fellow Pro-Voice Ambassador and an Exhale counselor, spoke about her experiences on Exhale’s national, multilingual post-abortion talkline. We spoke about the important role of emotional health in overall health and well-being.

Finally, we provided recommendations for the research the NIH/OWHR should undertake to promote emotional well-being post-abortion, which includes the need to:

* Assess the psychological and emotional needs of women after an abortion.

* Evaluate the effects of different post-abortion emotional support models on a woman’s well-being.

* Examine men’s emotional experience with abortion.

* Understand the characteristics of healthy coping after an abortion in diverse communities.

* Explore the connection between the social experience and the emotional experience of abortion.

Common ground is not just a plan to be unveiled by the White House, known only to President Obama and his advisors. There is no such thing as a “common ground” political position. You cannot search for common ground or set it as a goal, like ending smoking or drunk driving. Common ground is what is real, truthful, and undisputed, and it is always beneath our feet. Our responsibility as pro-life, pro-choice, or pro-voice advocates is to notice it, acknowledge it, and seek to address it.

The need for this approach is clear when it comes to the emotional experience of abortion. For too long, the polarizing impulses of the abortion conflict have held this issue hostage. The facts – abortions have already happened, they can be emotional, and people want emotional well-being – have been turned into political fodder instead of being addressed seriously, comprehensively, and publicly as important information about a woman’s well-being. Consider the “regret vs. relief” stand-off about what “most women” feel after an abortion. The dichotomy serves political ends and helps differentiate opponents. What it doesn’t do is offer a way forward, or paint a picture of how the world would look and feel if these three indisputable facts were addressed.

Forcing the issue into either-or territory creates false choices, even in how to identify one’s own position on abortion: “Do I side with those who understand that abortion can be emotional, but who want to limit its availability, or do I side with those who try to make it more available but refuse to acknowledge its emotional impact?”

This has been a choice forced upon many Americans. It is one choice none of us should have to make. As Jon Stewart said in his recent interview with Mike Huckabee on The Daily Show, choosing sides on abortion often feels like a choice between “frenzied and maniacal or callous and indifferent.”

We deserve more, and better. There is common ground upon which to stand.

Instead of being forced into a false choice, Americans should feel confident that their legitimate concerns about indisputable facts are being taken seriously, and that the emotional well-being of women who have had abortions is being addressed, pro-actively.

This is what I want. This is why we started Exhale: to address the reality of abortion in women’s lives and to take a stand next to each and every woman who has had one. We call our work pro-voice, because it is the voices and experiences of those who have lived this issue that should drive the discussion. On The Daily Show, when Mr. Huckabee posed a question about how pregnant women think through their rights and responsibilities, what I wanted most was for the women who have called Exhale to have the chance to answer. Their voices could directly counter the problem with the abortion debate, which Mr. Huckabee described as generating “more heat than light.”

Of course, as Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, recently pointed out in a speech to Planned Parenthood, we should not push or prod people to speak out about a personal, stigmatized issue. This can in fact cause more pain and be detrimental to emotional well-being. Instead, respect and comfort are the best tools for helping people to build their confidence and resiliency. This is one more reason why it is important to directly address the facts through research, and create a deep and thorough understanding of women’s emotional experiences with abortion.

Forward-thinking leaders have already embraced this challenge. Tracy Weitz is leading a research effort at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California-San Francisco to better understand women’s emotional experiences with abortion, a project that Exhale was proud to join as a partner. Ms. Weitz is pro-actively addressing the indisputable facts – women have had abortions, abortion can be emotional, and people want emotional well-being – and ANSIRH’s investigation will help identify how best to respond to them. I hope more leaders will follow her example.

Research to promote emotional well-being after an abortion is common ground because there is nothing to compromise, no human right or moral value to sacrifice, no ground to give way. The only losers are those who fight to keep things the way they are.

But the winners! Let’s consider them. Americans will win because their concerns will be taken seriously, and they will reward forward-thinking leaders with new credibility, another win. Most important, women who have had abortions will win because there will be research, information and services to support their emotional well-being.

Undoubtedly, there will be big debates over President Obama’s common ground policy. I hope that leaders will remember that common ground – the indisputable facts: women have had abortions, abortion can be emotional, and people want emotional well-being – is always beneath our feet. All we have to do is look down, respond, and stand strong together.

This post was first published on RH Reality Check.


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Abortion is back in the news.

Dudes are debating each other about it on blogging-heads. RH Reality Check has launched a new Common Ground feature. And, we are anxiously awaiting what President Obama has to say in a yet to be unveiled plan to…well, that seems to be the question..what is the plan?

Its gotten me thinking…and reflecting back.

In our 7-short but mighty years of existence, Exhale has done an incredible amount of work to shift the dialogue around abortion. From our very first paper in 2005 (a must-read, if I do say so myself) describing the necessity and possibility of a Pro-Voice framework to the broad-array of work we do now, we have stayed true to our mission: to create a social climate more supportive and respectful of each woman’s unique experience with abortion.

Exhale has seen real, tangible results with our efforts. More women have more access to more emotional care than ever before. They have more outlets in which to get support, tell their story, and raise their voice in public dialogue. The emotional experience of abortion has been acknowledged in places where the issue was previously greeted with skepticism, and sometimes, frankly, scorn. New research, new clinic intake protocols and new blog features on abortion story-telling are just some of examples of change. I couldn’t be more pleased with all we’ve accomplished. I am that much more ready and inspired to keep going.

I feel as strongly as I did then, as I do now, that the voices of those who have helped to shape Exhale over the years are the voices describing our future. A look through their lens is a look through the lens of possibility. Many of our new supporters have not had the chance to read the words of those who have shaped Exhale’s work, and thus our current national dialogue around abortion.

In honor of all the people – allies, ambassadors, volunteers and advocates – who spoke out in recognition of the need to support women emotionally after-abortion, before it was convenient or popular to do so, I will re-publish their words here. Their voices have helped create an environment in which President Obama and his team can find open-minds for a new kind of agenda, a new tone, a transformed debate. It is what we all need.

I am proud to publish one of my favorites, from previous Exhale volunteer, Cristina Correa. She writes about how a culture that was once a place of judgment, can be transformed into a place of support. I believe this is possible and true.

Latinas: Building Support Within the Culture
By Cristina Correa

Family. Community. Religion

These are the very components of Latino culture. These are the elements that bring us together, that offer us support, that provide a sense of pride and strength. They let us know we are never alone, that we are always welcome.

This is the culture where family, community and church members, rally around young, unmarried women to insure Latino children are raised in caring, loving environments.

This is also the culture that shames Latinas who have abortions.

Growing up as a Latina in California, I knew many young, unmarried Latinas who had babies. While initially admonished for committing the sin of having premarital sex, these women could also count on their families playing an active role in helping her raise the child.

Abortion, on the other hand, was taboo. So was information about how to protect against STD’s and pregnancy. Rather than have these difficult but important conversations about our health, sexually active young Latinas just cross their fingers.

I began working in the reproductive and sexual health field because I wanted to work with Latina’s to create safe places to talk about and make decisions about traditionally taboo subjects, like abortion.

For every Latina who chooses to have a baby, knowing she will be supported, another Latina makes the decision to have an abortion en secreto. After an abortion, Latinas who have always looked to their families, communities and churches as places to receive love and support, instead feel isolated from them. Because most often these centers of culture are anti-abortion, Latinas often feel they must repress their feelings, “act normal,” and never discuss having an abortion.

The Latinas who have told me their story of abortion, whether in my work with Promotoras, providing abortion services or as a volunteer on the Exhale talkline, have talked about the silence and lack of support after an abortion. It is the perceived myths and social reactions to an abortion that can make the process emotionally difficult.

The silence around abortion has not stopped Latinas from having them. It has also not stopped them from going to church and needing the support of their families and communities. The same culture that makes the decision of abortion so difficult can also be the place of comfort and support to break the silence.

Nuestra familia. Nuestra comunidad. Nuestra Espirtualidad.

*This was first published in “Freedom to Exhale,” Summer 2004

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Travel to Oakland!

I have lived in Oakland for more than 10 years and I love it! I plan to stay. It’s home.

Doesn’t mean I can’t laugh at it (with it?) sometimes. This one had me rolling. Enjoy!

Filed under: Oakland Humor

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Recently, I got an email response about the soon-to-be-launched private Exhale Online Community for women who have had abortions, from a woman who worried that a “private online space” created more shame, not less. I shared with her Exhale’s belief that nonjudgmental support for women post-abortion is the best antidote to shame. Literally, within minutes I took the time to watch the following speech given by Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Princeton professor, about Race, Shame and Stigma.

In her speech Melissa says: Respect Counter Shames

She also gives the following directions for how to counter the feeling of shame:

– We should not force people to be open about their personal experiences, but instead soothe them.
– We should create communities of respect and knowledge across difference.
– And that to push people to speak out, to be public, in fact creates more anxiety and increases the need to withdraw.
– Our goals should be not to prove that we are right, but to listen carefully to what people are saying.

And finally, we must encourage and allow for Voice.

A strong case for Exhale’s Pro-Voice mission, I’d say.

Thank you Melissa!

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Thank you for this Cristina. It is so important. After such a violent act it can be easy – and feel good – to demonize political opponets and paint everyone who disagrees with your position as evil and the same as one violent fanatic. Thank you for your voice of reason and for your reminder to hold onto – and practice – our own values of understanding and respect even when they feel threatened and under attack.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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Today, I shared the following statement with Exhale’s Pro-Voice Supporters by email:

Dear Friends of Exhale,

Yesterday, a champion for women’s health and well-being, Dr. George Tiller, was murdered at his church in Wichita, Kansas. I am deeply saddened by this violent act and the tragic and unnecessary loss of his life. On behalf of everyone at Exhale, I extend our condolences to his family and friends, and to the community of abortion care providers who have supported and been inspired by Dr. Tiller’s commitment to compassionate care.

Dr. George Tiller, along with his staff at Women’s Health Care Services, provided excellent emotional care to their abortion patients. In-depth counseling, religious and spiritual guidance, time for reflection and trusted referrals to meet a range of patients needs are standard practice at his clinic. Their long-standing commitment to promoting the emotional well-being of their patients is a model of support and respect for each person’s unique experience with abortion. I am proud to say that Women’s Health Care Services was one of the first clinics to refer to Exhale.

I, along with other staff and volunteers of Exhale, have had the honor of meeting Dr. Tiller and his staff on several occasions, and the warmth of their hearts and their compassion for others shines brightly through their very presence, as well as their words and actions. I was struck by his commitment to his practice in the face of adversity, and that he continued to approach his work with love and abundance, not resentment or sacrifice. Exhale has sought to follow his lead to work joyfully without malice and in partnership with the women we serve. This is perhaps our greatest lesson and his greatest legacy. Thank you, Dr. Tiller.

Today, we at Exhale appreciate the enormous contributions of Dr. Tiller and the staff of Women’s Health Care Services to patient emotional care. We are inspired by his unwavering commitment to follow his passion and his heart in order to be of service to those in need. And, we remain dedicated to our mission of a social climate where every woman who has an abortion is supported and respected, and where she can live free of the fear, violence and intimidation that Dr. Tiller lived with every day.

In peace,
Aspen Baker

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