Archive for February, 2010

I was thrilled for the invitation to speak at the annual Roe V. Wade events of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic and Nassau County on January 27 and 28, 2010. A special thank you to Gina M. D’Andrea Weatherup, the Community Affairs and Advocacy Manager for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic who was a gracious host and is a great pro-voice advocate.

Joann Smith, President/CEO of Planned Parenthood Nassau County; Me!; Reina Schiffrin, President/CEO of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic

I asked Planned Parenthood if they would share any feedback from their supporters about my speech, and I was proud to receive such a positive response.

“Our Roe events this year, An Evening with Aspen Baker, were truly innovative and inspiring. Aspen’s presentation was thought-provoking and right on message in terms of the kind of support PPHP provides our clients. Aspen is a true leader in what I would call a new social movement for people who have experienced an abortion some time in their life – whether it be themselves or a loved one who made this choice. I do love Exhale’s view on transforming the discussion and focusing on peace. It seems the torch has been passed to a new generation of pro-choice women and men.”
– Reina Schiffrin, President/CEO, Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic

“Hearing bright, sensitive and articulate Aspen Baker speak so passionately about what drove her to establish her Exhale phone hotline was truly a breath of fresh air. Exhale affords both men and women a safe place to talk about their abortion experiences with people who can lend support for this difficult decision. Hats off!”
– Jane Golub

“I thought Aspen Baker was an impressive and articulate speaker whose program provides a way for people to communicate without rancor about a difficult subject. With the emphasis on the woman who has an abortion and needs a place to talk about her feelings and her experience, Aspen Baker‘s organization Exhale finally gives voice to many who are often confused and silenced. I wish there were more organizations like this to help people with talk and comfort instead of vilification and scorn. I was so pleased that PPHP gave the community a chance to meet her and hear about her efforts first hand.”
– Judy Widmann, Board Member, Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic

Thank you Planned Parenthood for inviting me to speak and for your work to promote the emotional wellbeing of women after an abortion.

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I had the pleasure of speaking at the Western Regional Conference for Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) at UCLA on Sunday, January 31st.

I started my presentation by doing something I never do, which is to outline what it was I would *not* be talking about. I’m not a lawyer or a policy advocate so I let them know I wouldn’t be speaking about rights or the law. Instead, I talked about the growing pro-voice movement and the importance of building a cultural climate that supports and respects each individuals unique experience with abortion. I talked about the role of stories, comforting those who have been stigmatized and the need to build community. I talked about the danger of a single story, shame and advocacy.

When a woman’s story with abortion is only seen as a tool to be used to further political goals, we erode the strength of our own social movement. Pro-Voice is a public stand with each and every woman who has had an abortion, no matter how much her story makes us uncomfortable. We are for all the stories.

Lauren Mendonsa, a Law Student and Member of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was present and wrote a blog post in response to the question I posed to the group:

“What do you think is the role of law students and the legal community in creating a more supportive and respectful social climate around abortion?”

She writes:

I don’t have a good answer to Aspen’s question, but it has prompted self-reflection and criticism of my profession, which teaches its members to speak on behalf of our clients, emphasizing the “good” facts, minimizing the “bad,” and discarding the irrelevant. A supportive environment around abortion requires listening to women’s stories without an ear toward the legal hook, and refraining from ascribing our own values to the details. I need to work on this, and I’m going to encourage my peers and colleagues to do the same. As the decades since Roe v. Wade have shown, a legal right to abortion does little to engender support for women who choose to have one.

I look forward to a pro-voice future where reproductive justice lawyers like Ms. Mendonsa take an active role in creating a social climate that is able and willing to listen and learn from all abortion stories.

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I founded Exhale in 2000 with four other women. I was 24-years old and a recent college graduate with a resume that included 14-years worth of jobs doing newspaper delivery, babysitting, waitressing, hostessing, baristing, bartending, housekeeping, and a short stint running the front office of an Alaskan bush-flying service. After completing 5-years of college (from three schools in two states), I was ready to continue with my life’s adventures and was working on landing a new job in Antarctica.

But, then, something I did not expect happened. I got pregnant. Then, I had an abortion. And I personally experienced how the politics of the debate had left women and their loved ones behind. The debate seemed less to do with exploring the role of abortion in our lives and more about trying to prove the other side wrong. I wondered what was possible if this trend was abandoned and replaced by efforts to build something positive and life-affirming.

I decided to try. The something eventually became Exhale and ten years later I am proud to continue serving as its Executive Director.

The story of my abortion and how it led me to found Exhale is well-documented, but this story is just one small piece of what has led me to build an effective organization with such a unique mission. The last ten years have been filled with enormous challenge, breathtaking inspiration, rigorous work and intense self-reflection towards my goal of practicing sustainable leadership with impact.

I have learned a lot about leadership. Leadership is not a paid position, a reward for doing something special, or another way to describe being in charge. Leadership is earned when we take responsibility and give top performance in everything we do. It has been a rewarding ten years of leadership at Exhale and I am thrilled to share some of what I’ve learned, overcome and celebrated.

Here are my Top 10 Leadership Highlights at Exhale in the 000’s.


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