Posts Tagged ‘Organizing’

Recently, a long-time friend, coach and colleague asked me for my recommendations on how she can become a super social media guru.  She’s a nonprofit consultant with vast expertise and wants to grow her skills and experience to continue to be the great resource she already is to her clients. (more…)

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Feminist blogger Kate Harding often takes issue with how cynical the progressives on Daily Kos write about abortion politics, but on Nov. 10, they found some common ground. Two days after the House voted to approve health care reform and the Stupak Amendment, which seemed to catch so many by surprise, Kate wrote on Salon and David Waldman wrote on Daily Kos that the passage of Stupak was entirely predictable. Not a shock. Not a surprise. Disappointing, frustrating, and infuriating, perhaps, but certainly, they agreed, everyone should have seen the Stupak Amendment coming.

According to David, the “lavishly-funded national network of professional abortion rights advocacy groups … somehow found themselves blindsided and rolled by a situation that was 100% predictable (not to mention 35 years in the making).” And Kate wrote, “We were rolled with, like, 35 years of advance warning” and she decried Democrats who “will sacrifice pretty much everything they claim to believe in, just because the words ‘Democratic majority’ sound so much better than the alternative.”

Let’s all get over our collective surprise and admit we need an entirely new strategy. The Stupak Amendment represents our decades-long national reality: deep political divisions about abortion rights and moral judgments against women who have had abortions. If we really want different results, we need different strategies. We can’t count on a president, professional lobbyists, or politicians to transform the abortion conflict or assure justice. We can’t even count on ourselves if our only strategy is to “get angry and gear up for a fight.” What we need to do is change the conversation about abortion.

If we don’t fundamentally and proactively change the conversation we risk deepening political divisions and forcing more people to their own sides, leaving out, yet again, the silenced voices we need most: the voices of women who have had abortions.

If we want to transform the conflict, the voices of these women need to take center stage. A true conflict-transformation approach, according to Eyal Rabinovitch, an expert on this approach, “focuses less on solving the conflict than changing how we engage with one another when we are in it. [It works by] giving voice to all affected by a given conflict and enabling open communication between them.”

Note that it does not work by giving voice to those “who speak on behalf of” or “advocate for” a particular group; those speakers certainly have not been silenced in public discussion. Neither are their voices the ones who need reassurance of open communication. Conflict transformation does not try to force opponents to comprise or agree with each other.

A conflict transformation approach on abortion enables open communication for those who have personally experienced abortion, the people whose voices have been silenced most as a result of the Abortion War. Today’s abortion conflict replaces their voices with stigma, isolation, judgment, myths, stereotypes, and the belief that women are best used as case studies to “prove” that one side or the other is right. Every day at Exhale, the organization I lead, women and their loved ones call our national talkline after an abortion to find the nonjudgmental comfort and support they are unable to find in their everyday lives. At Exhale, we witness the personal impact of this war on a woman’s life and her well-being.

Conflict transformation ensures that every story, every voice, is heard, and that each person’s dignity and humanity is respected.

We transform conflict when we take a public stand for each and every woman who has had an abortion, despite how uncomfortable her story makes us feel, or how inconvenient her truth may be to our position. We humanize the issue of abortion when we create room for those who have had abortions to feel supported, respected, and connected to one another.

Personal stories have the potential to change the way we think about abortion and the women who have them, and we must elicit them with openness and an authentic desire to learn. Because it is through personal stories that we can explore the real impact of abortion—positive, negative, and everything in between—in the lives of women and their families, and find new solutions to promote their health and well-being.

We should expect this new strategy to be messy—in fact, we should hope for that. Thelar Pekar, a communications expert, writes: “Story sharing, if done correctly, results in chaos. … Story begets story, which begets story, which eventually … begets chaos. [We should be] surprised, delighted, and frightened by what [we hear.]. Only then, out of chaos, will clarity, innovation, and/or change emerge.”

The impact of this approach on our cultural conversation about abortion will not be predictable like the Stupak Amendment or the political motivations of Democratic leaders. It gives us a real choice with real consequences, just like abortion: we can choose the same battles and get entirely predictable results or we can take a risk and try different strategies with unpredictable outcomes. Listening to personal abortion stories and enabling communication between women who have had abortions is messy, and it grows the possibilities for peace.

This is Pro-Voice.

If you want to be a part of transforming the abortion conflict and building peace, start by being pro-voice in your online discussions about abortion. Here are 5 simple tips:

• Be Authentic—Speak from your own personal experience.
• Be Respectful—Be aware of times you’re reinforcing an “us-versus-them” mentality.
• Avoid Jargon—It tends to be alienating at worst and boring at best.
• Remember Your Readers—Online, your readers could be your friends or family, even your daughter or mother. What would you want them to read?
• Practice Self-Care—If you find yourself drawn into a frustrating or infuriating online discussion, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to back away.

Whether or not you have personally experienced abortion, you can be a champion for women’s voices. Speak from your own personal experience and tell a story about a time you felt heard, truly heard. How did it change the conversation? How did it change your life?

The Abortion War today needs this pro-voice strategy. Instead of seeking only political solutions—where we end up “blindsided” by political sacrifices like the Stupak Amendment—we need a strategy for deep, fundamental culture change. We need to transform hearts and minds.

We start by taking the idea of the Abortion War seriously. Very, very seriously. We must recognize that we are a nation deep in conflict, and instead of trying to win with politics, we must work towards building peace. I believe we can do that by being pro-voice.

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A woman who has had an abortion and who goes online in search of support and connection will undoubtedly find everything that is wrong with the abortion debate in this country. Shame, stigma, anger, violence, and judgment around abortion are the status quo online. Imagine if instead each woman found what she really needs: respect and understanding. Exhale envisions a better online world for women and their loved ones post-abortion and we need your help!

Exhale is in the running to receive a free, new website through the Free Range Youtopia Grant program, worth $15,000! There are more than 400 great ideas competing for the prize, and we need your vote!

Vote for Exhale today and you will take us one-step further towards our goal of a new social website that champions listening, promotes storytelling and builds empathy for every woman who has had an abortion.


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I live in Oakland, California and I love it. Lake Merrit is one of my favorite spots. Because I grew up on the ocean I need to be around water and so I always pretend the Lake is the ocean. It works, especially on hot summer days.

If you haven’t been here, you should check it out the next time you visit the Bay Area. There is a gondola, a bird sanctuary, and it’s regularly used for exercise. Families, women, men, couples, and people with dogs, strollers or on bikes take the 3-mile journey around the Lake on a daily basis.

Sometimes, driving by at night, I will see a man running, alone, listening to his music on an ipod. And I will be jealous. So jealous.

I will be jealous because that man is doing something that I will never in my life have the chance to experience. I will never run, alone, around the Lake at night, oblivious to my surroundings while enjoying music on my ipod. Never. Not a chance.

Not because it’s Oakland. Because I am a woman and rape is always a threat.

I was probably about 12-yrs old the first time I took a self-defense class. I learned a lot of tricks to stay aware of my surroundings and how to fight back. But the thing that sticks out most in my mind all these years later is what I was told to scream, should I ever find myself attacked.

“Never,” the instructor said, “should you yell RAPE. Always, yell FIRE.” If you yell RAPE, no one wants to be involved, but if you yell FIRE, everyone wants to be a hero.

To this day, if I ever find myself walking to my car at night, alone, I repeat “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE” in my mind over and over in case someone attacks me. I want to be ready with the right word. I want someone to want to be a hero.

The fact that I haven’t been raped has everything to do with luck. It could happen at any time, in any city, day or night. These are the statistics. While never running alone at night or being prepared to yell FIRE may make me feel better and more in control, I don’t know that it’s actually lowering my risks of being attacked.

When I look back on life, especially all the times I was drunk in high school hanging out with the guys, I’m actually quite amazed that I escaped without assault. How sad is it, that I see this as lucky, instead of normal? I know it’s not normal. Almost every friend of mine from high school has a story, a story of a time when they felt threatened, when they went farther than they wanted to because they were afraid, and when they were forced to perform against their will. Almost every friend. I don’t think a single one of them ever reported it. We probably just avoided those guys in the future. We didn’t go to their party.

When I think about how lucky I am to have escaped rape on those drunken nights in high school, I know that I have yet to escape the threat of rape. No one really does. Even if I make it to 90, rape-free, and end up in a nice, quiet nursing home, my chances of being abused may have actually increased. Sexual assault and abuse of elders is on the rise.

This is what it’s like to be a woman in a rape culture.

When I think of the young woman in Richmond who was attacked, it is hard for me to describe my feelings. Pain. Agony. Sadness. Horror.

I think of all the women I talked to when I was a sexual assault counselor at BAWAR, and I know that healing is possible, and I know the road can be long.

I think about her family, her friends, and her community. I think about the family members of those young men who attacked her and how mortified and disappointed they must feel and I know that healing is possible for them too and that their road is also long.

Rape is not only a product of urban environments. Neither is being bystander. It is not just young black men perpetuating violence against young women. Rape happens in every community, in every environment, within and between every race. It is worldwide.

Rape, as every anti-violence advocate knows, is never about sex and always about power and control. It is used as a weapon. It is used to intimidate and to hurt others. It can be used by a husband against a wife, a famous celebrity against a promiscuous groupee, an uncle against a niece, a militia against a community, a prisoner against a fellow inmate. It knows no bounds across race or sexual orientation – straight men can rape other straight men.

It’s about power, not about sex.

None of these forms of rape are acceptable. It will not be OK for these young men to have done to them in jail what they did to the young woman. Violence as revenge, to exert power and control, is not the way to transform a culture from one that accepts rape as the status quo into a culture that supports bystanders willing to intervene when someone yells – or sees – RAPE.

Most of all, it does not help to have people like Deepak Chopra say on national television that these rapists and bystanders are emotionally retarded. This makes my stomach hurt. If one in six women will be assaulted in their life, we are all bystanders. We have all stood by and watched, and laughed and took pictures because if we haven’t done something to end violence against women and communities of color, then we may as well have. Because we’re standing by, letting it happen.

So, what do we do? We do as Akua Jackson, Director of Programs for Youth Together said in her CNN interview: we all take responsibility. Parents, teachers, youth, organizations, law enforcement, elected officials, clergy, community members. Preventing rape, stopping rape, is everyone’s responsibility.

Each of us can stop being a bystander. We can be an ally. An advocate.

What I remember most from my days as a rape-crisis counselor was how few women who are raped are believed, and how few report (and often, for good reason). The primary thing we did on the BAWAR hotline is believe callers when no one else would. Rape is so horrible and unimaginable in most of our minds that we would rather play tricks on ourselves than deal with the reality of a rape of someone we love, or of the truth of someone we love being a rapist.

That night in Richmond, it seems that every single person made the wrong choice. The wrong choice to rape. The wrong choice to watch. The wrong choice to laugh. The wrong choice not to act.

Luckily, we get to make the right choice.

We can start by showing our support for this community and these families and the many people, leaders, youth and organizations who have made significant progress in creating a safer, more just community in Richmond. We can let them know we are with them and we believe.

Community Healing Event and Candlelight Vigil at Richmond High School

What: Community Healing Event
When: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Where: Richmond High School (back Football Field), 1250 23rd Street, Richmond, CA
Who: Students, Teachers, Community Leaders, and Public Officials

Then, perhaps, I can achieve my dream. To run at night, alone, without fear. And a smile.

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I couldn’t agree more.

Glamour Magazine is well on its way to becoming my favorite magazine of all time. It was just a few short months ago that they featured the stories of women post-abortion. Now, they seek advice from experts on conflict resolution in order to create a more “thoughtful and productive dialogue” in a special editorial on page 207 of their September issue (featuring Jessica Simpson on the cover).

Glamour Mag’s Top 5 Tips for Productive Dialouge include:

Respect the Other Side. Believe others care like you do.
Go Ahead. Make it About You. Tell a Personal Story.
Wait. Listen Really Listen (not just wait to talk).
Don’t Let it Escalate No Hate Speech.
Realize the Debate Is Worth It. We can all grow from these experiences.

Sure looks to me like Glamour Magazine is practicing a Pro-Voice approach to their abortion coverage.

But not all dialogue happens in person. These days more dialogue is taking place online. That’s why back in April, Exhale published 5 Tips to be Pro-Voice Online to support the online organizing of peace-makers and pro-voice advocates.

If you agree with me and Glamour Magazine that its time to create abortion peace, then practice the 5-steps for peace outlined by Glamour, and head online with these 5-tips to be Pro-Voice from Exhale:

Be Authentic
Be Respectful
Avoid Jargon
Remember Your Readers
Practice Self-Care

Together, we can, as Glamour Magazine says, “learn to talk about our differences.”

Michael John Aloi, the President-elect of the Assocation for Conflict Resolution, wisely asserts that “being able to have meaningful discussions with someone whose beliefs are the opposite of yours can be rewarding. You can grow from it. You can become more tolerant – just be listening. And that’s its own reward.”

Thanks Glamour. Keep it up! Can’t wait for the next Pro-Voice article.


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Ten years ago this week, I had an abortion.

At the time, as most of my readers know by now, there was very little attention paid to the emotional experiences of women post-abortion. Some clinics provided counseling sometimes, but there was no universally-accepted standard of emotional care being promoted or adopted by abortion or other reproductive health providers. Some research on women’s emotions around abortion had been done, but mostly it was done to determine if abortion alone could cause mental illness. It doesn’t. There was basically no political discussion, public message or communications strategy intended to honor or reflect the diverse emotional experiences women have with abortion. Instead, most pro-choice political advocates, when called to comment on women’s emotional experiences said some version of: “most women feel relief.” Not untrue. But not enough.

This was the landscape into which I entered the “world of all things abortion-related” when me and my co-founders decided to start Exhale. These were the problems we saw. We addressed them with a three-tiered strategic response:

1) to provide direct emotional support to women post-abortion and help others do the same;

2) advocate for increased research on women’s emotional experiences with abortion to create more understanding and acceptance and;

3) to shift the public and political discussion around abortion so that it is based in women’s real, lived experiences.

As advocates and leaders, it can often be hard to see, or document, your impact on the mission you set out to achieve. Over the last 10-years, there are many things that I can look back upon and say, that as a result of Exhale, something has changed. I can think about all the women and men who found someone to listen when no one else would by calling Exhale. I think about all the amazing volunteers who have been a part of growing our organization and the personal and professional rewards they have experienced as a result of their contributions. I think about every pro-voice article and blog post that let women know they matter, that their voices, feelings and experiences matter. I think about the chills I get every time I hear someone else say “pro-voice” or “women who have had abortions” or “the emotional experience of abortion” because none of these things were accepted, understood or important topics of public conversation. All of these things help me see the difference Exhale has made over the last 10-years since I had my abortion.

Exhale was able to make this difference because so many people cared to be a part of making change. Women and men from all walks of life saw the value – or personally experienced the need for – listening to the voices of women after abortion. These people came to Exhale to serve as volunteers, board members, staff, consultants, donors, allies, advocates and ambassadors. Or perhaps, they never came directly to Exhale because they found a way to carry the message in their own way because it was their message all along. The idea of pro-voice – of listening to the voices of those most impacted by an issue, of those who have lived it – is not a new concept, it just hadn’t been applied to abortion recently.

I am also proud of how Exhale has become a place for kindred spirits to gather together in order to use our individual strengths and talents to pursue a shared mission, a shared goal. Together, we have truly become champions for women who have had abortions and for their voices to shape the debate.

And, there is one thing, one change, one impact, in particular that makes me downright giddy. There is one thing that feels big, big, big and super duper important. Its exactly the kind of thing I had hoped would happen and didn’t know exactly how to make it happen. It helps me see that change is always possible.

The Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health Program at UCSF has launched a whole research program area on the “Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion.” Under this umbrella they have a number of different research projects designed to “contextualize and depolarize the debate around women’s emotional responses to abortion.”

This is how ANSIRH describes the program:

The Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion (SEAA) Program is a collection of research projects aimed at understanding how women’s lived experiences of abortion are influenced by their own life situations; by the attitudes and actions of others; by viewpoints women encounter or expect to find in their immediate communities, in the media, or on the internet; and by judicial, political, religious, and scientific debates regarding abortion.

Projects in the SEAA program utilize both qualitative and quantitative research methods to investigate women’s anticipated feelings about having an abortion, the feelings they experience during their abortion care and afterward, the availability, timing and types of social and emotional support for women who have abortions, and the challenges that abortion providers face in meeting women’s social and emotional needs related to abortion care. Projects in the SEAA program are also concerned with social stigma surrounding abortion and how women experience and manage stigma when they have had an abortion.

Ten years after my abortion, the emotional experience of women who have had abortions is front and center in reproductive health research.

Yeeee hawwwww!!!!

Ten years from now, I look forward to pointing out how women’s voices are front and center in the abortion discussion.

Double Yeee Hawwww!!!

Celebrate with me!

This celebration would not be complete without recognizing one person in particular: Tracy Weitz, the Director of ANSIRH. You can’t run a program if you can’t fund it, and you can’t fund it unless you fundraise for it, and you won’t fundraise for it unless you prioritize it. To Tracy – thank you for making it a priority!

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The National Institutes of Health is hosting a series of regional meetings across the nation to gather input and ideas from scientists and communities about their research priorities to promote women’s health. The University of California, San Francisco, is hosting one of these meetings next week, during its conference: Moving Into the Future – New Dimensions and Strategies for Women’s Health Research for the National Institutes of Health

On Wednesday, May 27th, there is to be a public hearing which provides the opportunity for “individuals representing organizations with an interest in research areas related to women’s health to provide written and/or oral testimony.”

I am very excited to report, that I, along with Exhale Talkline Volunteer, Danielle Thomas, will both be presenting oral testimony about the need for research t0 promote wellbeing after an abortion. Another Talkline Volunteer, Elsa Valmidiano, submitted written testimony. All of our testimonies will become a part of public record.

I am happy to provide you with the full text of my written testimony:

In a recent New York Times interview about health care, President Obama said: “Consumers have gotten more active in their own treatments in a way that’s very useful. And I think that should continue to be encouraged. To the extent that we can provide consumers with more information about their own well-being, that, I think, can be helpful. ”

My name is Aspen Baker and I am here to testify and advocate for research to better understand what women, and their loved ones, need after an abortion in order to support their own emotional well-being.

I am the founder and Executive Director of Exhale (www.4exhale.org), an Oakland, California-based national nonprofit organization which provides direct emotional support services to women and their loved ones after an abortion.

Our service is nonjudgmental and without political affiliation. Our mission is to create a social climate in which each person’s unique experience with abortion is respected, supported, and free from stigma. We call that mission “pro-voice.”

Exhale is a nationally renowned, award-winning, multilingual organization. We have been featured in Glamour magazine, The New York Times magazine, and on National Public Radio and CNN, among many others. We are currently partnering with the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at UCSF to study women’s emotions after an abortion, a research project that is the first of its kind.

In my testimony today, I will:

• share my own personal experience with abortion, which led me to found Exhale;
• describe the work of Exhale and what we have learned from women regarding their own well-being after an abortion;
• describe the social and political landscape in which abortions take place today, and how Americans’ view of emotional health has changed;
• explain how past research on abortion and mental health falls short;
• and explain what new research is necessary for women’s health and well-being today.

Personal Experience Led to the Founding of Exhale and a Nonjudgmental Talkline

Ten years ago in August, I had an abortion. I was 23 years old, I had just graduated from college, and I made what was for me the very difficult decision to end my pregnancy. After the abortion, I remember feeling relieved that the angst-ridden decision-making process had finally come to an end, as well as the unfamiliar medical procedure, which I had been dreading, to say the least.

I also remember feeling totally surprised that nowhere in the chain of medical services did anyone talk to me about what I might expect to feel afterward, or what I could do to take care of myself emotionally. No one offered me any resources to contact afterward for counseling, should I need to. My abortion, while a simple medical procedure, was personally, a very emotional one, and I wanted support in acknowledging and processing those feelings.

When I looked for resources myself, I found instead politically and emotionally charged services that claimed to support me if I felt traumatized, or if I felt liberated. Nowhere did I find sound, helpful information grounded in credible research into women’s real experiences after abortion.

Today’s Social and Political Landscape, and New Beliefs About Emotional Health

What I didn’t know then, but what I know now, is that I was not alone – either in my abortion experience, or in my search for information about my own emotional well-being.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion remains one of the most commonly performed medical procedures in the United States, and approximately one in three women will have one in her lifetime.

In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million abortions in 2000. In 2005, 208,430 women obtained abortions in California, a rate of 27.1 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The rate declined 13% since 2000, when it was 31.2 abortions per 1,000 women 15-44. Abortions in California represent 17.3 of all abortions in the United States. In short, abortion is incredibly common.

And yet, as we all know, abortion is so much more than a simple medical procedure. It is at the center of a major political and moral debate that has been raging for decades. The debate raises important questions about our ideals and our values around human rights, women’s health, and fetal life. Human dignity is also at stake in this debate, as opposing sides attack each other on emotional, political, and social grounds. In fact, as we all know, the conflict over abortion can be so intense that it is commonly referred to as a war.

But while this “war” around abortion has raged, American life has changed dramatically. Research shows we’ve increased our emotional intelligence, our emotional IQ. We have gained a respect, understanding, and a vocabulary for feelings about a whole range of life events, and we see the importance of being able to identify, share, and process those feelings. We want to know how to be physically and emotionally well, through good times and bad, and we expect our health care providers to be able to give us the information, resources, and support that helps us experience well-being. We also take a much more active role in our own health, as President Obama said in his interview.

But when it comes to abortion, no research exists to help us do that. We need new scientific research to better understand what women, and their loved ones, need after an abortion in order to support their own emotional well-being, and help them take a leadership role in their own care.

What Women and Health Care Providers Are Telling Exhale

I founded Exhale in 2000, and in 2002, we launched the nation’s first post-abortion talkline, here in the Bay Area, that is neither religion-based nor politically affiliated. My co-founders and I envisioned Exhale as a safe space for every woman who has had an abortion, and her loved ones, across the range of experiences, beliefs, and political persuasions. At Exhale, we believe that after an abortion, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, you deserve to have your own unique experience seen and heard, and to get what you need for your long-term emotional well-being. This is the “pro-voice” message.

Exhale’s national, multilingual talkline is operated by trained peer counselors who have undergone extensive training in our empowerment-based model. The number one way people learn about our service is through direct referral from abortion providers throughout the nation. The second – and the fastest growing – way people learn about our service is through the Internet. They find Exhale after searching for “abortion counseling,” “after abortion support,” and “women after abortion,” among many other terms.

We know that after an abortion, many women go online to search for ways to share, connect, and communicate about their personal experience with others who can relate to them and support them in a nonjudgmental and respectful way. We believe this is a positive trend that can produce even more support for women if they also find, in addition to nonjudgmental services like Exhale, sound and helpful information that is the result of good research.

Since its launch in 2002, Exhale’s post-abortion talkline has received more than 18,000 calls. We reach more than 35,000 women every year through our outreach and education efforts. We have trained more than 100 Bay Area women to be volunteer counselors on our talkline, and we recently received an award for “Excellence in Nonprofit Volunteer Management” from the Volunteer Center of the Bay Area.

Because of Exhale, women now have more access to nonjudgmental emotional support after an abortion than ever before. At a clinic, they are now more likely to speak to a staff person who is trained to discuss emotions around abortion, and they are more likely to receive a referral to the Exhale talkline or other nonjudgmental resources. Previously unheard of resources are now available to them: They can read other women’s stories online in our zine and in several mainstream media publications thanks to our outreach; they can send or receive a post-abortion e-card that recognizes their unique experience; and they can engage in pro-voice advocacy by sharing their personal abortion stories in a public forum, like a blog or web video channel hosted by a nonjudgmental resource.

Exhale’s efforts over the past seven years have made a significant difference in the lives and emotional well-being of women who have had abortions, and their loved ones. They are able to take a leadership role in their own well-being. But there’s more to be done.

We need you, the National Institutes of Health, to join us in our mission to understand, acknowledge, and support the emotional needs of women post-abortion. We need research that helps us better understand women’s emotional experiences, and that provides women with the helpful information they need to support their own well-being, and their own mental and reproductive health.

Why Past Research Is Not Enough

Since the 1970s, research regarding women’s emotions around abortion has focused on whether abortion, on its own, has negative consequences for women’s mental health, and it was meant to serve one side of the political debate or the other.

Famously, the Surgeon General under President Regan determined that despite the popular claim that abortion has negative consequences on women’s psychological health, the data behind that claim was insufficient. Most recently, in 2008, the American Psychological Association completed another review of existing literature, and concluded there is no evidence of negative mental health effects from abortion. They found that the research that did show negative emotional impact had severe methodological flaws that made the data unreliable. Further scientific inquiry into women’s mental health after an abortion has found other predictors for poor mental health outcomes, including pre-existing mental health conditions, a lack of social support, a lack of self-esteem, and the heated public controversy around abortion, just to name a few.

It is safe to say that there is scientific agreement that abortion, on its own, rarely causes severe negative outcomes for a woman’s mental health.

But what else about women’s emotional well-being after an abortion has been determined by science, beyond the fact that abortion, on its own, does not damage women’s mental health? At a time when the emotional experience of any life event is publicly accepted as important and relevant to our overall health and wellness, there remains a great deal to be studied and researched about abortion.

Today, more than ever, there is a great need for sound, thorough research into women’s emotional well-being after an abortion: The abortion procedure is so common, the families and communities impacted are so diverse, the debate around abortion is so loud, and the overwhelming stigma – which, according to NIH’s own definition, “threatens psychological and physical well-being, and helps to perpetuate health inequalities within societies” – is so harmful that it is time for the National Institutes of Health to proactively address the emotional needs of women who have abortions, by using its support and resources to undertake and share sound, thorough research into women’s real experiences.

This research would:

• 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.

Why This Research Matters

It is critical that the National Institutes of Health address emotional and mental health as part of its strategies to promote women’s health and wellness. And when an issue is as common and as contentious as abortion, it is even more critical: not only can research promote long-term emotional well-being, it can also dispel politically and emotionally charged claims that distract from emotional well-being.

Benefits of this research include the following:

• Provide medical and emotional care providers with the information we need to support patients’ emotional resiliency and well-being in the long term.

• Provide intimate partners, family members, and communities with information about how to be a source of comfort and support for their loved ones and each other.

• Provide women with the tools and information to make well-informed decisions about our health, including pregnancy and abortion, and strategies to promote our own emotional well-being.

• Provide information to women and health care providers about appropriate interventions and responses when a woman does have negative emotional consequences after an abortion.

As a woman who has had an abortion, as the co-founder of an organization that now serves thousands of women and men each year, and as a peer counselor who has listened to many women share their stories and their feelings after an abortion, I know that Exhale has already met a need, just by providing safe, nonjudgmental emotional support for women and men after an abortion.

But I also know that we need to do more. We need to provide women and men with the kind of helpful, well-researched information that supports their well-being after an abortion. We need sound, detailed research that addresses the broad range of experiences and feelings people have around abortion, immediately afterward and far into the future. We need research that reflects the real experiences of people like the women and men who call Exhale to share their stories, receive emotional support, and achieve emotional well-being.

Today, I call on the National Institutes of Health to join us in this work. I ask the NIH to take a leadership role, as only it can, in providing the research and information that will help today’s health care providers and patients achieve emotional well-being after abortion.

Pro-Voice Ambassador Danielle Thomas

Danielle volunteers in many capacities for Exhale, her main role is as a talkline counselor. Currently she is a Program Associate, specializing in family financial stability, at United Way of the Bay Area (UWBA). Danielle focuses on partnering and building relationships with Bay Area nonprofits that help the community thrive. Prior to UWBA, Danielle was a Patient Advocate at Whole Woman’s Health, a clinic specializing in abortion. Through this work she was exposed to both the medical and emotional sides of abortion. Danielle has long held a passion for women’s reproductive health and since her work with Exhale, has developed a strong passion for evolving the abortion conversation.

In her written testimony, Danielle writes:

“I’m so glad this service exists” is a statement I hear frequently as a counselor on the Exhale talkline. Many times women have no support or safe space to speak about their abortion experience. Exhale provides that support and space, and I continually bear witness to the positive impact the counseling model has on the emotional health of our callers.

A prevalent emotion in my calls is one of surprise. Women are surprised that the feelings they’re having are experienced by others, that abortion happens a lot and that people still aren’t talking about it. These simple facts are surprises because as a society we still haven’t made it okay to talk about abortion in a safe and understanding way. These women, and the people in their lives, desperately want to connect with others who’ve had similar experiences. Women with abortion experiences long for a place where they can be understood and accepted.

The Exhale talkline allows callers to share their story free from judgment and stigma, and the more shifts I have, the more I realize this environment isn’t available anywhere else. The lack of availability of this thinking and space coupled with the impact I see drives me to dedicate myself to Exhale and its mission more and more. This environment and the “pro-voice” spirit are true catalysts for change.

Pro-Voice Ambassador Elsa Valmidiano:

(Elsa, at right, doing outreach for Exhale)

Elsa is a poet and Los Angeles native. She currently resides in Oakland volunteering at various feminist and pro-choice organizations throughout the Bay Area. In 2008, Elsa received Exhale’s Rachel Falls Compassion Award which is given annually to a talkline counselor who best embodies the spirit and values of Rachel Falls: exuberance, strength, empathy, commitment, vision and compassion.

In her testimony, Elsa writes:

In 1997, I had an abortion. Openly making that statement is ironic to me because for several years I could not talk about it and kept it a secret.

When I became pregnant, I was 19-years-old and in an abusive relationship. My parents were strict, conservative, devout Filipino Catholics. They had no idea I was even in a relationship at the time. Sex and relationships were never discussed in my household but I learned that the very idea of being pregnant and unmarried was an absolute shame and disappointment, not just upon a daughter, but on an entire family. A small part of me wanted that baby at 19, but I could not live with the shame and disappointment for the rest of my life.

It was very easy to hide these things from my parents because I was away at college. Having grown up in a tight-knit Filipino community, I also did not feel comfortable sharing my abortion with my friends back home for fear of being criticized, judged, and outted. In the end, I felt my relationship, pregnancy, and abortion were absolutely outside the realm of what anybody would accept and understand about me. The result was that I suffered from the emotional scars of my abortion because there were no safe spaces available for me to openly talk about it. Because I could not talk about it, I felt I could not completely heal.

When I moved to the Bay Area, I sought volunteer opportunities and was thrilled when I found Exhale. Finally, I thought, here is a non-judgmental organization that provides a wonderful service with valuable information and referrals. Exhale is a service I wish had existed for me in 1997.

Volunteer Experience as an After-Abortion Counselor

On the talkline, there are so many reasons why women have abortions. Some cannot financially afford raising a child, whereas others feel they are not ready for motherhood due to school, their career, or they do not have the support of a partner to raise a child. While these are just some of the reasons, under whatever circumstance that compels a woman to terminate her pregnancy, most women whom I’ve encountered on the talkline feel that they do not have the emotional support to see them through after the procedure. While abortion can be a difficult decision for any woman to make, it can even be more difficult to deal with one’s emotions following an abortion.

After listening to more than one hundred women on the talkline and looking back at my own personal experience with abortion, I never want anyone to face the isolation and loneliness that haunted me for many years. For me, being a counselor for Exhale is a great honor where I can provide a safe space to callers marking a healing process, as well as a validation process, for many. For those that feel relief and empowerment in contrast to sadness and guilt following an abortion, every woman deserves validation for whatever emotion she is feeling.

By listening to people’s abortion stories, we learn there is no one type of woman that has an abortion. Abortion exists on an individual case-by-case basis where reasons and circumstances cannot be lumped into one. Oftentimes, when I have encountered people at school or in the workplace who talk about abortion, they presumptuously think that it happens to other people, but not me. By listening to people’s abortion stories, we break down stereotypes and we bring it down to each and every person’s unique experience where we are not just like everybody else.

Exhale invites pro-voice supporters to join Pro-Voice Ambassadors (like the ones pictured below) to show up for the hearing and demonstrate your support for our research priorities. Together, we can make sure every woman who has had an abortion gets the best information she needs to support her own emotional wellbeing.

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Amanda Marcotte from RH Reality Check invited me to join her in a recorded debate/conversation about the differences and similarities between pro-choice and pro-voice. A staunch pro-choice advocate, Amanda questioned the pro-voice approach earlier this year, in an article on RHRC. While Amanda and I do not always see eye-to-eye, we both believe in respectful – and transparent – debate. In our discussion, I talk about what pro-voice is and is NOT, and address issues of common ground, the importance of validating emotional experiences with abortion, and the importance of not stereotyping or belittling those with whom we may disagree.

Listen to the podcast here:

Pro-Choice Or Pro-Voice (Or Both)? | RHRealityCheck.org

Posted using ShareThis

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Exhale’s Pro-Voice Ambassadors travel near and far to spread our message of nonjudgment, respect and support for every woman who has had an abortion. Together, we grow the opportunities for our pro-voice vision to take hold and become our new, lived reality.

The backs of our T-shirts say it well:

We understand things aren’t black and white and we’re cool living in the gray.
We are ready for the abortion war to end.
We know people.
We are organized.
We believe that women who have had abortions should get support for their emotions.
We are pro-voice.




Pro-Voice Schwag For All!


Pro-Voz. Pro-Voice.

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