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Posts Tagged ‘Stigma’

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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On November 28, 2009, the New York Times Sunday edition featured an editorial “In Support of Abortion, It’s Personal vs. Political” in the Week in Review. While there were some things I liked about this editorial, there was much to dislike. First and foremost being the fact that Post-Roe women are defined only by what we have NOT experienced, not defined by what we have experienced. Instead of going on and on about what bugged me about this article, I decided instead to re-write it, the way that I believe it should be written. This article reflects elements of my vision for how the changing landscape of the abortion debate should be investigated and reported. This is a work of fiction, which means I have created new lines of dialogue and quotes from actual people listed in the original article – what I wish they would say from a strength and asset-based perspective, instead of the deficit-approach featured.

Enjoy.

“In Support of Wellbeing, Abortion Matters to Women & Families”
By Cheryl Straight Stobilt

In 1999, an airline pilot’s daughter named Aspen Baker was attending college in Northern California when she had a safe and legal abortion at a local hospital. She had been raised a pro-life Christian in Southern California and while she never believed she could make a pregnancy decision for another person, she never believed she would have an abortion herself, until she did. While she was relieved when the procedure was finally over, she found herself with a lot of difficult emotions about the experience and because of the stigma and politics surrounding her decision she was unable to find someone who would listen to her, without judgment or bias.

Today, Aspen Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of Exhale, an organization whose mission is to create a more supportive and respectful social climate around personal experiences with abortion and which runs a national, multilingual post-abortion talkline. At 33-years old, Baker is a member of what many feminist leaders call the “Third Wave,” though Ms. Baker rarely uses the term herself.

(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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Thank you Faith Aloud!

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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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Thanks to reader Quercki for pointing this out to me. I wish we had seen this before we did the Humor issue of the zine.

From Amanda Palmer:

i sat down one day in or around 2002 and wrote a tongue-in-cheek, ironic up-tempo pop song.
a song about a girl who got drunk, was date raped, and had an abortion.
she sings about these things lightly and joyfully and says that she doesn’t care that these things have happened to her because oasis, (her favorite band) has sent her an autographed photo in the mail. and to make things even better (!!), her bitchy friend melissa, who told the whole school about the abortion, is really jealous.

if you cannot sense the irony in this song, you’re about two intelligence points above a kumquat.

then i made a video with michael pope that portrayed a VERY literal play-by-play of what was being related in the song. it also made sense to us.

now people in the UK are telling me that the song “makes light of rape, religion and abortion”.

can i simply state:

WHEN YOU CANNOT JOKE ABOUT THE DARKNESS OF LIFE, THAT’S WHEN THE DARKNESS TAKES OVER.

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Abortion: The Serious Health Decision Women Aren’t Talking About Until Now

“In the end there’s little drama to the procedure, but that doesn’t make it a simple experience. How could it be, when abortion inspires culture-quaking political and religious debates and feels too charged to discuss, even woman to woman? “No one talks about abortion on a personal level—there’s too much stigma attached,” says Aspen Baker, the cofounder of Exhale, an after-abortion counseling help line.”

““The procedure is unsettling, because they basically vacuum out your uterus. It was painful, but I knew it was the right choice and I had no guilt afterward.” This is not unusual, says Baker: “I cannot tell you how many women call us wondering if they are somehow bad people for feeling relieved, or happy, or proud for having made it through a difficult decision.”


“Yet in Glamour interviews, counselors, medical experts and more than two dozen women who have had the procedure agreed that women don’t discuss how they decided whether or not to end a pregnancy—how it felt and how they recovered, physically and emotionally; how they look back on their choice as time passes. The result is that millions of women grapple alone with the decision and the emotions that come afterward. Adamantly pro-choice women may be shocked by their own sadness about having an abortion whereas extremely religious women may be stunned by their sense of relief; both reactions, experts say, are normal”.

“Every woman who faces the abortion decision deserves a friend’s arms around her”

““I was raised Christian, and had already asked God to forgive me, but I couldn’t forgive myself,” she says. Distraught, Lisa wrestled with her emotions and more depression until she found an abortion recovery bible study group. “I came to a place of acceptance,” she says. “I would give anything to go back, but I can’t. Instead, I choose to forgive myself and to move forward.”

“Physically, the abortion wasn’t painful, but emotionally, it was hell. I didn’t talk to anyone but my husband and doctor about it for a long time. When I finally told my brother, he said, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to hug you when you came home.”

“My abortion was not painful, but I am wistful about losing the physical sensation of being pregnant. I never realized how a baby could get into a woman’s blood—I still feel a connection to that little lima bean. My husband and I want to have a baby one day—but it will be planned.”

FYI: There is another Baker covered in the article, Anne, of no relation to me, and they don’t distinguish our quotes very well.

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