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Abortion rights advocates are increasingly asking women who have undergone the procedure to tell their stories publicly in a bid to combat the “shame and stigma” surrounding it.
Over the past year, abortion activists have talked about their procedures online, in books, and in open forums on college campuses. One put her procedure on YouTube to show, she says, a “positive” abortion story. The video went viral. (His original YouTube video was removed and re-uploaded here.)
But some abortion opponents say a more open discussion ultimately helps their side.
One group trying to encourage women to tell their abortion stories publicly is the 1 in 3 Campaign. Deb Hauser, who runs Advocates for Youth, the group that launched the campaign, has not spoken about her own abortion for 15 years. But her thinking has changed, she says, as support for abortion rights has softened and opponents have passed a wave of restrictive state laws.
“If we stay silent, what’s left is this void for others to fill, and they’ve filled it with a lot of shame and judgment,” Hauser says. “We have to make the politics the personal now, and we have to stand up and put real women’s stories in the middle of this dialogue about abortion care or we’re going to lose.”
The 1 in 3 Campaign hosted an eight-hour live abortion speech in Washington, DC, last month. (The band’s name represents 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion in their lifetime, though the latest CDC stats show the number is down slightly.) In the production, dozens of women connect via Skype to recount their stories, although many don’t want to be completely public and only use their first names.
Liz says she had an abortion after her ex-boyfriend forced himself on her. “I was only 21. I hadn’t finished school yet. I was living with my mother and I knew I couldn’t bring this child into the world and give him the life he deserved,” says- she.
Another woman, Julie, recounts her joy at being pregnant with a second child, only to discover at 20 weeks that the fetus had no brain. She had an abortion, got pregnant again, then, she says, “lightning struck twice, and 17 weeks into my pregnancy with a girl, I learned that she too had the same brain abnormalities. “.
After a second abortion, Julie had two more healthy children. “I’m one of the many faces of abortion. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m so grateful the choice is mine,” she says.
But the women who regret this choice also tell their story.
Michael Spielman founded Abort73, a Christian website that aims to educate young adults about what he calls “the injustice of abortion.”
“I think the more people talk about abortion in public, the better it is for children vulnerable to abortion,” Spielman says.
The Abort73 site has long featured stories of women who have had the procedure. Spielman says many say they feel compelled to do it and regret it, years or even decades later.
“They wish they could go home. They wish they hadn’t had the abortion. They wish they had the child. I think the end result is often devastating,” Spielman said.
Even for people who are not activists, research shows that the decision to tell someone about an abortion is, in some way, political. People tend to share abortion stories with those they think will support them, according to research by New York University sociologist Sarah Cowan.
“The person who has more lenient attitudes toward abortion is more likely to learn that women they know have had abortions,” she says. But their peers who oppose abortion rights — even someone from the same social group, she says — are not as likely to be informed.
In contrast, Cowan found that people are much more likely to share stories about miscarriages, which are less controversial than abortions.
“So we have this disconnect between the prevalence of these events and the number of Americans who have heard personal stories about these events,” Cowan said.
The question remains whether hearing more stories about abortion makes people more tolerant. Researchers say it worked that way in race relations and same-sex marriage. But Cowan says there isn’t much research on abortion. Her own data suggests that opinions would change, she says – but it is not at all clear in which direction.