Taken from the January/February 2012 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.
The Congressional debate over abortion in the Affordable Care Act and the set-back to abortion coverage that the resulting law imposed was a wake-up call for the reproductive rights movement. Not only did the movement fail to block the addition of anti-choice restrictions to health care reform, but it also failed at key points during the legislative battle to fight those restrictions in a way that challenged the injustice and devastating health impact women have suffered already as a result of existing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care. As pro-choice Congressional leaders attempted to fight off new restrictions on abortion access, they described the prohibition on federal funding for abortion as the status quo, accepted that the Affordable Care Act would not change that, and in the end, voted for a bill that denied access to abortion for many women – particularly poor women and younger women. Why were movement leaders so unable to shape the debate in a way that allowed them to speak about the importance of access to abortion and the unfairness of denying it to the most vulnerable and underserved women?
While polls consistently demonstrate that a majority of Americans support legal abortion, this currently-silent majority rarely speaks out about the important role that legal abortion plays in women’s lives. Thirty years of venomous political debate over abortion, violent attacks by anti-choice activists and anti-abortion propaganda stigmatizing abortion providers and patients have driven the pro-choice majority into silence. Perhaps most notably silenced are the women who have had an abortion.
One in three U.S. women will have an abortion in her lifetime, but we almost never talk about it. Not really. The political debate is constant, but women’s voices and stories reflecting our diverse personal experiences with abortion are almost completely absent. We need a new cultural narrative that puts people back at the center of the conversation about abortion and access to abortion care.
To that end, Advocates for Youth, Choice USA, and Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF) came together to figure out a new way to organize, proactively and on our own terms. The result is the 1 in 3 Campaign – a project that uses the power of personal storytelling to stand up against stigma and silence around abortion.
One in three of us has a story to tell, yet there is still so much stigma around abortion that many of us remain silent. But, if we act together, we can destigmatize women’s experience with abortion and protect access to this basic health care service. It starts by sharing our stories.
For an entire generation, “safe, legal, and rare” is the most “liberal” stance on abortion rights we have ever heard. But, calling for abortion to be “rare” – no doubt added to ensure a good sound bite and provide political cover to people who want to straddle the middle on this contentious issue – tells millions of women that even those who defend the right to abortion think that having an abortion should be a source of shame. After decades of clinic bombings; violence aimed at abortion providers; and the systematic, routine harassment of women at family planning clinics (even those that do not provide abortion services), the resulting cultural silence is hardly surprising.
It’s long past time for that silence to end, and the 1 in 3 Campaign uses the power of personal storytelling – among friends, within communities, and across generations – to stand up against stigma and silence around abortion. The 1 in 3 Campaign approaches storytelling in three key ways:
- Asking women to share their own stories as a part of the campaign on video or in writing;
- Providing a database of public stories that supporters of abortion access can share in order to manifest their support and start conversations among their friends and family;
- Challenging people to start the conversation by telling our own stories and/or asking about each other’s experiences.
Through telling our stories and supporting others to share their own, we can begin to build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support.
Since launching the 1 in 3 Campaign in September 2011, we’ve seen an outpouring of support and enthusiasm. Many women have commented that it feels liberating to finally speak about their own experiences. Others have noted that the storytelling framework gives them opportunities to “come out” as a visible and vocal supporter of access to abortion and to stand in solidarity with the people in our lives who may have stories of their own. Past ad campaigns have effectively used women’s stories to personalize the issue of abortion, and we hope to build on this history through a grassroots campaign fueled by the stories of – and support for – our own family and friends.
The conversation starts now – with women of all ages, mothers and sisters, single and married, from all walks of life, talking about their experiences and telling their stories.
Talk to three people. Lend your voice. Together, our stories and experiences are the 1 in 3 Campaign.
The conversation starts with you.
Debra Hauser is the Executive Director of Advocates for Youth, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that works to ensure young people have the information and services they need to make responsible decisions about their sexual health.