“So why would I want to talk with members of Midwestern religious communities about reproductive choice despite unpleasant previous experiences under similar circumstances? As a doctor, I understand the science behind abortion and the dramatic physiologic transformation that pregnancy induces. As a feminist, I support a woman’s right to control her own reproductive destiny. Yet, science and reason alone will not stop religious or political opposition to abortion. If a faith-based group that claims to utilize prophetic witness and pastoral presence to protect reproductive choice is willing to share its insights on how to advance our common interest, then my decision to participate was easy.”
I once heard a scholar of queer theory say that masculinity is fragile—if masculinity were so resolutely powerful, why would it need so many institutions, -isms, and machinery to hold it up?
As I look back on the year that’s just passed, I wonder if abortion stigma, too, isn’t oddly fragile: Deeply entrenched, yes, and manifest at multiple levels—from individual to institutional, from cultural to legal—but always threatening to break. Without constant scaffolding and upkeep, stigma fractures; exposed to lived reality, it tends to collapse.
The Abortion Conversation Projects (ACP) Board selected five projects that address abortion stigma for funding in its Fall 2017 cycle. “We chose proposals that would benefit most from seed money and from our capacity to engage with our resources, expertise, and interests,” observes Peg Johnston, Acting ACP President.
Two of the grantees are continuations of previous Grant Partners’ work: COLOR is a group that reaches out to Latina populations in Colorado with normalizing images and messages about abortion. They will be travelling with a Photo Exhibit and a Theatre production “Relatively Normal” that they will be translating into Spanish. Jessica Lechtenberg will be assisting Lena Hann, PhD in testing a Best Practices Guide on Fetal Tissue Viewing. They have found that clinic staff are looking for guidance when patients ask to see fetal tissue. Last year ACP collaborated on staff education in discussing other aspects of fetal tissue policy.
Shout Your Abortion (#ShoutYourAbortion) is national group dedicated to helping people affirm their abortion experience. They are creating a high end “coffee table book” with art and stories and ACP will help them distribute copies to independent abortion facilities. EMA (Emergency Medical Assistance), an abortion fund in Palm Beach, will also showcase women’s abortion stories to stimulate public discussion of the reality of abortion experiences and especially the barriers women face.
The Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice received a grant to assist their training of clergy in a tri-state area. Clergy have been effective allies and further training will help them serve abortion patients and their own congregations as well as speak publicly against abortion stigma.
These five new grants bring the total number of projects up to 55 ACP grants since the seed grants program started in 2012 and join recent projects such as In This Together Project (Michigan) which supports staff as well as providing activities for children who may have to accompany patients. “Not At Home”, an Irish Theatre company, continues to educate the public about women who have to leave their home country to access abortion care.
Abortion Conversation Projects is committed to eliminating the stigma of abortion by supporting individuals and small groups engaged in innovative community-based projects that create new ways and opportunities to talk about abortion honestly and publicly.
ACP designs, contributes, participates, and collaborates on stigma busting projects. ACP forms Grant Partnerships, created to reduce the stigma surrounding abortion. Our work includes webinars, trainings, workshops, community-based seed grant funding and partnerships with our allies and grant partners. The next grant cycle is July 1, 2018. For more information consult the website www.abortionconversationprojects.org, or Facebook page: Abortion Conversation Projects, or join the mailing list.
The Abortion Conversation Projects (ACP) Board selected 6 projects that address abortion stigma for funding in its summer 2017 cycle. “We chose proposals that excite us and that would benefit most from seed money and from our capacity to engage with our resources, expertise, and interests,” observes Terry Sallas Merritt, ACP President.
Three of the projects directly help abortion providers and their clients. RECLAIM in Michigan will bring neighbors and the public into clinic space to hear stories, take tours, and understand the abortion experience more fully. The Spiral Collective in Minnesota is a doula-based anti-stigma group that brings training to staff as a way of making space to explore how stigma affects their lives and how staff can help each other and the patients in their care. In This Together Project (Michigan) also supports staff as well as providing activities for children who may have to accompany patients; a companion activity kit for patients will help with long waits. ACP will be watching each of these projects for replication elsewhere.
Three other projects were chosen for their innovative approach to counteracting abortion stigma. ACP believes that even small amounts can leverage shifts in perception. The Centre for Solutions Journalism Project in Malawi will offer training and stipends for journalists to represent unbiased and more realistic depictions of the abortion experience in that country where abortion is still illegal. THEATREclub in Dublin Ireland will present an installation called “Not At Home” at the Fringe Festival and live streamed to the internet. The artistic event draws upon the stories of women who have had to leave Ireland to find abortion services and will offer interactive theatre to help people understand these experiences. Abortion Access Hackathon will bring together providers and programmers and other tech people to collaborate on solutions to problems at a weekend conference in New York in the Fall.
Watch this space for progress reports on our Grant Partners. If you want to make a contribution to support these seed grants, click here.
Todd Stave found himself in a situation that is familiar to most of us. An outrageous injustice happens. How do you react? Here's what happened: Anti-abortion protesters showed up at his daughter's middle school carrying signs with his name, address and phone number on them. They were trying to pressure him into canceling the lease of Dr. Leroy Carhart, an abortion provider. (article here) Todd says, "I like to tell people that I developed my strategies when I was on the playground in grade school." Although he may have felt like letting a punch fly, he founded Voice of Choice and crafted a strategy that was at once bold, simple, and assertive. "And while we have had great success turning the tables on those who were used to acting with impunity, the reality is that people from both sides of the abortion argument admire the civility in the way we make our point. We try to remove the hate and violence. We respect others’ beliefs, even though we disagree with them."
Voice of Choice mobilized hundreds of volunteers to push back on anti-abortion protesters when they harassed providers or activists all over the country. They found a way to harness people's anger and sense of justice into direct contact with the protesters. Says Todd Stave, "Our most important achievement over the past years has been to reduce the fear and humiliation of those who need abortion services or those working in and around the field." (speech by Todd Stave, 2011)
We appreciate this achievement, which parallels the Abortion Conversation Projects’ mission to challenge the shaming around abortion. The protesters at Todd Stave's daughter's school were banking on him feeling that stigma. They were not prepared for Stave and others who have had an abortion or provide abortions to stand up and refuse to be shamed. There are many different strategies for addressing stigma and ACP is supporting a wide variety of projects and methods.
We have supported escorts at dozens of clinics across the country through the Clinic Vest Project. One of our grantee partners, Architexx, has engaged the design community in creating model barriers around clinics that create feelings of safety for staff and patients. Our most recent grantee partner, The Abortion Broadcast, has created podcasts of interviews with abortion care staff revealing the humanity of those that provide abortion services. Two ACP projects have erected powerful murals on the outside of clinics where anti abortion harassment is particularly fierce.
Stave has decided that it's time to close down the Voice of Choice and he has chosen the Abortion Conversation Projects to receive its resources, including contact information for those people who have volunteered to respond to anti abortion harassment. While the Voice of Choice is unique in its tactics, it shares a common goal with ACP: to challenge abortion stigma where it occurs.
Todd Stave and the volunteers of Voice for Choice stood up for abortion rights and opposed stigmatizing behavior with strength and dedication. We salute the achievements of those volunteers and invite them to join us in other anti-stigma actions.
Keep the spirit going! If you want to make a donation to the Abortion Conversation Projects to fund grassroots activism, click here. Thank you!
July 1st 2017 is the deadline for new projects challenging abortion stigma. The Abortion Conversation Projects are offering resources and seed funds to grassroots groups. Applicants are encouraged to email a short description of their idea to see if the project fits with the capacity and interests of ACP, an all-volunteer organization.
“We offer feedback for those doing anti-stigma work and we will work with a few groups to make the best proposal possible,” explained ACP President Terry Sallas Merritt. “ACP can only fund and partner with a few projects each cycle and we want to save people’s valuable time so we offer this pre-application process.” The maximum grant is $2500 and winning projects can benefit from 1:1 work with experienced board members and other consultants on the Advisory Board.
ACP’s mission is “to challenge the polarization that characterizes abortion conversation, lessen the stigmatization of abortion, and promote speaking and listening with empathy, dignity, and resilience about even the most difficult aspects of abortion.” In addition to funding, ACP supports Grant Partners in outreach, fund-raising, evaluation and sustainability.
At ACP, we are always happy to support conversations that reveal the complexity of abortion experiences. Check out this Sex Gets Real podcast.
Carol Sanger and Dawn Serra On Telling Our Stories, Examining Men’s Choices, And Allowing For Grief
An intimate and compelling interview with the author of “About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in 21st Century America” by Harvard University Press
When men choose to destroy embryos or terminate a pregnancy, what are the reasons they give? How has technology changed the imagery around pregnancy and abortion? What if there was a simple way to change the political discourse around abortion? Why do we trust women with raising children and shaping their future but not with the power to decide the fate of their own bodies? What is the pro-choice movement getting horribly wrong in the conversation around abortion?
Carol Sanger and Dawn Serra tackle these questions in a powerful new episode of Sex Gets Real, a weekly podcast on sexuality, relationships, and human connection. This hour-long conversation examines the results of Sanger’s 6-year quest to write “About Abortion” as well as a collection of compelling stories from those who have experienced abortion.
Creator and podcast host, Dawn Serra says, “Nuanced, sensitive, based on case law and in-depth cultural studies, Carol makes a compelling case for the harm of secrecy and why our lack of nuance in the abortion discussion is feeding the frenzy. Our chat blew me away and the stories I received from listeners about their abortions will give everyone reason to pause and reflect.”
Carol Sanger offers insights such as:
“Men [who choose to destroy embryos] said things like, ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with that woman.’ Or, ‘I have enough kids already.’ Or, ‘I’m a young man & now that I’m single again the last thing I want is to be tied down by a kid.’ Or, I’m engaged in a serious work project and it would be bad to have a kid now.’ When I lined those reasons up with the reasons that women give [to terminate a pregnancy], they were quite the same.”
“We trust women with everything. We trust them with raising our children, we assign that task to them. We trust them with everything, except deciding that this might be the right time, circumstances might not be right. It’s conditional trust.”
“There are three groups that I think should start stepping up and talking about abortion. The first is grandmothers. Grandmothers are, for better or worse, thought to be non-sexual which eliminates the sex issue. The second group are ministers wives and ministers. There’s a group with moral authority who can share their story. And, the third group is men. It would be really good if men took a little responsibility here.”
As the political climate continues to restrict access to reproductive health care (and health care, in general), especially for marginalized bodies and voices, this conversation offers activists, health care providers, and anyone interested in healing the abortion conversation a powerful new framework for considering the debate and influencing politics using the personal.
Jeannie Ludlow, PhD, a women's studies professor at Eastern Illinois University, notes, "In short, there is no one perfect word (for abortion) that is going to make the stigma not stick."
"Reproductive justice -- women having power over our own bodies -- is the crucial first step toward any democracy, any human rights, and any justice."
That quote by feminist icon Gloria Steinem is on the cover of a new book titled Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, by ACP advisory board member Loretta J. Ross. along with historian Rickie Solinger.
The book itself is a first step in educating new audiences about a movement that was created in 1994 by women of color, including Ross, a cofounder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Ross will publish two more books about the topic in the near future, including one titled Radical Reproductive Justice.
At the official launch event in Atlanta this month, Ross said the book is designed for high school and college students and "will contribute to the exciting upsurge of reproductive justice activism and scholarship."
Here is an excerpt from Chapter One: A Reproductive Justice History:
Reproductive justice is a contemporary framework for activism and for thinking about the experience of reproduction. It is also a political movement that splices ‘reproductive rights’ with ‘social justice.’ The definition of reproductive justice goes beyond the pro-choice/pro-life debate and has three primary principles: (1) the right not to have a child; (2) the right to have a child; and (3) the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments. In addition, reproductive justice demands sexual autonomy and gender freedom for every human being.
At the heart of reproductive justice is this claim: all fertile persons and persons who reproduce and become parents require a safe and dignified context for these most fundamental human experiences. Achieving this goal depends on access to specific community-based resources including high-quality healthcare, housing and education, a living wage, a healthy environment, and a safety net for times when these resources fail. Safe and dignified fertility management, childbirth, and parenting are impossible without these resources.
The case for reproductive justice makes another basic claim: access to these material resources is justified on the ground that safe and dignified fertility management, childbirth, and parenting together constitute a fundamental human right. Human rights, a global idea, are what governments owe to the people they govern and include both negative and positive rights. Negative rights are a government's obligation to refrain from unduly interfering with people’s mental, physical, and spiritual autonomy. Positive rights are a government’s obligation to ensure that people can exercise their freedoms and enjoy the benefits of society.
Reproductive justice uses a human rights framework to draw attention to — and resist — laws and public and corporate policies based on racial, gender, and class prejudices. These laws and policies deny people the right to control their bodies, interfere with their reproductive decision making, and ultimately, prevent many people from being able to live with dignity in safe and healthy communities.
The human rights analysis rests on the claim that interference with the safety and dignity of fertile and reproducing persons is a blow against their humanity — that is, against their rights as human beings.
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