Meet Our New Grant Partners

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.

Voice of Choice: Bold Strategy

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 Grant Cycle Announced

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.

To inquire about funding, email abortionconversation@gmail.com. To review grant priorities, the grant toolkit, and application go to the website at "Apply for Grant".

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.

ACP has funded over 30 projects so far.

ACP has funded over 30 projects so far.

Changing The Way We Talk About Abortion

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.

 

 

 

Teaching Reproductive Justice

"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. 


You can buy this book on Amazon. And did you know? Whenever you shop through smile.amazon.com and select Abortion Conversation Projects, a portion of your purchase is donated to our organization. Learn more about this no-cost way to support our stigma-busting efforts by clicking here: Slay Stigma While You Shop! It's Free!

Also, make a direct donation to ACP by clicking here-->> Thank you for donating!

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website , Facebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

Slay Stigma While You Shop. It's Free!

DYK?  You can financially support Abortion Conversation Projects and our stigma-slaying work — at no cost to you.

It’s free! It’s easy! It’s as simple as shopping on-line at Amazon, just like you normally do.

The only difference is that you log in through smile.amazon.com. When you do this, 0.5% of your purchase is donated to us through AmazonSmileFoundation.  

Just go to smile.amazon.com and follow the prompts to select Abortion Conversation Projects. 

Then every time you shop, enter Amazon through the smile.amazon.com in you web browser or mobile device. Add a bookmark to make shopping and donating even quicker and easier.

Tens of millions of products on AmazonSmile qualify for donations. You will see them marked “Eligible for AmazonSmile donation” on their product detail pages.

Thank you for helping to end the silence and shame around abortion care by shopping through smile.amazon.com.

Another way to support our stigma-busting work is to make a direct donation. Feeling generous? Just click right here to give to our world-changing efforts: Thank You For Donating. 

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website , Facebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

A Call to Validate Each Other and Celebrate Victories

ACP Advisory Board Member Loretta Ross is a major figure in modern black history, a visionary leader who helped create the Reproductive Justice Movement and who continues to champion abortion as a human right that fits into a broader crusade for economic, gender, and racial equality.

This Black History Month, Ross has a profoundly hopeful outlook on the future, despite the challenges of a Republican-controlled federal government and state legislators obsessed with blocking access to abortion care.

“The sky is not falling,” says Ross, who sees current events through the lens of history. “For people who endure oppression, there have always been times like these. What’s important is that we will not go back and we will not back down.”

Instead of giving into fear and negativity, Ross encourages advocates for safe, legal, and nonjudgmental abortion care to “validate and celebrate each other” and focus on the victories. 

To help us all fulfill her mandate, here are four great reasons to rejoice:

1. More people are engaged. Abortion providers reported an unprecedented surge in volunteer applications at their clinics after last month’s Women’s March on Washington, which galvanized millions of people around the globe to pour into the streets to protest threats to reproductive and other rights. 

2. The language is evolving. After decades of lazy reporting on reproductive rights as “pro-choice versus pro-life,” journalists are finally paying attention to the wider framing that declares“Women’s Rights are Human Rights.” In this article about the history of the phrase, Ross explains that she has waited for three decades to finally see it become a clarion call for feminist organizing.

3. Research is building. Studies are being completed that debunk fake science used by anti-choice zealots in court cases and propaganda campaigns. This month, ANSIRH and Innovating Education in Reproductive Health released this series of videos and lectures called Abortion Explained, making their stigma-busting research accessible to the wider public. 

4. Grassroots efforts are proliferating. Creative individuals around the globe continue to design unique projects to end the unjustified shame of abortion and replace it with much-deserved affirmation, respect, and dignity.

At ACP, we have the honor of providing funds and other resources to people who work on the frontline of culture change at the community level. We have received far more applications for funds than we could grant, showing that the desire to end abortion stigma is stronger than ever.

In addition to our current grant partners, many innovative stigma-busters submitted proposals that should give everyone hope for the future. Here is a sampling of those unique projects:

The Sea Change Program has created a board game for young people to play with their friends. It sparks conversations with questions about sex, relationships and reproduction.

Shout Your Abortion envisions a children’s book about abortion that would generate intimate conversations within families and help normalize abortion. 

Working with Women Help Women International, Susan Yanow wants to see a guide about medication abortion that includes a section to educate about language, pointing out terms that stigmatize and offering new words that dignify.

The Youth Association for Development (YAD) in Pakistan is working on a training program and radio messages that will focus on helping men become supporters of abortion.

The SAYWHAT Organization in Zimbabwe has a plan to document abortion stories on video, audio, and text to reach young people and community leaders who have the power to influence opinions.

The Maternal and Child Health Initiative (MACHI) in Uganda envisions targeting one industrial area to set up intimate, one-on-one conversations in its Break The Silence Project.

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website , Facebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

A Novel Way to Begin This New Year

Despite the new challenges facing the reproductive justice movement, we resolve to stay positive about shifting conversations about abortion care. One way to stay hopeful about a brighter future is to read great literature. The perfect place to start is with the new novel The Mothers about the ways one girl's abortion affects the different members of her African American faith community. Author Brit Bennett presents different perspectives with honor and respect, and without capitulating to stigma or anti-abortion biases. What follows is ACP Board Member Jeannie Ludlow's book review.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Riverhead Books, 2016. ISBN: 9780399184512. 288 pp. Available as an ebook. This review originally was published on Jeannie Ludlow's blog

As a literature instructor who studies abortion and stigmatization, I read a lot of fiction and poetry about abortion. I’m happy to report that I have a new favorite: Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. This novel is the best I have read at leaving behind the simplicities of “prochoice vs. anti-abortion” and telling a complex, honest, and anti-stigmatizing abortion story.

What are our most difficult conversations about abortion, the ones that we wish we could avoid? Race, religion, the fetus, men’s experiences, money—this novel focuses a shimmering and compassionate light on all of these as it traces the reverberations from one high school girl’s abortion into the faith community of her African American church in southern California.

The novel is told in the plural voice of “the Mothers,” the women elders in the church, who bring their collective wisdom, compassion, and judgment to the story. The novel opens, “We didn’t believe when we first heard because you know how church folk can gossip. Like the time we all thought First John, our head usher, was messing around on his wife . . .” In these two sentences, Bennett establishes the Mothers’ tone, simultaneously understanding and disapproving, familiar, and just a little unreliable, always giving themselves an out in case they are mistaken. After all, they are the “church folk” whose gossip drives the story.

When seventeen-year-old Nadia gets pregnant a few months after her mother has killed herself, the community should not be surprised. After all, as the Mothers tell us, Nadia “had earned a wild reputation—she was young and scared and trying to hide her scared in prettiness.” Nadia’s father, absorbed by his own grief, cannot see her struggles. Nadia arranges for and has an abortion without his knowledge.

One of the things about abortion that Bennett gets so beautifully right is how hard it is for people to talk about. Nadia and Luke, her boyfriend, talk past one another, neither one ever saying what they really want. When they do get adults involved, the adults can only say the easy, stereotypical things about consequences and responsibility that, we know, cover over deep-rooted fear, disappointment, and guilt.

The scene in the abortion clinic is respectful, and spot-on accurate. There’s the angry mom who chastises her daughter in the waiting room: “‘Cut all that out,’ she said. ‘You wanted to be grown? Well, now you grown.’” There’s Nadia’s clothing: “she felt the nurse give her a once-over, eyes drifting past her red blouse, skinny jeans, black pumps. ‘Should’ve worn something more comfortable,’ the nurse said. . . . ‘Someone should’ve told you that when you called.’ ‘They did,’” Nadia replies. After her abortion, Nadia lies to her dad about her cramps and then sneaks out to a party that she really should not attend.

Jeannie Ludlow

Jeannie Ludlow

Bennett has successfully written a nuanced abortion story in which everyone gets it a little bit wrong and a little bit right, even the Crisis Pregnancy Center counselor who befriends Nadia’s boyfriend years later. The author makes it possible for us to sympathize with Luke and Nadia and their parents, even as we shake our heads (with the Mothers) over their failings. These characters are human, real, neither ideal nor flawed. When Nadia’s abortion story comes to light several years later, its aftermath reveals both the fragilities and the strengths of the church and its people.

The Mothers presents many different perspectives on abortion with respect and care, while refusing to participate in abortion stigmatization. It has been named a “best book of 2016” by NPR, Elle, Vogue, Goodreads, and Entertainment Weekly, all well-deserved honors. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our websiteFacebook, and Twitter @ACPabortion. Please donate to help us change conversations around abortion care. 

 

Stigma Busting From the Ground Up: Abortion Conversation Projects Awards Five Grants

Abortion Conversation Projects’ (ACP) Grant Program supports grassroots activism that challenges abortion stigma on individual and community levels with Seed Grants and by partnering with projects. ACP announced five grants totaling $5,000 in its Fall 2016 cycle of Seed Support grants. “Out of a field of 21 we chose the five where we felt ACP could engage and make a difference,” noted Terry Sallas Merritt, President of ACP.

Women seeking abortions in Tennessee may find it difficult to find support for their choice, and the Knoxville Abortion Doula Collective is poised to change that. Their Seed Support grant will fund a hotline and website that will offer information, support, and direct contact with their volunteer abortion doulas. (Doulas are lay volunteers who offer support and information to those going through a reproductive experience.)

The Abortion Broadcast: The Podcast from the Other End of the Speculum, a project by Jacquelyn Day will amplify the voices of abortion care workers who are rarely heard. “Providers are committed and passionate about their work, and are perhaps the most stigmatized of all, so this grant speaks to us,” commented Merritt.

The Fort Worth, Texas Whole Woman’s Health Clinic received partial funding to create a mural that will serve as a bulwark against virulent anti abortion protests and a beacon for patients who seek abortion care. The Shift Stigma Mural Project replicates a previous ACP funded project in McAllen Texas, which was also a target of extreme harassment.  That mural engaged the community, visually represented its diversity, and reinforced that quality, dignified abortion care is available. Whole Woman’s Health was the winning plaintiff in a recent Supreme Court case that struck down burdensome restrictions in Texas.

ACP is also contributing to the funding of two international projects. Safer Sex is a Blessing is a traveling conversation for communities of faith in Honduras. “Abortion is not legal in Honduras, and yet The Ecumenical Leaders for Choice (Las Ecumenicas Por El Derecho a Decidir) are sparking a conversation about abortion and human rights within the context of gender equality and reproductive and sexual health,” said Merritt. The End Abortion Stigma Initiative in South Africa will celebrate 20 years of legal abortion by inviting artists and performers to engage with audiences about the considerable institutional stigma around abortion that exists in that country.

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.

The Abortion Conversation Project was founded in 2000 and spent its early years promoting post abortion emotional health, de-stigmatizing abortion through educational handouts for parents, partners, and patients, and sponsoring deeper conversations among diverse prochoice audiences. After helping to launch the Abortion Care Network, ACP explored conflict transformation techniques and decided to offer small “seed” grants to engage many more people in its mission. The group recently transitioned from a private foundation to a public 501 c 3 charity, Abortion Conversation Projects, Inc. which enables the organization to fundraise for projects. 

Abortion Conversation Projects is building a Stigma-Busting Community. Join us through our website www.abortionconversationprojects.org , Facebook page and Twitter feed @ACPabortion. 

Supporters can donate through the website and also receive the ACP e-newsletter by clicking on the website links.

 

Why I Give

 

‘Tis the end of the year and the fund-raising letters and emails are filling up the mailbox. This year there is a special urgency to them with the doom of the presidential elections hanging over us all. Giving is a proxy for doing and caring, which doesn’t always seem sufficient, but given our busy lives and many priorities, definitely a good thing. I believe money is a form of energy, and if I can’t personally do everything, my energy can help someone else do more.

My favorite donation is to the Abortion Conversation Projects. It’s all right there in the name. Abortion—is there another issue that intersects so many aspects of our lives or is so targeted by the right wing, or is such a personal matter that should never be questioned by crazy people picketing or by politicians? There might be, but when you have been immersed in the work of abortion care as I have, it is such fertile ground for contemplation of all the big things in life. 

Conversation--- everyone talks about the need for a conversation but we are all so polarized that a real exchange of feelings, ideas, and options is practically impossible. To cultivate real conversations you need good intentions, a lot of support, and courage. Conversation about hot topics like abortion needs a good measure of all of these.

Projects—We have recently added an “s” to Project in our name, to reflect the reality of our work. Every year we give out seed money to 5- 10 small grassroots groups to create opportunities for people to talk compassionately about this complex topic of abortion. Just a little money gets people working amazing projects, making connections that support spaces to have conversations. The result is people finding a voice, finding comfort in the presence of others who understand, and working to reduce the stigma of abortion.

Supporting Abortion Conversation Projects is where I can see hearts opening up, connections being made, and communities growing. And that’s a gift, as they say, that keeps on giving.

--Peg Johnston 

Please join us in this important work to uplift the dignity of people who seek abortion care and the people who provide it. Click here to become part of our community of stigma fighters. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ACPAbortion.

Your voice matters. 

No Debate About It: Adoption & Abortion Both Confront Stigma

As so often happens in abstract discussions about abortion, people opposed to the choice typically assert with breezy certainty that adoption is the simple and morally superior alternative. 

So it was no surprise to hear this refrain in the recent Vice Presidential debate as the two candidates held forth about abortion. 

“Let’s welcome children into our world,” said Republican candidate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. “We could improve adoption so that families that can't have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies.”

Aside from skipping over the risks and complexities of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the repercussions for a woman’s future,  this familiar assertion also sidesteps the fact that adoption, like abortion, is burdened with stigma.

Abortion Conversation Projects strive to improve the way people think and talk about abortion and all reproductive experiences in their communities, where true social change begins. That’s why ACP provided funding and resources for one of the first-ever guided exchange session for abortion providers and adoption workers.

The session was titled Towards Understanding: Minnesota’s Reproductive Justice Advocates and the Adoption Community Partnering to Reduce Stigma, and it was a joint project of Family Tree Clinic and Bellis adoption services in Minnesota.

“Our goal was to build community among these professionals,” says Alissa Light, Executive Director of the Family Tree Clinic. “Also, we wanted to build professional skills for providing all-options counseling and to impact misinformation held about both abortion and adoption.”

Before the session, Light says she worried participants would be reluctant to engage. “We had concerns that people working in adoption would not be receptive to abortion information. Some are founded with an anti-choice mission and have explicit policies that prevent discussing abortion.” Likewise, she said, she feared abortion workers would have reservations about talking with adoption communities. “Ultimately, all of our fears were unnecessary,” says Light.

The most successful parts of the day involved values-clarification exercises and sharing stories of birthparents, adult adoptees, adoptive parents, and abortion care providers and those they serve. 

“We know that hearing directly from women and families is a powerful way to lessen stigma and promote empathy and compassion,” says Light.

The 50 participants left their day together more confident in recognizing stigma and setting aside their own biases to make all-options community referrals in an atmosphere of respect and trust.

Like abortion, the stigma around adoption historically has been mired in silence, misunderstanding, and stubborn narratives.

Joni Ogle, a client advocate with Choice Network adoption services in Worthington, Ohio, says the most fundamental misunderstanding traps abortion and adoption in an adversarial duel. “People feel you have to be pro-life, meaning pro-adoption, or you have to be pro-choice, meaning pro-abortion,” says Ogle. “This is not true at all.”

Also, though adoption is framed as preferable to abortion, birth parents can experience far more overt shaming and social pressure than people who end their pregnancies, Ogle says. 

The stigma around adoption begins with the choice, continues throughout the pregnancy, shows up in the hospital during delivery, and can even persist long after the process is history. 

Adoption, similar to abortion, can involve state-mandated ‘counseling’ before pregnant people are permitted to choose adoption, says Ogle. Then, birth parents endure months of increasing stigma as their pregnancy becomes visible. When birth parents are in public, people approach them to ask about everything from the baby’s gender to the identity of the partner. “I have had many cases where women complained that an overbearing neighbor or coworker would pursue them to adopt their baby,” says Ogle.

What’s more, unlike those who choose active parenting or abortion, birth parents face stigma in the medical setting around their deliveries. Hospitals can require social workers to meet with birth parents about their choices, and medical staff might voice unsolicited opinions. 

A birth parent who worked with Choice Network says she experienced heavy shaming in the hospital. The doctor pressured her about birth control, she says, and “the nurses were making things out to be like adoption was probably going to be the worst decision of my life.”

Adding to the stigma are cultural messages in entertainment and mass media that portray adoption as a precursor to grief, depression, and family dysfunction.

Finally, even as the adoption process has evolved to allow a wide range of ways for birth parents and the children to stay in contact — from simply exchanging letters once a year, to having monthly visits —  many people denounce the openness and fear birth parents will want to reclaim the child. 

To combat adoption stigma, Choice Network uses a “strengths-based” approach. “We let clients lead the conversations and we follow their norms,” says Ogle. “We try to instill in them that no topic is unacceptable to discuss.”

The agency also educates about the many options within the adoption process, which include private and public foster care, kinship placements with a friend or relative, and guardianships.

Other organizations are joining the effort to create trust and respect around all pregnancy options, including Backline — a call-in center for people seeking in for pregnancy support — that launched All Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Indiana just last year. The center offers nonjudgmental emotional support as well as resources for unplanned pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, abortion, adoption, and parenting. 

And the ACP-funded Minnesota Project has sparked new collaborations. “We have already started to observe the ripple effect of our work,” says Light of Family Tree Clinic, seeing cross-referrals increasing between abortion care and adoption sites.  

Project leader, Kyle Meerkins reports, "We have definitely experienced an increased sense of urgency around the creation of stronger referral networks and spaces to provide all-options counseling outside of the abortion clinic and adoption agency settings,” especially with the prevalence of crisis pregnancy centers, he explains. 

As a result , Family Tree is implementing a free pregnancy testing and all-options counseling program and will serve as a referral specialist and connection organization for folks who are not able to directly refer to abortion services because of agency restrictions.

Finally, the birth parent from Choice Network sums up the ultimate all-options stigma-eradication approach: “People should just be supportive of whatever the woman chooses for her life,” she says. 

That’s the same sentiment that concluded the abortion discussion in the Vice Presidential debate. After Republican candidate, Gov. Pence said pregnant people in crisis should choose adoption, Democratic candidate and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia replied:

“Governor, why don't you trust women to make this choice for themselves?”

Please join us in this important work to uplift the dignity of people who seek abortion care and the people who provide them. Click here to become part of our community of stigma fighters. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @ACPAbortion.

Your voice matters.