Bold, Creative, and Brave: 2019 Vision Award to Shout Your Abortion

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Below is a blog post by Shout Your Abortion and coincidentally ACP chose SYA as its Vision Award recipient at the Abortion Care Network Conference March 4th.

In our award speech, we recited the great quote by Muriel Rukeyser:

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?

The world would split open.”

Presented by Brooke Bailey and Peg Johnston, we continued:  In 2015, that’s what happened when Amelia Bonow posted on social media that she had an abortion. With the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion Amelia and Lindy West unleashed a viral outpouring of storytelling. They weren’t the first to “come out” about abortion but they threw off the stigma of abortion at a crucial moment in history, and our world did split open. They followed up that viral moment with a savvy organization that continues to make room for people to stand up and shed that stigma. Shout Your Abortion makes stigma busting look cool and fun but we all know the bravery it takes to withstand the backlash of the stigmatizers. Undaunted, they keep trying out a dizzying array of strategies.

 

Abortion Conversation Projects and Shout Your Abortion: Partners in Stigma Busting

By Erin Jorgensen, SYA Communications Director

 

Shout Your Abortion recently worked with Abortion Conversation Projects to help distribute the new Shout Your Abortion book to abortion clinics across the USA. I’ve been trying to write an objective blog post about the experience, but I keep failing because everything keeps turning back to my personal experience with abortion...

Before I worked in abortion activism with Shout Your Abortion, I was (and still am!) a person who had multiple abortions. I remember the doctor appointments, the packed waiting rooms with none of us looking each other in the face. The weird silence in a room full of people, the reading material consisting of health pamphlets and months-old magazines. In my experience none of us talked to each other about what we were all there to do. Not beforehand in the waiting room as the hours dragged on, not afterwards when we got juice and crackers, not really even with the doctors and nurses themselves. No one really said the word “abortion” out loud. It is strange to realize that my abortion experiences were very isolating, even though I was surrounded by people, all of us doing the same thing.

Nothing like the SYA book existed then. I can’t imagine how comforting it would have been to pick up a book full of art, life, and people talking about their abortions on their own terms. I had no idea that so many other people had abortions, for so many different reasons. I had no idea it was ok to speak openly and freely about abortion, that it was ok to take control of your own life, that I wasn’t a bad person or even a person in the minority. I feel that a book like this would have saved me from years of shame and silence, from contributing to abortion stigma myself out of fear.

The Shout Your Abortion book is a first of its kind - a beautiful coffee table book packed with abortion art, stories, and resources. There are personal abortion stories, told in the narrator’s own words, accompanied by professional portraits; abortion art, abortion activism; abortion fashion (yes, it’s real, and it’s cool) and much more. The book is an incredibly strong testament to the strength of all of us who have decided to have abortions for any reason and to the incredible power in owning and sharing our own stories.

The book itself is a beautiful authentic work of art and we are so proud of everyone whose work and words appears in it. We are so grateful to people who offered their honest, wildly differing life stories in such a public way. With the help of Abortion Conversation Projects we have been able to get this book into abortion clinics all across the USA! We hope this book provides a sense of community, connection, and power to people waiting to get their abortions. We hope they see themselves reflected in some way and realize they are NOT alone. We hope they will take advantage of the many resources provided and are inspired to perhaps share their own abortion stories, in any way that feels genuine and safe. In this way we can dismantle the stigma of abortion one story at a time.

Thank you ACP for helping to make this happen!

Shout Your Abortion is a decentralized network of individuals talking about abortion on our own terms and encouraging others to do the same. Following the US Congress’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in 2015, the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion became a viral conduit for abortion storytelling, receiving extensive media coverage and positioning real human experiences at the center of America’s abortion debate for the very first time. SYA quickly evolved into a grassroots movement, which has inspired countless individuals to share their abortion stories through art, media, and community events all over the country. Learn more and submit your own abortion story at shoutyourabortion.com.

 

 

Are you a abortion clinic who received the book or would like to?

The ACP grant afforded us the opportunity to send approximately 40 books, but to date we have received 105 requests which we fulfilled with other income sources. These clinics have had books for a couple of months now and we’re excited to hear how this project is impacting their clients. If you have a Shout Your Abortion book in your waiting or recovery room, it would be wonderful if you could drop us a quick line to let us know any feedback! If you are a clinic who missed this first opportunity, please let us know about your interest here. We will be fundraising to send more books to clinics this spring!

 

 

 

 

The Good Surprises of My Two Abortions: The Story Behind 2+ Abortions @AboboBravado

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This is a picture of me in the moment I realized my friend Martha had orchestrated a surprise birthday party when I turned 36. The feeling of electric delight from the shock was uncontainable.

I still marvel that everyone involved had been able to keep the party a secret.

But here’s the thing. I had my own secret, and it wasn’t delightful. Soon enough, my constant companion named Shame would lean in and whisper into my ear:

You had two abortions. If they knew, they wouldn’t have come to the party. They wouldn’t even want to be near you.”

Shame has harassed me since the age of 13, when I became pregnant through unloving sex that I barely comprehended. My parents arranged an abortion and told me I must never talk about it to anyone. In the years after, I noticed that the only people talking about abortion were people who said it is murder, which hurt me deeply.

At 19, I needed another abortion during an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who did not want to be a father. I was horrified and disgusted with myself. One abortion was bad enough, Shame said. What kind of monster has two?

I was certain that no one else had ever had two abortions. Why would I think otherwise? You are a very bad person, Shame said. No one else on earth is as bad as you.

Recently I learned that 45 percent of US abortion patients have had one or more prior abortions. Many of them here and abroad live in silence and isolation, feeling an extra level of shame.

I started a Twitter account called 2+ Abortions @AboboBravado in hopes of helping them understand that they are not alone and they are not bad. This is the story of the long road leading to this project of love.

Not being forced into childbirth allowed me to live a very good life that has included a good education, a fulfilling career, a wonderful husband, two amazing sons, and two precious grandchildren.

But throughout all the years, I never heard anyone say anything compassionate about people who end a pregnancy. In the silence, shame flourished in my mind and etched itself into my bones.

I broke my silence at age 40 when I confided in one friend, which set me on a path of ‘coming out’ that is still in progress.

In 2013, at the age of 54, I found the courage to tell my sons about my two abortions. I had feared all my life that they would no longer love me if they knew. But they were so unspeakably compassionate.

A few weeks later, I had a delightful surprise. I was scrolling through the news saw an article that led me to the home page of ANSIRH. To my amazement, I saw photos of researchers who were hard at work to end abortion stigma. What a revelation!

I set out to find small ways to contribute and was thrilled to find The Abortion Conversation Project and the Sea Change Program, organizations that help people talk about abortion so that we can transform our culture of shame into a culture of respect. These organizations helped me share my story publicly. I also started escorting clinic patients past protesters, and giving emotional and practical support to people through the abortion fund Access Reproductive Care-Southeast.

Another surprise hit me in 2014 when I discovered The Abortion Diary Podcast. Listening to the unfiltered abortion stories of people around the world made me feel less alone. I heard episodes of people sharing about having more than one abortion and realized I’m not the only one who’s had two abortions!

One day in 2017, I chanced upon a Facebook post that featured a word I’d never seen — abobo. It was a made-up word, a term of endearment for abortion being used by a champion of reproductive justice. I was thrilled to see a fresh green word sprout up through a crack in our severe reproductive lexicon.

It’s crucial for all of us to say abortion out loud. There’s no other way to de-stigmatize the word and the procedure. Still, people who are against abortion have owned the word for a long time, using it as a weapon against us. It’s hard to say a word that hurts. 

Creative words like abobo bring hope that one day we will have a lush lingo that will help us talk about our abortion experiences with the nuance and poetry they deserve.

Here’s a confession. When I started telling the truth about my two abortions, I was so naive. I fully believed that if only people would listen to us and learn how their shaming causes suffering, they would stop.

But the grim reality crystallized one day when I was escorting at Feminist Women’s Health Center, where protesters brandished megaphones to amplify their threats of eternal damnation.

A man had brought his wife to the clinic to end a planned pregnancy that was medically unviable. He walked over to the protesters to explain his pain.  I could not hear him, but his carriage was crestfallen and his hands were pleading. He came back toward the clinic shaken, rivers of tears spilling down his face, as the protesters resumed taunting him.

That day, I resolved not to focus on the shame-makers. Other advocates are better equipped — and in some parts of the world they have succeeded in convincing lawmakers to create effective clinic buffer zones to keep the bullies at bay.

Instead, I want to focus on people who are the targets of shame. I’ve been trying to connect with people in my local community who’ve experienced abortion. The statistics tell me they are here, but how to find them?

Last week, feeling unusually brave, I posted this New York Times article about the criminalization of pregnancy on a closed Facebook group of local Democrats, with a comment about being grateful I had not been forced into motherhood at 13. 

I hoped someone who had experienced abortion would reach out to me with a private message. But silence ensued . . . and Shame started talking . . . and I sank into the blues.

Then I thought about all the people out in the world who are suffering because of abortion shame and restrictions to access. Many experience an extra level of shame if they end a later pregnancy or have multiple abortions.

How could I help? Where is my niche in this movement?

That’s when I decided to create a Twitter account to send love and encouragement to people who have had more than one abortion. I resolved to find and post stories of people who have bravely told the truth about the need for abortion care at more than one time in their lives. I clarified three goals:

1. To create a global space to help people who have had two or more abortions to 'find their people' and understand that they are not alone. 

2. To help raise global awareness of the many abortion storytelling platforms and organizations in the world.
3. To help amplify research articles from around the world that reveal and explain the common need for people to seek abortion at more than one time in their lives. 

I tinkered with what to call the account, fearing the trolls. At first I wanted to center the word love to convey what’s driving me. But I decided to advertise the truth with candor and creativity — using the word abortion as well as abobo, the word that had given me a happy surprise.

I added bravado to salute the people who are sharing publicly about having more than one abortion. It’s a noun whose synonyms include audacity, boldness, derring-do, heroic deed, valor, sass and rebelliousness.

I hope the truth tweeting out on 2+ Abortions @AboboBravado will drown out the voices of shame in the world and in our heads.

 ___

Karen Thurston is an abortion storyteller, an activist, and an advocate.  She is a former board member of ACP.

How Do We Shift Attitudes about Abortion?

Announcing Our Newest Grant Partners

The Abortion Conversation Projects is a volunteer led group that funds small grassroots projects that challenge the stigma of abortion.  “With 62 funded projects and many other projects offered advice and resources, ACP is constantly looking at the ‘how’ of shifting attitudes,” said Peg Johnston, co-chair of ACP. “Our four most recent grant partners offer four distinct approaches to community-based social change.”

 

The Louisiana Abortion Stories Project is archiving the stories of women who have had an abortion, collected by the Louisiana Abortion Fund. Powerful storytelling is an important strategy in addressing stigma and the group will access a local radio show to share stories. “Part of how stigma works is by internalizing negative attitudes and telling your story breaks the silence and shame,” comments Terry Sallas Merritt, co-chair of ACP.

 

The Sister Network in Sweden is focusing its efforts on Polish doctors and providers whose prejudices against abortion, even for fetal anomalies, cause women to seek services in other countries and sometimes less effective methods available on the internet.  “Fighting Reproductive Stigma among Polish Healthcare Providers” will expose the medical community in Poland, where abortion is legal but inaccessible, to a more supportive, non-judgmental patient centered model.

 

“Outfitting Our Troops: Reproaction Visibility at Actions” has a simple approach: brightly colored t-shirts to brand Reproaction at its innovative demonstrations. “T-shirts are a remarkable conversation starter,” commented Merritt.

Lena Hann has spent years exploring how and whether clinics show fetal tissue to their patients. “ACP has taken an interest in this topic, and Lena has advanced people’s comfort levels with the conversations about fetal tissue. Confronting the reality of abortion in an open and honest way is a powerful way to challenge stigma,” explains Johnston. ACP is funding the printing and distribution of Hann’s “Fetal Tissue Viewing Guide” for clinic staff.

These four new Grant Partners bring the total number of ACP-funded projects to sixty-two. This cycle awarded nearly $7000; ACP fundraises each year to pay for seed grants and expenses. Started in 2012, ACP’s seed grant program has recently supported the distribution of Shout Your Abortion’s coffee table book of stories and images and bringing the Southern Justice Birth Doulas’ training to black, brown, and other marginalized groups in South Florida.

Kindred Connections: Why This Non-Religious Doctor Attended a Faithfully Prochoice Training | By: Alexander Curtis, M.D.

Kindred Connections: Why This Non-Religious Doctor Attended a Faithfully Prochoice Training | By: Alexander Curtis, M.D.

“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.”

Tinkering | By Abby Minor

Tinkering | By Abby Minor

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.

Five New Grantees Bust Stigma

 

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.

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.