By Karen Harris Thurston, ACP Board Member
Abortion is highly stigmatized in the Deep South, so just bringing up the topic for general discussion can be tricky. Raising funds for abortion care can be even more challenging.
Few people understand the art of these conversations better than Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care - Southeast. Her Atlanta-based reproductive justice organization helps people in Southern states overcome economic, racial, and gender barriers to reproductive healthcare.
ARC’s mission is many layered and involves building community alliances, advocating for social justice, and promoting equality for everyone regardless of zip code and income level. The non-profit also provides financial assistance to people who cannot pay for reproductive services, and it depends on donations to do so.
Njoku, who also works as a patient advocate at an abortion clinic, admits that asking people to open their wallets for abortion care can sometimes be difficult.
“Living and loving in the Bible Belt has taught me to proceed with caution,” says Njoku, “but there is a difference between being cautious and being afraid to unapologetically stand for what I believe in.”
Njoku has developed successful strategies for carrying on the complex conversations that seek donations for abortion care:
1. Keep the main focus on relations, not donations.
“I think the end goal is building a positive relationship with someone and getting them to join the movement, as opposed to being involved in a moment,” she says. “For us to sustain in the long-haul, we need people who are invested in making reproductive justice a reality through their financial contributions, their volunteer work, and their engagement in organizations.”
2. Know your audience.
Tailoring conversations to match different personalities and settings is the key to meaningful dialogue, Njoku says.
With strangers, such as an Uber driver, she often begins by being genuinely curious about them. She asks questions about their work and interests, and she listens intently. She looks for a connection with her own life, and shares about her work. “When I tell them what I do, I mention why I believe it’s important to raise money for abortions,” she says.
With friends or family members, she has more time and opportunity to talk at greater length about the problems of stigma and shame around abortion, conversations that build empathy and compassion for those who need assistance.
3. Make it personal.
Whether talking to strangers, acquaintances or close friends, Njoku says to avoid a scripted conversation. Instead, be candid about why you are passionate about helping others gain access to abortion care.
For Njoku, that means talking about her experiences working with patients in an abortion clinic, where she witnesses the hardships faced by people of color, people who live in poverty, people struggling to survive on the margins of society. Then she explains how seeing these situations of extreme discrimination and inequity compelled her to start ARC-Southeast.
4. Take time to educate.
Many people are unaware of the complex obstacles individuals and families face when trying to to access reproductive healthcare. Njoku clarifies the terminology and goals of the movement, distinguishing between the traditional pro-choice narratives and the intersectional inclusiveness of reproductive justice.
“Folks who aren’t involved with pro-choice feminist movements may be put off by pro-choice language because the decisions people must make go beyond choice,” she says. “It’s important to make connections with how reproductive justice is economic justice, racial justice, and gender justice.”
5. Be persistent but not relentless.
Njoku suggests giving people a chance to think about the information you have shared with them. If they are initially noncommittal, approach them two more times to ask for a donation, but then stop.
6. Beware of the don’ts.
Don’t get upset when people say no. Don’t shame people into giving a donation. And don’t appear reluctant or reticent when seeking support for abortion care.
Says Njoku, “Believe in your cause! Truly believe in the most unapologetic way.”
The Abortion Conversation thanks Oriaku Njoku and her staff at Access Reproductive Care - Southeast for their efforts to end abortion stigma.
To learn more about how to challenge the silence and shame around abortion, please click here to sign up for our newsletter.