Have you told the story of your abortion?

More and more women (and men) are telling their stories. Until recently, those stories were not very accessible but now these stories having the potential to change the stigma of abortion in our culture.

Our grantee, Emily Letts, whose video of her abortion has gone viral, is working with NotAlone.us, a site for video storytelling.

Because public sharing of your abortion story can bring positive reactions as well as negative, Renee Bracey Sherman of the Sea Change Program has set up a survey to find out the impact on those who choose to share. If you have experience in telling your story, please help with this survey. More about the survey:

As you may know, I have been sharing my abortion story publicly for several years. This experience has brought great joy, a feeling of empowerment, and connection to other people who have had abortions across the country – especially other storytellers. While this has been wonderful, it also brings harassment, both online and off, threats of violence, and thus has highlighted the missing pieces of support for abortion storytellers in our movement.
To ensure that storytellers are truly supported, I am conducting a survey and interviews with public abortion storytellers to look at what support systems have been working for them, and what we as a movement could do better to ensure their needs are met.
To that end, I am asking you to complete this survey, if you’re a public abortion storyteller, and forward it to any and all people who previously and currently share their abortion story in public forums including: journalism, media, video, workshops and panels, nonprofit advocacy campaigns, lobby visits, and interviews. I want to hear about all the best (and worst) practices so we can crowdsource a list of recommendations on how to best support our public abortion storytellers emotionally, mentally, and physically.
The survey can be found on The Sea Change Program’s website at: seachangeprogram.org/abortion-storyteller-experience-survey/

And, you might want to read the guides on Exhale’s site.

Just start those abortion conversations

Andrea Grimes, an activist journalist in Texas, was already a hero in our world because she has covered the real story of the legislative assault on women and clinics and the consequences for women.

But now she has gone a step further. She has decided to “come out” or stop avoiding conversations about abortion. She had not wanted to talk to her mother about her work, but when she pushed herself to broach the subject she was delightfully surprised. “I had no idea what she would say, how she would react. I was 30 years old, and I had never really had a conversation with my mom about abortion before….It was just incredible. A conversation I’d been dreading for a decade brought me closer than ever to the most important woman in my life.”

She concludes with, “Which is why those of us who can afford to take the risk must do so—we must talk openly, loudly, and enthusiastically, not just about abortion but about the full spectrum of reproductive health-care decisions that we should all be empowered to make.”

It’s well worth the whole read on RH Reality Check.

And thanks for these stories that RH Reality is so good at publishing.

ACP proudly partners with AbortionChat!

Fall, 2013 ACP minigrant awardee AbortionChat has been spreading the word and engaging in challenging conversations about abortion. Author Lynne Schmidt and her collaborators, Alex and Allie, used their ACP minigrant funds to better organize their weekly chat topics on Twitter and to carry their message to several national conferences across the U.S. At these conferences, they shared the AbortionChat story and asked people to make declarations about their own beliefs around questions of pregnancy and reproduction. ACP is proud to have helped bring AbortionChat to so many audiences.

We asked AbortionChat to share some of their grant-funded work with us. Here are some highlights from their year: “We traveled to North Carolina, Seattle, Boston, and New Jersey. . . .We asked people’s opinions on abortions. We asked if they were to get pregnant (they themselves or their partners) what they would do. We encouraged those conversations. We talked about forms of birth control. We met several people who had experienced their own abortions. We met people who encouraged the work we do, and people who were in fear for our lives because of the work we do.We attended our first ever Abortion Speak Out and hope to host one in the upcoming year. We encouraged a 19 year old woman who had an abortion a year ago to be more open about her story, and offered support because she still hasn’t been able to tell her mother. We shared our own stories. . . .” They also gave out brochures and increased the traffic on their Twitter feed.

They learned how important it is to create “a safe place to talk,” and found that, when they did, “stories started pouring out of people.” They report that their grant “helped redefine AbortionChat, give us a better direction, and a greater understanding for the work we’re doing. Rather than just giving our opinions all the time, we’re better able to ask for OTHER people’s . . . allow[ing] them a safe place to converse, no matter what they’re saying.”

As they continue to move forward, AbortionChat has big plans: They hope to host an abortion speak-out in the coming year. In addition, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, they will host “authors Kassi Underwood, and Bonnie Rough discussing their abortion experiences, as well as what it was like to write their memoirs.” They report, “We are working toward hosting Repro Happy Hours in the Portland, Maine area so that we can engage people in the community even more. We have had a couple of invitations for universities and are hoping to start branching out in that avenue to continue sharing stories, as well as continuing to make it more and more safe for people who’ve faced abortion to share their stories. We are hoping that by 2015 we will have applied and received non-profit status to continue the work we’re doing.”

Please join ACP as we congratulate AbortionChat for their wonderful work and be sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook!

Spring 2014 Funding Cycle: ACP awards six grants

The Abortion Conversation Project announced six successful grants totaling $5,000 in its Spring 2014 round of mini-grants. “The awards represent diverse ways to extend necessary conversations about abortion,” noted Peg Johnston of the Abortion Conversation Project Board.

The Abortion Conversation Project’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.”

  • Emily Letts, whose video, “This is My Story” has gone viral after winning the Abortion Care Network’s Stigma Busting Video Competition, was awarded a grant to do further videotaping and to enter film festivals.
  • Lori Brown, an architect, whose book Contested Spaces examines the controversy at clinics as a design issue, was awarded a grant for a contest to design a fence outside the Jacksonville abortion clinic, the only remaining clinic in Mississippi.
  • Megan Smith, who founded the Repeal Hyde Art Project, plans to create a leadership course for young women in the Boston area.
  • Also, the Boston Doula Project received a grant to host a monthly Salon Series to foster dialogue about reproductive experiences, including abortion.
  • Another grant will help establish Social Workers for Reproductive Justice by creating training materials for social workers.
  • The Peace Foundation in Pakistan, where abortion is legal but is considered a sin by many, has received a grant to buy software to communicate vital abortion information with women in far-flung rural areas.

What in the world is happening in Texas?

The Reality of HB2: Texas Legislators Lock Women Out of Abortion Care

On March 6, 2014, Whole Woman’s Health, the largest independent abortion provider in Texas, is announcing the closure of two comprehensive reproductive health clinics in rural Texas in the aftermath of the passage of Texas House Bill 2. These clinics, located in McAllen and Beaumont, Texas, serve a population that now will have to travel significant distances to get abortion care.

Abortion Restrictions in Texas

HB2, passed by the Texas legislature in 2013 despite a now-famous filibuster by Sen. Wendy David, is onerous legislation designed to shut down health care clinics that provide abortion care. HB2 requires:

  • Abortion clinics to meet the minimum standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) by Sept. 2014;
  • All physicians who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within a 30 mile radius;
  • Medical abortions (an abortion using FDA-approved medications) have increased restrictions including a ban on providing them past 7 weeks and also requiring women to visit the clinic 4 separate times (24 hours in advance of the abortion for a sonogram. Then for the first and second doses of the drug. Finally, a woman must return within 14 days for a follow-up visit);
  • A ban on abortion after 20 weeks gestation, unless necessary to prevent a substantial permanent impairment of the life or physical health of the woman or in the case of a severe fetal anomaly.[1]

None of these restrictions are medically necessary, based on medical evidence, nor do they increase patient safety. [2]

Texas has prior medically unnecessary restrictions placed on abortion care including:

  • A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must show and describe the image to the woman. The provider must also offer to each woman the option to listen to the heartbeat. If the woman lives within 100 miles of an abortion provider she must obtain the ultrasound at least 24 hours before the abortion.
  • A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
  • The parent of a minor must be notified and consent before an abortion is provided.
  • Medicaid coverage is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. [3]

Broader Impact of HB2 on the Availability of Abortion for Texas Women

The new abortion laws are quickly decimating abortion care facilities in Texas. In 2011 there were 44 facilities offering abortion care, this decreased to 36 in 2013 due to prior restrictions, and now there are 22 as a result of HB2.  With the closing of these two Whole Woman’s Health facilities the number goes down to 20. This number will likely decrease to 6 on September 1, 2014 when the final requirements of the law go into effect. The clinics in McAllen and Beaumont were the final clinics operating in rural Texas. After September, the only remaining clinics will be in the five largest cities – Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio – leaving hundreds and hundreds of miles of Texas without safe abortion care.

Low-income women, women of color and rural women bear the brunt of these harsh laws. Some women will not be able to end their pregnancy safely with the support of medical experts like those at Whole Woman’s Health because they face too many barriers–they won’t have the time off, or the money it takes to travel the long distances.  Some will resort to inducing their own abortion without medical assistance.  A pre-Roe landscape is now emerging in Texas where your ability to ability to receive abortion care is determined primarily by your socioeconomic class and zip code.

About Whole Woman’s Health

Whole Woman’s Health is a woman owned and woman centered organization committed to providing holistic healthcare for women. Its clinics provide comprehensive gynecology services, including compassionate abortion care. Its philosophy is that each woman must be at the center of her own healthcare decisions, and that treating each woman holistically will better serve women and improve health and happiness in our communities. It has 8 facilities, 6 located in Texas—Austin, Beaumont, Fort Worth, McAllen, two in San Antonio; one in Minneapolis, MN and one in Baltimore, MD.  For more information visit: http://www.wholewomanshealth.com

Whole Woman’s Health of Beaumont clinic profile

Whole Woman’s Health of Beaumont purchased the only abortion clinic in Beaumont and was founded in 2004. East Texas has always had a legal and professional provider of safe abortion care since Roe V. Wade in 1973. WWH Beaumont sees approximately 1,200 women annually, and is the only abortion care provider between Houston and New Orleans, a 350 mile distance. Whole Woman’s Health of Beaumont is accredited by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the National Abortion Federation, is a member of the Abortion Care Network.

Beaumont is in East Texas and is in a part of the region known as the Golden Triangle along with Port Arthur and Orange, Texas. The majority of residents in the area work in the oil, gas and auto industry and our facility served women in both East Texas and throughout Western Louisiana. Without a provider in Beaumont, the nearest provider is 90 miles away in Houston. The women in the Beaumont community and beyond face many barriers that prohibit them from obtaining the full range of healthcare options. In addition to those facing any woman in Texas seeking an abortion, such as a two visit requirement and waiting period they also must deal with increased transportation costs, procedure costs, childcare costs, and time off from work.

  • Estimated Population in 2012 - 118,228
  • Reproductive Age Women (15-45)[4] - 73,812
  • Median Household income - $40,765
  • Persons below poverty line -  22.3%

The typical WWH patient is identical to the demographic of Beaumont.

  • Race - 40% African American
  • Marital Status - Single
  • Health Insurance - None
  • Age - 19-35 years of age

Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen clinic profile

Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen began as a private abortion clinic in 1973, remaining in the same location since Roe v Wade made abortion legal. It was purchased in 2004 by Whole Woman’s Health. McAllen has always been an area in which the women of that community could rely on safe access to abortion care.  Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen is accredited by the National Abortion Federation, members of the Abortion Care Network and in good standing with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

McAllen is the second largest city in the Rio Grande Valley, which has one of the highest rates of poverty, uninsured residents, unemployment as well as low income, not only in Texas, but in the entire United States.

As such, the counties in the RGV have been designated as federally recognized medically underserved counties. The four counties that make up the Rio Grande Valley are located in the southernmost border of South Texas and encompass about 43,000 sq miles.[5] The population is 90% Hispanic.[6] Many of the residents in these counties were born in Mexico and a fifth of the population is not a U.S. citizen.[7] More than 20% speak only Spanish or very little English.[8]

Before the implementation of HB2, there were only 2 providers who provided abortion services in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV). Both have had to discontinue providing abortion services. The next closest clinic is in San Antonio, Texas, (230 miles away). There is currently a clinic in Corpus Christi – 150 miles away – but it is facing closure in September 2014.

  • Estimated Population of the RGV in 2012 - 1,288,759
  • Reproductive Age Women (15-45) - 305,307
  • Median Household income - $28,382
  • Persons below poverty level - 37.2%

The typical 1,700 patients Whole Woman’s Health of McAllen sees annually is identical to the demographic of McAllen.

  • Race - Hispanic %?
  • Marital Status - Married
  • Health Insurance - None
  • Average age - 30 years

[1] HB2, the Special Session and What’s Next. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and Whole Woman’s Health. http://www.prochoicetexas.org/in-our-state/hb2facts.shtml

[2] Abortion restrictions in context: Literature Review. The Texas Policy Evaluation Project.http://www.utexas.edu/cola/orgs/txpep/_files/pdf/AbortionRestrictionsinContext-LiteratureReview.pdf

[3] State Facts About Abortion: Texas. Guttmacher Institute.http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/sfaa/texas.html

[4] Calculated by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project using the 2010 Census and the 2010 American Communities Survey 5-year file.

[5] David M. Vigness and Mark Odintz. Texas State Historical Association. “RIO GRANDE VALLEY,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ryr01), accessed February 25, 2014.

[6] Internal calculation using the U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2012 American Community Survey

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

Making safe abortion available in rural Pakistan

ACP has heard of some remarkable activities in Pakistan regarding abortion advocacy and phone counseling.

Peace Foundation Pakistan is a registered NGO that has been working in sexual and reproductive advocacy since 2010. They sponsor eight women’s abortion advocacy groups in the Sindh province of Pakistan. The Peace Foundation uses mobile phones to make women aware of their sexual and reproductive rights. This strategy works well for women and girls of rural areas, where social traditions disapprove of safe abortion and free use of contraceptives.

The rate of unsafe abortion increases day by day; women are losing their lives in silence and they can not share complications of their pregnancies, because they know there will be no sympathy for them in society. Even women are against abortion. 

The Peace Foundation, with the support of Women on WavesWomen on Web, and Asia Safe Abortion partnerships, started a telephone hotline in April of 2010 to help women adopt safe abortion practices, and prevention after abortion.

Peace Foundation now has five female counselors. All team members were trained by Women on Web and Women on Waves, The Netherlands, before the project was launched.

 There are two free mobile 24/7 help lines with counseling for safe medical abortion in Urdu and in Siraki languages. Counselors refer women seeking medical abortion where should they go and what should they do. Counselors always follow up calls and have found that the feedback was positive. Women reported that they had no friends to support them in rural areas. Midwives, Nurses and female health visitors had previously had no support until the Peace Foundation enabled them to provide misoprostol for saving women’s lives in rural areas. More than 900 women and girls contacted the hotlines for safe medical abortion counseling.

 Community meetings:

Peace Foundation conducted three community meetings with women advocacy groups in Sindh with the objective of the providing information about safe medical abortion and how to use misoprostol for medical abortion. When community meetings were called in rural areas, 65 women participated in the meetings. All women were vocal persons and leaders in their villages. During meetings, women got material in local languages to understand about medical abortion. Female teachers were also involved in discussions about how to provide information to women.

Women took great interest in the meetings, sharing their sufferings during complicated pregnancies. Women discussed biased attitudes of male partners. Referral directories and material on medical abortion were also distributed for further use.

 Abortion Service Providers meetings:

There were two local abortion service provider meetings. It was a unique opportunity for abortion service providers. They were working secretly and had fears about working openly. They gathered and discussed norms, values and attitudes of service providers and service users. Mostly providers were using surgical methods to terminate pregnancy and Peace Foundation trained them in safe medical abortion using misoprostol. 28 service providers met and discussed different aspects of abortion services. A network of safe abortion service providers was also established to discuss mutual issues and a forum for defending each other in case of any complications.

 Two meetings with civil rights organizations:

There were two meetings with civil rights organizations with 42 attending both meetings. The Peace Foundation won their support in delivering our services in rural areas. CSOs also assured that the Peace Foundation can work without any fear.

 The Peace Foundation has found challenges to their mission from existing social traditions and general perceptions regarding pregnancy and termination of pregnancy. Old people and men, in particular, have reservations and did not permit females to participate in meetings. Teams were accused of promoting sinful actions and being anti-religion or promoting extra marital relations, as well as a Western agenda. Teams could not travel in late hours because of threats. Security agencies have also investigated us, visiting monthly and demanding photos and details of our team visits and biographical data of our team. Once, our bank account was frozen.

Aslam of Peace Foundation provided ACP with this information. It has been edited for ease of reading.

Fall 2013 Funding Cycle: ACP awards six grants

The Abortion Conversation Project announced six successful grants totaling $5,000 in its Fall 2013 round of mini-grants. “All of the awards focus on amplifying the stories of abortion and the voices of those who have experienced abortion,” noted Peg Johnston of the Abortion Conversation Project Board. The Abortion Conversation Project’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.”

  • Cindy Cooper of Words of Choice has proposed a walking tour of Reproductive Justice in New York City with their award.
  • Another NYC based award went to Project Voice, a website created by Maya Pindyck, that would promote the site and also “talk back” to anti-abortion propaganda on the streets and subways.
  • Another blog about abortion, Abortion Chat will get funding to do outreach to writers to include the complexity of abortion in their writing.
  • Our Bodies, Our Bikes: Women’s Health and Wellness On and Off the Bicycle is an upcoming anthology and will include a chapter on abortion as a result of an honorarium funded by an ACP grant. 
  • Funding was also awarded to Blue Mountain Women’s Clinic in Missoula MT to create local original theatre to tell women’s abortion stories. 

Hard conversations

This is a TedX video by Ash Beckham about being in the closet about something–anything and how to have the hard conversations that open the door. It is about her sexual orientation but as she makes clear it is more about any hard thing you need to say. We have long talked about a “Coming Out” Day for abortion providers and women who have had an abortion (or their loved ones). This seems like a good instruction manual for those hard conversations.

Calling for “Abortion Stigma-Busting Videos”

Really…?! Abortion Stigma Busting Video Competition: Push back against anti-abortion extremism with your video!

The Abortion Care Network is sponsoring the first-ever video competition to show the world how people feel about the current climate of extreme anti-abortion legislation and societal stigma against abortion. “We are looking for all kinds of videos, from personal stories to pro choice activism, from direct calling out of anti-choice legislators to flashmob actions, as long it busts current stigma against abortion,” according to Peg Johnston, coordinator of the event. “Video is an important tool in changing attitudes and giving voice to those who have been silenced.”

Stigma is a key strategy of anti-abortion extremists who want to shame women into silence about abortion. When women feel they can’t speak up for their rights, conservative legislators can pass laws that close clinics and make barriers for women. It is urgent that we create cultural pushback against those who would try to stigmatize us.

The deadline is January 6th, 2014 and click here for more information and registration form. Or visit the ACN website athttp://www.abortioncarenetwork.org/news/video-competition or the Facebood page at www.facebook.com/abortioncarenetwork .  

Videos must be no longer than 3 minutes but very short videos using applications such as Vines or Instagram are also eligible. There are three $200 Judge’s Choice awards and three Honorable Mentions. $100 awards will go to the individual and $100 will go to the winner’s abortion fund of choice. Videos will be shown at Abortion Care Network’s conferences, embedded on related websites, and used for promotional purposes by ACN.

Link didn’t work? Paste this in your browser: http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=rrbrm5cab&oeidk=a07e880uqfe81765aa0

The price of silence

David Gunn Jr. has written a painful and poignant account of his father’s estrangement from his family over politics and, more particularly over abortion. Dr. David Gunn was, as you will remember, one of the first casualties of anti abortion violence aimed at doctors. His son chronicles that history so that we can see, tragically, how silence about the divisive issue of abortion strains and breaks relationships. Gunn’s family of origin supposedly did not know he performed abortions until he was killed for it. There is a multiplier effect going on about silence. Silencing was going on not just in Gunn’s family but all the families around them, so there was no chance for normalization, even though, as David tells the family history, they would have chosen abortion  personally in spite of extreme disapproval publicly. Read this account for a detailed look at how silence kills.

Thank you, NASA!

by Peg Johnston, ACP Board Member

space-station.png

This little news item caught my eye today, and I quote it in full:

Leak Ends Spacewalk

NASA aborted a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Tuesday because of a dangerous water leak in an astronaut’s helmet that drenched his eyes, nose and mouth. The leak was so bad that Luca Parmitano, Italy’s first spacewalker, couldn’t hear or speak as the spacewalk came to an abrupt end. He asked his spacewalking partner, Christopher Cassidy, for help getting back in.

You may be wondering what spacewalk accidents have to do with reproductive rights or abortion conversations? I have been noticing that those at NASA are pretty much the only folks who use the word “abort” correctly.

Sometimes when I am counseling patients I say, “Did you ever see Tom Hanks in the movie, Apollo 13? When that tank blows up, he turns to the other guy and says, ‘We have to abort the mission.’ That’s exactly what you are saying.”

Women know when they think the biological mission their body is on—a pregnancy—might not turn out well. They think about their resources, the other people they are responsible for, the other missions they have, like school, child-rearing, career, etc.

Abort means ending something that is threatened, is going wrong, or is ill-advised. A spontaneous abortion (or miscarriage) is when the body recognizes when something is going wrong and it stops it.

 Of course, in the current environment, abortion is made out to be a stigmatizing, shaming word used against women who know what is right for their lives. I think we should say the word in its correct usage much more often. “Let’s abort the war on women” for instance. Here’s a news item I’d like to see:

Sanity Ends War on Women

An uprising of citizens aborted a campaign aimed at restricting women’s health facilities in Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and several other states because of the danger to women’s health and well being. The campaign was so bad that most women’s health care facilities would come to an abrupt end. Clinics asked those partnering with women for help returning to sanity.

Spring 2013 Funding Cycle: ACP awards five grants

The Abortion Conversation Project announced five successful grants totally $4,000 in its second round of mini-grants. “We are interested in supporting small grassroots endeavors that start meaningful conversations about abortion,” states Peg Johnston, board member. The grants are in keeping with ACP’s mission “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.”

Two projects are awarded to doula groups and two are going to international projects for the first time.

  • The Seattle Full Spectrum Doulas were awarded an early grant so they could start Circle of Stories, an abortion support group with a writing and arts component.
  • The Chicago Doula Circle aims to train volunteers to provide support to abortion patients at Stroger Hospital in Cook County. Doulas have traditionally provided lay support to women in childbirth, but in recent years some doula groups have also offered women support through an abortion experience.
  • With their grant, Education for Choice in the UK will offer information on abortion, pregnancy, and sexual  health, using social networks, such as Tumblr.
  • Abortion, According to Mewill collect interviews from fifteen Indian women about how abortion is viewed in their communities, and the complex nature of their choices. Abortion is legal in India, but only 40% of the abortions are safe.
  • Another grant goes to Emerge, a successful post abortion support group, to enable them to document their curriculum and process so that others can replicate its results.

Previous grantees include Plants for Patients, a community production of The Abortion Dialogues in Concord NH, Georgia Reproductive Justice Action Network (GRJAN) outreach and training, Inspire, an online support group. In addition to the mini-grants, the board of the Abortion Conversation Project have offered advice and resources to grassroots groups.